WOMEN’S ISSUES IN ISLAM
A key focus of our ethnographic research of Islam in Muncie was the lives and experiences of Muslim women. One topic we chose to emphasize is consistently discussed in the media, women choosing to wear hijab, niqab, or to not cover at all.
Hijab, Niqab, or Nothing at all?
Many of the informants we spoke with, which included international students and American converts, stated that they believe modesty from both sexes is a command from God (Allah), which for women includes covering their head and hair. As one college-aged informant explained at a convention for the Muslim Alliance of Indiana, “When you understand the reason behind hijab, you want to wear it”.
It is interesting to note that several of the women we spoke with who chose to cover said that their mother and other older women in their family did not. This helps to demonstrate the presence of choice women have in determining the degree of their covering. Many see wearing the hijab as an opportunity to represent their faith to the community and serve as a constant reminder of their values during the day. Most often in East Central Indiana, covering occurs in the form of a hijab, which conceals all of the head, except for the face and chin. Some women choose instead to wear niqab, which covers all of the face except for a space for the eyes.
Fortunately, members of the Muslim community in Muncie feel that the public is generally accepting and respectful. However, the distinctive nature of many Muslim women’s dress sometimes draws negative attention from those who are unfamiliar with this practice. A frequent example we heard were “drive-bys” where someone would yell “terrorist!” out of their window as they drove or ran past them. These occurrences do not seem to faze the women we spoke with, as they feel this is reflective of ignorance.
This lack of knowledge that some community members have does not automatically close doors on their opportunity to learn. When we asked informants how they felt about the frequent amount of questioning they receive about their faith, many were positive about it. “If someone who really wants to know asks me a question, I like to try and answer it. The only time I feel irritated by questions is when they aren’t really asking, but are being rude”
All of the women our group spoke with are excellent illustrations of how many Muslim women have opportunities to establish independence and further their education, as they are all college students. One international student we met with is a graduate student who plans to get a PhD after completing her masters at Ball State. Others were very active and vocal in campus organizations, like the Muslim Student Association (MSA).