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Islam and feminism are two of the
main issues that are often raised and debated in intellectual discourses when
it comes to Islam. According to the Free Dictionary (n.d.), feminism is defined
as the belief in or advocacy of women’s social, political and economic rights,
especially those that surround the equality of the sexes. The 21st
century feminism is considered as radical feminism as it views patriarchy as
the cause of oppression on women. Moreover, it also opposes the existing social
and political organization as the system is based on the patriarchal system
which treats men as a privilege group. For example, they critic institutions
that downgrade the status as women such as religion and government, oppose
marriage as they believe that marriage is patriarchal and causes women to be
subjected to men and they fight for the right of women to choose their own
sexuality and sexual preferences, or in other words, they support lesbianism
and bisexuality (Lewis, 2017).

In some Muslim spheres, the word
feminism does not only raise eyebrows, but also heighten tensions as women in
Islam are stereotyped to be subjected to oppression, hate and inequality
compared to the men in Islam. These images of Muslim women might be true
thousand years ago, before Al-Quran and the Prophet emerged to perfect
mankind’s akhlak and belief in Allah. However, in contrast to the western
perspectives, there is no doubt that Islam promotes Islamic feminism where it
protects and promotes the rights of women in Islam. Nevertheless, without
understanding the divine messages of the holy Quran, one would not be able to
understand the core and correct meaning of Islamic feminism. The holy Quran,
which is the speech of Allah, seeks right and justice in the paradigm of gender
equality for both men and women (Fawcett, 2013). To counter the misconceptions
regarding Muslim women, many Islamic feminist texts have been written by Muslim
women and one of them is Janmohamed’s Love in a Headscarf. Thus, this essay
will discuss the Islamic perspectives of the novel which include the misrepresentation
versus the reality of Muslim women, the role of hijab as a symbol of liberation
and the importance of marriage in Islam.

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            To summarise the novel, Love in a
Headscarf is a memoir by Shelina Janmohamed which portrays Shelina’s journey as
a European Muslim woman who is often portrayed as the oppressed, ignorant and
disempowered group. Shelina is raised and born in London and she begins wearing
hijab at an early age and continues to wear it while pursuing her ideal career.
Following the 9/11 incident, she still chooses to wear hijab despite the
sceptical look thrown at Muslim women in general, including her (Hasan, 2016).
This memoir also highlights several issues that are faced by Muslim women in
real life and how Shelina, as a contemporary and modern Muslim woman deals with
the issues in Islamic perspectives. It discloses the gap between the representation
and the reality of Muslim women which many do not know, including Muslims
themselves. For example, when Shelina’s aunties advise her not to be “too
intellectual” after considering to continue her PhD, she counters them by
stating that Islam never limits women’s education as it is a part of the
religion. She also highlights some of the successful Muslim women who succeeded
both as intellectual and as women. For example, Aishah R.A is promised Jannah
for the deeds that she has contributed as the wife to Prophet Muhammad s.a.w as
well as a hadith compiler.

            Besides, this memoir also covers
Shelina’s journey in finding her very own version of Prince Charming who would
not limit her abilities and capabilities as a Muslim woman. Being a lady who
has reached the age of marriage, Shelina struggles to find her Mr. Right. Throughout
the journey, she encounters men of different attitudes, several mismatches and
bad dating experiences. These experiences may have hindered her from finding a
husband but as a blessing in disguise, Shelina discovers a deeper understanding
of her own self and her faith. Over the journey, Shelina finds that finding a
man is easy, but finding a man who accepts her appearance and personality as a
hijab wearing Muslim woman is quite hard as some men would choose to hide their
religion due to the rising Islamophobia following the 9/11 incident. The novel,
however, ends with a happy ending when she finally gets married to the man of
her choice.

            First and foremost, Shelina’s memoir
counters the misrepresentation of Muslim women by giving the readers an idea
about the status of Muslim women in Islam. In Love in a Headscarf, she
challenges the notions and negative assumptions of Muslim women by separating
religion from culture. In example, Shelina’s buxom aunties regard her liberty
to follow Islam by challenging South Asian patriarchal norms as a rebellion
that is influenced by modernity and secularism. Even more, her resilience to
remove hijab is interpreted as backward and unsophisticated. Shelina, however,
counters the assumptions by separating herself from her culture to submit to
Islam and she righteously continues to live as a woman who sticks to her
Islamic identity. Shelina also challenges the patriarchal modes by not
submitting to its norms where women are usually denied education and subjected
to stay at home to serve men (Hasan, 2015). Proving the assumptions wrong,
Shelina receives her education since young and she does not hesitate to pursue
PhD despite the warning given by her aunties. An intellectual she is, she
believes that Islam never limits women’s education and she believes that her
education level will not hinder her from finding a husband. In addition,
Shelina also climbs Mountain Kilimanjaro, which not many women would take the
challenge especially Muslim women. When she is criticised by her aunties, she
refers to the event during the Prophet’s life, when Khadijah used to climb
Mountain Hira’ back and forth to accommodate Prophet Muhammad’s seclusion.

The rights of Muslim women are also
questioned by Anne, a French girl whom Shelina and her friends meet while
travelling in Egypt. She accuses Islam as a barbaric religion that limits
women’s rights mainly in the aspect of social right and right to education. The
fact that Shelina and her friends are travelling in the Arabic countries
without men’s company proves Anne wrong and demonstrates that Islam never
limits women from doing things that they like as long as it is in line with the
Shariah. Moreover, Shelina and her friends come from a highly prestigious education
background. Unlike Anne’s accusation who claims that Muslim women are backward
and unsophisticated, they are graduates of the University of Oxford which only
selected students are offered to attend the university. They defeat the West’s common
assumptions that women are only subjected to stay at home to serve their
husbands and are not allowed to seek knowledge as what men do (Hasan, 2015).

