17 June 2009

Young Muslims divided over wearing the hijab

By: Radhika Panjwani
December 13, 2007 09:57 PM - Hijab, halal and henna — for young Muslims, it's a personal choice. Muslims in Mississauga, Canada remain divided about their personal conflicts and struggles. Jameela Jaber, 20, a student at University of Toronto Mississauga, is a hijabi (someone who wears the hijab). She began wearing the headscarf five years ago after she felt the need to be connected to Islam. It was purely a personal choice, one that had nothing to do with her parents, but many young girls are not so lucky.

As an active member of a Muslim organization in school, Jaber said she receives hundreds of e-mails from young Muslim girls who want to don the hijab, but are scared of their parents' disapproval.“I feel comfortable for wearing the hijab because I am valued for my intelligence, skills and my personality rather than my looks and my sexuality. I feel liberated, not oppressed,” Jaber said. “I get e-mails from a lot of Muslim sisters who say they want to wear the hijab, but their parents don't want them to".“I believe everyone has their own issues, but if you were to ask me what my challenges are, I would tell you, my challenges have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I wear the hijab,” continued Jaber.

But other Muslim youths say it is a challenge to straddle two cultures. Mississauga-based Young Muslims of Canada is a grassroots organization that works towards outreach, education and development, and service was started in 1995. Syed Reza, 25, the national coordinator for the organization, said Muslim youths are at times at odds with their surroundings, and the problem has to be addressed by the community as a whole.“There's definitely a challenge for Muslims to maintain their identity,” Reza said. “I think there is a lot of pressure from friends and peers to fit in and to be like everyone else, and there are many Muslim youths who are forced to practice one type of religion at home because their parents have expectations and at school they have other challenges — they want to fit in.”

Reza suggests using pro-active strategies to combat domestic violence and prevent alienation of youth.“We've (Young Muslims Canada) been approached by some levels of government to address the issue and have programs for new communities in Canada and to facilitate a healthy integration into the Canadian mosaic,” he said.Reza thinks there should be more counselling available for Muslim youths, especially young women.“Not all youth feel comfortable approaching the imams,” he said. “But I am really saddened by the level of ignorance, too. Domestic violence is not just an Islamic issue...”Farzana Hassan-Shahid, the outspoken president of Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) and a Mississauga resident, said young Muslims should be able to decide for themselves if they want to cover their heads. She said the Quran doesn't mandate the hijab, but speaks on the principle of modesty for both men and women.“There's pressure from home and there's pressure to comply at school; some of these girls are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Parents of Muslim teenagers need to be aware of this and show compassion,” Hassan-Shahid said.

She believes multiculturalism is failing Canadians.“Multiculturalism is a farce,” she said. “Multiculturalism speaks of homogeneity; we don't see that homogeneity any more...we're trying to look at various cultures and accept them at their own terms rather than terms that are universal.”Maryam Shahid, 15, a Grade 10 student at The Woodlands Secondary School, said most of her friends who wear the headscarf know why they wear it, so there's no conflict.
“I don't feel the hijab is a necessity,” she said. “It is so much easier for me to express that opinion freely because my parents are liberal and didn't force it on me.”She said most girls who wear the hijab have the liberty to wear whatever they want as long as their heads are covered.


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