Uneducated. Oppressed. Brainwashed. Slave.

Everyone has an opinion. Everyone thinks they are entitled to an opinion, no matter how wrong it is.

Freedom of speech is great, and I for one am a strong proponent of it, but there are some people who need to be reminded of the freedom not to speak- especially those people who voice opinions about Muslim women as if they were divinely chosen to represent every single Muslim woman in the world.

We live in a time where people surf the Internet for ten minutes for information about an issue that has been debated for thousands of years, and then suddenly become self-proclaimed experts. We live in a time in which the media selectively chooses to report on the one poor beaten Muslim women instead of the thousands of successful and respected Muslim women, thus falsely depicting Muslim women as powerless and oppressed.

We live in a time that sadly misunderstands the beauty of Islam and its approach to gender inequality.

Fourteen hundred years ago, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) came out with a message, one that most notably called the people to worship only one God, but one that also changed and reshaped the society of sixth-century Saudi Arabia. The religion of Islam was brought to the people during a time when fathers would bury their daughters and women had no rights whatsoever, and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) changed the world, starting with the way he honored the people around him, especially his wives and daughters.

Islam, however, was the force that changed everything. Women were given rights; women were given respect; women were given equality. The Qur’an came down and proclaimed that men and women were equal in the eyes of God, and that their rank was dependent on their level of piety.

Islam came with its own law, and it has been the weapon of equality. As recent as the Victorian era, women could not divorce their husbands, even when the husbands were cruel to their wives.  In Islam, divorce was allowed from the very beginning, especially in extreme cases or situations that endangered the wife.

The hot topic of the modern era is of course the hijab, the headscarf that Muslim women are obligated to wear. And by obligated, I do not mean forced by fathers and husbands, but necessitated by God.

Every time I drive, particularly on a major highway, I see endless billboards and advertisements with half-naked women. Chicago is filled with inappropriate images on massive boards advertising gentlemen’s clubs, casinos, alcohol, etc., and yet, I am viewed as the oppressed woman, not the model on the billboard.

Well, I am not oppressed, but I am a slave. Not a slave to men, like the women who parade around in bikinis while photographers objectify them with their camera and change the image to make the model look like ‘the perfect women.’ Not a slave to capitalism, like those same women whose pictures are used for the sole purpose of making others want to buy and sell.

Not a slave to anything in this world, but rather a slave of God. I love Him; I want to worship Him. I want to be identified as a slave to Him, and so I wear the hijab. He has commanded it, and I want to follow His command.

But I don’t wear the scarf just to show my worship; I wear it because it makes sense. The hijab is liberating, a tool I use to become the best version of myself. It allows me to reach the pinnacle of outer modesty and be judged for who I am and whom I love, not what I look like.

And to all those who declare Muslim women to be oppressed slaves, brainwashed, and uneducated, I have only one thing to ask:  how can a woman who chooses to cover up and be treated as a human being, not just a woman, be oppressed?

In a world where women feel constant pressure to be thin and beautiful to attract men, how can one who ignores those pressures and carves her own path be a slave to men?

In this consumerist society run by capitalism and money, why are the women who cover up ostracized and considered brainwashed, when those who look towards Seventeen and People magazines are considered free?

Two of the greatest ills in our society, especially in regards to young women, are anorexia and bulimia. Where do these diseases come from? What makes young girls feel like they need to starve themselves to look beautiful?

I think it is safe to start with the commercials and advertisements that are forced upon them every single day, subliminal messages that enforce one specific perception of beauty upon young impressionable girls who just want to fit in.

That is slavery. That is oppression. That is brainwashing.

Wearing the hijab is not. During this time of oppression, wearing the hijab is an act of rebellion. It keeps the Muslim woman from succumbing to conventional notions of beauty and gives her the chance to construct her own understanding of beauty and womanhood.

According to a Princeton study from 2009, men who see women in bikinis perceive them as sexual objects, and while the part of the brain associated with tools increases in activity, the part associated with pondering another’s thoughts (in other words, what makes one human) is almost completely shut down.

If men respond to women in bikinis by dehumanizing them, I can only imagine how they react to those topless FEMEN activists trying to “save” the Muslim women. In reality, men associate modest women with third-person verbs, giving the women more power and independence. 

When men saw women in bikinis, the women were associated with first-person verbs, such as “I run,” but when they saw women dressed with more modesty, their minds thought “she runs.” This indicates that women, in men’s minds, have more autonomy and power when they are covered, rather than when they are wearing bikinis.

Less than two hundred years ago, women in England and America were mere objects in the household. Men and women both occupied their time by writing conduct books that told women how to be the ideal domestic woman.

Women who worked had to work because of their circumstances. Otherwise, the woman’s place was the home, and women’s activities all took place in the kitchen or the living room. Women were ornaments, dressed up to make their husbands proud.

Fourteen hundred years ago, the first human being to convert to Islam, Khadijah, Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) wife, was one of the greatest business people in the city of Mecca. She was highly respected for her intellect and modesty, not her appearance.

So how, then, can anyone who reads about the life of Khadijah and the innumerable amount of great women in Islam tell me that Muslim women are oppressed, when the Western, “civilized” woman has just become emancipated from the kitchen, only to become slaves of capitalism?

And how can one emancipate herself from this new slavery?

For me, the answer is the hijab, the only thing in this world that helps a woman be treated like a human while being respected for her modesty and intelligence.

Ultimately, God knows best.