By Tasmiha Khan
April 6, 2019
“You’re going to vote for all the Dems, right?” Rana, a close friend from high school and college, asked me as the midterm elections were nearing.
“I need to do proper research on all the candidates before voting for them all blindly,” I told her. She didn’t seem satisfied with the answer.
“What choice do we have?” she asked, bewildered. “We’re kinda doomed either way.”
“Doomed?” I raised my eyebrows and turn to her, confused.
“Yes, doomed, Tasmiha. Thing are only getting harder for us each day — and observing hijab doesn’t help our case.” Rana and I commiserated over how it feels like to be a minority in the room wearing the headscarf and the pressure to choose a political side because of it. But I didn’t want to feel pressured into voting Democrat merely because I’m a Muslim, hijab-wearing woman.
As someone who has been wearing the hijab for nearly two decades now, I’ve noticed a new and disturbing trend in how people react to seeing it. In the age of Trump, there have been rising hate crimes and bigotry towards women wearing the headscarf because they are visibly Muslim. I have been asked by classmates and colleagues whether or not I would like to take it off for the sake of my own safety. Baffled, I’ve emphatically said no.
There is a deep misunderstanding about what hijab actually means in America nowadays, which leads to my friends and colleagues assuming that my headscarf is in part a political statement. So let me break it down for you.
Firstly, the assumption that hijab is something that is worn only by women is false. In reality hijab is prescribed for both men and women once they reach the age of puberty. In fact, in the 24th chapter of the Quran, particularly the 31st verse provides guidance and the verse prior to this one addresses men having a similar command with regards to hijab. We have to take a look at the prophetic teachings to understand the explicit command of hijab and juxtapose that with the Quranic verse. Observing the rules of hijab involves being modest not only in clothing but also in speech and mannerisms.
How hijab is observed in real life is a different story, though. Why then is hijab relegated to only a cloth on one’s head in so many spheres? Many people assume a hijab is just cloth on one’s head, when actually it usually involves covering a woman's entire body except their face, hands and feet. The stipulation for men is slightly different and involves coverage from the navel to below the knee. Thus, hijab is supposed to be compulsory for both men and women.
I was born in the US, and although many would say that being born and raised in the States makes me very lucky, it’s sometimes hard to feel that way when your skin is brown and you wear the headscarf. I’m constantly mistaken for foreign and commended for not having an accent by my fellow Americans.
Because of the bigotry so evident around us, many Muslim women are pigeon-holed into choosing a “safer” political party, rather than questioned about what our individual views actually are.
And what if we don’t want to immerse ourselves in politics at all? Is that wrong? Why should we feel pressure to put ourselves forward as poster-people for the Democrats even if we don’t back their views on the economy, or on gun reform or jobs policies? What happened to the freedom that our country boasts? The Democratic party was divided after Ilhan Omar aired her personal views; we owe them nothing in return.
The truth is that the hijab has nothing to do with political beliefs or ideology. It’s part of my identity, of course, but my politics are my business––and my decision to observe hijab doesn’t change that.
I feel that as someone who wears hijab, there is an expectation that I should I automatically affiliate with either the left or the right. And there is really no difference between the right or left regarding the misconception that Muslim women have “outdated views”. While I may be more left-leaning myself, that doesn't mean I agree with all the policies and stances that the left takes. Yet the right is extremely hostile to people like me, leaving me with seemingly little choice even though my religion calls for me to take the middle road.
Ultimately our political choices shouldn’t be affected by fear of hostility — but it’s hard not to allow that to happen in America right now when you’re a visibly Muslim woman under enhanced scrutiny from her peers.
Tasmiha Khan has an MA in Social Impact from Claremont Lincoln University and is a 2018-2019 American Association of University Women Career Development Awardee.