Suffering behind the veil

 أسيل سيف  في محاولة لكسر حاجز الصمت حول ماتعانيه  النساء المحجبات  نتيجة الجهل والغطرسة وتجاهل المجتمع بشكل كامل   للعالم الحقيقي كتبت المقالة أدناه برسم تخطيطي لما تراه

Reflection on the ways veiled women are suffering as a result of ignorance, arrogance and societies total oblivion to the real world.

Illustration and article by Aseel Saif

In a search for inspiration, I come across an article headed “Ignorance is not bliss, it is oblivion”. After reading it, I was forced to look into myself to see what I was doing in order to become less ignorant; and all I can say I was not happy with what I saw as I am certainly not doing enough. The world is changing every day and by no means for the better. Stupidity seems to be in vogue, and as a result people seem to be in a state of oblivion, which in turn is having a catastrophic effect on the state of society and tolerance. With this in mind, I began to reflect on myself and how ignorance has affected my life, and unfortunately it has played a very big role in forming the person that I am now and perhaps will continue to be.   

When I say ‘suffering behind the veil’, I am sure you are thinking, ‘At last a veiled woman says it as it is; the hijab is oppressing her.’  This is not what I mean, though; in fact quite the opposite. My veil is not oppressing me, and nor am I suffering as a result of my religion. Speaking on behalf of many veiled women around the world, I think it is safe to say that I am suffering as a result of the inability of society to recognise me as the person behind the item of clothing. I am suffering behind the veil of ignorance.  I have been wearing my hijab for 15 years and I have never been prouder or felt more stylish. The day I put it on was perhaps one of the happiest and most liberating days of my life.  However, as time has passed and I have grown older, I have also become more cynical. As children we are innocent and cannot see human nature as it really is, or into the hearts of others. But once you leave the comforts of your family home, which has sheltered you for many years, for the adult world, you begin to see that it isn’t all idyllic, but far more poisonous and competitive than you expected.  

I grew up thinking that making a change in the world and helping others was easy, but studying politics was perhaps one of the first things that opened my eyes to the real world. It showed me that changing the world will not come easily, when its inhabitants themselves need changing first.   

I have  lived almost my life in the West, where you would expect equality, respect and freedom. These are values that every human being is entitled to, and yet as Muslim veiled women we are constantly fighting for our rights, and on a daily basis fighting for our voices to be heard.  As we all know, being a woman is hard enough. When you add a veil and the title ‘Muslim’, you can only imagine how much harder it is.

With the rise of Muslim bloggers and fashion bloggers, you would think being a Muslim veiled women is much easier and far more recognised in society, but this is not necessarily the case. My feelings towards these bloggers are actually quite mixed, as many (not all) seem to be trying extremely hard to make the point that they are not ‘different’, but different is exactly what they are. Why tell people we need to make something normal if in reality it is indeed normal? However, having said this, I still believe there is something positive coming out of these bloggers’ activities and perhaps it is somewhat superficial, but I believe it is a start of something much bigger. They are putting the ‘concept’ of the hijab on the map and have created a whole new industry that businesses seem to be capitalising on. As veiled women we are seeing more high street shops accommodating our needs, and this could be considered a positive step forward. At least it makes our lives easier, in that we can find outfits that are both fashionable and compatible with the religious aspects of the veil. 

What is sad, though, is the fact that a whole new generation of bloggers has been born as a result of an ignorant society. These bloggers have felt the need to fill a vacuum, just to prove something to the world when in reality they do not owe the world anything; the world owes them an apology. The scarf is neither something new nor odd, and wearing it has been prevalent for centuries in many religions. It is a piece of cloth wrapped around a woman’s head, neither more nor less. However, as with everything related to ‘women’, for centuries their bodies have become the place for political discussion and manipulation. We have all seen and read that if you want to control the hearts and minds of people, just mention women; and that is exactly what we are seeing in the 21st Century. Wars have been waged to ‘save’ women, and yet we still see these very women suffering and not because of their dictators, patriarchy or religion but the fact that they have been exposed to the horrors of war. 

We can also blame Islamophobia, which is no longer a rare phenomenon; it is becoming so common that we are no longer seeing people reporting on it. We are constantly seeing veiled woman as victims of discrimination, not only in public but also in the work place. Even the most educated of people seem to be internalising what they are seeing in the tabloids and the daily news, which in turn is brainwashing them into differentiating veiled women amongst their peers and colleagues. 

This is something that I have been reflecting upon since entering the world of work and unfortunately I have not seen any improvement. Surprisingly, for someone who has been raised in the West her whole life, I have come to understand that there are days where I am either indirectly or directly made to feel inferior. Although I may sound and act English I will always have this sense that people will perceive me as ‘different’, even if I share their values and beliefs. At times, when you see your peers easily walking through life, you are still required to run, just to keep up. This is perhaps my cynicism talking, but I am sure this feeling is shared with many women, both veiled and unveiled. Even if you may be more qualified and more experienced, you are still required to push yourself a little more than others, just to prove yourself worthy. Although I do not like to admit it, when you are clearly being discriminated against, you begin to wonder how it would be if you were different; if you changed the true essence of who you were to comply with the standards of others. This is not a sign of a weak personality or belief, but an unavoidable fear of defeat, or quite simply the desire to move on with your life. This is the very thing that pains me on a daily basis: Muslim women, for the sake of their careers and even survival, are forced to give up a part of their identity. 

For many feminists and women’s rights advocates,  what I am saying is merely reiterating what is happening to many woman around the world; we see it every day with the gender pay gap and the lack of female representation in politics and corporations and on management boards.  There are clear parallels between the two. Yes, as Muslim women we are suffering, but if we look at the bigger picture, women of every background, religion and ethnicity are fighting the same battle. We are still suffering behind this veil of ignorance.  

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