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Matter of choice
Wearing the hijab is not the deciding factor in whether someone is good or not

By Leila Shirazi
October 7, 2003
The Iranian

I received an article from a friend the other day that made me sit up and take notice. Not for the fact that the writing made such good or groundbreaking points, but because it brought up a lot of other issues for me that I felt the need to air out into my writing.

The article was one of those "your friend Marjan thought you would like to take a look at this article", with a subsequent link attached to the bottom of the page. The article itself was titled "The Science behind the Veil", and its aim was to find scientific proofs of the benefits for women wearing hijab.

I have to admit I was very skeptical at first, but, vowing to keep an open mind, I gave it a quick read. What I found didn't exactly shock me, though the arguments are quite weak:

-- 40-60% of the body's heat is lost through the head if it is uncovered' (I'll just wear a winter hat if I'm cold, thank you)

-- Uncovered heads in the hot sun can be submitting the brain to reaching a sizzling and damaging 108 degrees' (One word: homeostasis... our bodies sweat so that they never reach that high temperature.)

-- And my personal favorite: It's bad for men to be continually aroused when looking at women's constantly changing hairstyles (Do I really need to comment on this one?)

So this groundbreaking evidence is meant to be the proof that all women who want to protect their brain health and ensure the longevity of their men, should take to wearing their hijab.

For those women of strong religious conviction who choose to wear the hijab (many of the women in my close family included), I give all of you my praise. That's a wonderful choice to make, if you feel it is the right one for you. The pressure some individuals exert on others to wear it, however, is what disturbs me.

Maybe it's a personal thing. The person who sent it to me is continually trying to get me to see the many benefits of a headscarf. But I believe that each individual woman needs to make that choice for herself, not under coercion from family members or society.

So many people tout the necessity to wear hijab for every good Muslim woman, yet there is no specific passage I have ever come across in the Quran that states explicitly that women's heads should be covered. I have seen the passages that stress the necessity to draw the shawls over the bosom, but beyond that, everyone's attempts to point me to the correct passages have not been convincing.

You might also be wondering, at this point, why I feel like I know anything about wearing the hijab, and why I feel like I can determine that it's not right for me. The truth is, I did try, at one point in my life, to put it on. I don't mean in Iran, I mean here in the United States. The results, for me, were disheartening.

I was just starting out on the renewal of my religion, and a friend had convinced me that covering while out in public was the ONLY way to be a good Muslim. Yet, instead of strengthening my faith and sense of identity, it turned me away from the true beauty of Islam. I felt uncomfortable in stores, intimidated on the subways, and isolated while in large crowds.

I started questioning everything, and became so confused about many aspects of my life. It was a very bad situation, and while on the surface I was gaining praise from many of my family members and friends, inside I was feeling more torn than I ever had before.

Then, one day, after a particularly bad episode in the lobby of a hotel, I decided that wearing hijab was not the deciding factor in whether someone was good or not. I came out of my room for the first time without my scarf, and nothing happened; no one stared, no one commented, no one laughed or pointed. I was once again able to slip around the city unnoticed, and still felt confident in myself and in my religion.

Don't assume that I have completely given up on the hijab. I still cover when I am at  religious events, and when I travel to Islamic countries, I gladly wear a scarf over my hair. But when I do this, it is at times where I feel comfortable and at times where I feel it is appropriate.

I truly do not need anyone breathing down my (uncovered) neck telling me how to present myself or how to show my faith. Because, the truth is, I do show my faith - every day. I show it when I am charitable to my neighbors, when I am honest, when I complete my daily prayers, and when I carry myself with dignity and respect.

I am a Muslim woman, and I am proud of that. The only difference between me now and me a year ago is that, today, I wear my hijab inside of my heart.

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