My BODY is MY Own Business

I OFTEN wonder whether people see me as a radical, fundamentalist Muslim terrorist packing an AK-47 assault rifle inside my jean jacket. Or may be they see me as the poster girl for oppressed womanhood everywhere. I'm not sure which it is.

I get the whole gamut of strange looks, stares, and covert glances. You see, I wear the hijab,
a scarf that covers my head, neck, and throat. I do this because I am a Muslim woman who believes her body is her own private concern.

Young Muslim women are reclaiming the hijab, reinterpreting it in light of its original purpose
to give back to women ultimate control of their own bodies.

The Qur'aan teaches us that men and women are equal, that individuals should not be judged according to gender, beauty, wealth, or privilege. The only thing that makes one person better than another is her or his character.

Nonetheless, people have a difficult time relating to me. After all, I'm young, Canadian born and raised, university educated why would I do this to myself, they ask.

Strangers speak to me in loud, slow English and often appear to be playing charades. They politely inquire how I like living in Canada and whether or not the cold bothers me. If I'm in
the right mood, it can be very amusing.

But, why would I, a woman with all the advantages of a North American upbringing, suddenly, at 21, want to cover myself so that with the hijab and the other clothes I choose to wear, only my face and hands show?

WOMEN are taught from early childhood that their worth is proportional to their attractiveness. We feel compelled to pursue abstract notions of beauty, half realizing that such a pursuit is futile.

When women reject this form of oppression, they face ridicule and contempt. Whether it's women who refuse to wear makeup or to shave their legs, or to expose their bodies, society, both men and women, have trouble dealing with them.

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

Wearing the hijab has given me freedom from constant attention to my physical self. Because my appearance is not subjected to public scrutiny, my beauty, or perhaps lack of it, has been removed from the realm of what can legitimately be discussed.

No one knows whether my hair looks as if I just stepped out of a salon, whether or not I can pinch an inch, or even if I have unsightly stretch marks. And because no one knows, no one cares.

Feeling that one has to meet the impossible male standards of beauty is tiring and often humiliating. I should know, I spent my entire teenage years trying to do it. It was a borderline bulimic and spent a lot of money I didn't have on potions and lotions in hopes of becoming the next Cindy Crawford.

The definition of beauty is ever-changing; waifish is good, waifish is bad, athletic is good — sorry, athletic is bad. Narrow hips? Great. Narrow hips? Too bad.

Women are not going to achieve equality with the right to bear their breasts in public, as
some people would like to have you believe. That would only make us party to our own objectification. 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.

(Naheed Mustafa’s article was published in “The Globe and Mail” on June 29, 1993 under “Facts and Arguments” Page A26. She had graduated from the University of Toronto in 1992 with an honours degree in political and history and then she was studying journalism at Ryerson Polytechnic University)

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17 thoughts on “My BODY is MY Own Business

  1. I am going to try avoiding making a comment on hijab – probably I do not share the same opinion as many other Muslims in terms of hijab being compulsory or not.

    Anyhow, one thing I have come to realize is that any sort of covering up has the only point as foundation – ie not to attract lustful attention. Yes, even if a lady only wears a headscarf, its all about what kind of attention you’re attracting. Lustful gazes and attraction is what covering up protects you from.

    One paradox that really prevails in the Western society, is funny enough ”freedom”. On one hand they market liberty and freedom constantly, yet when a Muslim woman raises her voice to claim her freedom she is judged and thrown under the category of ”oppressed women”. If women are allowed to wear mini skirts, others should be allowed to wear full sleeves. Extreme paradox.

  2. Subhana

    Please let it be known that it is not for me and you to say what is compulsory and what not. If we are Muslims, we have to follow Qur’aan and Hadith.

    In accordance with Qur’aan and Hadith, women are required to cover head except face between hair, neck and ears and body excluding hands and feet in such a way that no profiles are apparent. This can be done even by wrapping a single sheet of cloth over normal clothing. Scholars, taking guide from Hadith, are of the view that young or beautiful woman or when some beautification of face has been done, face should also be covered.

    Western men, with a slogan of women freedom, have made women a toy for men to look at and to play with to satisfy their lust. Propaganda of women’s oppression in Islam is due to their inbuilt fear / hate of a principled way of life (Islam).

    By the way which school of thought you follow? I beg pardon if I am asking for too much.

