It was a Tuesday afternoon, around 3pm. I was driving my children home from their second day of school.
Just as I started to turn from a busy road onto my smaller road, a white SUV swung itself in my path, intentionally blocking me from driving onto my road.
Just as quickly, he swerved out of the way, giving me just enough space to get through, and then he shouted, “RAAAAGHEAD!!!!” at me as he drove away.
By the time his words registered with me, he was already a block away. I pulled over and breathed to calm myself, my children repeatedly asking me what he had yelled.
I was in shock. This doesn’t happen often in my small Midwestern town. People are typically polite.
When things like this do happen—more and more often in Trump’s America, where hate is acceptable and racism is presidentially pardoned—I have to have the same conversation with myself, over and over again:
Should I stop wearing hijab? If it means my children and I are unsafe, should I stop wearing it?
How unsafe am I really? Today it’s bad names, but tomorrow it may be threats, and then it may be physical violence.
When will things have crossed the point that I am no longer just nervous and anxious, but actually unsafe?
A New Perspective
Around the same time this happened, I came across a video by Dr. Shabir Ally which answers the question, “Must Muslim women in America wear hijab even if they feel unsafe?”
He cites one Khaled Abou El-Fadl, a sheikh who is very well-educated and qualified, and who issued a fatwa earlier last year saying that no, Muslim women who feel unsafe in the West (because hate crimes are certainly increasing) are permitted to remove hijab.
He says: “…the critical issue for the classical jurists was not fitnah or sexual seduction, but rather the social status that various forms of dress would signify…”
He argues that if hijab makes a woman unsafe in a hostile environment, she should seriously consider removing it:
“… If the hijab causes women to stand out, and brings unwanted attention to them, and poses the risk of bringing harm to women… in my opinion, it is contrary to the purposes of Shariʿah for a woman to expose herself to harm of any kind simply for the purposes of covering her hair. Indeed, it is far more consistent with the purposes of Shariʿah for a woman to place more emphasis on educating her fellow citizens about Islam and Muslims instead of focusing on her physical appearance.”
I had my evidence. I had my fatwa. Now, I had to think.
Remembering the Past
As I pondered this question and the very real implications it would have in my life, my family, my friendships, and in my marriage, I recalled another time I was in a similar circumstance.
Rewind to the Autumn of 2015: I was a foreign, freshly-divorced, single mother in Alexandria, Egypt. I was living in a poor neighborhood where most people were either poorer Egyptians or poor foreigners, like myself.
Women from all nations, all skin colors, and all cultures were living in Egypt to study Quranic Arabic and the deen.
But there was one thing they all seemed to have in common: they all wore niqab.
I found myself surrounded by an enclave of foreign women who were extremist in their application of Islam. Everything I said, did, and felt was labelled “haraam”, with no evidence given.
But the worst thing I was doing, in their eyes, was refusing to wear niqab.
They begged me, they pressured me, they attacked my character, “advising” me with naseeha that I had a fundamental responsibility to “blend in” to the surroundings, to avoid drawing attention to myself.
When they were not successful, they sent their husbands to pressure me. Surely, I would listen to a man, right?
But I was not moved. Nothing could coerce me into covering my face in 100+ degree heat. Nothing could force me to do something beyond what God Himself and His Prophet demanded.
I would not be forced to observe a pseudo-religious custom which is neither required nor recommended or encouraged in my religion.
Their argument went something like this: “If all the foreign women here are wearing niqab, yours is the only white face they see. You are drawing attention to yourself! You must cover your face! Make it easier for the brothers to lower their gaze!”
This double-standard is shockingly common in the Muslim community.
We Muslim women are expected to do everything we can to avoid the attention and stares of our own Muslim brothers—those we should feel safest with—but expected to happily attract the attention of dangerous men in the street by wearing a moving target on our heads in the West.
It seems that our husband’s/father’s/brother’s jealousy is more important to them than our lives.
Nonetheless, I shall not be moved.
My children are watching me. I will teach my children to stand up to bigotry. I will teach them to resist the urge to assimilate.
I will teach them to be proud of their faith, and that they should not work to “pass” for American.
We ARE American.
We will not go away. We will not disappear into the background so that WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) Americans are more comfortable.
I will not be intimidated to remove any of my clothing any more than I was intimidated to put on more clothing than I have to.
My body does not belong to my husband, my family, my society, or even myself. It belongs to God, and I will observe the letter and the spirit of the Law He gave me.
Today, that means standing strong and proud in my hijab. Tomorrow, it may mean removing my hijab if it is necessary to keep myself and my children safe.
I answer to Allah alone.