Salam

01 June 2009

Choosing hijab doesn't make me more pious

A Toronto Star reporter reflects on her headscarf and an Islamic forum tackling once-taboo topics
Dec 30, 2007 04:30 AM

Staff Reporter

A week ago today, I was sitting on the second floor of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, immersed in worship and reflecting on the week-long spiritual journey of hajj that I had just been on.

During my time in Mecca, I put myself on a self-imposed media fast – staying away from the Internet, and literally pulling out the plug on the television in my hotel room. But despite my efforts to remain unconnected with life in Toronto, snippets of one news story in particular managed to make it all the way to Mecca – that of the death of 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez.

While on pilgrimage, I prayed for Parvez, whom I had never met, and for her family, an immigrant family torn apart by the tragedy they probably never even saw coming when they came to Canada. I also prayed for the Muslim community in Toronto, which I knew would be struggling to deal with the fallout from this tragedy.

My assumption was that other than some words of condemnation, a few brave voices of outrage, and a promise for change, there would be little action, little reflection, and little learned from the tragedy. Although issues of familial problems, domestic violence or intergenerational conflicts are a part of every Muslim family I have encountered, discussions about such issues are shunned and almost unheard of.

But if Canada's largest Islamic conference can serve as an indicator, things may slowly be changing for the better. At the 6th annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention this weekend at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, more than 15,000 Muslims attended lectures dealing with social issues plaguing the community, including topics never discussed before so openly, like pornography, divorce, and domestic violence.

This is the sixth year the "unique youth effort" – the brainchild of a few young Muslim activists who wanted a forum for issues affecting their generation – has been held in Toronto.

"We have been in denial for too long," said Saeed Memon of Mississauga, a conference attendee. It's safe to say the impetus for change has been Parvez's death, he added.

The conference also included an hour-long seminar addressing the cultural baggage many associated with the teen's death.

In my view, the conference got it right. It appears culture played a role in her death, not religion as some have argued. She died, her friends said, because she didn't want to wear the hijab, something her more conservative family wanted her to adopt.

It's easy to disregard theories that cultural clash, a lack of parenting skills or a lack of parent-child communication may have played a role in her death – especially when the notion of a forced hijab is so appealing and, in today's political climate, so much easier to understand.

But as a hijabi by my own inclination, a choice that I made during university, much to the chagrin of my father who asked me to really consider the consequences of donning the scarf, it's hard to ignore the fascination both the Muslim community and broader Canadian society have with this piece of cloth.

I can't deny there are women forced to wear the hijab through peer pressure at school or family pressure at home. But in Canada, there are many young, smart Muslim women who have chosen to wear the hijab in part because it makes them a better Muslim, brings them closer to their faith, or simply allows them to adopt an Islamic identity.

It's often difficult to understand why women born and raised in Canada, like me, would choose a lifestyle that appears to be more restrictive and even oppressive to some. It is probably because I don't see it through that lens. I am not of the kind to preach that the hijab has liberated me, because it hasn't.

It isn't easy to wear the hijab in Canada, and is even more difficult when I travel. But it is a fundamental part of my Canadian-Islamic identity, and a part of faith that I consider important enough to have adopted – despite the difficulties that come with wearing it.

At the same time, I believe the Muslim community needs to take a look at why we have made wearing the hijab so important.

Why have we allowed this physical manifestation to become more important than a basic understanding of one's faith? To wear the hijab is a huge responsibility, one not taken lightly by any woman who does so consciously. That is why we need to begin to deconstruct the notion of cultural hijab that has emerged within the community, the idea that by simply donning the scarf, one will automatically become more pious, and a better person.

It may sound odd coming from one who wears the hijab, but I think it's time the Muslim community starts to de-emphasize the hijab, and focus instead on the virtues of modesty, respect and faith that hijab was meant to represent.

1 comment:

  1. I have just started to read your blog..mashallah very nice and so much Canadian content!!

    I have to agree that the hijab is such an over emphasized issue! I love this quote you have
    I think it's time the Muslim community starts to de-emphasize the hijab, and focus instead on the virtues of modesty, respect and faith that hijab was meant to represent.

    ReplyDelete

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