SOC 315: Cross-Cultural Perspectives
April 24, 2011
Muslim Women in Western Culture
Most people have seen a woman walking down the street or in a mall clad in what appears to be scarves wrapped around her head, covering her hair, ears, and neck. In some situations these women even have a veil covering up most of their face. This is becoming a common occurrence in the United States as the Islamic population grows. Some may view this as a way to make these women subservient, making it seem like they don’t have an identity or a voice. This leaves many to wonder why they would wear such a thing in modern America where women are treated as equals and do have a voice. The truth behind the headscarf does not lie in male dominance or view of women being less of a person, but in fact a choice these women are making based solely on tradition and religion.
The foundation of the headscarf, also known as hijab, lies in the interpretation of the Qur’an. While there has been past evidence of woman being suppressed in Islam, that is not the reasoning behind hijab. Many verses in the Qur’an talk about women covering up, and for a Muslim woman choosing to hijab this is where she takes her direction. Surah An-Nur (24:31) says women “should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons... or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex." Another more direct verse is Surah Al-Ahzab (33:59): "O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their persons [when abroad]: that is most convenient that they should be known [as such] and not molested: and Allah is Oftforgiving, most merciful." To Muslim women verses such as these are, in their minds, Allah telling them how he believes they should dress which clearly is modest and covered (Ali, 2005).
Outside of the strictly religious text regarding wearing hijab, Muslim women have different views as to when and where to wear their coverings. Some believe that it should be worn whenever a woman is out in public and could be coming in contact with men. Others believe that it is only needed in time of prayer or religious acts. Some women believe it is a form of respect for themselves and others see it as respect for the men around them. So while they all may agree that hijab is a necessary thing in their religion, the views as to when it should be worn vary from woman to woman. However, studies show that more and more young Muslim women are choosing to wear hijab whenever in public (Rana, 2007).
Even with knowing the foundation of the hijab is religion, such garments stand in stark contrast to the attire worn by most women in western culture. Many religions believe in modest dress, but none have taken it quite to the extreme as the Muslim’s do. So the question arises why, with all the modern and modest clothing that can be found, do these women still choose to wear such a seemingly outdated version of modest dress; especially one that has a submissive connotation to it? Many would be surprised to know that wearing hijab is a personal choice and it is not forced or even required of women practicing the faith (Seggie and Sanford, 2010).
In a survey done in the 1980’s, it was found that very few Muslim’s who were born in the US wore hijab and that many immigrants were slowly adopting the more modern way of American dress. However since the 1990’s a shift started taking place with US born Muslim’s choosing the wear hijab even if their mother’s had chosen not to (Ali, 2005). So the question is ultimately why? Seeing as this way of dress is not a required act, and that past trends have shown Muslim women adapting to the western culture, why are these young women choosing to hijab now?
There have been multiple studies done on young Muslim women and why they decide to take up...