Open Letter to Women of the World Considering Wearing Hijab in Interfaith Solidarity with Muslim Women

12/22/2015 06:03 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2016
muslim young woman wearing...
muslim young woman wearing...

Dear Sisters in Humanity:

Recently, you may have encountered pushback from people - including women who self-identify as Muslim - discouraging you from wearing the Islamic headscarf in solidarity with Muslim women like myself who observe it for religious reasons.

I want to convey my gratitude to you for your sincere empathy and willingness to venture outside of your comfort zone to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Muslim women who are vulnerable to being targeted as a consequence of rising anti-Muslim intolerance and bigotry.

This is especially profound because you may not fully understand the nuanced significance of hijab. It is arguably the single most powerful article of clothing. It has elicited controversy, stirred consciences, evoked pity, inspired curiosity, instilled confidence, inspired admiration, generated disdain, and garnered respect. It continues to mystify many, and is widely debated time and again.

Hijab refers to a physical veil, but it is also a code of conduct and state of mind. Literally, it translates to "barrier" or "partition." Islamically, it has a far broader meaning that conveys modesty. On a subliminal level, it can have as many different meanings as the women who wear it, because each individual experience is deeply personal.

Many Muslim women like myself recognize and appreciate that your intention is not to flaunt your privilege; nor is it to erase the experiences or trivialize the challenges that women like myself and I have encountered while wearing it.

You are not attempting to make a political statement on Islam or usurp our identity. This is not a passing fad, superficial whim, or a bid for popularity and personal gain. Cultural and religious appropriation is a thing, but not in this context or instance.

Your intent is simply to take a stand to shut down bigotry. You want to send a clear message that you will not be complicit in the marginalization and victimization of women who find ourselves risking our safety in order to adhere to our religious convictions.

Venturing into this complex territory is no small feat. For this, I don't just applaud you; your noble intentions deserve a standing ovation.

Personal experiences with discrimination vary, but Muslims and those who resemble us are experiencing alarming levels of religiously motivated hate crimes, bias attacks, harassment, bullying, and profiling.

Women who wear hijab are easy targets. We are identifiably Muslim, and this has led to legitimate concerns for our safety. But it is said that a successful person is one who can lay a foundation with the proverbial bricks that are thrown their way. Your compassion and empathy have inspired you to roll up your sleeves and pick up a trowel so we can build together, and that is the definition of empowerment.

As an American Muslim feminist and activist who is in the public eye, has faced discrimination, and has received hate mail and threats, I'm well aware of the risks involved with wearing a headscarf. Observing it is my personal choice because I refuse to accept that my faith and my life's work are mutually exclusive. Your support reaffirms that such a sacrifice should never be necessary.

Women like myself, many of whom observe hijab for religious reasons, have not internalized oppression. I certainly hope the nature of my activism does not give that impression. Contrary to some opinions, we don't believe that we are "too sexy for our hair" (although some of us just might be) - just that our appeal should never be defined by or limited to our physical appearance.

Your thoughtful gesture is not a symptom of indoctrination. It is not a nod to the gender-related subjugation and oppression that is far from exclusive to any one religion or country. It is not a testimony of your cultural edicts or religious and political beliefs, and I want to publicly acknowledge this.

No man or woman should ever dictate how we dress or think. Especially not by means of intimidation, disparagement, or force. If you decide to wear the Islamic headscarf in solidarity with me, by all means, please do so knowing that I and millions like myself will take the hand you extend and form a circle to drown out the divisive voices of bitterness, intolerance and hatred that ring in our midst.

But also know that regardless of whether you proceed to do so, your courage and compassion in considering this gesture do not go unnoticed - especially during this particularly tumultuous period in our nation's history.

In solidarity,
An American Muslim Woman Who Welcomes Your Expression of Solidarity