Afrida Hussain explains how wearing a hijab can be an empowering choice.
It’s empowering, it really is (as cliché as it might sound). Choosing to follow Islam and to wear the hijab was a decision I made six years ago. As a twenty-two year old looking retrospectively, it has honestly been the best decision I have ever made. Prior to this I was a “muslim” but chose not to actively follow the religion. But as I progressively learnt more about Islam, the more I fell in love. Islam taught me about my rights as a woman and it motivated me to work hard academically and socially, to strive for the community and to better myself each day. It inculcated in me a passion for education, seeking knowledge, becoming a doctor, basing my self-value on my interior and not my exterior. To the surprise of many, Islam honoured me and I felt proud to be a Muslim women. I had no idea what oppression people were talking about.
With regards to Islam and feminism, in the eyes of Allah (god), the one whom we strive to please, everyone is equal. The differentiating factor between any human-being is based on piety and good character, not our looks and property. I didn’t and don’t feel the need to compete with anyone, whether it’s over wealth, money, job or status. I feel as a woman Islam gave me the right to do everything I wanted to do. More importantly, it gave me everything I needed to fulfil my purpose in life. The right to education, privacy, voting, choosing a partner, property, wealth; the list is endless. Ironically, Islam blesses women with rights that are generally thought to be denied to Muslim women. Perhaps this myth is due to cultural issues in many Muslim countries. Whilst the prophet’s wife rode camels on the same lands that today’s women are not permitted to drive on, it is no wonder that public perception of Islam is so poor.
My hijab is a reminder that I don’t need the approval of anyone but god. In reality, seeking the approval of god will ultimately lead to the approval of people since Allah ordains that our behaviour with his creation is loving, gentle, fair and just. This formula can only create an atmosphere of peace in all walks of life. When I say I don’t need to seek the approval of people, here is an elaboration on what I mean: I don’t feel the need to gain approval of men because they should appreciate me as a woman; one who contributes to this society, works, studies and uses my intellect and abilities to provide benefit to this world. I should be loved for these things and not for my sexuality, and not because I fit society’s definition of “beauty”. I want to be loved for the way I am and not the way I look. This allows me to be myself; to be natural, genuine, and the best version of what God created me.
Having said that, of course, we all want to be liked in society. No one wants to be disliked or appear alien. So at times, in coming up to my sixth year wearing the hijab, I feel as though people underestimate me as a hijaabi. Both Muslim and non-Muslim. At times I feel like I want to prove everyone wrong. But the fact that I have to prove to others what Muslim women are like is unfortunate, and intrinsically wrong. So I choose to continue with what I’m doing. I hope to inspire others and have faith that one day the world will realise the lies, misconceptions and myths about Islam.
(First year medical student)
This article was originally printed in Issue 12.