Finding strength in ‘personal choice’ to wear hijab

Muslim women explain why they wear the hijab and what their religion means to them.

EMMA STEVENS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Hafeezat Bishi started wearing her hijab almost two years ago as an act of resistance to anti-Muslim rhetoric she heard during President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“The day after the inauguration, I saw how powerful women looked in the hijab,” said Bishi, a freshman communication and social influence major. “I was like, ‘I’m ready to do this.’”

Now, Bishi said her choice to wear the hijab is more than a response to Islamophobia. It is a public display of identity. 

“Because I’m Black, people didn’t really recognize I was Muslim,” Bishi said. 

Her hijab visibly connects her to the Muslim community and allows her to express, “I exist in this space,” she added.

In a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center, 68 percent of United States Muslims surveyed said the president makes them worried about their place in society and 75 percent said Muslims are discriminated against in the U.S.

One definition for the “hijab” is “barrier” or “partition.” It is an Islamic principle that encapsulates behavioral and physical modesty, most often associated with a head covering worn by some Muslim women, according to the BBC. For Muslim women at Temple, wearing the hijab is a choice. 

“It is a personal choice for me,” said Albatoul Bossalhah, a freshman dentistry major who has worn the hijab since she was in sixth grade. “It’s not a choice for you. I won’t hurt you for wearing it, and I am not a weird person just because I am wearing the hijab. I’m just like you, it’s just my choice and I’m just an ordinary person.” 

Bossalhah is from Kuwait, where she said almost all women wear the hijab, though they are not required to by law. Bossalhah moved to the United States at the beginning of this semester as an international student.

“[Kuwaiti people] accept the idea of not all women wearing the hijab because it’s just a personal choice,” Bossalhah said. “If you don’t wear it, it doesn’t mean you are a bad person. If you act good and show good values, then you are a good person. Not wearing a hijab doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.”

In Iran, women are required to wear head coverings in public. An online social movement called “My Stealthy Freedom,” in which Muslim women share pictures of themselves uncovered by a hijab, began in 2014 to protest these laws in Iran. 

Bishi said that these forms of oppression from specific cultures can be misinterpreted as oppression from Islam.

“There are some cultures that do oppress women, and they might have a Muslim-majority setting,” Bishi said. “People think it is a part of Islam, but it’s not.”

“When people think of veiling in the U.S., it’s a different kind of circumstances than making the decision in a Muslim country,” said Tiffenia Archie, the assistant vice president of the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership.  “There are things like Islamophobia, concerns around jobs [and] harassment, but women who make the decision in the U.S. aren’t thinking about being arrested.”

Archie, who wrote her dissertation on women who wear the hijab, said, “a lot of women felt it wasn’t a religious obligation [to wear the hijab] but something they felt Muslim women should do.” 

“They still felt like it was their decision,” she added. “A decision between them and God and nobody else.”

Bossalhah said that although fewer women wear hijabs in North Philadelphia than in Kuwait, she feels comfortable at Temple.

“I don’t face anybody here looking at me for it,” Bossalhah said. “They are friendly and they accept me. I haven’t heard misconceptions here, but I have only been here for a short time.”

1 Comment

  1. It upsets me to think that Hafeezat Bishi had to wear the hijab because of her skin color. Why would anyone not think she’s muslim because she’s black?

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