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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Wearing one’s religion prompts controversy

Wearing a hijab has caused countless women to face society’s prejudices head on. (PHOTO CREDIT : MCT CAMPUS)

Yet another inexplicable phenomenon is quickly permeating society today. That peculiar human desire to control what confuses us is steadily gaining in popularity. We have all experienced this feeling at some point: the tendency to result in absolute, merciless tyranny when dealing with train connections or perhaps the occasional bus schedule. Or maybe even others’ religious behavior. This has certainly become a favorite among university faculty.

About a month ago, Hampton University student Melonna Clarke went through the embarrassing experience of being denied access to a college ID on the premise of what she was wearing. “I went to go get my ID in the police office, and I was in the front of the line and I was told that I would not be able to get my ID because I wear a hijab,” Clarke said.  The school’s dress code policy lists that any “caps or hoods for women” are prohibited. Even though school policy states that headgear worn as religious adornment could be considered an exception to their dress protocol, paperwork is still required for such a form of public display. In order for her to eventually obtain any sort of identification, she was required to secure a letter from the school chaplain and her mosque. “If I am ever stopped and asked who I am, what I am doing on campus, I want to have all the proof that I can that I am a student here because I don’t want to have to go through anything like I went through in the first place, and I don’t want other people to have to go through that either,” Clarke said. I would be affronted if she was not given in return a full chagrinned apology for the unfortunate delay of her campus ID. What a cripplingly discomforting scenario—that a college student would, essentially, need written testimony to obtain her own university credentials.

And yet, Clarke is not the only academic undergraduate who has encountered exasperating, thorny authority guidelines for this year. Even Birmingham Metropolitan College, a highly respected University of Britain’s West Midlands, had disallowed Muslim women from wearing a headdress on campus, as it may prompt a “security risk.”

This is, obviously, sound justification—I’m glad someone has mentioned it. When I see a woman dressed in a hijab, the first thing that springs to mind is, “What an appropriate storage for a musket,” then, “I wonder if the gat strapped to her neck must get a bit itchy.” Fortunately, the college overturned this ban after a torrent of protest.

It is odd as to why so many people approach the hijab, or any woman clothed in a headscarf, with this measure of preliminary caution—as if she could jeopardize the entirety of academia if she so much as enters an establishment. A study conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute found that those who had completed at least a bachelor’s degree were more likely than those who had only attained a high-school diploma to take a liberal stance on certain controversial social issues. And yet, while college courses and professors may be lecturing a tolerant perspective of the world, the institution itself may not behave as charitably. It may behoove university faculty to take a more active role by pledging a greater tolerant disposition—perhaps not only for the students, but for their own conduct as well.

Not all colleges can live up to Stony Brook University standards. This is the school that promotes three (possibly more) mission statements (all consisting more than four bullet-pointed goals each) for the sake of culture differences. Stony Brook’s stamina with publicizing a diversity agenda is just as reassuring and welcoming as it is borderline amusing.  It is very evident how much energy is put toward spreading a cultural tolerance on campus. We have Equality Advisory Groups, Anti-Discriminatory Programs, Cultural Training Sessions, Diversity Leadership and Fellow Training, and an Office of Diversity and Affirmative Action (which sounds as if that was made up on the spot). We have practically created a new republic for liberal values (honestly, all of this acceptance is getting a bit stifling).

However, no matter how many mission statements that may comprise a student cultural affairs website, some sort of bigotry will persist in a community. “It’s a symbol of protection. Modesty is good in our culture. It lets guys know that she wouldn’t like to be looked at in that way; she isn’t a sexual object. The hijab says ‘respect me,’” Saba Khalid, a freshman biomedical engineering major, said. “Many people don’t understand what the hijab represents in our religion—it’s not something to be afraid of.”

Even with these pledges and facilities accessible here on campus, a considerable lack of knowledge from our community and many others has induced a false representation of female Muslim culture—and Stony Brook’s campus barely touches the surface of this ignorance spread worldwide. The hijab is banned in most French public schools and a few European nations are slowly guiding legislation to follow suit. Those who seek to ban the hijab (such as Turkey or Tunisia, who have outlawed this sort of dress in government buildings and school sites) view it as an emblem of gender repression­—however, this is not necessarily true.  In fact, many Muslim women view it as a choice—an incredibly independent one, at that. To put it simply, the hijab is not meant to be worn lightly. It’s an incredibly ponderous decision, as it is, essentially, wearing your religion on your sleeve.

Because the hijab is a very conspicuous representation of Islam culture, many women face public animosity on a daily basis­—or, in this case, met with excessive anticipation and a general misunderstanding. The bitter irony of these unfortunate accounts is the fact that Hampton’s and Birmingham’s school policies are trying to promote exactly what the hijab is intended to signify. The headscarf protects a woman’s image and privacy in society. It is not a burden, but a complete autonomous choice. It has been described as liberating women and freeing them from unrealistic stereotypes society presents today; it’s a decision that shouldn’t be met with disregard, but with respect.

The real security risk is that which concerns a woman’s right to exercise freedom of religion—not safety on campus. Before anyone dictates policy, it may be heedful to secure at least a measure of understanding on the subject. Blunders like this could be easily avoided if our leaders were to put in a bit more effort. Tyranny is best left for pesky train tickets.

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    Tim D.Nov 30, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    The idea that the hijab de-sexualizes the wearer is confusing and unconvincing to me. In my opinion, clothing whose sole purpose is to “protect” the sexual integrity of the wearer does the exact opposite, it draws attention to that desire and brings it to the foreground of a passerby’s mind.

    Human attraction is not so simple that it can be controlled by a simple headscarf. Though the hair and neck of a woman can be attractive, there are other features of a person that are sexual in nature and are unaffected by the hijab, or any clothing for that matter, such as their gait, their mannerisms, their voice, etc.

    In places where women are required to wear a full burkha, is attraction suddenly completely suppressed? Of course not, and implying that a woman suddenly cannot be desirable because of some arbitrary textile she puts on is insulting to her personality and her intelligence.

    With virtually no practical reason for donning this piece of clothing (outside of a desert with harsh sandstorms and sunshine), the entire issue becomes symbolic. The article does touch on this when it mentions that the hijab says “respect me,” and I agree that it can transmit this message in a culture where women have equal rights to men.

    But does covering up with religious garb say “respect me” in Islamic countries where woman have no rights, where wives are completely at the mercy of their husbands’ whims, where women are forbidden to drive, where a woman who is raped is put to death for adultery? If so, it clearly doesn’t work.

    To me, this claim that “many” Muslim women choose to wear the hijab highlights the glaring truth that millions have no choice regardless of their personal opinions.

    So, for the West, the hijab’s main symbolic message is control, not modesty. The clothing is entirely for the benefit of insecure men who would rather subjugate their wives and daughters than bear the thought of other men glancing in their direction.

    Banning hijabs is discriminatory, for sure, precisely because there are women who choose to wear it in support of their faith. But the expectation that the oppressive connotations of the garb should be ignored in the name of religious freedom is absurd.