Everyone was doing it.

Originally written for Westpac's Ruby Connection


'Everybody else was doing it'...

That was the first answer that popped into my head when asked by my parents why, at the ripe old age of 10, I had decided to don the hijab.  The first answer, but definitely not the whole story…


The hijab is an Islamic head covering and an all-round code of dress that encourages modesty and self respect.  A simple piece of fabric and a mindset perhaps, but one that carries connotations and political ramifications beyond what I understood at the time.  It is now, 12 years on, it is an irremovable part of my identity and expression as a Muslim, but the decision to wear it is something that is constantly under question.


As I attended the local Islamic primary school at the time, the hijab was part of my school uniform.  It wasn’t therefore a huge jump; I was already a part-time ‘hijabi’ and this was my conversion to full time.  It was the year 2001, and the date I chose for my conversion was November the 10th.  Why? It was the federal election, and I wanted to choose an auspicious date just in case I forgot.  Forward thinking, always!

I walked to the house door wearing a huge white scarf, wrapped clumsily around my head and shoulders, pinned at the base of my neck.  I distinctly remember my father looking at me with slight concern and asking,

“Are you sure you want to do this? This is it?”

“Yes, yes, I am sure”.  Off I went…

What I didn’t realise at the time of course, was that I had chosen to wear the hijab in a politically charged environment.  It was only a few months after September 11 and Muslims were now sharply visible and constantly in the media. However, wearing the hijab for my 10 year old self wasn’t about political statement or being forced into following a cultural expectation. I believed I had come of age and it was time for me to wear the scarf!  Other girls might have wanted to start wearing makeup out or be allowed to date as a way of ‘growing up’; I chose to cover myself.


Why? Why do you do it, people ask. Doesn’t the concept oppress women? Don’t you miss the wind in your hair? Don’t you miss wearing a bikini to a beach?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I understood the full implications and reasons behind the concept when I made the decision, however I have settled into it with heartfelt conviction.


The concept of the hijab is cushioned in the value of modesty and of personal freedom.  It means something different to each individual who wears it, that is certain.

For me personally, the hijab is about being judged for who I am rather than what I look like.  There is extraordinary freedom in that, especially in a society where a woman’s looks, physicality and beauty are of such ‘importance’.

It is about being visible and proudly so, of my religion and what it stands for.

It is about saving my body and its womanly ways for those who I choose to see it (i.e. the eventual husband! Women, children and family are also allowed the hijab-less experience. The idea is to be covered from those who are marriageable).

That is not to say that those who don’t wear the hijab or choose to interpret it differently are any lesser, let me make that point clear.  We tend to get very defensive about personal choices such as dress.  I have respect for every woman’s choice, and that respect is the basis of all interaction. This is just how I choose to express myself.


Yes, some versions of hijab, such as the Burqa, are used as tools of oppression and invisibility in places such as Afghanistan.  However, this is not the case around the world!  Particularly in the West, those who choose to wear the hijab are most often following a personal choice and conviction.  For some, it is their way of becoming closer to God (Allah), forgoing the material obsessions of this world.  For others, it is about public expression as a Muslim.  The reasons are as many and as varied as the women themselves.

In fact, the concept of wanting to ‘free’ the ‘oppressed’ covered woman is insulting to the personal choice being made. It is presumptuous; assuming that one idea of freedom of expression is socially acceptable.  If it strays from such a path, it clearly must be backward and oppressive, right?

Women do not give up their voice and their thoughts when they choose to wear the hijab.

In fact, part of its intention was to give woman more agency and capacity to interact in a society, taking out the judgement of beauty.

I personally find it freeing, and it allows me to be more creative with my outfits!


So when you ask if me and my hijabi sisters are oppressed, I’ll likely just cock my eyebrow at you.

Who was it that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011? Three women, all who were covered when they received their awards.

That’s what I thought.

Let’s move away from the conversation of being ‘saved’.  There are thousands of more constructive dialectics to be had – ones were hijabed women are partners rather than mere silent victims.

Isn’t it ironic that in the very act of ‘saving’ women from oppression silences them?

Hypocrisy of the Hierarchy: "Islam" vs "Islamists"

Below is an excerpt from the blog of an activist currently in Sudan in reference to the NCP, the nation’s ruling party. He raises a poignant point; highlighting the Sudanese government's use of religion to justify their actions while simultaneously flying in the face of everything the religion stands for.

Far from a moral and legal compass, Shari’a has been nothing but a political tool used by the NCP to consolidate their hold on power. While some naively believed the rhetoric and rallied around ‘the Islamic State’, the majority has known that the regime’s founding ideology has long been perverted by power and greed. In the past, the NCP made an effort, however minimal, to cover up their religious merchandizing, if only as a courtesy. However, when CS gas is fired into a house of worship on specific orders, it seems evident that we are no longer dealing with a regime that can be bothered with even insincere courtesies.

This has been a cause of personal frustration for some time now.

Another example can be found in Timbuktu (yeh, it’s a place), Mali, where a group called the "Ansar Dine", control part of the country and destroy the nation's heritage and history in the name of "Sharia Law".

This band of terrorists has recently turned their guns and fanaticism against the historical shrines that had made the city of Timbuktu a beacon of learning through so many centuries. They have used pick-axes, shovels, hammers and guns to destroy earthen tombs and shrines of local saints in the desert city of Timbuktu, claiming that they are doing so to defend the purity of their faith against idol worship. They are behind the destruction of at least eight Timbuktu mausoleums and several tombs, centuries-old shrines in what is known as the ‘City of 333 Saints’.


