Yassmin: "I am sick of people using my religion to tell me how to dress."


Covered women are the battleground for society’s attitude towards Islam – and I am sick of it.

This frustration is shared by many Muslims and other marginalised groups. It is the feeling that stems from constantly being silenced.

You may disagree with my opinions and that is well within your right! In fact, I encourage disagreement, so long as it is backed with the open-mindedness to accept that there are other views in the world.We can coexist, peacefully, in disagreement.

I was running late to catch my flight out to the rig when the lady standing at airport security stopped me and asked me to remove my head covering.

Yassmin also works on an oil rig. Image supplied.

‘What do you mean, it’s because of your religion?’ she asked when I refused.

‘Uh, it’s what I wear for a hijab,’ I said, confused. ‘I’m a covered Muslim woman and I have to wear this because it’s compatible with my field engineering job.’

I was getting frustrated; this was holding up the entire line and causing an unnecessary scene.

‘Yeah, look, it really isn’t religious enough. Aren’t you guys supposed to wear the . . .’ She trailed off as she looked at me.

‘You mean the full veil, the hijab?’

‘Yes, that. You have to wear that for it to be religious. Guys who wear turbans can’t come in with a baseball hat covering their hair and say it’s religious. Do you have a veil with you to prove that this is for your religion?’

I looked at the lady, incredulous. ‘No, I don’t carry an extra scarf with me in my hand luggage.’

‘We have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another,’ the Qur’an says (49:13).

It’s hard to believe that people think they have the right to tell me how to dress. This applies to everyone who has an opinion on whether an individual Muslim woman should or shouldn’t wear the hijab, niqab, jilbab, chador or burqa.

Need help understanding the difference between a hijab, niqab and burqa? We break it down. (Post continues after video.)

We claim to live in a society that allows us to be free, here in the West, where individual choice is supposedly one of the differentiating and defining features of our society. Yet when it comes to women choosing to conceal rather than to reveal, the individual decision suddenly becomes everyone’s responsibility.

The salt in the wound is that people make it seem like they are doing it for my own good. That doesn’t sound like the ‘freedom’ we are apparently so proud of. Actually, it smells a little like neo- colonialism to me, cloaked in the guise of ‘good intentions’.

If people really truly cared about the welfare of women wearing hijabs or any other Muslim-related covering, they would take their cues from the women themselves and ensure that their intersectional reality is respected.

The solution is simple: respect people’s choice to make their own decisions about how they dress themselves. If you have a problem with it, check yourself.

I sometimes feel like I’m banging a drum no one wants to hear, because the discussion makes them uncomfortable; to my mind this highlights that their attitudes can be a smokescreen for bigotry. Denying people the right to wear the hijab or disparaging its legitimacy is definitely more about reducing the visibility of Islam in the community than about ‘protecting women’, and it comes from a place of fear, ignorance and bigotry.

Yassmin is such an inspiring advocate for young Muslim women. You should check out what she does. Images via Instagram. (Post continues after gallery.)

There are many ways this bigotry is framed. Sometimes, people make it about themselves and, by extension, national security. ‘The niqab makes me feel uncomfortable. I want to see their face! How will we know who they are!?’

National security is not a legitimate reason for this conversation. Beneath that attitude is fear – fear of difference and fear of ‘the other’, an ideology and a ‘people’ they know nothing about. Niqabis are, like your everyday Jane or Jannah, law- abiding people, and have said time and time again that they are happy to show their faces to a female identifying authority for the sake of security.

Why should we make allowances, you ask? Because that’s how an inclusive society works! In the same way that we make allowances for people with dietary requirements and preferences, why shouldn’t we make similar adjustments for people with religious requirements and preferences, and ensure there are female authorities available for the identification process?

It strikes me as strange that there is such fuss when the veil as an item of clothing is not something new. Christian and Jewish women have been wearing veils for centuries. What, then, is the issue?

What's the issue? Image supplied.

The issue is that the custom is at odds with the socially constructed norms of the West today, and that difference is seen as threatening. It almost seems as if some people think that a person who is covering themself is demanding others do the same and judging the choices of other women in Australia. My choice to cover has nothing to do with your choice not to cover.

The conversation really comes down to respect. We live in an individualistic society. And okay, yes, you might not like what I choose to believe in. But even if you don’t like it or wouldn’t choose it for yourself, you must respect it, because that is how we build civilisation. That is how civilised societies and people behave – by respecting each other’s agency and beliefs and the right to uphold their values. After all, that’s what living in an individualistic society is about, right?

This is an edited extract from Yassmin's Story by Yassmin Abdel-Magied, photography by Simon Hewson. Published by Vintage on 1 March 2016, RRP $34.99
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