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Three Michigan Muslim Teen Girls Discuss Their Hijabs

Street art of a woman wearing a hijab

Whether it's debates over France's ban on headscarves, schools banning girls from wearing scarves, or fights over what hijabs represent to society, what is often missing from media coverage of women wearing hijabs is the voices of Muslim women themselves.

Below, three Muslim teen girls from Michigan discuss why they have decided to wear or not wear headscarves. 

In 2010, a teacher in a public Dearborn, Michigan junior high school set out to train her students to become media-makers themselves. The resulting Living Textbook project trains junior highschoolers—including many Muslim and Arab girls—to work in media. I ran in to the precocious group in June at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, where a group of tween girls approached my Bitch table and introduced themselves very professionally as journalists. 

Recently, three of the seventh and eighth graders wrote about why they decide to wear or not wear a hijab. These three stories—from one girl who doesn't wear a scarf, one who does, and one who used to but recently took it off—offer a personal insight that's usually lot in policy debates over their religion.

Read the girls' full essays about their decisions over at Living Textbook

SONIA

Every day someone will ask me what my religion is. But, of course, when they hear me say that I'm Muslim, the question of why I don't wear a scarf always comes up. This is always my answer: it's not for me and I'm not ready for one. 

Many girls my age, older, even younger, wear a scarf and that is completely their decision. But it's mine not to wear a scarf. I want to wear a scarf when I want to. I don't want to wear a scarf just because someone told me to, or because other people think it's right. When I feel that I genuinely want to wear a scarf, I will. 

I feel that it would be wrong of me to just go ahead and wear a scarf when I feel that I'm being forced to. Also, I feel that a scarf isn't for me simply because I don't understand it. I can't do something I don't understand, just because someone told me to do that. It's not right for me.

Wearing a scarf should mean something to you. When you wear a scarf, you feel something and you know that what you're doing is right. But that would require it actually meaning something to me. If I started wearing a scarf today, I wouldn't have that feeling and it wouldn't mean anything to me. Well, at this point in my life, it wouldn't.

Not every Muslim girl needs to wear a scarf to be considered a good person or a good Muslim. You are just as good a person as you set yourself out to be and no one requiring you to wear a scarf can change that.

I'm the only one who will know when I should wear a scarf. Whether I wear a scarf or not isn't going to define who I am and if I am a good Muslim.

 

KHANSA

To me, a hijab is a scarf that Allah commanded women to wear as a way of protecting themselves from the eyes of strangers. A hijab is worn to cover the true beauty of a woman so that it is not shown to the unwanted eyes of by-passers. It is the most important factor in becoming a real and true Muslim, though most people tend to put it off. 

I started wearing a scarf when I was nine, feeling that it was something I wanted to do to get close to God. I was mature for my age and was especially fascinated with Islam, the religion I followed. Wearing a hijab is a choice I grew up loving, never once regretting. When wearing a scarf, I feel as if I'm safe. It's a shield, though some may not think so. I feel comfortable and I know that people respect me knowing I wear a scarf. …

If a woman is free to dress as she wishes, why shouldn't she be free to cover up? Women in Islam are not oppressed. It is their decision to wear hijab, and it is their freedom to follow their decision, isn't it?

 

ZAEINAB (as interviewed by Khansa)

She had been wearing a scarf for about three years. Making the decision to change the way she dressed wasn't easy.  She pondered for two weeks before she finally had the courage to take her hijab off.

"I was stuck in wanting to take it off and not wanting to at the same time. It was a 50/50 decision," she explained. "It felt weird for me the first couple days."

Looking back on why she started wearing a hijab, Zaeinab says, "I was still a kid, so I was kind of doing what the other kids were doing." She thinks now that when she began wearing a scarf between 4th and 5th grades she wasn't mature enough to know what it meant and how it would affect her life. For instance, she didn't fully appreciate that she also would have to cover up a lot of her body, so that no hair or skin showed beside her hands, feet, and face. 

Zaeinab wasn't forced to wear the scarf by her family, so that also made her decision to take it off easier. Her mother left it up to Zaeinab to decide.

Zaeinab still feels the same as she did when she wore her scarf, but not as safe when she was covered up. After she took her scarf off, she says she got loads of hate. But she got through it with the help of her real friends. Her friends and her Mom helped her push through the hate to do what she feels is right for her. "When I get older and more mature, I will wear a scarf," said Zaeinab. So, her insight on wearing a scarf hasn't changed. She just feels it isn't fit for her now. 

Her views on women who cover up still hasn't changed, either. "I treat the women who wear hijabs and don't wear hijabs the same way," she says.

 

Photo: A street art installation by the artist Princess Hijab, who subverts Parisian billboards. 


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Comments

10 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Three Michigan Muslim Teen Girls Discuss Their Hijabs

Regardless of how you dress this practice up with words .... Misogynist brainwashing and nothing more. Any suggestion that a God is invested in what you wear for clothing is simply and plainly unintelligent. Control control control ... this is what organized religion is about.

