Amidst a Western war in the Arabic world that has propagated both prejudice and acceptance between the two cultures, little is still understood in the United States of the mysterious women of the Middle East. In the Western world, the silk head-cover worn by most Muslim women has often been paraded by individuals and media as a monument to oppression and a palisade against freedom.
Yet these women have so often left Western media unable to guess whether there is discontent or steady tranquility behind the garment. At Bellevue College, a Somali student speaks clearly about why she dons her head-cover today.
Her name is Ugbad Hassan, and as she sits behind her desk in the TRIO programs center, her neck and head are covered with a hijab.
Her head cover is more similar to a headscarf than the veil that some Muslim women wear to cover their entire face. “It’s kind of a relief,” she laughs, as she relates how it lifts the burden she sometimes feels to dress for the attention of guys.
Many people would be surprised when Hassan says that in Somalia, an Arabic country where most women are Muslim and don the modest garment, the government has no laws requiring them to wear the hijab. “It’s more of a cultural and personal thing back home,” she said.
Hassan says the hijab helps her maintain a respectable appearance that is important to her own moral values. Apart from the hijab, Hassan is dressed like a typical teenager in jeans, flats, and a black Helly Hansen jacket that leaves only her hands and face visible.
Unlike Hassan’s home in Somalia, many Arabic countries have laws that enforce women to wear modest clothing. “I think that’s wrong. … You should wear [the hijab] because you want to wear it, but women should not be forced to wear it” she said.
The media, she thinks, is also wrong. She’s referring to what she believes is a Western misconception that Muslim women are oppressed by wearing the hijab, veils, and other Islamic clothing. “Not all women are forced to wear it… many wear it because they want to” she said.
According to her, it’s the inside that matters. Wearing the hijab, she says, is secondary when compared to having a legitimate respect for God. “There are some people who wear [the hijab] and don’t pray five times a day, and there are people who pray five times a day and do not wear it,” she said. When it comes to the hijab, “it all depends on the person,” says Hassan.
Of course, Hassan doesn’t speak for all Muslim women. The prolific feminist and author Parvin Darabi had more criticism than praise regarding the hijab. However, Hassan may represent beliefs which are more widespread among Muslim women than many Westerners realize