An Open Letter to the American Non-Muslim Hijabi


Meaghan Brittini responds to the comments surrounding hijab on women.

A Letter to the American Non-Muslim Hijabi_Aquila Style
Image: Photl

Dear Amanda,

I recently came across your article, detailing your journey towards becoming a non-Muslim hijabi. I loved reading the unique story that you shared with readers. It represented a modern woman who doesn’t shy away from doing what she truly believes in, even if it goes against the popular expectations and societal norms expected of her. That’s something truly commendable!

But after following your story, which was picked up and shared around different Muslim community pages, I felt the need to apologise as a Muslim for some of the reactions by Muslims towards you and what you wrote. The way your story was interpreted, shared and commented on often seemed to have little regard for the woman you described yourself to be, and for why you felt like sharing your story with us in the first place.

First, I apologise on behalf of the many who exploited your personal journey as a means to shame and reprimand Muslim women who, for whatever varied and valid reasons, choose to not cover their hair. Take this one for example:

Strange how a kaffirah is doing this while some who claim to be Muslim are vehemently denying the very obligation of hijab.

I think these sorts of comments ultimately miss the point of your story: a journey of one woman’s choice to dress in a certain manner, for the satisfaction of no one but herself. I don’t get the impression from what you say that you ever wanted to collaborate in hijab-shaming. Neither did you want to be exemplified in statements that imply that the millions of devoted Muslim women without hijab are just… ‘claiming’ to be Muslim.

Neither do I suspect that in your desires to escape from the pressures of being held up to certain cultural and societal standards of how a woman should dress or look, that you wanted your image to be taken and held up by snide and peer-pressuring Internet users. Or worse, that you wanted your story to accompany sweeping proclamations of self-professed male ‘obligations’, which aim to deprive women of their own, God-given intellectual right to reason on issues concerning how they ought to dress. (In other words, the same reasons you used to decide on your hijab.)

And, by the way, I’m awfully sorry for that totally inappropriate kaffirah (‘infidels’ in Arabic) comment above.

I apologise on behalf of everyone who took the opportunity to tell you that you now need to abide by somebody else’s rules for public behaviour, or what activities you may now do or not do, based on how you dress. This is confusing hijab with purdah: the former being a means of dress that can allow you to feel comfortable while navigating public life, the latter being a means of restricting and limiting public life. After all, you put on a headscarf for freedom and control over your life and body, not to invite criticism.

Finally, I apologise on the behalf of those Muslim men, who were quick to confirm that draping yourself in fabric is really the only solution to their hungry eyes. They really do make a mockery out of our gentlemanly Muslim brothers, fathers, husbands and friends, when they seem to squarely deny that they can be held accountable for their inappropriate behaviour, or that they possess the possibility and decency to curb it. (Or that they should even have such a responsibility!)

Furthermore, they make it sound like the Muslim community condones the objectifying and leering of women who don’t cover their hair, or whatever mode of dress is the norm in her community, under the cover of the ‘she’s asking for it’ narrative. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The Prophet considered such things adultery of the eyes[i] and encouraged both men and women to refrain from indulging in licentious ogling, even if a woman was extraordinarily beautiful and yes, ‘uncovered’.[ii]

Whether it be the shaming, peer-pressuring or blaming, these are the kinds of attitudes that promote the stereotypes and myths of hijab as oppressive, which you describe as being debunked through your positive interactions with strong, freethinking women who wear hijab. I hope that they don’t interfere with the satisfying personal experiences of freedom and independence that wearing the hijab brings to you.

[i] Narrated by Abu Huraira, in Muslim, available here.
[ii] Narrated by Ibn Abbas, in Sunan an-Nasai, available here.

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