Letter: The hijab, like those who wear it, is not a monolith

    The following is a Letter to the Editor submitted to North by Northwestern and does not necessarily reflect the views of its editorial board.

    I sat on my friend's couch Friday afternoon scrolling through Facebook on my phone to come across an article by NBN on hijab.

    The publishing of such an article didn't come as a complete surprise. Muslim women were made aware that a freshman in Medill was working on such a piece in February. We had discussed how she approached several Muslim women through Facebook creeping which made us uncomfortable. Amal's letter describes how that unfolded in more detail.

    Reading the article immediately triggered strong emotions in me about a range of problems such as journalistic standards and qualities to contextualization and research journalists are supposed to provide.

    Hijab is a broad topic that can be approached from a variety of angles: from a theological perspective, from a historical perspective, as a sociological phenomenon or as a personal experience.

    An article such as the one published attempted to speak from all points of view and failed to do justice to any of them.

    Average everyday Muslims are not theologians, yet we are consistently asked and expected to speak about Islamic theology as if we were scholars. Being a Muslim does not require us to be experts on the hermeneutics behind elements of our faith. We cannot easily and instantly provide theological source material for all we do and why we do it. Nor is it our responsibility as servants of God or as students at this university to have the knowledge of scholars for the sake of regular conversations with peers and the like. This article should have been opportunity to put the knowledge of such people in conversation with the experiences of lay Muslims.

    Hijab exists as historical reality and as a practice that has evidence and fact which establishes when and where and who began it. There is academic discourse and study of this history that could have been cited in the article, but would be not necessary to include in order to talk about the personal experiences Muslim women have with hijab. Since reference was made to the history of Wahhabist-Saudi enforcement of and revival of hijab in the modern era, the conversation changed. It necessitated a historical context completely missing. This religio-political movement does not belong in an article about Northwestern’s Muslim women’s relationship with hijab. If this was key to the article, there are many well-qualified professors at Northwestern who have spent their careers studying the history of Islam who could have defined this history. Northwestern’s Muslim students who study biology, chemistry or economics, for example, are not credible sources for this type of academic history. Nor should we be expected to be, if that is not our study of choice.

    This article specifically sought to express the voices of Muslim women who both wear and do not wear hijab, as expressed by the author when she reached out to several women in the community. It is an important to have conversation especially when it encompasses a wide range of perspectives and experiences. In order to do this it requires participation from a variety of Muslim women. Our tiny community of Northwestern already gives few option of people to talk to about this. Without the voices of the small number of us there are on campus willing to engage, there is no legitimacy to the type of narrative being portrayed. The narrative is not honest to our community or the individual Muslim women it pretends to center.

    This is not the first time Northwestern publications have done a disservice to the severely underrepresented voices it intended to highlight. In my three years at Northwestern and through stories I've heard from those in classes above me, I know this is a common problem. One that must be learned from and sincere steps taken to resolve the issues ingrained in the journalistic structure that allows a piece such as this to be written, submitted, and published in the state it was.


    Aneesa Johnson, School of Communication junior


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