Islam Through a Kaleidoscope: Muslim Female Identity Unveiled


Iman Zafar, Reporter

Identity- who we are and what defines us. Questioning identity is a commonality among people of all ages, religions and cultures, especially when one grows up between different countries. The question of what an American Muslim women’s lifestyle looks like in the U.S. today comes with a complex answer. According to a recent estimate done in 2016 by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, there are 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, but a question that many have is: does Islam oppress women? Hearing of situations all across the world, and primarily in Muslim countries, people often confuse cultural oppression for religious oppression.
Wearing the hijab (headscarf) or the abaya (cloak) is one of the most discussed topics, when the focus of the conversation is on Muslim women and how they lead their lifestyles. The Quran, the central religious text of Islam, says, “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof” (Quran 24:31). Parallel to this ideal, the Quran also says, “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do” (An-Nur 24:30). Different interpretations of these verses vary across many cultures, while the one that speaks to the attire of Muslim women is emphasized drastically more than the verse that speaks to the modesty of men. Some interpret the former verse as a suggestion, believing in their right to choose, since you are not told to wear the hijab before the age of puberty. The interpretation of this verse and others go

both ways; just as Muslims have the right to argue that the hijab is not religiously mandated, they also have the right to argue that it is religiously mandated.
For many Muslim women today in America, wearing the hijab means something completely different than being oppressed. Muskan Idris, a West Springfield High School senior explained her perspective. “For me, wearing the hijab is a big responsibility. It signifies my commitment to my religion. I personally would not want to be wearing it and then decide one day that I want to take it off. It represents my commitment to my belief and I don’t want to take that lightly. When I am ready, I will ch

oose to take on that responsibility.” Idris’s ideas of religion are driven by interpretation, “Every Muslim has a different way of interpreting their religion. Modern Islam is completely subjective to what one believes, aligns themselves with, and the different boundaries one has. I realized that, even if my modern interpretation of Islam is somewhat misunderstood, my understanding comes with the fact that my God is forgiving and would understand that even if I do make a mistake, it is not out of disrespect.”

Culturally, many get so caught up in believing that their interpretation is the only right way, they forget that ultimately, right and wrong isn’t up to anyone else to judge, that is between a person and their relationship with God.
Certain Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia make it mandatory for women to be fully covered through their form of legislation, and if not they face violent punishment. A question that comes up in a situation like that is, who gives a person or a group of people the right to force women to dress a certain way, when religiously that is between a woman and her God? The criticism Saudi Arabia often faces for laws regarding women has contributed to the country taking some small steps for the women’s liberation movement. Last year, a law was passed allowing women to be able to drive. Recently an order removing the need of male guardianship and consent for women to receive services has been passed to be implemented. Though these are steps in the right direction for basic rights of women living in Saudi Arabia, many previous and current mandates oppressing women in certain countries lead people to believe that Islam oppresses women, when that is not the case. Muslim women in many countries today chose whether they want to take the hijab or not. Rather than viewing the hijab as a symbol of oppression, realize that it is more a symbol of pride. The interpretation of Islam, like any other religion merely depends on what one focuses on.