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The Oppression of Muslim Women in America

Head Scarf

The teachings of Islam, according to the Quran and the sayings of the Muslim prophet, Muhammed, give women an equal status with men where religion is concerned. Women have the same responsibilities to God and receive the same rewards and punishments as their male counterparts. Socially, women are equal but separate from men, enjoying the company of other women generally out of the sight of men. Still, history shows that Muslim women are not forced to be separate from men in all things, nor are they in any way inferior to men.

Because men have a tendency to see women as objects of sexual gratification, and to facilitate the safe mixing of men and women in public settings, the Quran gives guidelines for dress, ornamentation and manners. These guidelines are seen in America, and in fact in all the West, as objects of oppression. If a woman covers her head in public and avoids gazing into strange men’s eyes, then people say that women is held down, made to be ashamed of herself. Not free. The simple truth is that these guidelines, known as hijab (or protection), have allowed women for 14 centuries to be seen as human beings with minds worth knowing. These guidelines have made it safe for women to be in public, knowing that they will not be molested or treated with less than the dignity owed to any human being.

So, if our religion does not make us feel oppressed, then exactly who is holding us down? Who is trying to force us to be what we are not? Who is taking away our rights? Look around us and you will see. They are our non-Muslim friends and relatives. They are the non-Muslim server in the restaurant, the non-Muslim housewife at the laundrymat. They are the non-Muslim employer who insists “that position has already been filled.” They are all those non-Muslim people out there who “only have our best interests at heart”.

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Don’t believe me? Here are some examples:

When I became a Muslim, I was working through a temporary agency for an international shipping company. I had been offered a full-time, permanent position with that company as soon as my temporary contract was fulfilled. Upon learning that I had converted to Islam, I was informed that, “We have to put up with this for now, but you will not be asked to return after your contract is up.” I didn’t sue because it was my word against theirs. The job offer wasn’t in writing.

I was told by a co-worker, “You should take that off. People here don’t like it.”

Another co-worker told me, “You know, this is America. You don’t have to dress like that.”

A crew member at McDonald’s told me that she will pray for me, since she doesn’t want me to go to Hell.

My grandmother is embarrassed to be seen in public with me and, along with an aunt to whom I was once closer than my own mother, has shut me out of their side of the family.

A friend of mine, whom we will call Y, suffered even worse than I did when she became Muslim. Her husband did not convert with her and has ridiculed and reviled her and her decision to be Muslim since the day she converted. He refuses to allow her to wear the head-scarf outside the house, discourages her from praying and prohibits her from practicing the Arabic text of the Quran in her home. He also ridicules and curses her Muslim friends.

Y’s mother has insisted that she was brainwashed and that she is going to Hell.

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One of Y’s neighbors shouted out to her one day (when she did escape the house with her head-scarf), “Go back where you came from if you can’t show your hair!”

Aisha, another of my friends, had stones thrown at her while she was praying outside her local mosque.

None of these actions will stop us from believing in God and worshipping Him the way we see fit. Still, it hurts us when the people around us make judgements and harsh comments. It hurts even worse when the people we love try to prevent us from being who we are. Yes, we are oppressed, but it’s not our religion that oppresses us. It is the prejudice of American society.