  3. Surah Nisa, Ayat 31: And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.
    Yes uncle u are right. I have studied the rule of Hijab from both scholars perspective. Scholars who think veil is waajib and scholars who do not consider veil wajib. So both sides can be considred. What is the most important thing is to cover ur hair and not wearing fashionable burqaas and abayaas as well as tight and transparent clothes that exposose a muslim womens body. I have friends who take veil infront of thier cousins and do Shari’ah Hijab. While in dubai I use to take veil but not infront of my relatives. But i used to completely cover my hair and allhumdulillah tried my best to avoid wearing tight clothes.
    if one likes to be more acknowledged about the ruling concerning hijab plz visit this website which contains Sharia’h islamic law.
    http://www.jamiat.org.za/women/concept_of_hijab.htm

  4. The article is very well written. Jazak Allah for sharing it with us.
    I am delighted to see Muslim women in media. In India we have a fearless political analyst in Seema Mustafa. We have madam Ghannoushi researching in London. and here we have another jewel.

    Truely, the strength of islam/muslims is by the women followers.

    As for the west, one can not be a believer(even if not a muslim) by following their standards, since they keeps on changing every so often, case by case.

  5. Comicsans

    Thank you for the references. Al-hamdoo-lillah, I write after having thoroughly studied Qur’aan Shareef and Hadith.
    Hijab does not mean a type of clothing but the way of covering body properly. Wearing fashionable attractive Jilbab or Scarf may infringe the purpose.

    Urdudaan

    Thank you. Wise women are there but they are also few like wise men.

  6. no one has completely studied the deen yet. We all need to learn and share. May Allah give us the guidance to pratice and preach what is right and most loved in the sight of Allah subhanahu wa’ taala

  7. Comicsans
    By “No one has completely studied the deem yet” I think you meant the bloggers. Generally yes, but I have noticed that some bloggers do have enough knowledge of Deen though there is no limit to learning.

    Please include me in your prayers. I shall be grateful.

  8. NO UNCLE. I DONT MEAN BLOGGERS. even today an aalim says that he has to learn more from every aspect. I have heard this saying from scholars like. Dr. Asrar Ahmed, Maulana Yusuf Islahi, & Dr. Farhat Hashmi. Also read in Tafseer -e- Qur’an of Abdul aa’la Mawdudi

  9. forgot to mention that the Prophet PBUH said, get acnowledged even if u have to travel to China (that time china was considered furthest).During prophets time even the sahabas who were haafiz studied the Qur’an in explanation.
    I am in need of your prayers respected uncle.
    May Allah guide us all ameen

  10. Comicsans
    Look dear Bhatiji ! “To study” and “to understand” are two different things. People do study but question is of understanding and satisfaction. Only a fool or ignorant will say that he / she has fully understood. Knowledge of Deen has no boundaries. Knowledge is like a baloon. The more you inflat it, it comes in contact with more air outside. I hope that I made myself clear.

    I have read Maulana Maududi, Dr Israr Ahmed and Dr Farhat Hashmi but not Mr Yusuf Islahi, in stead, I have read Amin Ahsan Islahi and Dr Ghulam Murtaza Malik. None of them claims to have full knowledge of Islam. No knowledge-seeking person will ever be satisfied otherwise he will start stagnating.

  11. I am new in the bloggosphere so I did not see this until now. Even if nobody bothers to see I am writing anyway.
    The gender equality is placed side byside with the question of hijab and it feels like most Muslims do understand the meaning of covering. Nobody mentions anything about MEN. Not just covering but somewhat equivalent may be beard-keeping for men????
    Not all Muslims do and those who do not are not necessarily ‘non-prcticing’ Muslims
    I am of the opinion therefore that non-hijabi girls are not necessarily non-practicing or for that matter not knowledgeable about Islam. That is also not because my own bhanji does not wear hijab (and I still consider her a sufi though I have never talked to her about hijab even when she was wearing hijab, naqab etc.)
    Hijab has come to be meaning a scarf which is actually not the meaning of hijab, but of course all of you know it anyway I dont have to explain.
    Just as nobody has perfect understanding of deen, nobody is perfct in following deen-e-Islam and that does not mean he/she/is not perfect Muslim. I know myself i am avery bad Muslim, certainly far less than most people who meet me think about me and that is not guilty feeling or my attempt at increasing or lowering my value as a Muslim in the eyes of others. I have long past that stage of life. I would like to invite you to see my blog for your own relationship with your Creator (I am writing to day)

  12. Bsc
    I had read this article by Naheed Mustafa more than a decade back on the internet when I was new on the internet and in fact internet was also new having been started by UNO’s SDNPK programme only in Islamabad. It used to be very slow then.

