My Body Is My Own Business
By: Naheed Mustafa
[This essay is first published in The Globe and Mail (Toronto) in Editorial on the Hijab-the
Islamic Veil; Tuesday, June 29, 1993; Facts and Arguments Page (A 26)]
I often wonder whether people see me as a radical, fundamentalist Muslim terrorist packing an
AK-47 assault rifle inside my jean jacket. Or maybe they see me as the poster girl for oppressed
womanhood everywhere. I'm not sure which it is.
I get the whole gamut of strange looks, stares, and covert glances. You see, I wear the hijab, a
scarf that covers my head, neck, and throat. I do this because I am a Muslim woman who
believes her body is her own private concern.
Young Muslim women are reclaiming the hijab, reinterpreting it in light of its original purpose -
to give back to women ultimate control of their own bodies. The Qur'an teaches us that men
and women are equal, that individuals should not be judged according to gender, beauty,
wealth, or privilege. The only thing that makes one person better than another is her or his
character. Nonetheless, people have a difficult time relating to me. After all, I'm young,
Canadian born and raised, university- educated - why would I do this to myself, they ask.
Strangers speak to me in loud, slow English and often appear to be playing charades. They
politely inquire how I like living in Canada and whether or not the cold bothers me. If I'm in
the right mood, it can be very amusing. But, why would I, a woman with all the advantages of a
North American upbringing, suddenly, at 21, want to cover myself so that with the hijab and
the other clothes I choose to wear, only my face and hands show? Because it gives me freedom.
Women are taught from early childhood that their worth is proportional to their attractiveness.
We feel compelled to pursue abstract notions of beauty, half realizing that such a pursuit is
futile. When women reject this form of oppression, they face ridicule and contempt. Whether
it's women who refuse to wear makeup or to shave their legs, or to expose their bodi...