Twin sisters Sara Bazzi and Sahar Babbagh are Muslim American women who live in Dearborn, Mich., raised with the same morals and values, but made different choices in regard to wearing a hijab, a headdress common for women of Islam to wear as a sign of modesty.
Sahar wears a hijab while Sara, on the other hand, chooses not to wear a hijab.
“It really just depends on the person,” Bazzi, a nurse, said, “There was no pressure from anyone around us to wear [the hijab]. Even raising my daughter, my husband and I agree that when she is older it will be her decision. It truly is a personal preference.”
Both Sara and Sahar were raised wearing hijabs and as they got older Sara decided, in her teens, she didn’t want to wear hers anymore.
Islam is second largest religion in the world, with nearly 23 percent of the global population identifying as Muslim. Out of nearly one million Muslim American women, 43 percent of them chose to wear a hijab, according to NPR.
Hijab wearing is a practice in Islam used not only by women, but also by some men. Exclusivity to women is another common misconception of the religion, said Imam Sohail Chaudhry of the Islamic Society of Greater Lansing.
“One of the misconceptions is that the hijab is only for women, that’s not true actually,” Chaudhry said. “From the Islamic perspective men also have a hijab, [but] it’s not exactly the same because … men and women’s bodies are different.”
According to the imam, a man’s hijab is usually long pants and shirts, to cover arms and legs.
Misconceptions surround Middle East culture in general, as many countries have very strict morals and values that sometimes get misconstrued to be part of Islam, Babbagh said.
Babbagh, also a nurse, says she sees this confusion among her friends.
“The religion of Islam does not correlate with the strict culture of some of the countries in the Middle East,” Babbagh said. “I have a friend who is from Yemen. She’s 25, and her mother puts a ton of pressure on her to be married to a man who is from the same town in Yemen, who is a doctor, and it’s honestly just crazy. People think that this is Islam but this is not Islam, this is a culture thing that is so extreme.”
Imam Chaudhry backs up this message, underscoring that Islam shares common religious goals of peace and acceptance, and that the hijab is one part of that message.
“What Islam teaches is that a woman should not be looked at for her beauty, for her body, for her hair, for her figure,” Chaudhry said.
“She should be looked at for her contribution to society, her personality, her morals, her intelligence, her productivity … And that will only happen if the focus is shifted away from her body first … then the first thing a man notices when he looks at her is not her body, and she will not be objectified,” said Chaudhry, “and in this we truly believe that the hijab is true freedom for women – it frees her from societal expectations.”