My frustration is twofold.

Firstly, even though the actions are not aligned with Islamic values and principles, these groups will often claim their actions are in the name of the religion and then rub salt into the wound by denouncing anything or anyone they believe isn’t following Islam.

Secondly, by using Islam as a political tool, these groups taint the name of the religion itself.

Take the example of the the Muslim Brotherhood, or Al-Akhwan al-Muslimeen, the current Egyptian President’s party.  The organisation started as a religious social organisation, with stated aims to preach Islam.  With power usually comes political agendas however, and the Brotherhood is now one of the largest political movements in the Arab world.  The organisation (the political wing) operates under the banner of Islam, however throughout its history, its actions haven’t always been aligned with Islamic values.

Yet, because the Brotherhood as an organisation has an Islamic mandate, Muslim members and calls itself the “Muslim” Brotherhood, it’s actions are seen as representative of 'what is right under Islam'.

This is unfortunate as there is a difference between Islam and self proclaimed ‘Islamists’, or those who use religion as a mean to a political end.  This is not to say that all political Islamists are bad as such, things are much more nuanced than that. There is simply a difference between Islam and Islamists, and this should be recognised.

It is not the religion that should be judged by the people but the people whom should be judged by the religion.  After all, we are only human, and humans are fallible.  Such is the nature of our humanity.


This isn’t Islam’s problem alone, it has happened with Christians, Jews and numerous other religious groups.  Religion is an extremely effective and persuasive political tool, and unfortunately is often used to justify evil and undeniable atrocities.

However, when you look at it…

“Do you love your Creator? Then love your fellow beings first.” – The Prophet Mohammed (SAW) [Muslims]

“Love thy neighbor as thyself” – Jesus, quoting the Torah (New Testament) [Christians and Jews]

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” – Buddha [Buddhists]

It would seems to me that mercy and love are what all religions preach and what we should focus on, regardless of denomination.


In all of this, it should be noted that Muslims have been not given a mandate on how to rule a nation.

There are detailed descriptions for many things in Islam, down to the very details of how to wash before you pray, but there is no description for the best “model of government”.

Yes, there is the concept of ‘Sharia’, however Sharia is not a book of law as Western civilisation would have it, rather it is the ‘path’ or the Islamic ‘way of life’ (read further here).

What there isn’t is a ruling on whether Muslims should be right wing, left wing, realist, socialist, communist (though that wouldn’t really work anyway), democratic, authoritarian, dictatorial…

Politics is one of the areas that Islam hasn’t mandated.  What does that tell you?


So, what are your thoughts? For me personally, I think religion and politics are different realms and should be kept separate. That is how I will keep it at any rate.

Spots of Substance: 22nd July 2012

  How was your week? I learnt a whole bunch of new things about motorsport journalism, fell flat on my rear at the first time ice skating for nearly a decade…and began Ramadaan.  I also spent a lot of time online and here are some particularly interesting things I came across!

(after you check out the links, of course :P)

Striking truths. A new picture with an inspirational saying (like the above) every day…

So what is Ramadaan exactly? Glad you asked: Ramadaan guide for non-Muslims

Why smart people are dumb via The New Yorker

Perhaps our most dangerous bias is that we naturally assume that everyone else is more susceptible to thinking errors, a tendency known as the “bias blind spot.” This “meta-bias” is rooted in our ability to spot systematic mistakes in the decisions of others—we excel at noticing the flaws of friends—and inability to spot those same mistakes in ourselves.

How much money do you need to be happy? What is your number? An interesting post on money, happiness, indulgence and sharing…

But what about individuals who are notorious for their struggles with sharing? Surely the emotional benefits of giving couldn’t possibly apply to very young children, who cling to their possessions as though their lives depended on it. To find out, we teamed up with the developmental psychologist Kiley Hamlin and gave toddlers the baby-equivalent of gold: goldfish crackers. Judging from their beaming faces, they were pretty happy about this windfall. But something made them even happier. They were happiest of allwhen giving some of their treats away to their new friend, a puppet named Monkey. Monkey puppets aside, the lesson is clear: maximizing our happiness is not about maximizing our goldfish. To be clear, having more goldfish (or more gold) doesn’t decrease our happiness — those first few crackers may provide a genuine burst of delight. But rather than focusing on how much we’ve got in our bowl, we should think more carefully about what we do with what we’ve got — which might mean indulging less, and may even mean giving others the opportunity to indulge instead.

Omar Offendum – A Syrian American rapper, using his gift to try bring voice to the uprisings in Syria, muses at The Rolling Stone.

Owen Jones: On Islamophobia in Europe

In France – where recently 42 per cent polled for Le Monde believed that the presence of Muslims was a "threat" to their national identity – a record number voted for the anti-Muslim National Front in April's presidential elections. Denmark's third largest party is the People's Party, which rails against "Islamisation" and demands the end of all non-Western immigration. The anti-Muslim Vlaams Belang flourishes in Flemish Belgium. But those who take a stand against Islamophobia are often demanded to qualify it with a condemnation of extremism. When is this ever asked of other stands against prejudice?

How do you deal with feelings of intellectual inadequacy? “I am not as smart as I thought I was…”

Epilogue: The Future of Print, a beautiful video

4 Lessons in Creativity from John Cleese! Brilliant, truly brilliant.  It is similar to what he says in the speech below in 1991…