Whether it's debates over France's ban on headscarves, schools banning girls from wearing scarves, or fights over what hijabs represent to society, what is often missing from media coverage of women wearing hijabs is the voices of Muslim women themselves.
Below, three Muslim teen girls from Michigan discuss why they have decided to wear or not wear headscarves.
In 2010, a teacher in a public Dearborn, Michigan junior high school set out to train her students to become media-makers themselves. The resulting Living Textbook project trains junior highschoolers—including many Muslim and Arab girls—to work in media. I ran in to the precocious group in June at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, where a group of tween girls approached my Bitch table and introduced themselves very professionally as journalists.
Recently, three of the seventh and eighth graders wrote about why they decide to wear or not wear a hijab. These three stories—from one girl who doesn't wear a scarf, one who does, and one who used to but recently took it off—offer a personal insight that's usually lot in policy debates over their religion.
Read the girls' full essays about their decisions over at Living Textbook.
Every day someone will ask me what my religion is. But, of course, when they hear me say that I'm Muslim, the question of why I don't wear a scarf always comes up. This is always my answer: it's not for me and I'm not ready for one.
Many girls my age, older, even younger, wear a scarf and that is completely their decision. But it's mine not to wear a scarf. I want to wear a scarf when I want to. I don't want to wear a scarf just because someone told me to, or because other people think it's right. When I feel that I genuinely want to wear a scarf, I will.
I feel that it would be wrong of me to just go ahead and wear a scarf when I feel that I'm being forced to. Also, I feel that a scarf isn't for me simply because I don't understand it. I can't do something I don't understand, just because someone told me to do that. It's not right for me.
Wearing a scarf should mean something to you. When you wear a scarf, you feel something and you know that what you're doing is right. But that would require it actually meaning something to me. If I started wearing a scarf today, I wouldn't have that feeling and it wouldn't mean anything to me. Well, at this point in my life, it wouldn't.
Not every Muslim girl needs to wear a scarf to be considered a good person or a good Muslim. You are just as good a person as you set yourself out to be and no one requiring you to wear a scarf can change that.
I'm the only one who will know when I should wear a scarf. Whether I wear a scarf or not isn't going to define who I am and if I am a good Muslim.
To me, a hijab is a scarf that Allah commanded women to wear as a way of protecting themselves from the eyes of strangers. A hijab is worn to cover the true beauty of a woman so that it is not shown to the unwanted eyes of by-passers. It is the most important factor in becoming a real and true Muslim, though most people tend to put it off.
I started wearing a scarf when I was nine, feeling that it was something I wanted to do to get close to God. I was mature for my age and was especially fascinated with Islam, the religion I followed. Wearing a hijab is a choice I grew up loving, never once regretting. When wearing a scarf, I feel as if I'm safe. It's a shield, though some may not think so. I feel comfortable and I know that people respect me knowing I wear a scarf. …
If a woman is free to dress as she wishes, why shouldn't she be free to cover up? Women in Islam are not oppressed. It is their decision to wear hijab, and it is their freedom to follow their decision, isn't it?
ZAEINAB (as interviewed by Khansa)
She had been wearing a scarf for about three years. Making the decision to change the way she dressed wasn't easy. She pondered for two weeks before she finally had the courage to take her hijab off.
"I was stuck in wanting to take it off and not wanting to at the same time. It was a 50/50 decision," she explained. "It felt weird for me the first couple days."
Looking back on why she started wearing a hijab, Zaeinab says, "I was still a kid, so I was kind of doing what the other kids were doing." She thinks now that when she began wearing a scarf between 4th and 5th grades she wasn't mature enough to know what it meant and how it would affect her life. For instance, she didn't fully appreciate that she also would have to cover up a lot of her body, so that no hair or skin showed beside her hands, feet, and face.
Zaeinab wasn't forced to wear the scarf by her family, so that also made her decision to take it off easier. Her mother left it up to Zaeinab to decide.
Zaeinab still feels the same as she did when she wore her scarf, but not as safe when she was covered up. After she took her scarf off, she says she got loads of hate. But she got through it with the help of her real friends. Her friends and her Mom helped her push through the hate to do what she feels is right for her. "When I get older and more mature, I will wear a scarf," said Zaeinab. So, her insight on wearing a scarf hasn't changed. She just feels it isn't fit for her now.
Her views on women who cover up still hasn't changed, either. "I treat the women who wear hijabs and don't wear hijabs the same way," she says.
Photo: A street art installation by the artist Princess Hijab, who subverts Parisian billboards.