Rafed English

A Woman’s Worth

It’s not unusual for Muslims to have to go through extra “security screening” measures at airports – but some requests are just not possible to comply with.

It’s aggravating sometimes. Aggravating to the maximum extent.

But in that same moment of aggravation, when you take a step back – you can’t even help but downright pity them.

I was in an international airport recently and at the security belt I happened to be with another Muslim family that included three women – a mother and her two daughters. The mother was wearing a jilbab with buttons across the front – a Muslimah traveler common mistake – which puts you at risk for being asked to “kindly remove your ‘coat.’” When you try to convince, explain, and even show that the “coat” is in reality not an external piece of clothing but the “clothing itself” – you seldom win. And that is exactly what happened.

Security asked her to remove her “coat” – and she refused, explaining that in fact it was all she was wearing. They called a female police officer to “take care of it,” who, despite the explaining of the women and her two daughters (and my interjections) would not budge.

“No. She does not have a medical condition, therefore, she must remove it. Here. Now.”

Right next to the security belt was a small room with a curtain. The woman suggested that she go into the room and be inspected as they wish, but the officer would not even agree to that.

“No. No. No. She must remove it here. In front of everyone. No room.”

“But she can’t! It -”

“No. No. No!”

She was not even willing to listen to their explanations of religious beliefs and specific followings. It was a flat “no.”

Naturally, I was aggravated by this transgression of rights and freedom – especially in an international building – it’s not like we are part of their country!

A part of me wanted to pull the officer’s hair out in hopes that it would knock some sense into her. Just listen to them!

The problem with my instinct (to pull her hair out) was that the officer’s hair length would make it impossible for me to even get a handle on it – it was as short as short can be. Now the only thing I have against short hair is pure personal preference to long hair – but that wasn’t the part that annoyed me. It’s like I took a step back for a second and observed as an outsider.

Here was this beautiful Muslim woman in proper hijab. The thought of her arms showing in public was shameful and unthinkable to her. Here she was – alone in an airport – and excluding her children, there weren’t any spectators she knew. Yet her commitment to her religion, to her Lord, made the task of showing her skin repulsive. Something to fight against.

And who was in the opposition? Also a female, in an male officer’s attire. Her clothes did reveal a figure – but it was the figure of a woman who was molded to become the equal of a man physically. She had weapons on her belt. Her gait, uniform, and the manner in which she conducted herself could easily fool you for a man if you were not standing close enough. Her hair – in my opinion, her last chance at a feminine appearance – was also shorter then some of the other mens’ in the building.

Again, it is not the superficial image that I found unsettling – it is the fact that these women have been stripped of their femininity. By femininity, I don’t mean to dress in all pink and lace and flowers – I mean that basic idenity that makes up a part of you. Your gender. The one you write on forms along with your name. Your double X chromosome. Your basic makeup – nothing excessive at all.

But that simple part of these women has been robbed – in exchange for what they see as power. And yes, in that moment, she did have the power to give orders. But what power is worth losing a part of your identity for?

The hijab covers the body yes – but rather than covering our femininity, I realize now it accentuates it. We’re different from men. Period. It shows in the way we dress.

And now, a step back from this situation, I question: how could this officer ever understand why this woman was arguing against showing her arms? How could she truly understand a woman’s worth, when – in the glimpse of what I saw from her style and appearance – she had sacrificed her own? How could anyone in this society understand our worth?

Yes, it is a war against hijab and Islam – but I doubt sometimes that they could even see what the whole fuss is all about for us. They knew hijab was important to us – so they attacked it. But what they didn’t realize was that hijab was important to them as well. They didn’t realize that the very object they were attacking was meant for their own protection. But they had rejected it – and lost part of their essence.

The arguing went on for what seemed like forever. Finally, the police officer gave in.

“Fine! But this is the last time!” (Kindergarten threats anyone?)

But I guess to prove a point, she would not close the curtain of the room.

And that little show was over.

I left with pity towards that officer more than anger. Pity for a society that does not know a woman’s worth or how to protect it. And I felt blessed that Islam taught me my worth, protected my worth, and, with this abaya and with this hijab – it accentuates my worth. Alhamdulilah, all praise is truly due to Allah.

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