Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
photo of the author wearing her \"allah\" pendant necklace
photo of the author wearing her \"allah\" pendant necklace
Photo by Sabrina Dastagirzada

I’m Not Oppressed By Islam, I’m Oppressed By People Who Don’t Understand It

My dad used to wear a specific necklace on a daily basis — a gold chain adorned with a pendant that had “Allah,” or God, written in Arabic. After realizing that Islam doesn’t allow men to wear gold, he removed it and kept it aside until I began to wear it. Islamic doctrines say gold can penetrate the skin of men and the particles can flow through the bloodstream; this doesn’t occur in women due to an extra layer of fat under the skin. Therefore, the Quran, the holy book of Islam, advises against men wearing gold. Additionally, it is said that wearing an Allah pendant keeps God close to you. When I wear it, I feel an extra connection to my beliefs. It gives me a sense of calm and serenity in stressful situations. Upon instinct, I tend to reach for and hold my necklace as a reminder that God is close to me.

As Islam grows to be one of the most rapidly-spreading religions globally, so does negative press, and, in turn, negative interpretations of what Islam is. Media plays a major role in this: Nine out of 10 movies featuring a Muslim character portray them in a negative or stereotypical light, according to Muslim activists Maryam and Nivaal Rehman. The BBC’s 2018 series Bodyguard, for example, starts with a scared hijabi Muslim woman strapped with a bomb who is revealed to be the “mastermind” behind the bombing.

The misrepresentation of Muslim people is also straight-up disrespectful. The series Why Are You Like This? Provides a perfect example in a scene where a woman breaks her fast with a shot saying, “Bismillah,” or “In the name of Allah.” This is not only highly insulting, but it promotes the stereotype that Muslims do not properly practice their religion, and loosely change their values. It builds falsified discrimination against an already slandered community and implants the idea that my religion is founded on terrorism, extremism, and violence being spread, leaving out the true nature of this peace-seeking religion.

As a Muslim born in America, I feel isolated from the country I was born into, from the other people I supposedly share this country with. Growing up, I navigated my life feeling the need to keep my personality and identity silent. In a country that preaches that citizens have the freedom of religion, being ridiculed for my religion makes me feel that even though I may not be legally obligated to let go of my beliefs, I’m not entirely free to express my feelings. Despite this, I display my necklace with pride.

How can feminism succeed when Muslim women are being put down for how they choose to dress?

In yet another Netflix show, Elite, Muslim character character Nadia Shano removes her hijab to be “freed from the shackles of Islam.” Shows like this consistently force a popular narrative of false empowerment by suggesting that all Muslim women are oppressed and pressured to wear the hijab. Many spectators believe that the women of Islam are oppressed because many dress modestly and wear the hijab. I recall a time when a girl was asking me about my religion, “If you are Muslim, why don’t you wear a scarf?”

I shrugged and responded, “Not all Muslim women do, but it’s encouraged.” She proceeded to say to me, “Well, good for you. Your hair is too pretty to hide anyway, you know? You probably look better without it.” I could only laugh it off, because I didn’t know how to respond at the moment, but I look back wishing I had said something to try to educate her.

This mindset is also ingrained in young women in subtler ways that influence the idea of feminism. Susan Douglas comments in her book, Enlightened Sexism, that Cosmopolitan Magazine isn’t for the passive girls waiting for the right guy to find them. It’s more for the “fun, fearless female” who is proud to be a “sex genius.” This type of girl is the archetype to follow in the name of feminism. Although there is nothing wrong with women expressing themselves in this way, the issue derives from girls being put down for not following suit, for choosing to stay on the “passive” side. Feminism is a movement for all women to be treated equal, but in order to achieve this, all women must treat each other as equals first. How can this occur when Muslim women are being put down for how they choose to dress? This conflict fuels the idea that many men possess: that feminism is just another way to start “unnecessary” conflict. 

As a Muslim woman in this generation, many people see me as an unliberated woman that will silently endure jokes laced with sexism, since I’m supposedly “oppressed” by my beliefs. If I don’t, I’m a sharp-tongued, conflict-seeking woman who can’t take a joke. Despite the recent efforts made in the feminist movement, like women leading COVID-19 research for over two years and Afghan women being able to speak out in New York to guard their rights against the Taliban, the stereotypes of women being inferior have failed to die out. By wearing my necklace as a representation of my religion, I’m also representing my own choices, like how I choose to dress or how I express my thoughts. Receiving looks of pity for being “oppressed” makes me feel like I’m stripped of my rights to freely express myself. Why am I any less?

In a country of relentless oppression, my connection to my beliefs keeps my identity on full display.

Thankfully, my family and friends have always been there to show me that I’m not. My parents always remind me that I’m pursuing religion for myself and my bond with Allah, so these comments and stereotypes shouldn’t stop me. They remind me of the beauty of Islam, a religion of peace, a religion that spoke of equality far before anyone else could. I found community in my Muslim friends, too. We grow, learn, and set goals together, always pushing each other to be the best Muslims we can be. One of my closest Muslim friends and I are always there for each other during our highs and lows. We plan out dinners to break our fasts during Ramadan, and we always remind each other that whatever happens is meant to be. 

Even my non-Muslim friends have been nothing but supportive. My roommate, for example, is always curious and intrigued about Islam. She loves asking questions about our practices and learning more. She even fasted with me during the first Ramadan I spent alone after moving to Davis for school. One of my best friends is Christian, but she is pretty informed about Islam, and always asks questions to understand me and my beliefs better. She’s even spoken out for Muslims in her own written works. I’ve been blessed with the best support system I could ask for, and I could never thank my family and friends enough for being with me as I grow to be more involved with my religion.

With their support, I am a representative of Islam to the people around me that are unaware of the religion. In a country of relentless oppression, my connection to my beliefs keeps my identity on full display. I wear my necklace through the oppression complex developed by “free women.” I wear my necklace through enduring the treatment of a partial citizen in the country I’ve spent my life in. I wear my necklace to mark my own identity, and overcome the stigma against Islam.

Sabrina is a third year college student at the University of California, Davis studying Human Biology with the goal of pursuing a career in medicine. She is also very passionate about discussing social issues. She works as an IT Technician but also enjoys volunteer work with clinics and organizations. Outside that, she loves listening to music, sometimes cooking, and hanging out with friends and family.