The blog first published at HuffingtonPost: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/asmaa-abumezied/stupid-questions-asked-to-muslim-women_b_9317180.html
As a Muslim woman, I had my share of questions regarding my religion, my culture and my so called “oppression”. Through my travels to the United Kingdom, United States, Ireland and different countries, the questions I receive range from curious, really-want-to-know to offensive ones; some of these questions are not intentionally offensive but asked in a very rude way that reflects the general main-streamed stereotype about Muslim women. A Muslim woman, whether she wears the head scarf or not, will be subjected to various judgmental questions; some of them are highlighted in this blog.
The following questions are collected from different Muslim women from different countries and nationalities, such as Palestine, South Africa, Sudan, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, and United Kingdom, who are gracefully sharing them with me and you.
• “Why don’t you wear the hijab? Is it because you are currently staying in the US/Europe?”
Because I am staying in the US/Europe you say! Like, REALLY??? A Muslim woman’s faith, in this question, is judged by someone who knows nothing about the degree of her faith; especially when the criteria of the faith, according to the question, is whether she wears the hijab or not. The question insinuates and confirms the stereotype that hijab, religion or culture is oppressing women in Islam and they will be liberated from such oppression once they step into the United States or Europe. This represents a very shallow understanding of people’s faith.
• “Do they make you wear it?”, “Can I liberate you?” or “You are in the U.S. it is okey to be liberated.”
In western opinions, hijab is a symbol of oppression and rescuing the oppressed Muslim women from their culture and religion has been a justification for many interventions in Muslim countries. However, I find it offensive that our opinions are not considered during so called rescue missions especially when Muslim women are painted as weak and helpless everywhere in the media, who are in dire need for crusade saving. The way we are dressed and wearing hijab is a choice that we make therefore, the answer to your question is “No you can’t liberate me, simply because I don’t need liberation, it is my own choice and no one force me to wear it.”
• “Do you have ears?”, “Do you have hair underneath?”, “Do you have bad hair? Is that why you wear the scarf?” or “Aren’t you getting hot?”
I know this would come as a shock for you and you might even have nightmares but, believe it or not, we do have ears and hair underneath our hijab; and it is not bad hair. Not being able to see our hair and ears doesn’t mean that we are not human just like you. There is always pressure on Muslim women to prove that they are normal just like other people. However, these questions put another layer of pressure to prove our humanity before our normality.
• “You are smart and beautiful why are you wearing the hijab?”
What is the relationship between being clever or beautiful and not wearing hijab and how is this relevant? Do you mean that one’s smartness will decrease when you wear hijab; will hijab prevent flying information from entering one’s brain? Being surprised that a woman is smart is something women everywhere are suffering from and If you assumed a Muslim woman is smart; then you should give her the credit of being smart to choose her way of practicing her religion without judging her.
• “Where is your sword?”
This question was asked to a Muslim woman in the UK and after the person cycled around her many times, he decided to ask her about her sword. When she inquired about what do you mean by where is your sword, his reply was “You know, you Muslim Arab, you live in tents in the middle of the desert and have swords to kill people”.
Media, movies and entertainment industry would always describe Muslims in such an image or as the angry terrorist who want to blow up everyone. The ignorance of the person asking the question is not justifiable; however, one can’t deny the huge role media plays in promoting and fostering the stereotypes of Muslim violence, terrorism and inhumanity.
• “You are a Muslim, what do you think of ISIS?” or “Why can’t you stop ISIS?”
Just because I am a Muslim and ISIS claims to be the “Islamic state” it doesn’t mean we are long-time friends or that ISIS actually consults other Muslims around the world before they kill, bomb and destroy cities. A Muslim person, especially a woman, would feel pressured to always defend herself and apologize because she is held responsible for the actions of other Muslims who don’t represent her. She had to endure discriminatory actions because of her religion as if discrimination can be accepted if justified by race or religion.
• “Are you allowed to have a boyfriend?” or “How can you marry someone you have never met, the traditional way?”
Traditional marriages are still around, but we have an engagement period to get to know each other. Females and males interact at workplaces, events, universities, etc; the way we interact and court is just different.
• “What kind of weapons are you carrying?”
This a question I personally got when I was flying from Europe to the U.S. The lady asking the question quickly judged me based on how I look like as a danger and security risk. Thus, even the way she phrased the question was different from how she approached other passengers. She assumed instantly that I am carrying not one weapon but WEAPONS just because I am a Muslim wearing hijab. Despite how large my hijab is, I doubt I can hide weapons underneath it.
This is only a sample of questions a Muslim woman receives from people in different countries. Other questions involve:
• “How come you are a Muslim and stylish?”
• “Are there Christians in your countries?”
• “Why do young Muslims go back to their roots?”
• “When you are fasting and your mouth was open, what if a popcorn flew and entered your mouth. Will you still be fasting?”
The people asking the questions are educated with university degrees and not ignorant. They don’t lack the ability to read and educate themselves about Muslim women if they want to know. I don’t have a problem with people asking questions, but I do have a problem with the accusations, judgment and discrimination some of these questions have. Lets all be considerate when we are talking to people and it would never hurt to do some research and reading if you are curious about something.