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I really don't know how to explain to "Westerners" that for Muslims, the hijab has none of these symbolic meanings that you associate with it.
Or at least it hasn't had them. It's getting them now.
the head scarf symbolises a certain kind of submission to those values
It does, in a way, symbolize submission -- the meaning of Islam is "submission -- but it is submission to God, not to the values of inequality that I mentioned, which are not in keeping with Islam as it is understood by moderate and liberal Muslims. Who, contrary to popular belief, are not rare.
The intolerance and inequality that I mentioned do not have to be part and parcel of Islam. There are moderates and liberals who are "fighting for the soul" of their religion just as there are liberal American Christians fighting for the soul of their religion.
By seizing on a symbol, by imbuing it with political significance that it lacks on its own, political significance that it should lack, "Westerners" are aiding and abetting those forces fighting against the moderate and liberal voices in Islam.
What the hijab is supposed to symbolize for a woman who chooses to wear it -- and this is only my understanding, I wish we had had lauramp around to comment -- is nothing more and nothing less than her personal relationship with God.
It does not mean she is more pious. My non-veiled friends here would take great exception to that idea; they believe they are good Muslims, and that wearing a piece of cloth does not make one a better Muslim.
It does not mean she is more conservative. The planning minister of Kuwait is a muhajabah, and she is also an extremely politically liberal feminist and a longtime activist for women's rights.
It does not mean what you think it means. And more importantly, it shouldn't really matter what you (and I mean that collectively, not you personally) think it means. It's her choice.
By taking that choice away, by making the hijab into a political statement, "Western" nations are doing the same thing that Muslim fundamentalists are doing, which is telling people they must choose between Islam and the West. It is telling people that their relationship with God is incompatible with the West, and unwelcome there.
If that's what you mean, then fine. But if that's true, then "our" West is not what I want it to be any more than "their" Saudi Arabia is what I want it to be.
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