    You are right to say that Hijab in no way means the scarf but the proper clothing.

    I had seen picture of the young girl but, in those days, there was no way to download that. She had fully covered her body except face wearing a loose gown type dress. According to my detailed study, minimum requirement for women is that no part or profile of body should be apparent / visible. About face there are two views: one, should be covered, and two, should be covered if very attractive or ornamental (after make-up).

    Men should also cover their bodies, at least (not that much), from below knees to above chest, the condition being that if he can afford, he should cover his body with proper clothing from above ankles to neck and head. Also, men are required to keep beard (properly, not let it grow type) neither like Jews nor like Sikhs.

    In both women and men the dress should be decent.

    Fourteen centuries ago was not the first time that dress code was conveyed through a Messenger of Allah. Christian nuns and sisters, in spite of much change in their book and attitude, cover their bodies well though it is a little fitting the body still body profiles are not very evident. This makes me think that all the believers of Allah right from day one were directed to cover their bodies the same way as Muslims.

    So far as the term “practicing Muslim” is concerned, every person is to be graded according to his or her “Taqwa” as revealed by Allah Soob-hanohoo wa Ta’ala in Qur’aan Shareef. I can not claim to be a real good Muslim. I am only trying to be but have not so far succeeded. The definition of real good Muslim is “To whom Allah and His Messenger is more dear than his own parents, siblings, children, property and his or her own life. This means that they follow all instructions of Allah and Prophet (mpbh) in words and deeds.

    The tragedy is that Muslims of today make fullest effort to learn all things through out their life but, when it comes to Deen Islaam, they have little or no time. Seminars / symposiums are frequently arranged for every thing except Deen Islaam. If some one joins a Madressah even after having done Masters or Ph. D in science or other subjects, he / she is counted as a lost person if not illiterate, extremist, terrorist.

    I will, insha Allah, go through your recent post today.

  13. YES I GET YOUR POINT AND YES I KNOW THE MALE BODY COVERINGS AS YOU EXPLAINED. WHAT I WAS SAYING IS THAT SO MUCH FUS IS MADE OF THE FEMALE DRESS BUT DO YOU REMEMBER THE MEN’S TIGHT JEANS AND I STILL SEE MEN COMING TO SAY PRAYERS IN THE MASJID WITH UNDERSHIRT ONLY (AND THE JEANS OF COURSE) ARE THEY ‘COVERED’? BUT THE BODY IS SHOWING (QUITE APART FROM THE FACT THAT THIS IS NOT A “PROPER” DRESS AND THEY DO NOT REMEMBER THE AYA” O! CHILDREN OF ADAM WEAR YOUR BEAUTIFUL APPAREL AT EVERY TIME AND PLACE OF PRAYER….” (AL-a’RAAF:31) I ALSO SEE LOT OF MEN SHOWING THOSE PARTS OF THE BODY UNCOVERING OF WHICH IS HARAM (IN AHRAM FOR UMRA/HAJJ) THEY DO NOT TAKE PROPER STEPS FOR COVERING (MAY BE INADVERTANT)
    SARA ISLAM HIJAB MAIN HE REH GAYA KIYA? UNFORTUNATELY NOW IT HAS BECOME A SYMBOL BECAUSE OF THE MEDIA COVERAGE AND LAWS BEING PASSED ETC. THAT IS THE PROBLEM. THE POINT OF NUNS DRESS IS NOT TALKED ABOUT BUT THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT IT IS, COVERING THE WHOLE BODY AND LIKE YOU I HAVE OFTEN THOUGHT ABOUT IT.
    LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT A NEUROSURGEON (WOMAN) WHO WAS WORKING ‘UNDER’ A MALE BOSS AND HE ANNOYED HER FREQUENTLY, LIKE COMING IN THE THEATER, SAYING, “HOW’S IT GOING HONEY?” OR SUCH REMARKS. SHE DECIDED TO WEAR LOOSE TYPE OF, UNATTRACTIVE CLOTHES AND I TALK ABOUT THAT SOMETIMES AS AN EXAMPLE. (DID NOT GIVE YOU DETAIL)

  14. Bsc
    You are very right sir. People of the present-day-world are more interested in show-off than inner realities. Muslims, in stead of learning something through proper education, unfortunately think that copying the gone-wild West means they have progressed / become advanced.

    The example you have quoted of neurosurgeon women proves the benefit of Muslim clothing. I am of the view that, if at that time some good Muslim had shown her Qur’aan translation in her language, she would have liked to become Muslim.

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