Female Muslim students celebrate empowerment on World Hijab Day
Edit: After hearing from our Muslim community, it’s important to note that the quotes below reflect a distinctly Canadian experience. In some countries women are forced to wear a hijab under discriminatory and oppressive laws.
Women in the University of Manitoba’s Muslim Students’ Association want to dispel some myths. They’re in University Centre celebrating World Hijab Day. Despite following the wake of a U.S. travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries and the deadly shootings at a Quebec mosque this week, the group was cheerful and eager to speak to the campus community about the hijab and the role of women in Islamic society.
UM Today: Can you tell us about the hijab and what it means?
Iqra Tariq: The hijab is what Muslim women wear as an expression towards obedience towards God. It’s always a personal choice a Muslim woman makes based on her beliefs on what Allah tells us what to do in Islam. It’s not only for girls, it’s also for guys but it’s expressed in a different way.
What’s the significance of World Hijab Day?
Tariq: It’s to create more awareness about hijabs. It’s to make women who wear hijabs proud that they are wearing it and that they have a day to celebrate it. It helps people break myths, break stigmas, learn more about what the Muslim religion means, what hijab means. We’re in University Centre because it’s the busiest place on campus and we hope people will stop by, ask questions and break their myths.
In light of recent events, why is this day important to recognize?
Tariq: Canada is really good in diversity and multiculturalism. After the Quebec attack that happened I was so proud to see how many people came out to the mosque. It was full like never before. The amount of people that had said, ‘you’re welcome here. You’re loved here.’ Obviously I knew that before, we are all Canadian, I have no other home, I’ve never been anywhere else. It’s heart-warming to see how many people actually truly care and want you to share their cultures and beliefs. In Canadian society, it’s everyone’s. It’s not like you’re going to come to the mosque and you’re going to be a changed person. The mosque is always open for anyone to come at all times, including our mosque on campus. You can come, you can ask questions and I promise, no one is going to say you’re not welcome. We’re here to answer your questions. We’re here to break your stigmas. Yes we are Canadian just like you are.
Why do you wear the hijab?
Tariq: Some women wear it as a form of modesty; some wear it as a cultural expression. I wear the hijab because I think it’s a representation that I am a Muslim. It helps me stay connected to God and always remind myself that yes I have bigger things to worry about than my grades or what I’m wearing today for example. It’s a form of expression.
Can you dispel any myths about the hijab?
Tariq: It always has to be the girls’ or women’s own choice to wear a hijab. It’s obviously not an expression that if I wear a hijab I’m more religious than someone who doesn’t. Faith is something between you and God. No one can judge you. In Islam you’re not allowed to judge another person. All the judgement is up to Allah, who is God. Men can’t force you to wear it just because they think that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. Your mom or your dad can’t force you to wear it. It always has to come from within you and what you think is right.
Are there more extreme cases?
Tariq: The hijab cannot be forced upon a woman. Unfortunately in many cultures and societies it’s pertained that it is and some extremist ideologies do it but there is no concept of extremism in Islam. There is no place for anything that is not a balanced ideology in Islam and that’s what we’re here to portray.
Other myths are the types of hijab. No one can say, ‘oh a little bit of your hair is showing, that’s not a hijab. Or if you’re too covered, you’re showing that you’re oppressed. It’s a form of expression. It’s a form of empowerment.
What’s the difference between a hijab and a niqab?
Tariq: There’s seven or eight different types of hijabs. Usually a hijab means to cover everything other than your face and your hands and your feet, including your hair. A burka usually includes a niqab – a niqab is a face covering as well. From my knowledge the niqab is more of a personal religious choice. It’s something women do to feel even more empowered. Unfortunately the myth is you’re oppressed, someone forces you to cover. Usually it’s more of a choice of sanctuary – it’s like saying ‘this is how I express myself, this is my mobility, this is my little home I walk in and you can’t disrespect me, you have to listen to what I’m saying before you see who I am and what I’m wearing. You can’t judge me based on my looks, if I’m attractive, if I’m intelligent or something like that.’
What role do Muslim women play in Islamic culture?
Tariq: In Islam, women and men are equal. We all started, just as Christians believe, from Adam and Eve that a woman was made from a man’s rib. She can’t be forced because if you force a rib to be straight it will break. Women must be taken care of and protected.
One of the most important rights, which I was shocked when I heard it – I was born in Winnipeg I grew up here – in Islam women don’t have to change their last name after marriage because you’re not the property of your husband. You keep the name your father and mother gave you. Lots of Muslim women do change their last name; sometimes it’s easier for practical, social reasons.
Women have the right to property, right to money, to employment and so on. The Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, his wife Kadijah was a business women – he worked under her. She was a lot more wealthy than he would ever be.
You have many rights people don’t realize in western culture because you have to learn and study Islam to find out specific rights but they are no less than what western cultures say what women’s rights are. She is equal, she is not inferior. She has the same value in the eyes of God. She has the same responsibilities. There are no differences.
What role do women have in the family?
Tariq: A woman’s role in Muslim society is the same as a man’s. She has the same rights and responsibilities. Women can hold place in office. For example we have so many women on the Muslim Students’ Association. Women can volunteer, get an education, a career, she has the right to choose her spouse. She does have responsibility towards children because usually children spend more time with their mothers – that’s just how biology works. She has the responsibility to raise her children with an ethical and moral sense, but the father has the same responsibility towards his kids.