I was very excited to go and see the film “Mooz-lum” when it hit theaters a few months ago. Not often do you see a film centered around an African-American Muslim family, so it was a breathe of fresh air. One of the most memorable scenes in the film for me was when two of the main female characters, Taqua and Iman, were walking on campus right after news began to spread about the tragedies of September 11. As misplaced animosity and anger towards Muslims began to spread, a scared Taqua asked Iman if they should remove their scarves to protect themselves while walking in public. Iman’s response was emphatically, no.
The headscarf is one of the main ways to identify Muslim women, along with the modest dress code. For many it can be a symbol of pride and commitment to Faith. Yet the various head coverings and style of dress Muslim women wear is often the most controversial and misunderstood aspects of Islamic practices. Some see it as oppressive, sexist and/or backwards. Mainstream media adds to this by constantly perpetuating the idea that ‘Islam = everything against the rights and freedom of women.’ But how do women who have chosen to accept and adhere to this dress code feel? What is the significance of the scarf and the modest dress code? For Black women, in particular, our hair can be an integral part of our identity, so how is it for those of us in Islam who cover our hair and strive towards modesty in this society?
Women in the different African-American Muslim communities wear various styles of head coverings and clothing. Women in the Nation of Islam, usually wear what is considered a drape scarf (which shows some of the hair) or a full head covering called a headpiece. Women in in the Sunni or other Orthodox communities may wear scarf styles such as the Khimar or Hijab, or also the Niqab (face veil). In addition, not all Muslim women cover their hair, for various reasons. There are some women who simply strive to dress modestly (i.e. loose-fitting clothing, long skirts/dresses, long-sleeve shirts, etc.). The degree and style of covering can mostly be attributed to each community’s understanding of scripture as well as personal views.
Amirah Al-Nisa, 22, explains why she proudly dawns her Khimar daily :
“The Quran tells both men and women to be modest and lower their gaze, and tells women to cover their adornments. This is because women are sacred. An adornment is something that is physically attractive to the opposite sex, and modesty does not just mean your clothing but also humility, and a sense of shyness. These are qualities that aren’t often instilled in young women, but I see them as good characteristics to have. Our clothing is a protection, and I see modesty as a virtuous quality. It is important to understand the reasoning behind it. I love the way I dress, and how I represent myself. Dressing this way can be challenging as a young woman in this society if you let other people influence you, but I love to be an example of how you can be modest, and stylish at the same time.”
Heather X, 24, just recently accepted Islam and noticed a change in the way men approach her:
“The modest dress code allows my mind to stand out and not my body which can distract a man from approaching me with genuine respect. When I wore the typical American attire I thought it was normal since it’s the only clothing readily available anywhere I shopped. I did not get any respect from men wearing fitted clothing. I only received stares and comments which made me uncomfortable. Now I feel like a Queen who controls the type of crowd that approaches her. Covering my hair was a particular article of clothing to get used to. I was uncomfortable wearing it at first because it’s like wearing a new identity. [It] was very hard for me because I never knew the value of doing so until I kept [wearing] my draped scarf. It has not only made me feel distinguished but also gives me an appearance of looking beautiful and feminine.”
Jameelah Muhammad, 28, speaks on dealing with peer pressure and clothing trends while growing up:
“I remember going to the mall with my friends in Middle School. They would come up to me with different outfits and I had to shoot them down. They would say “Dag girl, you can’t wear an-ny-thing!” because they could not understand why the clothes they were picking out weren’t gonna fly with my mom. The first time I eased out of the house with a pair of tight jeans I had borrowed, I noticed the difference in the attention I received; especially from older men. The stares, the comments, the looks–it was very eye-opening. I’m an adult now and I have the freedom to dress how I please, and I have chosen to stay in line with what the Quran teaches on modesty–that we as women should cover our adornments. No one is forcing me, it’s a personal choice.”
Next, more of the lifestyle and final thoughts.