A Story





The following story is a unique insight into the issue of Hijab by a non-Muslim.  I consider it food for thought and this is why I have included it here.

A Chinese American Non Muslim Woman Experiments with Hijab

 by Kathy Chin, originally published in Al-Talib, the  newsmagazine of the  Muslim Students' Association of the University of  California in Los Angeles  (UCLA) in October 1994. At the time of its  publication, Kathy Chin was a  senior at UCLA majoring in Psychobiology and Women's  Studies. 

I walked down the street in my long white dress and  inch-long, black hair one afternoon, and truck drivers whistled and  shouted obscenities at me. I  felt defeated. I had just stepped out of a hair  salon. I had cut my  hair short, telling the hairdresser to trim it as she  would a guy's. I sat  numbly as my hairdresser skillfully sheared into my shoulder-length hair with her scissors, asking me with every inch she cut off if I was freaking out yet. I wasn't freaking out, but I felt self-mutilated.   I WAS OBLITERATING MY FEMININITY.  It wasn't just another haircut. It meant so much  more. I was trying to  appear androgynous by cutting my hair. I wanted to obliterate my femininity.  Yet that did not prevent some men from treating me as a sex object.  I was mistaken. It was not my femininity that was  problematic, but my sexuality, or rather the sexuality that some men had ascribed  to me based on my  biological sex. They reacted to me as they saw me  and not as I truly am.  Why should it even matter how they see me, as long as I  know who I am? But it does.  I believe that men who see women as only sexual  beings often commit  violence against them, such as rape and  battery.  Sexual abuse and assault are not only my fears, but my reality.  I was  molested and raped. My experiences with men who violated me have made me angry and frustrated. How do I stop the violence?   How do I prevent men from seeing me as an object  rather than a female? How do I stop them from equating the two?   How do I  proceed with life after experiencing what others  only dread?  The experiences have left me with questions about my  identity. Am I just  another Chinese-American female? I used to think  that I have to arrive at  a conclusion about who I am, but now I realize that my identity is constantly evolving. 


One experience that was particularly educational was when I "dressed up" as a Muslim woman for a drive along Crenshaw Boulevard with three Muslim men as part of a news magazine project. I wore a white,  long - sleeved  cotton shirt, jeans, tennis shoes, and a flowery silk scarf that covered my head, which I borrowed from a Muslim woman. Not only did I look the part, I believed I felt the part. Of course, I wouldn't really know what it feels like to be Hijabed - I coined this word for the lack of a better term everyday, because I was not raised with Islamic teachings.  However, people perceived me as a Muslim woman and did not treat me as a  sexual being by making cruel remarks. I noticed that men's eyes did not  glide over my body as has happened when I wasn't  Hijabed. I was fully clothed, exposing only my  face.  I remembered walking into an Islamic center and an  African-American gentleman inside addressed me as "sister" and asked where I came from. I told him I was originally from China. That didn't seem to matter. There was a sense of closeness between us because he assumed I  was Muslim. I didn't know how to break the news to him because I wasn't sure if I was or not. I walked into the store that sold African jewelry and furniture and another gentleman asked me as I was walking out if I was  Muslim. I looked at him and smiled, not knowing how to respond. I chose not to answer.


Outside the store, I asked one of the Muslim men I  was with, "Am I Muslim?" He explained that everything that breathes and submits is.  I have concluded that I may be and just don't know it.  I haven't labeled myself as such yet. I don't know enough about Islam to assert that I am Muslim. Though I don't pray five times a day, go to a mosque, fast, nor cover my head with a scarf  daily, this does not mean that I am not Muslim.  These seem to be the natural manifestations of what is within.  How I am inside does not directly change whether I am Hijabed or not. It is others'  perception of me that was changed.  Repeated experiences with others in turn creates a self-image.


I consciously chose to be Hijabed because I was  searching for respect from men.  Initially, as both a Women's Studies major and a thinking female, I bought into the Western view that the wearing of a scarf is oppressive.  After this experience and much reflection, I have arrived at the conclusion that such a view is superficial and misguided: It is not if the act is motivated by conviction and understanding.


I covered up that day out of choice, and it was the most liberating experience of my life.  I now see alternatives to being a woman.  I discovered that the way I dress dictated others' reaction towards me.  It saddens me that this is a reality. It is a reality  that I have accepted, and  hose to conquer rather than be conquered by it.  It  was my sexuality that I covered, not my femininity. The covering of the  former allowed the liberation of the latter.

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