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YMM International

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What you never dared to ask but might have thought about the hijab?

Backwards, oppressed and fundamentalist: These are some of the stereotypes when it comes to the hijab, the headscarf worn by Muslim women. What do Westerns actually know about it? Most of the time nothing, but Samra Ilyas does. Originally from Birmingham, UK, having grown up in a Pakistani family, Samra is the personification of multiculturalism, now living in Fort McMurray and working at Alberta Works where people from all over the world are her clients.

“I had the best of two cultures. The traditions of my parents and the western world taught me a lot about acceptance, inclusion and understanding others. I think differences can be something very positive and enriching, but often we like to paint the world in black and white.”

All hijab-wearing women are quiet and traditional.

Samra: Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I am not as ‘quiet’ as you may first think I am. This has nothing to do with a woman wearing a hijab or not, this is about personalities. Hijab-wearing women are sociable, can have fun, and we enjoy many of the same things as you or anyone else that is not wearing a hijab enjoy. I am the same person today as I was when I didn’t wear a hijab. If anything has changed it is that I am not afraid to show who I am and what I believe in. I am more connected with my faith than ever before. I was born in the UK, my parents are from Pakistan, and I currently am living in Canada...what does traditional look like for me? I wear a hijab which is part of my faith and for me that has nothing to do with tradition or culture.

The choice to wear a hijab is the man’s decision.

Samra: Wearing a hijab is a requirement of my faith, not of any person. No one ‘forced’ me to wear a hijab. When I was ready, I had the full support of the men in my life (my husband, my father, even my sweet little son) as well as the support of my friends and coworkers. Living in Fort McMurray I had the opportunity to learn what it really means to wear a hijab. Watching so many of my friends wearing it with pride and honour motivated me to learn more about it. Honestly, it is not something I ever thought about in the past and sometimes I am surprised at myself, but here in Fort McMurray things changed for me. For when I began wearing it during some of my volunteer work with the local Mosque, it felt so comfortable, it felt good and it felt right! I was ready! This community has given me so much. It has brought me closer to my faith. The hijab is just one piece of this journey for me, a very ‘visual’ piece. The journey involves much more and I am still learning every single day and have a long way to go.

Women who wear hijabs can’t be stylish.

Samra: Have you seen all the different styles, colours and patterns of hijabs out there? We are still women and we care about things most women care about. We care about how we look, we enjoy shopping and dressing up as much as anyone else, and we want bigger closets! We are modest in how we dress, that is part of our hijab, but we are confident and proud of this.

Women who wear hijabs can’t be feminists.

Samra: We can be whatever we want to be. We are not limited by the hijab; in fact I have done and achieved so much more since I started wearing it. It is part of Islam and a very pure symbol of my faith. My faith gives me strength and this strength gives me confidence and a voice. I do believe in women’s rights and Islam encourages this in many ways. There is so much ignorance out there. People who form stereotypes based on what they see and hear through media, but not based on what they have learned or researched themselves. Islam is a faith that treats women with respect and honour and the hijab is a symbol of this.

Women who wear hijabs are voiceless.

Samra: Do I look like I am voiceless? I would not be here talking to you today if I were. I am a professional working in a leadership role, participating on numerous volunteer boards in town, an active member of my children’s school council and I write a column for YMM magazine. I know so many wonderful Hijabi women in this community that are doing some amazing work. The hijab does not limit them and it doesn’t limit me. It gives me the strength and confidence to speak up, to be heard and to make things happen.

Women who wear hijabs cannot do sports.

Samra: I have always been very much into sports, badminton, football, and biking. Most of my friends that wear hijab are the same. In fact some of them are crazy about sports! I know some of the most active women here in town that wear hijab and there are hijabi women who are participating in sports throughout the world. In fact in 2012 hijab wearing women made history by participating in the Olympics whilst wearing a hijab. Let’s not make everything about the hijab; there are many women out there that just don’t like sports!

Do we have to be afraid of the hijab?

Samra: The hijab is nothing to be afraid of; it is not something we would impose on others. I have many friends/family members that do not wear a hijab and I love and respect them the same. I show what I believe in by wearing a hijab but I am like everybody else: I am human.


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