These women all seem like

These women all seem like they are very much making up their own minds. They are no more oppressed than a woman making any other clothing choice - I also see the religious aspect as "God wants you to feel comfortable and to present yourself well." If what you feel comfortable wearing is a scarf, because it protects you from unwanted attenion or for whatever other reason, then by all means it's a thing you should do. Believing that a woman is oppressed just because of a culture you mightn't know anything about - is colonialism. This is somewhat related - why Western women should not jump to the "save the Islamic women from Islamic men!" trope. http://www.racialicious.com/2012/10/08/your-women-are-oppressed-but-ours...

I agree with OP. Of course

I agree with OP. Of course they all *seem* like they're making up their minds. They've been raised in households that have, their entire lives, told them that they need to cover up to protect themselves from men, who are apparently not able to control their thoughts and actions. This is not a far leap from rape culture, where women can "ask for it" based on their refusal to cover up. I believe that anyone has the right to choose to wear a hijab--and, of course, all women should be allowed to cover up if they want--but as part of Islam, it is sexism disguised as protection for women. . Just because it's a religious practice doesn't mean we shouldn't question and challenge it--that doesn't make the practice itself any less misogynistic

I agree with OP. Of course

I agree with OP. Of course they all *seem* like they're making up their minds. They've been raised in households that have, their entire lives, told them that they need to cover up to protect themselves from men, who are apparently not able to control their thoughts and actions. This is not a far leap from rape culture, where women can "ask for it" based on their refusal to cover up. I believe that anyone has the right to choose to wear a hijab--and, of course, all women should be allowed to cover up if they want--but as part of Islam, it is sexism disguised as protection for women. . Just because it's a religious practice doesn't mean we shouldn't question and challenge it--that doesn't make the practice itself any less misogynistic

I find your attitude really

I find your attitude really frustrating, divisive and dismissive. Why don't you get to know some Muslim women before you go about letting them know how opressed they are. Is islam patriarchal? Of course it is - find me a culture that is free from it. Riiiight. So why don't you TRUST and BELIEVE the women who live it to tell their own stories and negotiate patriarchy and oppression in a way that makes sense to their own lives. There is no definitive guide to ending patriarchy. ..there are justva lot of conversations.

I agree with you anon about this disgusting attitude

Ms. Bobble
What exactly do you know about Islam culture? And what exactly are you brainwashed by? Your condescending attitude is straight from misogynistic brainwashing views held by western patriarchy that have brainwashed YOU into thinking that covering up is always a misogynistic act that anything not western is "backwards". Hijab is not limited to Islam religion and actually was a tradition that came before the religion, meaning others outside of Islam wear headscarves. It is high time western society educates itself from people actually from the east instead of looking through their narrow minded scope. It's frankly disgusting. And since you can't even be bothered to even look for people who fight against western patriarchal views of other cultures here is:

badassmuslimgirl.tumblr.com

That's right. She's a BADASS MUSLIM.

In the meantime, you can go champion for nuns' rights to take off their covered up uniforms in the convent.

When you commit to a religion

When you commit to a religion as perfect as Islam putting a scarf on is something you want to do to please your creator. I know you're probably thinking about how it's all control but honestly it's control that makes you a better person.

Encouraging

I find it very encouraging to hear how Zaeinab's Mom encouraged her to make the decision on her own and supported her through the resulting conflict. I have the utmost respect for women who choose to don the hijab and will be participating in this year's World Hijab Day -- partly out of support, partly out of curiosity, and partly because I've seen some gorgeous hijabs I'd like to try out!

Yes, lets listen to the women themselves

While we only have really the views of one young girl here on why she wears the scarf, I think the idea behind the piece is great, and I would encourage Bitch to explore it further. This is very much a feminist issue.

I have actually written about this a few days ago on my personal blog, whining about the fact that nobody asks the muslim women themselves when discussing scarves / veils. THAT is clearly patronising, whether the reasons for the scarf-wearing itself are or not. In the BEST case scenario it is therefore pot calling the kettle black.

My own favourite was a quote from a muslim feminist, who compared the scarf to high heels. That resonated with me, at least...

Jup-and high heels are really

Jup-and high heels are really unhealthy for your body/feets. I mean-i love high heels, i have a real fetish for them but i dont wear them often because i have been born with minor deformations on my feet and i dont want to harm them more. So i wear them sometimes because i love them and they turn me on.
My hijab doesnt work that way-it doesnt harm my head if i wear it all the time-and i think it looks gorgeous. I dont want other people to judge my decisions on clothing-because i dont judge theirs or think about what subtle social BS "forces" them to think they are free if they harm their body with wearing high heels or very short clothing in winter.(or worse:why they "think" that dieting is a must et cetera- I know there are these forces and everywhere where patriarchy is, is this lookistic force. But i don't use that knowledge to question the freewill and sanity of women which choose options i wont or will. The qorld isn't perfect hut questioning womens choices won't solve patriarchy-it just supresses women and ultimately harms them. Us.