Letter to a 15-year old forced hijaabi (wearing a veil)

Posted on October 8, 2014

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Context: Last year, I wrote a post, “On the Hijaab (Veil), Topless Jihad, etc.” The basic premise of this post was to assert that forcing someone to take off their veil is as bad as telling someone to wear their veil. I was merely trying to provoke a thought process by which we examine what we, as a society, believe is modern or empowered. Just because someone wears a veil does not mean they’re not empowered. Just because they wear a veil does not mean they were forced. Just because they wear a veil does not mean they cannot be feminists who believe in equality! And then a few days ago, I got a comment on this same post by a 15-year old girl who said that she was being forced to wear a veil since she was 11.

I am going to tell you outright, that I do not claim to be a social expert or a feminist icon or a spiritual leader. I have very limited knowledge of any religion. If you don’t like the post below, please feel free to tell me so respectfully. If you have any suggestions that could make this post better, I welcome you to add them in the comments section; I will edit the post and give you credit for it.

My Dear M,

Thank you for taking the time out to read my post and leaving a comment. I must say that your comment rattled me. It is not that I am unaware that girls in many parts of the world are conditioned and even forced to veil themselves. But till I got your comment, these were things that happened to nameless people. It was not personal. In the two short and simple sentences you wrote on my post, you managed to make me think for two whole days. I want to thank you for that.

I am not sure if my response to you is required or even relevant. But I feel compelled to write it anyway. I have (a few) friends who wear different versions of the veil. They wear them for various reasons and began wearing them at different ages. Some chose to wear it and others wore it because it was a social expectation and a hint of force, I suspect. Then again, I may be wary of labelling it as “force,” as I could be projecting my prejudices since none of them have ever told me that they did not want to be veiled or were being forced to be veiled.

In my personal opinion, I do think that forcing someone to do something they don’t want is wrong. However, as a 15-year old, I felt like I was being forced to dress according to my father’s rules, which meant not wearing tank tops or bottom-baring shorts in public. I wanted to be fashionable and popular. I wanted people to think of me as attractive; I still want those things; I think most people would like that. I am not saying you should respect your family’s wishes and wear the hijaab, but I am asking you to carefully examine WHY you’re feeling the discomfort with your hijaab.

I feel that all of us are over-exposed to media. It has formed our notions of not just beauty, but of intelligence, success, power, popularity and may be even about what or who is right. I recently worked with a black teen who told me that he hates being black because he faces discrimination on a daily basis. He said that aggression and crime are expected of him simply because he is black. I don’t blame him for feeling that way, because these are common black stereotypes. Being black gets him unnecessary negative attention and sometimes prevents him from being a respected member of society.

The reason I am stating this example is simple…I want you to know that society makes us want to change ourselves to fit into a narrow definition of beauty and coolness. We’re supposed to have the perfect body, the right type of skin and eye colour, the right kind of hair texture, the right type of dressing style…and by right I mean, anything other than what we possess naturally. In your case, at some point, you may have the option of removing your veil. But how can a person change the color of their skin? Is it right that society is making this young person feel like he doesn’t count  without even giving him a chance to establish an identity that is different from the existing stereotypes?

Having said that, I can understand your frustration with your hijaab. It denies you the recognition you deserve because you’re as good as any of your peers. It denies you access; people make judgements about who you may be as a person. I see these judgements out there every day on the internet. There are people yelling at Muslims for something or the other. Wearing the hijaab does not give you the privacy of your cultural identity. This may be heightened in your own family if your brothers/cousins are not required to wear traditional clothing to school. I can also understand that you simply don’t want to wear the hijaab. It determines what others think you ought to veil or bare. You don’t want to fight. You don’t want to argue. You just want to own your body!

Women today, whether veiled or not, are undergoing a lot of sanction across the world. We have people telling us what to wear, where to go, when to go, how to behave, what to read, whom to marry, whom to love, how to love, when to have children, etc.  Our freedom is curtailed because of the so-called increasing threat of rape. Stay at home, else you will be raped. If you drink alcohol, you deserve to be raped. If you talk to boys, you ought to be raped. If you flirt with someone, they can get their friends to gang rape you. And it is all your fault, and therefore, you need to cover up and stay home. Your hijaab is just a very visible form of this type of control. My hope is that each one of us women will join hands, stand by each other, and help each other emerge from this situation.

No one can control or tame your mind. Read as much as possible. Read various differing opinions on the same issue. Write a blog, anonymously, if you have to. And build yourself into a resilient person. You may fall and get tired and feel hopeless, but you you will get up. If you have a few people who are close to you who understand, develop those relationships. If you have access to education, my advice would be to go as far as possible. Education opens the doors of the mind and access to jobs. Once you’re financially independent, you may have more control over your own choices.

Remember, wearing or not wearing a hijaab does not define you, WHY you wear it or don’t wear it does. If you remove it simply because you want to fit in better, society will find some other way of making you feel like a misfit. I  hope that one day you have full control over your destiny and choices. You are in my prayers. I wrote this letter just to let you know that you matter. You raised a voice, and I hear you.

Love and hugs,

The stranger who can’t stop thinking about you

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Posted in: life