A Muslim man skips prayer, drinks alcohol, leads a very non-halal lifestyle... yet no one bats an eye. Religion is a personal matter if you have a Y-chromosome, apparently.
Meanwhile, a woman's religious beliefs and the ways through which she chooses to express said beliefs are treated as topics of public scrutiny and discussion. Society's attitude toward hijab-wearing women is a prime example.
The reality for Muslim women varies greatly depending on their community and the religious and social values of each family. However, more often than not, the decision to wear the hijab or to stop wearing it puts a woman under the microscope and subjects her to endless judgement.
The scrutiny is particularly harsh on women who decide to stop wearing the hijab, with all the stereotypes that topic entails. Here are some misconceptions former hijabis encounter on a daily basis:
Myth #1: They owe people an explanation
Many of the issues surrounding the topic stem from the misconception that women owe others a justification for why they choose to wear or remove the hijab. For some reason unbeknownst to us, people - even strangers or mere acquaintances - feel entitled to interrogate women on their decisions.
Hi. Are you my therapist? How would you like it if I probed into your personal life? My hijab or lack thereof is not a window into my private life.
Myth #2: They are leaving religion altogether
Many mistake de-scarfing with totally abandoning religion, but this is not always the case.
It's true that some women stop wearing the hijab because they no longer believe in Islamic teachings. However, in other cases, women continue having faith and identifying as Muslim, yet they simply choose to practice their religious views in a more subtle manner or in a manner more in line with their personal take on religion.
In fact, some women might decide to take off the hijab in an attempt to become more faithful. "When I first put it on, I did so out of fear of punishment. As the years passed, I decided I wanted my relationship with God to be based on love instead of fear. With more faith in God's mercy than His punishment, I felt at peace with taking it off," Enas El Masry, who used to wear the hijab, previously told StepFeed.
Myth #3: They despise the hijab and don't mind people bashing it
Many people directly bash the hijab and express their disapproval of it as soon as they see a former hijabi.
But just because one woman had an unpleasant experience with the hijab or no longer identifies with it doesn't mean she holds purely negative perceptions of it. Some former hijabis acknowledge the perks of wearing the hijab and the purpose behind it and respect women who continue to wear it.
Myth #4: They were socially pressured into removing the hijab
As soon as a woman decides to stop wearing the hijab, people speculate about the reasons behind her decisions and are quick to make assumptions on the matter. Many such assumptions revolve around social pressure.
People are quick to say such women were influenced by their friends, classmates, or their significant others... because God forbid they are independent women who make their own educated decisions.
Myth #5: They want to grab men's attention
Many pin the decision on vanity and the desire to grab male attention. This misconception is even perpetuated in Western television productions claiming to promote Muslim representation, whereby hijab-wearing characters are quick to remove the hijab after falling for non-Muslim men.
This misapprehension undermines women's deep-rooted struggles, rid her of her autonomy, and diminish her into an object serving the male gaze. In reality, for many women, the decision to stop wearing the hijab is more internal than it is external. It's mostly about her reclaiming her sense of identity and representing the latter in the manner she is mostly comfortable with.
Myth #6: They were forced into wearing it in the first place
Yes, some women wear the hijab involuntarily and they struggle to regain control over their bodies and eventually take it off... but this is not always the case.
Some women put the hijab out of free will yet opt out of it after wearing it. People change, their beliefs change, and the ways they choose to express said beliefs change. It's this simple.
Myth #7: It's just a phase
People always ask former hijabis something along the lines of "Why? What happened?" This downplays a woman's maturity and makes her choice seem like a rash, spur-of-the-moment decision.
They expect a specific turning point, when actually, the decision often builds up for long periods of time. So much thought and hesitation goes into it, which is why many women take months or years contemplating it before finally making the move.
Myth #8: Removing the hijab is a "trend"
Taking off the hijab is not a "trend." Women feeling empowered to authentically express themselves is not a fashion statement. People ought to acknowledge the overwhelming emotional labor that often accompanies the decision to stop wearing the hijab. Most importantly, people should realize that each woman has her own unique experience with the hijab.
The fact remains that a woman does not owe anyone a justification for how she chooses to dress and to express her faith. People are not entitled to invalidate her decisions or make assumptions about the reasons behind them. To wear the hijab or not to wear it is a matter of personal choice, and it's high time we start treating it as such.