By Zainab Mahdi
“We all need to get more involved within mainstream media in order to accurately represent ourselves to the biggest audience…”
Hijab is defined as, “a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women”. This is the definition given by Oxford Dictionary. It is also categorized as a noun. We as practicing Muslims know it ought to be referred to as a verb.
Some Muslim women utilize the hijab in the form of a noun and only that. It is this action that the media choose to reflect on heavily, while inferring it as“oppression” against Muslim women and something foreign to the Western world. It however is not foreign to the Western world, as Nuns in the Christian faith have and practice similar characteristics of hijab.
It is my desire to see hijab practiced and understood as a verb. Hijab is not merely a physical covering of the body to protect ones modesty, although that is one of the major requirements of it. It is also action, and a way of life a women chooses to live. This way of life is not that of sitting at home behind closed doors being forced to cook, clean, raise children and be silent, but to be able to choose to do that at free will and/or still be a full participant in community and society. The visual hijab as I mentioned before is the physical dress adorned by Muslim women. The action of hijab is something that the media chooses to refrain from discussing and highlighting. Hijab is a behavior and a uniform of respect and dignity. Hijab allows one that dawns it the opportunity to be ones true self in the sense that her mind is evaluated not her body and physical allure. The responsibility of wearing hijab is far greater than not, because instantly one is recognized as a Muslim. The actions of that person is watched and judged, and especially due to the portrayal of Muslim women in the media, it is watched and judged critically.
Muslim women who practice hijab need to represent it better and who can they look up to in regards to this other than Bibi Zainab (sa). Bibi Zainab (sa) spoke out against injustice and was the voice of the righteous and innocent. Her speech at the court of Yazid (la) was not filled with hate, but with praise for Allah, his martyrs and his complete religion. She was a student of the Holy Prophet of Allah, her Grandfather, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and a teacher to others. She was known to be literary advanced and coined as the “narrator of traditions”. This was following her narration of her mother, Bibi Fatima’s (sa) sermon of Fadak. What I take away from the attributes of Bibi Zainab (sa) is that we as practicing Muslim women who practice hijab should educate ourselves within our religion and also general knowledge. We must stand up for ourselves and educate others on matters not only in Islam, but of social, economic, cultural and academic issues as we process them. We must educate ourselves and become experts not only in our own religion, but of the former motioned realms as well.
Being a Muslim woman does not limit us to stations in life that are behind the scenes. This to me is our actual downfall. We as muhajabah women need to be available and ready to reflect on ideas, philosophy and general subject matter; this is to be critical and valuable participating citizens within the society. We live in an era where tangible and visual media is mainstream and popular. These outlets are where most people gain knowledge and are influenced easily. This is where the attention of the society is, and is also where unfortunately negative and false information is dispensed towards Muslims. If we as Muslim women who practice hijab actually “practice hijab” in the way Bibi Zainab (sa) did, this problem would cease to exist if not diminish greatly. The only ones who can show the light to those who have been covered in darkness are those who posses it. We all have the torch, it is about time that more of us turn it on and illuminate the path for those who lack it. We all have the ability to obtain knowledge and represent ourselves the way Islam intends, we must come out in the open, in popular culture and media to reflect it the way it is intended.
“When the media does try to shed positive light on hijab, it focuses on the fabric itself, if the women was forced to wear it, how do they feel walking the streets of North America with it on etc. How about we have Muslim women actively take part in discussions on television on topics that have no relation to religion or culture? I have yet to see that actively. I want to see an educated Muslim woman who wears hijab discussing matters such as politics in North Korea, or the Oil spill etc. on like CBC, CTV, ABC, CBS etc. We have to start being the experts on matters and dare I say gate keepers and agenda setters of the media, rather than constantly being the same topic of discussion over and over again. We need more active involvement within the media!”
(A discussion between myself and another sister in Islam)
Zainab Mahdi is a 4th year student at York University, and is a former vice-President of TMA.