Choosing is a right, and everyone has the right to wear what he or she pleases and express themselves as they please, as long as their freedom does not encumber the freedom of others. As such, if wearing the hijab is a right for Muslim women, then choosing not to wear it is also their right. They alone are qualified to choose their way of life, without input from anyone else.
Here, then, are the stories of three young women who were compelled to wear headscarves, which became a form of punishment, leading to them rebelling against their families and society, subsequently choosing to discard those scarves completely.
A 10-year-old child who rebelled early, having been forced to wear the veil since the age of 8. But her age was not a saving grace, for she was beaten and compelled to wear it again.
Jinan, 22, attended a religious school during her childhood that required girls to wear the hijab. Throughout the years, the pressure she felt was diminished by her father’s constant discussions and attempts to convince her of the “religious doctrines” that she must abide by. Yet, those discussions stirred more questions inside Jinan’s psyche. She resorted to reading books that she hoped would mollify her constant doubts. She studied many of them, both religious and non-religious, in her father’s library. She then resorted to other books from outside the confines of her home and beyond the walls of the library. Amin Maalouf’s book Deadly Identities affected her a great deal, and helped her make her final decision.
Facing her fears and her own self were scarier to her than facing society. At the age of nine, after her first year at the Faculty of Arts, her mind was set; she would discard the veil and end the relationship of obedience that existed between her and her parents. When she made her intentions known, they threatened to prevent her from going to college, so she ran away from home.
Leaving her father’s house was not easy for Jinan, but it was great proof of the seriousness of her decision. Departing was painful for all, but it was her only hope. She later returned home once her parents, albeit slowly, consented to her decision. At first, her mother refused to accept the news, and refused to even see her for a month. Even after they reconciled, her mother refused to publicly accept her daughter’s decision. On one occasion, she hid Jinan in the bedroom, for fear that the visitors would see her without a veil.
Jinan rejected the noxious stability that came at the expense of her freedoms, and she now continues to fight her daily battles to attain her potential and find her true self.
Nour was riding in a car when she decided that 13 years of wearing the veil were enough. She pulled out the safety pins and removed it, forever this time. She ran her fingers through her hair to free it of the constraints suffered during years of being wrapped up. She then stuck her head out the window.
Nour, 24, was forced to wear the hijab since the age of 10. She resisted at first, and was barred from going to school without wearing it, so she acquiesced. She never was convinced of the need to wear a veil, but her young age and fear prevented her from refusing to comply with her parents' “wish.” But compliance was only temporary for her, and the idea of forsaking the headscarf never left her mind. Nour was influenced by women who rebelled against society, among them Houda Shaarawi, one of the most famous Muslim women who dared to remove her veil in public.
Nour’s decision did not come easily. She had heard stories about girls who, when they refused to comply, were beaten and ostracized. She often stood in front of the mirror, repeatedly putting on and then removing her headscarf, hoping that one day she would be able to leave the house without it. Fear was the main deterrent but her conviction that she alone had the right to decide her fate settled her long-standing hesitation. She left her mother’s house and sought refuge at her father’s, whose opinion about the matter differed from that of his ex-wife. For her mother completely rejected the idea of not wearing a headscarf, and imposed upon Nour other religious edicts through various means, despite the fact that Nour did not believe in them.
After her final decision, Nour’s mother accused her of being an apostate, and her younger sister took the mother’s side and denounced her as causing shame to the family. Many of her old friends cut their relationships with her, and wrote offensive messages about her on Facebook.
This year, Nour celebrated her first birthday sans headscarf. She promised to gift her body, which belongs to her alone, a tattoo that reads “Qawimi” (Resist), so that it may be a constant companion in her personal fight against a “rotten” society, as she described it.
Danni was totally convinced that honor had nothing to do with covering one’s head. She grew up waging a constant inner battle between what society imposed upon her and what she wanted for herself. Danni, 27, was forced to wear the headscarf when she turned 13. No discussions or preparations preceded the move. Her father did not care if she prayed or read the Quran — his only concern was subjecting her to his will. She repeatedly tried to rebel against her father’s decision and convince him, to no avail, of her desire to remove the hijab that so suddenly was wrapped around her head and so unjustifiably imposed upon her daily life.
She thought that her hijab had nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with her father’s image in the community. To express her rejection, Danni began choosing her own clothes: tight and ornate. She considered that the manner by which the headscarf was imposed upon her robbed her of her right to express her femininity, particularly during her adolescence, leading to a decline in her self-esteem.
Danni was harshly criticized for her style in clothes, and she constantly had to explain that this was but a headscarf that she was forced to wear. She said, in describing the insults she was subjected to, “They killed me with their words. There is no compulsion in religion, and if God gives people choices, and He alone exacts retribution, then why do people punish me for my choices?”
Danni waited for the opportune moment. A few months ago, upon arriving at a French airport, she removed her hijab. Her departure from home and marrying a Frenchman helped her attain her desire.
Every day, when she woke up, Danni was burdened by the headscarf that she put on in front of the mirror before leaving the house. Today, she stands contentedly smiling in front of the mirror, the face of a free woman reflected back at her.