Poster from Hollaback! Baltimore

A few years back, I became fully aware of  my calling; feminism and ALGBTQ rights activism.  I took it upon myself to read and do for the cause, as much as I could. I am associated with Hollaback!, and we are a strong team of local activists spread in 22 countries, in 64 cities. We let people tell their stories of street harassment. Summarily, it is an awesome initiative that you need to check out.

In these few years, I have formed my opinions about most issues relating to misogyny and homophobia. But if there is one thing I don’t fully comprehend yet, then it is the Hijab.

Hijab is a headgear that Muslim women wear; it can be as little as a scarf draped around the head or it can totally cover the body only exposing the eyes. Through Hollaback, I got to know an activist from Cairo, Nihal Saad Zaghloul. In the wake of Egyptian Spring, Nihal co-founded the Imprint Movement that involved community policing to stop harassment of women. You can listen to more here. Nihal is a Hijabi, that is, a woman who dons the Hijab. It only seemed natural to talk to her about the topic. I sent her a few questions and she very kindly  replied.

How can high school students be engaged with  feminist organizations? How can they try to make a difference?

There are several ways students can engage in the feminist scene, they can blog, they can write songs, paint pictures, do plays, surf the internet for activities such as gender role playing. For example in Imprint we sometimes get our members to tell stories about themselves. Men have to tell the stories of the women and the women have to tell the stories of the men in the same way. We try to show that there is no problem in pretending to be a woman and vice versa. Students don’t always have to get involved in big organizations, sometimes creating your own thing given your resources and capabilities can be as effective.

What is the hijab? How can students and teachers coexist and respect each other while also maintaining an environment of healthy discussion?

The Hijab is sign a of modesty and humility that women choose to wear when they want. Just like Virgin Mary in all of the pictures drawn of her, she is always covered, her hair and body is never shown. (Relevant verses from the Quran Soorat Al-Hujarat (49:13))

Essentially Allah created us different so that we may know one another and truly believe, that is to realize Allah’s plan and his creation. A relationship must be created so we co-exist with each other.  Organize events, parties where teachers bring their families and socialize with different teachers. Do a sports event that would involve soccer, basketball, competitions so people would learn to plan in teams. Building relationships is the key towards tolerance and acceptance.

Is Hijab a choice? What would you say to young women in schools struggling between the Hijab and normal clothing? 

Hijab is a choice, every thing we do is a choice. Women who are struggling should look within them and do what makes them comfortable. They should be true to themselves and hence they will be true to God. The Hijab is not a hindering tool, it will not hinder women from doing what they want. Women can climb mountains, dive, do road trips, dance. Everything is a choice. The Hijab is something women do to get closer to Allah, its a step towards heaven. So if women decide to use it then great if not then they don’t.

Image from Feminspire

The Bottom Line

I am not going to draw any conclusions for you. Whether you appreciate  the philosophy associated with Hijab or not, is totally up to you. But your right to have an opinion does not permit you to label women who wear the Hijab. It does not allow you to stereotype them. And it certainly is not a call for your help, no, they do not need to be rescued. They will tell you if they do. Also, if you follow a religion that imposes certain dress-codes and a few people of the same religion do not comply, let them be! They can make decisions for themselves. You are not even god!

I believe that the basic tenet of any civilized society should be listening. It is incredibly important to listen. You may or may not agree with what the other person is saying but if we are to ever go ahead as  a society, then acknowledging the other person’s opinion is important. Always discuss and always put forth your opinion. Of course you will come across people with dangerous opinions, try your best to convince them!

Tolerance is a funny word. To be tolerant in a style where you listen and ignore the other person’s viewpoint and halt discussion, is pretty useless. True tolerance is listening, talking and discussing. Civil society and bright teenagers like you all should continue to learn everyday. There is literally (I do not mean figuratively here) no end to things you can know about.

Be aware, be involved, be awesome.

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