by Mauhiba Mollah

Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Mauhiba. The photo, taken in 2022, depicts a young Muslim woman as she swings from a cliff, overlooking a beautiful landscape of water and distant hills in Turkey.

Every morning, I stand in front of my closet. I open my dresser drawer. My eyes are met with garments of all manner of colours and fabrics – rectangle clothes of forest green jersey, black satin, teal-blue cotton, and cream chiffon. Each day, I carefully choose one to wrap around my head and wear for the day. I am a Muslim woman. And each day I go out into the world, I choose to don my hijab.

My hijab means many things. My hijab is the way that I practice my faith. It is an everyday reminder for me to stay conscious of God. It is a way that I present and orient myself to others. Through it, I can identify with other Muslims and feel a sense of community and belonging. My hijab is also a statement and an exhilarating experience of freedom from dominant societal pressures. We live in a world where women face immense pressures to dress and look a certain way and conform to societal beauty standards. Young women are being sent subtle media messaging that implies their value is based on appearance.

And in some cases, based on their sexual appeal, evident through the objectification and hyper-sexualization of young women so transparent in mainstream entertainment. In a world where such intense pressures on women exist, the hijab allows me to free myself from the expectations of others and combat problematic normalizations of female beauty. And in doing so, I feel a sense of control.

My hijab is not just a cloth wrapped around my head. It is part of my identity. An identity which I reassert every day when I stand in front of the mirror and wrap my hijab. My identity as a woman wearing a hijab is multifaceted. Yet, some would reduce me to a label. There are those who see my hijab and see a strange and foreign Islam. They take my hijab as a sign of my apparent oppression or lack of freedom and control over my body. They see my refusal to conform to the norm as a danger to Western values and culture. They see an unruly immigrant who refuses to assimilate and “become” a Canadian, even though I was born and raised in this country. In other words, they do not truly see me. I am marginalized. I am reduced to a foreign “other.”

Women from other parts of the world echo my experience. In 2004, France passed a bill that, in the name of secularism and neutrality, bans women from wearing the hijab in government buildings and schools. And more recently, in France, the government attempted to pass an amendment that bans women under eighteen from wearing the hijab and another that would ban women in competitive sports from wearing it. Though the latter two have not become law, it is more evidence of islamophobia and a desire to marginalize an already vulnerable minority group. Forcing women to remove their hijab is equivalent to stripping them of a crucial part of their identity.

Anti-hijab laws are an example of state-sanctioned regulation of the female body. The slogan “My body, my choice” is sung loudly in the streets and across social media. We see it all the time, including proponents who support the ban on hijab. The regulation of one’s own body is considered a fundamental right. But yet, when it comes to Muslim women, for the France government and others, the same notion doesn’t seem to apply. “My hijab, my choice” should be a given. So, why is it something that Muslim women must fight for? It is quite clear that double standards exist.

Anti-hijab laws are not limited to France but exist in other countries across the globe as well. For one woman I have the pleasure of being acquainted with, the hijab ban in Turkey (now lifted) prevented her from completing her university education. She decided to move to Canada with her husband and two children so that she and her children could continue their education while being free to wear hijab, to practice their religion without restriction. She is one of many who have uprooted themselves from the homes they grew up in to avoid intolerance against Islam. They leave behind family, friends, their workplaces, and their homeland’s familiar and comforting scents and culture to settle in an often-foreign country where they may have to build their lives back up again from scratch. Navigating life as a new immigrant is no easy task. Yet so many Muslims leave their familiar lives behind for the right to religious freedom.

Muslim women worldwide fight for the right to wear hijab and will continue to fight for it in the future. They will never give up. Even in the presence of discrimination and intolerance, they stay faithful to their beliefs. They practice agency and free will, and their perseverance makes them beautiful.

Author’s bio:

Mauhiba is a recent Communications and Media Studies graduate of Carleton University. Mauhiba is deeply interested in exploring human rights for marginalized communities. She intends to pursue a bachelor’s in graphic design to complement her current studies and continue writing to give voice to marginalized Muslim women.