Beyond the Veil: Why Some Muslim Women Wear the Hijab

By Sara Ali and Summer Ali

Wearing the hijab is a form of feminism, and if you are against it, then you must be anti-feminist. There, I said it.

I’ve seen and heard so many Western feminists describe the veil, often donned by Muslim women, as a symbol of oppression. In the West, some feminists use their bodies to represent equality and to oppose such things as slut shaming. In other, more conservative countries, some women cover up as a form of freedom.

We have these preconceived notions that women are forced to wear it against their will, that if they don’t wear it, they face punishment at the hands of evil, vicious Muslim men; this couldn’t be further from reality.

Have you ever stopped to think that covering your body is a form of liberation, and that the veil is an icon of feminism in Islam?

It would be outrageous to deny that some women wear the veil against their will. I’ve traveled twice to the city of Amman in Jordan, and met women who were forced to wear it by their father or husband – but, unlike their counterparts who voluntarily cover up, they tend to come from a poor and uneducated background. We often confuse culture and religion, and anti-hijab sentiment is a prime example of just that.

Somalia native Sahra Qaxiye sat down with me at a loud and crowded Sweetness 7 to talk about her lifestyle and feminism in Islam. She decided to wear the veil while living in Buffalo at the age of 16.

“Westerners hear things in the media and think that we are forced to wear it. It’s unfair . . . People think it is a form of oppression, and it is the exact opposite. I like to keep my hair covered and I don’t want to wear tight clothes,” she said.

Sahra said wearing the veil liberates her from delivering an image out to the world. She said it forces people to look at who she is instead of her aesthetics. She decided to wear the hijab to recognize her Muslimhood when she was 16 years old; it brought her one step closer to her spirituality.   

“My parents told us about Islam when we were young, but they wanted us to make the choice to become a Muslim on our own.”

And that’s exactly what she did. Sahra studied Islam and read the Qur’an – her findings resonated with her. She also told me that feminism and modesty in Islam vary from Western feminism and modesty. She believes that Islam is feminist in nature.

Aisha, a Muslim girl who migrated here from Somalia, stated that she always liked wearing the hijab.  She started when she was a kid because that was the norm in Somalia. When she grew up and learned more about the veil, she embraced it for herself.

“Growing up in Somalia, it was normal to wear it. I learned more about my religion as I grew up. I wore the veil for modesty. The more into my religion I became, the more I wanted to wear it – it all made sense to me,” she said.

In the view of liberal western feminist and academics, being Muslim echoes with oppression. In the eyes of actual Muslim women, it is the opposite. To them, it is the freedom to be heard rather than simply looked at. Feminists around the world have found answers to the objectification of women; for Muslim women, the hijab is one of those answers. While the bra-burning westerner and covered-up Muslim may look quite different, they share the same vision: to be recognized as more than a female body.