Immediately after 9/11, a fatwa was issued that Muslim women living in America and fearing retaliation, could put their hijab aside in order to protect their own lives. I am not a religious scholar, but I am a Muslim woman and I regularly exercise my right to think. A fatwa is a non-binding religious opinion, subject to debate, so maybe someone can help me to understand this one, which has far reaching implications.
The Qur’anic Verse 59 of Surah An-Nur (The Light) was revealed at a time when Muslim women were a persecuted minority, similar to our situation in the USA after 9/11. God, in His wisdom, did not tell them to dress like the non-Muslims, and to try to blend in with the crowd. Rather, He told them just the opposite; He extolled them to dress in such a way that would clearly differentiate them from the others, saying that this would prevent them from being hurt.
“O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And God is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful” (33:59).
I have been wearing hijab since 9/11, and I have not been the victim of any hate crimes. Of course, I do receive some glares on Sunday; the occasional well wisher taps me on the shoulder and angrily tells me “Jesus loves you!” I have been told that my name cannot be Sarah because that is a Jewish name. For the most part, however, I am either complimented or politely questioned about the headscarf, thus opening the door to dialogue and education of the well-meaning average non-Muslim American. It is not always enough; some people are shocked that I ‘sound American’, and then ask if I am a nun or Amish, but that is still a door to dialogue.
After the Presidential election is over, no matter who wins, the challenges of preserving our democracy will continue and the challenge of advancing US-Muslim world relations for a more peaceful future falls primarily on our shoulder. No one can change that responsibility. And no group other than American Muslims can play a vital role in such a noble endeavor. Let’s get out the vote.
Salam Al-Marayati is founding director of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council.