My hijab is political

The hijab continues to be an act of resistance in the face of bigotry and hate. Graphic by Maggie Baranick.  


Content warning; this article contains descriptions of Islamophobia and hate crimes

This fall, it will be 10 years since I first put on the hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women. I have been wearing my hijab for a little under a decade, but it was only a few months ago when I first experienced genuine anxiety and fear about wearing the hijab. 

The recent spike in Islamophobic sentiments is not something that is new or unique to this country. Bigotry presents itself in a multitude of ways in America; we simply do not discriminate when it comes to discrimination and hate. 

Dr. Chad Bauman, professor of religious studies and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, emphasized that Islamophobia has been present for quite some time. 

“I think that there’s a misperception … that Islamophobia is a post-9/11 phenomenon,” Bauman said. “It’s really important to realize that there was a great deal of Islamophobia in America long before 9/11.   Particularly after the 1970s it was framed a little bit differently … [It] was often more like a kind of a political phobia of the Middle East.” 

Islamophobia is at a troubling high currently. Following Israel’s retaliatory onslaught against Palestine, especially in the Gaza Strip, Islamophobic sentiment in America has spiked. There has been a 216% increase in Islamophobic incidents since last year. A 6-year-old Palestinian American Muslim child in Illinois was brutally stabbed and murdered. Three Palestinian college students in Vermont were mercilessly shot while wearing kufiyyehs — a traditional Palestinian scarf that represents the Palestinian struggle and culture — and speaking Arabic, leaving one of the students paralyzed. A Muslim teenage girl wearing the hijab in New York was attacked by a man on the subway. 

Wearing the hijab in America has always been — and will always be — political, but it has rarely been as political as it is today. We are faced with a reality where wearing the hijab can pose a legitimate danger to someone’s life and safety. Yet, Muslim women make the active and personal choice to still wear the hijab. 

Dr. Sholeh Shahrokhi, a professor in the Department of History, Anthropology and Classics, shared that Muslim women often choose to wear the hijab because of the statement that it makes. 

“Muslim women in the United States … who choose to wear the hijab are aware of the stigma that it’s attached to,” Shahrokhi said. “They’re aware that they stand out. [They] are aware of this racism that they potentially open themselves to. So they still act as a hijabi person to make a statement … That statement is often called a spiritual one. But it’s also a political one because they’re identifying with a set of values and ethics and moralities. That is very personal to them, but it’s also political. It’s about solidarity.” 

Being so visibly Muslim entails making a political statement. When people see my hijab, it is very likely that they correlate my scarf with a certain set of values. In today’s global and political environment, my hijab represents that I likely stand alongside Palestine. Though Palestine’s fight is one that is not religious, it is evidently true that many Palestinians — and more specifically, many Gazans — are Muslim. The individuals you see in the media look just like me. Increased media coverage, however, does not mean that all of that coverage is unbiased or fully accurate. 

“Americans … are information starved,” Bauman said. “Cable news networks and … social media are getting an increasingly narrow vision of the world. And in those echo chambers, I think it’s harder to develop complex notions of the full range of the Muslim world and Muslim people. And so people tend to have really caricatured understandings of who the ‘Muslim-other’ is.” 

The attacks against journalists in Palestine have only exacerbated this; over 80 Palestinian journalists have been killed since Oct. 7. Increased Western media coverage, coupled with media bias and narrow representations of Palestine and Muslims, also means that the average American is likely internalizing a colonial and imperial narrative. Wearing the hijab means that I create my own narrative about my headscarf and what it represents. 

Zohal Atmar, a junior biology and Spanish double major, wears the hijab and believes that choosing to do so in America is always an act of resistance. 

“It is inherently political because of the people we see in the media,” Atmar said. “[The people represented in the media] resemble us … Because people who look like you, you’re always going to be representing them no matter what … You’re always going to be seen as an extension of whoever you see in the media or whoever you see online.” 

It is no lie that Muslims are currently quite prevalent in the media. With increased media coverage about Palestine, and when many Palestinians are Muslim, it is tough to not notice that the individuals whose faces are all over the media look just like your Muslim peers. 

We know the dangers that come with the scarf on our heads. Choosing to wear the hijab is always a form of worship; political connotations do not change that. We wear this scarf — and we wear it proudly — because we know what it stands for and represents. We make the active choice to make a statement. 

The hijab is a symbol of resistance, and sometimes not choosing to wear it can also be just as political. 

“Ironically, the … woman in Tehran, who is in defiance taking off her hijab — even burning it — has a lot more in common with the … Muslim woman … who chooses to wear the hijab,” Shahrokhi said. 

It may seem ironic that both wearing and not wearing the hijab can be political symbols, but ultimately both of these acts are inherently political when they are done in the face of an oppressive political power. Being forced to wear the hijab — but choosing not to and facing the repercussions at the hand of the state — is quite similar to wearing the hijab when danger and Islamophobia are highly prevalent. 

Dr. Shahrokhi noted that Muslim women’s commitment to choosing to wear the hijab is ironically very American. 

 “It’s a very American ideology of choice,” Shahrokhi said. “It’s a very American idea about autonomy — [about] having control over one’s body in that sense.” 

The hijab may not be the first thing to come to mind when we think of the alleged American ideals of freedom and autonomy, but wearing the hijab is undeniably something that speaks to freedom and autonomy. When we choose to wear the hijab in America today, we are choosing to make a public statement. 

“[Wearing the hijab] speaks to power, doesn’t it?” Shahrokhi said. “It means I exist. I have agency. I have [a] voice … The act of defiance — but even if it’s not defiance with a fist in the air — but [rather] existing in a way that’s non-normative, if that’s a form of defiance, [that’s] a powerful way of pushing back.” 

Wearing the hijab may be a religious obligation, but that does not take away from it simultaneously being a symbol of resistance. 

There is a considerable amount of hate that is present today, and I know this. I know that there are people who loathe me or perceive me as a threat because of my faith. Some people may even choose to weaponize their fear and ignorance through physical threats and violence against Muslims. I am fully aware of all of this, yet I have no reservations about wearing the hijab. 

Every morning when I get ready, I swallow my fears as I cover my hair. I will always wear the hijab for the sake of my religion, but these days, I also wear the hijab for my siblings across the globe who are experiencing unimaginable brutality. I wear the hijab as a symbol of my unwavering support for my siblings in oppression. I wear the hijab regardless of the insidious thoughts people have about it. 

In the face of adversity, I will not let Islamophobic and racist notions fueled by white imperialist and supremacist ideologies prevent me from publicly representing my faith. Islamophobia may be increasing, but so is my dedication to wearing the hijab.


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