Wednsday, August 29, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 6


Muslim women are respected, not oppressed

Shazia Siddiqi

For many students who have enrolled at this University for the first time, you have probably noticed how diverse it is compared to where you previously were.

There are so many different people acting and dressing in so many different ways. Some of us look at those people and wonder what makes them behave and dress the
way they do. It's incredibly hot and humid; why are those Muslim girls completely covered from head to toe? Are they forced to do it against their will?

If you are someone who believes that Muslim women cover themselves (wear Hijab) because they are the symbol of absolute subjugation and are in dire need of rescue, or
that having such women as part of the North American landscape is frightening, or that they are "the veiled woman," belonging to some foreign place, or that they are
poisoning this "free and democratic" culture with their "weak and submissive ways" -- this column is for you.

In the Western world, the Hijab has come to symbolize either forced silence or radical, unconscionable militancy. In reality, 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.

Progressiveness for women is unfortunately still defined by how much we are willing to reveal. The more power women seem to gain, the more compelled they are to take
off their clothes.

This paradox is at the root of the confusion faced by North American women: they are supposed to be strong, independent and assertive yet, at the same time, they are
made slaves to an ideal physical image which cannot be achieved by the vast majority of women.

This duality is a marketable commodity. Take the fashion industry, for example; the hottest look of the season is usually full of glossy lipsticks, slip dresses, and spiked heels.
Women object to it; they hate the fact that the female body is used for selling everything from cosmetics to clothing to cars. Yet when Muslim women cover themselves up
and protest the very same thing, they are conversely regarded as being oppressed.

The confusion about women's freedom is terminal. While some fight against what they see as objectifying women, others feel the ideal way to ultimate freedom for women is
the right to exploit themselves in public. The rationale seems to be that once our bodies are desexualized then it will be safer for us to go out on the streets. We just have to
give up our dignity, our modesty and our privacy. And it is in the midst of all this confusion that women in Hijab have arrived. Their unwillingness to play into the hands of
either side has earned them scorn.

The Hijab allows a woman to step outside her home with her attention on the tasks she has set out to do. The Muslim woman does not try to impress anyone but Allah when
outside her home. She is not concerned if men find her attractive, or if people are impressed because she has the latest fashions, or the newest hairstyle. She leaves her
home as a self-confident part of the human race, not as a fashion plate seeking stares and adoration in order to gain self-esteem.

The Hijab cuts down on competition among women. How many people in the West sacrifice financial savings and health in order to have plastic surgery -- in a desperate
attempt to meet up to an unrealistic standard of beauty?

In Islam, women are appreciated for their knowledge, piety, and contribution to society. When women wear Hijab one finds that the most beautiful women are not
necessarily the most popular. Rather, a woman is assessed for her mind, and not just superficial physical traits.

So who is oppressed? An oppressed woman is one who has the inability to see the society for what it really is. Oppression is abiding by the idea that a woman's beauty is
public, and that lustful admiration is equal to respect. 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 themselves.

                                                                                                                                                                    Siddiqi, a freshman psychology major,
can be reached at

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