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Hijab: Lived Experiences

The article “Hijab, Gendered Islamophobia, and the Lived Experiences of Muslim Women” by Dr. Naved Bakali and Nour Soubani explores the relationship between hijab and gendered Islamophobia, and how it affects the lives of Muslim women. The authors argue that hijab has become a symbol of Muslim identity and a target of hate and discrimination in many western societies. They also discuss how this gendered Islamophobia affects the daily experiences of Muslim women, including experiences of discrimination and hate crime, harassment and microaggressions, and feelings of alienation and marginalization.

Hijab in Western Societies

The authors use a qualitative research approach, including in-depth interviews with Muslim women in the United States and Canada, to explore the experiences of Muslim women in

relation to hijab and gendered Islamophobia. They find that Muslim women who wear hijab often face significant challenges, including physical and verbal assaults, workplace discrimination, and negative stereotypes and prejudices. Additionally, the authors argue that hijab is a key factor in the perpetuation of gendered Islamophobia and its impact on Muslim women, as it makes them more visible and identifiable as Muslim, which can make them more vulnerable to hate and discrimination.

The authors also discuss the importance of intersectionality, as Muslim women who wear hijab may also face discrimination based on other factors, such as race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. They also highlight the need for increased awareness and education about gendered Islamophobia and its impact on Muslim women, as well as the need for effective interventions to address and counteract these negative experiences.

Hijab and gendered Islamophobia are deeply intertwined, and that Muslim women who wear hijab are often subjected to negative experiences and discrimination. The authors call for increased attention and action to address gendered Islamophobia and its impact on Muslim women, as well as a recognition of the importance of hijab as a symbol of identity for many Muslim women.

In 1989, Kimberle Crenshaw introduced the term “intersectionality.” Crenshaw wanted to address the problem with feminist and anti-racist identity politics that overlooked important differences within a group for the sake of a unified political cause. She believed that the feminist movement treated all women as if their experiences were the same, while the anti-racist movement treated all people of color as if their experiences were the same, ignoring the overlapping experiences of women of color. Intersectionality encompasses the intersection of multiple identities such as race, class, gender, and citizenship, and how the combined effects of marginalization contribute to a unique experience for those who belong to multiple marginalized groups.

When it comes to Muslims, it is important to recognize that not all Muslims experience Islamophobia in the same way. Islamophobia affects multiple levels, compounded by struggles of race, class, and gender. Muslim women, in particular, experience Islamophobia not only with regards to religion, but also with regards to gender. The hijab, in particular, plays a role in the experiences of gendered Islamophobia among Muslim women. The figure of the Muslim woman and the hijab have been a central part of Western society’s narratives of colonization, invasion, and violence against Muslim societies. The hijab has often been objectified and used to justify military occupation and has been a   source of controversy in European politics, with attempts to ban it from public space.

Lived Experiences in Hijab

The article then shares the experiences of a young White convert to Islam named Noor. She reported that she did not face much discrimination but still acknowledged the existence of

anti-Muslim sentiments. Despite not experiencing much racism, she was personally targeted for her Muslim appearance and shared an incident she faced while taking public transportation.

Noor was born and raised in a community and was part of the majority population, but she faced verbal and physical abuse and was told to “go back to your country” when she started wearing the hijab. This treatment shows how wearing a Muslim symbol like the hijab can make someone, even if they are a part of the majority population, feel like an outsider. According to Abo-Zena, Sahli, and Tobias-Nahi, Muslim women who wear the hijab often face marginalization because of hate speech. Noor’s aggressors in this case saw themselves as the ones with the power to decide what is acceptable in their society and what needs to be rejected. Her wearing of the hijab marked her as contaminating the nationalist space, and she was told to leave, which showed that her perceived belonging to the society was based on her conformity to the majority culture.

The idea of the nation is more than just physical borders, it’s also an imagined community, which is produced and sustained by citizens who imagine they share a strong bond and separate themselves from people outside the nation. However, wearing a hijab, which suggests a change in religion, can lead to a change in perceived race. This process of racializing Islam is the result of imperialism, slavery, war, and conquest. As a result, Muslims in America are diverse, but are often seen as one racial category. Noor’s experience as a white convert differs from that of Arab, Black, Latino, and South Asian Muslim women, who face the added racialization of being seen as terrorists, immigrants, and thugs.

Ayesha, a high school student, reflects on her experiences of wearing the hijab for the first time in grade nine. She mentions that wearing the hijab made her feel like she had to become a spokesperson for Islam and that every time there would be a debate or discussion about Islam or Muslims in her classes, everyone would look to her to provide the answer, despite her being just 14 years old. Ayesha describes this phenomenon as “spotlighting,” which refers to the idea that students of minority religious, ethnic, or cultural groups are expected to speak for or otherwise justify their group’s beliefs or actions.

Ayesha’s experiences reflect a broader discourse about Islam that tries to reduce world events and actions of Muslims to matters of culture rather than historical, societal, and political processes. This type of analysis often assumes that Muslim students can explain the motivations of those who committed acts of terror, even though they do not agree with these actions, and that they should be able to explain the actions of hijackers just because they share the same religion. This type of analysis also focuses on Muslim women in particular, asking questions about Islam’s rules surrounding women, the meaning of the hijab, and the belief systems of Muslim women, all meant to somehow explain or demystify an essential difference between Muslim cultures and Western cultures.

Another student, Maryam, describes how her relationships at school changed once she started

wearing the hijab. People would ask her a lot of questions, mostly based on stereotypes associated with Islam, such as beheadings, stoning, and forced marriages. This type of questioning, according to Maryam, was in the context of epithets propagated by the media, which assumes that Muslims are different and “other.” These questions put a lot of pressure on Maryam and made her feel like she had to become a spokesperson for the Islamic faith and for Muslims.

Hijab and Islamophobia

This article focuses on the gendered aspects of Islamophobia as experienced by Muslim women in North America who wear the hijab. The study uses an ethnographic approach to explore the various ways in which these women face Islamophobia, including in societal interactions, educational settings, media representations, and through the sexualization of Muslim women.

The goal of this qualitative study is not to provide general conclusions about the experiences

of Muslim women in North America, but rather to shed light on the individual experiences of the participants. Through this, the study contributes to the broader understanding of systemic and interpersonal racism experienced by racialized communities, with a particular emphasis on Muslim women who wear the hijab.

The hijab and its relationship with Islamophobia are intricately intertwined in Western

societies. The experiences of hijab-wearing Muslim women provide insight into the ways in which the hijab is perceived as a symbol of race, sexuality, culture, and national identity. The stories shared in this paper serve as a starting point for further examination and understanding of the complexities of Islamophobia and its gendered dimensions.



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