I met a woman who changed my perspective about myself and other women. She was a Lebanese girl, born and raised a Muslim. I saw in her something I had seen in few women, and that is self-confidence. Here was this short, stout sister in her mid twenties. She was not much to look at, but when I spoke to her, I could feel her warmth, sincerity and intelligence. She was a Ph.D. in psychology, a college professor and a soon-to-be mother.
How did she affect me? Well. While we were speaking, both of us began speaking about the subject of choosing a good husband. She told me she had waited some time before marrying as she had been waiting for the perfect man, a good practicing Muslim man. She said, "I had a lot to offer a man. I was a good practicing Muslimah, educated, intelligent, and a respectable woman." This was a real shock to me. I must say, I was brought up with the American vanities. When a woman says she has a lot to offer, none of those things are usually on the list. Normally, women would say, "I am tall and thin. I have a pretty face. I have a good figure." Or, maybe, "I have blond hair and blue eyes." But for her to list such unfeminine qualities as elements that would make her a good catch as a wife, shocked me, especially since she so obviously lacked in the departments I so vainly considered important.
Later, however, I thought about it. I realized that this attitude I had was a sad fact of American life, and a sad commentary about me. We were raised to idealize Barbie. Our role models were beautiful women. I did not know very many names of women who had academically and intellectually excelled, but I could name several dozen models, singers and actresses.
I thought about myself. I had, at the time, graduated from my Master's degree. I was teaching English at a local college. I was working on my Ph.D. I was, and always had been considered to be of above average intelligence, but for as far back as I could remember, the only thing about which people ever commented about me to my parents was my beauty. Also, I could not imagine considering myself without considering my beauty. My self-image, like most American women, was tied to my beauty. If I lost that, even though I had so much, I had nothing.
A good friend of mine once mentioned how sad she felt that it took her so long to put on the Hijab, and even when she did finally put it on, she had to make it look pretty, by cinching the waist or wearing makeup. Another sister, a new convert, told me how she had just recently tried putting on the Hijab one day. She said that when she got back in her car, she started crying because she ...looked so ugly. I knew exactly how they both felt. I, myself, delayed my entry into Islam because, as I told many of my friends, I was not going to be seen walking around in bed sheets.
What is wrong with us that we see ourselves based solely on the image reflected in the mirror? Allah, the Almighty, has given us so much more. Allah has created us mates for our husbands, daughters for our parents, mothers for our children and sisters to one another, but we have allowed the disbelieving mentality to poison our perspectives. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be beautiful. This is perfectly natural. The problem lies in making our self-image contingent upon this fact.
Look around us. The best-paid women are those who play to men's fantasy either as actresses, models or even exotic dancers. The society is built around pleasuring men. All it takes is to watch one hour of television to figure this out. Are all consumers men? No. Then why are commercials ridden with beautiful, naked or practically naked women and tons of sexual imagery?
It is a true shame that a woman should be so worried about her image that she disobeys Allah because she does not have the confidence to be less than beautiful. Hijab is an essential element of societal protection. It keeps the woman from tempting the man, and it keeps her from tempting herself.
How? Because the attentions of a handsome man who has been turned by a pretty face or body is flattering to the woman. We enjoy the attention, and this can lead to too much more than 'friendly' chatting or innocent flirting. Additionally, the Hijab makes society judge the woman on a basis other than her beauty. This is also a protection. It makes the woman develop other talents. It makes her purity and modesty increase in value. It makes others respect her because it shows that she respects herself.
We need to recognize the obvious. Too many times you hear a woman say, ‘I dress this way to please myself’. Really? Well how many of you wear sexy tight dresses, heels, and are fully made-up when you are lounging around your house? If it is only for you, not for the attention it gets you from men, then why do you discard it when no man is present? Why do you not try to beautify yourself for yourself when only you are present? The reason is that it is not for you, in that way. It is for your self-confidence. We all need a boost now and then, so dressing sexily and turning a few heads our way makes us feel good and reminds us that we are still beautiful.
Therein lies the problem. Why do we need to have this type of reinforcement to make us feel good? Why is it that we have to gain our confidence from our looks? What is wrong with us? Look to men. You can see the shortest, fattest, baldest, ugliest one of them walking with a tall beautiful woman. Why? Because he has confidence in himself. He knows he has an asset, which appeals to others. He is rich or intelligent or even he is witty, or maybe he sings well.
We need to recognize our assets as women. The greatest asset we have is not our beauty. It is our virtue. Think about it. Men love to be seen with and to play with the sexy vamp, but he looks for a good girl to settle down and raise a family.
When the women of Greece wanted men to stop going to war all the time, they made a pact to withhold sexual favors from their men. The men got the message, and the wars stopped. The women of the world have always used their power to make men desire what they could not have. They have preserved their dignity and men have recognized this and respected this. Now, we no longer respect ourselves. We make ourselves available for visual feasting and other feasting as well.
The American woman works harder than she ever did. She is raising her children without a father. She is suffering needlessly as are her children. Many times, she has to go to medical science to get the man to even admit that the child is his. How low have we fallen? We think we have freedom? We are more imprisoned than we have ever been. We are prisoners to the whims of men. Men are beating us, abandoning us, using us, and discarding us. Why? Because there is always a more gullible woman around the corner.
We are going to all kinds of extremes to attract men. Recently, I was driving on a Sunday. I saw these women going into a church, and I swear they looked like they were dressed for a nightclub, not a church. On the flipside, I see our Muslim sisters wearing hijabs that show more than they conceal. I see the young girls playing with the beautiful Barbie dolls and arguing over who looks more like Barbie. Ya Allah! When will we wake up?
