Women representing the Islamic otherness: My Body Is My Own business

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at xxxxxxxxxxx.xxx
Mon Aug 14 18:19:14 MDT 2000

Mac, I did not know the 40KB thing. Thanks!



The Globe and Mail Tuesday, June 29, 1993 Facts and Arguments Page (A26)



I OFTEN wonder whether people see me as a radical, fundamentalist Muslim
terrorist packing an AK-47 assault rifle inside my jean jacket. Or may
be they see me as the poster girl for oppressed womanhood everywhere.
I'm not sure which it is.

I get the whole gamut of strange looks, stares, and covert glances. You
see, I wear the hijab, a scarf that covers my head, neck, and throat. I
do this because I am a Muslim woman who believes her body is her own
private concern.

Young Muslim women are reclaiming the hijab, reinterpreting it in light
of its original purpose to give back to women ultimate control of their
own bodies.

The Qur'an teaches us that men and women are equal, that individuals
should not be judged according to gender, beauty, wealth, or privilege.
The only thing that makes one person better than another is her or his

Nonetheless, people have a difficult time relating to me. After all, I'm
young, Canadian born and raised, university educated why would I do this
to myself, they ask.

Strangers speak to me in loud, slow English and often appear to be
playing charades. They politely inquire how I like living in Canada and
whether or not the cold bothers me. If I'm in the right mood, it can be
very amusing.

But, why would I, a woman with all the advantages of a North American
upbringing, suddenly, at 21, want to cover myself so that with the hijab
and the other clothes I choose to wear, only my face and hands show?

Because it gives me freedom.

WOMEN are taught from early childhood that their worth is proportional
to their attractiveness. We feel compelled to pursue abstract notions of
beauty, half realizing that such a pursuit is futile.

When women reject this form of oppression, they face ridicule and
contempt. Whether it's women who refuse to wear makeup or to shave their
legs, or to expose their bodies, society, both men and women, have
trouble dealing with them.

In the Western world, the hijab has come to symbolize either forced
silence or radical, unconscionable militancy. Actually, it's neither. It
is simply a woman's assertion that judgment of her physical person is to
play no role whatsoever in social interaction.

Wearing the hijab has given me freedom from constant attention to my
physical self. Because my appearance is not subjected to public
scrutiny, my beauty, or perhaps lack of it, has been removed from the
realm of what can legitimately be discussed.

No one knows whether my hair looks as if I just stepped out of a salon,
whether or not I can pinch an inch, or even if I have unsightly stretch
marks. And because no one knows, no one cares.

Feeling that one has to meet the impossible male standards of beauty is
tiring and often humiliating. I should know, I spent my entire teenage
years trying to do it. It was a borderline bulimic and spent a lot of
money I didn't have on potions and lotions in hopes of becoming the next
Cindy Crawford.

The definition of beauty is ever-changing; waifish is good, waifish is
bad, athletic is good -- sorry, athletic is bad. Narrow hips? Great.
Narrow hips? Too bad.

Women are not going to achieve equality with the right to bear their
breasts in public, as some people would like to have you believe. That
would only make us party to our own objectification. True equality will
be had only when women don't need to display themselves to get attention
and won't need to defend their decision to keep their bodies to


Naheed Mustafa graduated from the University of Toronto last year with
an honours degree in political and history. She is currently studying
journalism at Ryerson Polytechnic University.


Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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