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Local View: No, no one forces me to wear the hijab

I have been wearing the hijab (head covering) for the last five years. Many people have questioned my hijab and expressed their own opinions about it. Just recently, a friend of mine asked me a question that made me believe my friends are unclear about why I wear the hijab. I suspect others in my community may have even more misconceptions about the hijab.

The most common misconceptions I have heard are that Islam forces the hijab on women, suppresses their identity, and stipulates the hijab only for them. As a hijab-wearing Muslim girl, I feel it is my duty to remove such misconceptions.

During the past five years, the foremost question I have been asked is whether I wear the hijab by choice. Just a couple of weeks ago, a friend shared with me a Facebook comment that claimed the hijab is forced on women. This misconception is caused by stories of men forcing women to wear hijabs in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia where it is mandatory by law.

In reality, the hijab is a Quranic commandment, dictating that believing women "draw their head covering over their bosoms." However, the Quran prescribes no punishment for not wearing one. Therefore, from an Islamic standpoint, the hijab is a spiritual commandment that women individually decide to fulfill, giving no authority to men or government to impose it on them.

Another misconception my peers have is that my hijab hides my identity. Once, during my freshman year of high school, when I took off my hijab in the locker room, a classmate asked me why I cover my beautiful hair. More recently, a friend innocently commented that she felt my hijab took away a piece of my identity. This could not be further from reality. My hijab is not just a piece of cloth meant to cover my hair. It's a spiritual obligation I have chosen to fulfill after developing a deep understanding and appreciation of it. When I leave my home with my hijab on, I am not hiding my identity at all; rather, I am exhibiting the most significant part of it — my religion.

Another question I encounter is why only women have to wear the hijab in Islam. In fact, the Quran first instructs believing men to observe the hijab by commanding them to "restrain their eyes and guard their private parts." Only then in the next verse are women told to wear the hijab. Still, some may feel Islam encourages the rape-culture stereotype of, "Look at what she was wearing; how could he possibly control himself?" However, by holding men responsible first, the classic argument is reversed to, "Why were you looking at her in the first place?" So, although the hijab in Islam may be more visible in women, it is equally as important in men.

After reading this I hope my community understands that I don't wear my hijab because it has been forced on me or because it suppresses my identity.

The next time you see me with my head covered, know that it simply symbolizes a Muslim girl exercising her freedom to practice her faith. And I hope that the men around me will exercise their discretion to observe their hijab, not necessarily because they are Muslim but because it's the decent thing to do.

Shanze Hayee is in the 11th grade at Duluth East High School.