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By Zoya Hasan

Religion is a tricky topic to talk about. In fact, religion in and of itself can be complicated to entirely comprehend. As I see it, all religions can be interpreted in numerous ways by different people. Although I feel hesitant to state that my religion, Islam, is a truly misconceived religion in the United States, it’s what I feel, and have felt for quite some time.

I’ve witnessed some troublesome comments towards the Muslim community during the four years I’ve lived in the United States. I’ve also come across a lot of people who ask me questions out of mere curiosity. One of my favorite and most recurring questions is: “How come you don’t cover your head?” and it’s usually followed up by a comment on how they thought that Muslim women are ‘forced’ to do so. In all honesty, I’ve never known how to best answer this question. More often than not, I just tell them that not everyone in my family wears a hijab, but it’s much deeper than that. For Muslim Women’s Day 2021, I want to dive in and finally break this down, for myself and those that may find themselves in a similar boat.

Women who wear the scarf can immediately be recognized as Muslims. The scarf certainly does represent our religion! I guess that makes it valid for you to ask me this question. Most of the women choose to wear it because of the faith it represents, while others may take the hijab as part of family tradition. For me personally, the scarf was never big in my family. I wear it when appropriate, like when going to the mosque or performing prayer. But it’s never occurred to me to keep my head covered at all times because I personally believe that it doesn’t make me any less of a Muslim woman.

T. Chick McClure via Unsplash

I’m certainly not forced to wear a hijab, either. I admire the women that make this commitment in the name of God, but just because I don’t cover my head doesn’t mean I’m not a good Muslim. To me, being a good Muslim is being kind to others, being forgiving, being patient. That’s my duty as a Muslim. I wish that one day I may be able to wear the scarf, because I believe it to be symbolic of love towards my religion, but please don’t judge me if I don’t. It’s my choice to make — no one else’s.

A major issue in Western culture, specifically the US, is their perception of Islam directly relating to terrorism (specifically speaking, the tragic events of 2001). The events that took place in 2001 aren’t reflective of the teachings of my religion. The religion Muslims follow is a religion of peace and morality. I feel that a lot of people think of Islam as a dictatorship, but it’s far from it. Yes, autonomy doesn’t necessarily come easy to Muslim women. Yes, there are gender conflicts within the books. But there is also freedom of choice. Islam guides us on how to live, but it doesn’t force us in any manner.

I’m no scholar, but this is my take on my religion: The Holy Qur’an is our guide, and it advises us to not take it in its most literal sense. With that said, that are certainly people who advocate for the Qur’an to be understood in that sense, but the reality of this situation is that the Holy Book is open to interpretation. It is not a dictatorship.

My intention here is not to criticize any individual or group — my only aim is to give a voice to something that has troubled me as a Muslim woman living in America. I don’t blame anyone for not knowing much about my culture or my religion; the media has its way of altering mindsets and only showing you what they think you need to know. It creates stereotypes. We do have technology at hand that gives us the ability to learn about anything and everything, so perhaps it might be time for us to use it purposefully.

What defines a Muslim woman is not her scarf, but rather her strength and courage to fight the expectations society have put on her. Women on their own have it hard enough in a world that’s predominantly patriarchal. To add more expectations to that makes it even more difficult for us. Please don’t relate my scarf — or lack thereof — to my devotion towards my faith.

I am a Muslim woman. No, I choose not to cover my head. Yes, I am religious.

Felicity is the Associate Features Editor at Her Campus, spearheading HC's feature packages on the most important subjects for college women, from sustainable style to mental health on-campus. She is also the editor for the Style and Money + Career sections, mentoring a team of talented writers and interns. Felicity also manages the @HerCampusStyle account, home to a community of style-savvy college women.  Felicity graduated in May 2018 from Florida State University with a double major in Editing, Writing, & Media and Media/Communication Studies. Before joining the team full-time, Felicity was a staff writer, content editor, the managing editor, and the campus correspondent throughout her four years at the FSU chapter. She has interned with Better Homes & Gardens, Sarasota Magazine, and Sachs Media Group during her college career. In her spare time, Felicity likes to explore new coffee shops, go to any local concert, or hunt for new finds at her favorite thrift stores.