We have to protect ourselves sisters. We are Muslims. That is supposed to make us the best of nations. We are supposed to be the example to the world, so why are we the ones doing the following? We are the cream of the crop, so why are we wallowing in the mud? Sisters, I beg you to examine America for what it is.
When we show that we respect ourselves, we will get the respect we deserve, not until then. We have to set the limit. We have to show plainly and clearly that we are women of dignity, that we are Muslim women. If we do so, they will respond, even if the culture and practice is not theirs.
I was at work one day, when a man was introduced to me. He extended his hand to me. I politely said, “Sorry, but my religion forbids me from shaking hands with men”. His response to me was,
“My mother told me that one day I would go to shake hands with a lady, and she would refuse. I have finally met a lady."
Another time, I was in a market, and this sweet old man came up to me. He tugged on the back of my headpiece, and when I turned, he said,
“May God bless you for this. It is so beautiful to see a woman who respects herself."
The point here is that we will be viewed as we present ourselves. Why are some American men so appalled when they hear that a woman should cover herself? It is because that means that they can not get that boost to their self-image by parading around with a trophy woman. Why are so many women against the idea of Hijab? Because it means that they lose the confidence they have because their beauty is the key to their self-image. No beauty, no confidence. No beauty, no worth. Where would Cindy Crawford or Sharon Stone be if they had to rely on something other than their looks? Let's not fall into the trap they have laid for us.
Having stated all this let me get off my soapbox and get into the real reasons for my writing this. Having grown up as a non-Muslim in the West, I had more than a few concerns about the religion of Islam before I converted. The hardest thing for me was giving up what I considered to be my freedom to choose. But I finally realized that it was only by submitting to the rules of Allah that I was able to recognize this freedom.
Some people question why women have to cover or why women can not marry non-Muslim men. First, it is a fact of life that we are not in paradise. Although, the sad fact is that we expect everything to be perfect. We expect men and women to act like angels and we get angry or frustrated because they don't. The first thing any Muslim has to realize is that there is a Superior force (Allah) at work running the universe. We may not agree with the decisions He makes or the plan He has created, but if we recognize Him to be superior, we must know that His choices are based on factors of which we are unaware, and His superiority makes His choice right and ours wrong, by default.
I shall give you a poor example. I am not a medical doctor. However, when I feel sick, I go to someone who is. He tells me you have cancer. He prescribes radiation treatment. He gives me a basic explanation of what is going on, and how the radiation works to kill it, but in the end, I have no choice but to trust that he knows more than I do about this, and I let him do what needs to be done to get rid of the cancer, or I can take my chances on my imperfect understanding - a move that has killed many a cancer patient.
When it comes to Allah, I can not tell you why men were created to be creatures that are stimulated sexually by visual stimuli. Nor can I tell you why women are less prone to this phenomena (this is why Playboy, Hustler and such types of magazines are more popular than Playgirl). I also can not tell you why it is that women tend to follow men that they love, even in this liberated age (did you know the vast majority of crimes committed by women were somehow or other connected to pleasing the man they love?!). We may not like the reality of it but we can not deny it exists and we can not hide our heads in the sand like an ostrich. The sad reality is we have to protect ourselves because no one is going to protect us.
The Muslim woman covers as a way to be known and as a protection; Allah says this in Surah Ahzab :59. Now, how is covering ourselves going to protect us? It does so because it increases the respect men give us. As a non-Muslim, I dealt with the issues of sexual harassment and disrespect. When I put on Hijab, nothing changed about me but the fact that I was now covered. For some reason, men acted different. They saw the no-trespass sign loud and clear. There was no ambiguity. You see, when a woman wears typical Western clothes, the man is unsure whether she is available and whether she 'plays around'? Is she a respectable woman? They don't know. There is nothing to openly warn him, but the Hijab states loudly and clearly: This is a respectable woman who does not play games. So, wearing the Hijab actually helped me to progress in my career as a college professor with no problems of this type. I even presented a research paper at a national convention. My Hijab allowed them to see me for my intellectual merits because they were denied access to my attractive physical merits. As a non-Muslim, there were many days I went home in tears from all the ‘cute’ comments and lewd innuendoes.
At first it seemed unfair that I should have to go to this extreme to protect myself, but I no longer see it this way, no more than I see it as extreme to avoid walking down a dark alley in New York City at 2 a.m. waving a thousand dollars in cash. I recognize that I bear a certain amount of responsibility to be wise and to protect myself. If I do not care about my safety, who will? I need to be conscientious and wise. I cannot assume that all men out there have perfect self-control. For God's sake, I do not have it, so why should I expect it from anyone else?
Another issue that has bothered many of us is that we can only marry a Muslim man. As I said before, it is more natural for a woman to follow a man than for a man to follow a woman. Like it or not, this is reality. Allah could have made it different, but at some point we have to realize that there must be a reason for this. It may be to keep harmony in the family one needs to be more naturally submissive than the other, one has to be stronger in general this is the man.
Even the most intellectual of feminist philosophers recognize that men and women think, act and even communicate differently. Once again this is reality. Now the question is how do we protect ourselves? Survival - that's the ultimate aim - isn't it? We want to survive this world and even excel, if we can, so we can move on to bigger, better things namely Jannah (Heaven). One of the ways we do so is by not placing ourselves in a situation that will cause us problems in the future. In this case, Allah has done that for us. Allah wants to protect our religion. So in His Infinite Wisdom, He has forbidden the woman to allow her heart to overrule her head.
As I said: We may not like reality because it's not what we want to do, but it is life and we have to live it. I don’t like having to lock my doors from fear of criminals, but I won’t avoid doing it in protest. If I don’t lock my doors, that would be stupid and dangerous. I try to be wise and deal with what exists not what I wish would exist.
The laws of Allah are laws to help us deal with reality - that which really exists.