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August 2009
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Women's Voice

My hijab made me Happy
I often wonder why people say nothing about the veil of the Catholic nun, but criticize vehemently the veil of a Muslim woman, regarding it as a symbol of “terrorism” and “oppression.”

I am a Japanese woman who embraced Islam and adopted Hijab and found how it provides the wealth of self confidence, serenity and dignity to a woman.

When I reverted to Islam, the religion of inborn nature, a fierce debate raged about girls observing the Hijab at schools in France. It still does. The majority, it seemed, thought that wearing the head scarf was contrary to the principle that public – that is state – funded school should be neutral with regard to religion. Even as a non-Muslim, I could not understand why there was such a fuss over such a small thing as a scarf on a Muslim student's head. The feeling still persists amongst non-Muslims that Muslim woman wear the Hijab simply because they are slaves to traditions, so much so that it is seen as a symbol of oppression. Woman's liberation and independence is, so they believe, impossible unless they first remove the Hijab.

Such naiveté is shared by “Muslims” with little or no knowledge of Islam. Being so used to secularism and religious eclecticism, pick and mix, they are unable to comprehend that Islam is universal and eternal.

My Hijab is not a part of my racial or traditional identity, it has no social or political significance; it is, purely and simply, my religious identity.

I have worn the hijab after embracing Islam in Paris. The exact form of the hijab varies according to the country one is in, or the degree of the individual's religion awareness. In France I wore a simple scarf, which matched my dress and perched lightly on my head so that it was almost fashionable. Now, in Saudi Arabia, I wear an all-covering black cape; not even my eyes are visible. Thus, I have experienced the hijab from its simplest to its most complete form.

What does the hijab mean to me? When I decided to declare my Islam, I did not think whether I could pray five times a day or wear the hijab. I was scared that if I had given it a serious thought, I would have reached a negative conclusion, and that would affect my decision to become a Muslim. Until I visited the main mosque in Paris, I had nothing to do with Islam, neither the prayer nor the hijab were familiar to me. In fact, both were unimaginable but my desire to be a Muslim was too strong.

The benefits of observing hijab became clear to me following a lecture at the mosque when I kept my scarf on even after leaving the building. The lecture had filled me with such a previously unknown spiritual satisfaction that I simply did not want to remove it. Because of the cold weather, I did not attract too much attention but I did feel different, somehow purified and protected; I felt as if I was in Allah's company.

As a foreigner in Paris, I sometimes felt uneasy about being stared at by men. In my hijab, I went unnoticed, protected from impolite stares.

Wearing the Hijab soon became spontaneous, albeit purely voluntary. No human could force me to wear it; if they had, perhaps I would have rebelled and rejected it.

Two weeks after my return to Islam, I went back to Japan for a family wedding and took the decision not to return to my studies in France; French literature had lost its appeal and the desire to study Arabic had replaced it. As a new Muslim with very little knowledge of Islam, it was a big test for me to live in a small town in Japan completely isolated from Muslims. However, this isolation intensified my Islamic consciousness, and I knew that I was not alone as Allah was with me.
I had to abandon many of my clothes and with some help from a friend who knew dress-making; I made some pantaloons, similar to the Pakistani dress. I was not bothered by the strange looks people gave me.

After six months in Japan, my desire to study Arabic grew so much that I decided to go to Cairo where I knew someone. None of the members in the family there spoke English (or Japanese) and the lady who took my hand to lead me into the house was covered from head to toe in black. Even her face was covered. Although this is now familiar to me here in Riyadh, I remember being surprised at the time, recalling an incident in France when I had seen such dress and thought, “there is a woman enslaved by Arabic tradition, unaware of real Islam,” (I believed that covering the face was not a necessity, but an ethnic tradition).

I wanted to tell the lady in Cairo that she was exaggerating in her dress, that it was unnatural and abnormal. Instead, I was told that my self-made dress was not suitable to go out in, something I disagreed with since I understood that it satisfied the requirements for a Muslim. So I bought some cloth and made a long dress, called Khimar, which covered the loins and arms completely.

Generally speaking, young Egyptians, more or less fully westernized, kept their distance from women wearing Khimar and called them “the sisters.” Men treated us with respect and special politeness.

I often wonder why people say nothing about the veil of the catholic nun but criticize vehemently the veil of a Muslimah, regarding it as a symbol of “terrorism” and “oppression.”

After another six months in Cairo, however, I was accustomed to my long dress that I started to think that I would wear it on my return to Japan.

My father was worried when I went out in long sleeves and a head-cover even in the hottest weathers, but I found that my hijab protected me from the sun. Indeed, it was I who also felt uneasy looking at my younger sister's legs while she wore short pants. I have often been embarrassed, even before declaring Islam, by the sight of a woman's bosoms and hips clearly outlined by tight, thin clothing.

Muslims are accused of being over-sensitive about the human body but the degree of sexual harassment, which occurs these days, justifies modest dress. Just as a short shirt can send the signal that the wearer is available to men, so the hijab signals, loud clear: “ I am forbidden for you.”
Having married, I left Japan for Saudi Arabia, where it is customary for the women to cover their faces outdoors.

It is an error of judgment to think that a Muslim woman covers herself because she is a private possession of her husband. In fact she preserves her dignity and refuses to be possessed by strangers. A person blinded by prejudice may not see it, but a woman in hijab is as brightly beautiful as an angel. (