‘It’s a fight for respect’: North Florida hijabis talk about the right to dress

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As women in Iran protest national religious mandates to wear headscarves, women in Florida who wear hijab fear they will face backlash for their decision to wear the veil.

Religious and state law in Iran has required women to veil since the late 20th century following Iran’s 1979 revolution. The mandates have been a point of tension for decades, but recent protests erupted after the murder of Mahsa Amini in September for not having done so. wear hijab.

Muntaha Islam, a third-year student at the University of Florida who said she “wholeheartedly” supports the riots, said non-Muslims who oppose the hijab could use the protests as an opportunity to say that Islam oppresses women. She said the claim would be incorrect on several fronts.

“Islam says women should be free,” she said. “That’s what patriarchy does, and how much power (men) have. It’s honestly just an objectification of women’s bodies.

Muntaha Islam, 20, sits in the Plaza of the Americas at the University of Florida before a “sisters’ paint picnic” with members of Islam on campus. (Paris Coughlin/WUFT News)

Sarah Rifqi, who practices at the Islamic Community Center in Gainesville, immigrated to the United States four years ago. She said she could understand the situation in Iran from her own experiences with morality police and the compulsory wearing of the veil in Saudi Arabia, although the situation in Iran is much more aggressive.

Rifqi said she doesn’t speak for all hijabis – the term for Muslim women who wear a hijab, a scarf that covers their face and neck – and although she continues to wear her hijab for reasons religious and cultural times, she has the freedom to choose the veil is a personal choice. Many of his Iranian and Saudi friends who wear the hijab in their home countries do not do so in the United States.

The hijabi woman is smiling in a digital illustration. (Paris Coughlin/WUFT)

“To them, maybe it’s not religious,” she said. “It’s just something they have to do because they have to follow the rules. So now there are no more rules, they can take it away.

Islam has agreed that the concept of modesty and what is haram, literally meaning “forbidden” and indicating behaviors that are outside of religious purity, is closely tied to culture.

“With the concept of the hijab,” she said, “in Arabic it simply means ‘veil’, a veil of humility, of righteous honor. It’s for both men and women. »

Often, she said, the meaning of hijab and haram is interpreted by male patriarchs and imposed on women in the United States and abroad.

Aniqa Ahmed, a fourth-year UF student, said, “In the Quran it says ‘religion should have no compulsion’.”

Forcing a woman to cover up, said Ahmed, who is Bangladeshi American, is haram.

Islam has stated that Westerners tend to associate the hijab with oppression and often assume that hijabis are less self-aware or lack the same level of education. Those who would like to ban the hijab in the West do not give themselves enough credit or respect to other hijabis to make their own decisions.

“They equate you to, ‘Oh, you’re wearing a hijab’,” she said, “‘that means you’re okay with being oppressed. “”

“I’ve had teachers talk about it,” Ahmed said. “They were like, ‘Oh, there’s a huge gap between who I thought you were and who you really are.’ And their first thought of me came from the fact that I was wearing the headscarf.

She said she felt the need to overcompensate and “work harder to be friendly” because of people’s assumptions. If a stranger smiles at her, she always smiles back.

She started wearing the hijab in third grade and said there is sometimes a barrier between her and other Muslim women who do not wear a veil due to the immediacy people connect her with Islam. Her hijab is the first thing people notice about her.

Growing up outside Orlando, she said she rarely faced overt Islamophobia. She has, however, grown accustomed to comments about her modest dress, especially in hot weather.

She fears that one day things will progress beyond microaggressions. She is constantly afraid that if she ever had to cross a street without a crosswalk, and if the person driving was Islamophobic, she would be run over.

A 2018 New America article ranked Florida #4 in Most Anti-Muslim Activities from 2012 to 2018, behind California, Texas and New York. Of the total 46 reports, 17 were about “hate incidents against mosques and Islamic centers” and 11 were about “media reports of anti-Muslim violence and crimes.”

In a 2022 ranking by World Population Review of Muslims per capita, Florida ranked No. 7.

Despite her fear and knowledge of people who might harm her because of her hijab, Ahmed said she has cultivated a community at UF of people who respect her religious expression. She found the campus relatively tolerant, though that’s because students don’t care about others’ personal choices rather than an understanding of Islam.

“At UF, people know that bodily autonomy is number one,” Ahmed said.

Islam expects UF’s culture to change in the coming months as Ben Sasse transitions to his post as university president. Knowing his politics, she worries what it might mean for her as a visibly Muslim woman.

“It will be more of a political environment than an educational environment,” she said.

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