The misrepresentations and
stereotypes given by the non-Muslims are totally contrary to the real teaching
of Islam as it highly promotes gender equality. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. is
proven to be very adamant in empowering and elevating the status of women after
they were discriminated and exploited by men years before the revelation of the
Holy Quran. As female infanticide, prostitution and other exploitation of women
were common in the seventh century before hijrah, during Prophet Muhammad’s
lifetime, he argued that the birth of a girl is a blessing, and they are not
property or subjected to anyone as they are equally human as the men. Prophet
Muhammad then outlined several rights for the women such as the right in
inheritance, the right in marriage and the right of a woman in the society. Furthermore,
in his last sermon, he noted few important statements regarding the status of
women which are:

“You have certain rights over
women but they have certain rights over you.” Women, he said, are your
“partners and helpers.”
“The best men are those who
are best to their wives.”

Hence,
it is certain that there is no way Islam promotes women’s exploitation as
Prophet Muhammad himself is proven as a feminist who fought for the rights of
women during his lifetime and brought positive changes to the status of women
especially in the social aspect (Garrison, 2016).

The second issue that is
highlighted in Love in a Headscarf is Shelina’s resilience to wear hijab
despite being susceptible to negative accusations and stereotypes against
Muslims especially Muslims women as hijab is often viewed as a tool of
oppression and discrimination. According to the Free Dictionary (n.d.), hijab
is defined as a headscarf or a veil that is worn by Muslim women to cover their
face and hair. Since hijab is very visible and is considered odd, hijab-wearing
Muslim women are easily recognized and targeted by the West. One of the
assumptions that is related to hijab is that it symbolises coercion,
enforcement and discrimination against the Muslim women. Moreover, due to the
9/11 attack, Muslim women are very pressured since they are seen as Muslim
terrorists even though the act of terror was done by men. Some of the men that
Shelina meet set a condition where she needs to take off her hijab before they accept
her. Shelina, a devout believer, does not waver and she chooses to continue
wearing hijab despite the exasperating situation that surrounds her. Shelina
also stresses that hijab is not a tool of oppression, but it is a symbol of
liberation which brings her inner peace and lets her taste the sweetness of
faith (Hasan, 2016).

            By emphasizing hijab as a tool of
liberation instead of oppression, Shelina manages to show the readers the
reality of how true Muslim women should behave; outspoken, courageous, and
righteous. This is in line with the teaching of Islam where Islam positively encourages
and promotes women’s equality in all aspects including when it comes to family,
work and education. Through her writing, Shelina proves that wearing hijab is
her choice to show her love and obedience to Allah. She is not afraid to show
herself as a Muslim woman by wearing hijab despite the uncomfortable looks
given by the community. She is also persistent to wear hijab even when her
aunties suggest her to abandon hijab for at least a year to ease her journey in
finding a life partner. According to her, as she is not forced to wear it, she
is not ready to be forced to abandon it either. She indirectly counters that
hijab is not a tool of oppression as assumed by the non-Muslims as it reflects
her own choice and it shows that she is the only who can make decisions on her
life (Aossey, 2016).

            This essay would not be complete
without a further discussion on Islam and marriage, as highlighted by Shelina
in her memoir. Islam views marriage as a sacred bond between a man and a woman which
requires commitment to achieve mutual fulfilment, compassion and tranquillity
among each other. Marriage is a righteous act and it serves as a symbol of
devotion to Allah (Al-Ati, 2015).  The
commandments and importance of marriage are mentioned several times in the
Quran as it says:

And
among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves,
that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy
between your hearts. Undoubtedly in these are signs for those who reflect
30:21

As
stated above, Allah has created men and women to complete one another so they
can establish lineage and live in serenity according to the injunctions of the
Quran and the guidelines of His Messenger. Furthermore, marriage is also
important as it is a part of the sunnah of the Prophet. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w
mentions:

“When
a man marries, he has fulfilled half of his religion, so let him fear Allah
regarding the remaining half” (Narrated by Anas bin Malik).

Therefore,
there is no doubt that marriage is absolutely encouraged in Islam as it
receives a huge emphasis both in the Quran and the Sunnah (Rahman, n.d.).

In Shelina’s case, before Shelina
started searching for a husband, she had a fantasy where she will marry her
ideal man, John Travolta. However, as she grows older, she starts finding for a
‘real’ man to marry and that is when she is nineteen and still studying at the
University of Oxford. Her fantasy is crushed when an Imam at a mosque stresses
that most find it hard to find a spouse especially for the Muslim women. The
girls in her community face difficulty in finding partners as most men choose
to marry girls ‘back home’ primarily for the sake of residency purposes. There
are also men who are not interested to marry and only meet the girls matched by
the suitor as per their mothers’ orders and requests (Beatty, 2011). Shelina,
however, does not give up meeting men to fulfil her religious duty even though
it takes her a decade to finally get married to her husband that she met at a
conference.

            In conclusion, Love in a headscarf
is known as one of the renowned and important Islamic feminist texts that
highlights the connections between Islam and feminism. This essay discusses
several important issues that Shelina personally experienced as a Muslim woman
who lives in Europe. Firstly, she refuses to obey the patriarchal cultural
norms which seem to downgrade the status of women and make them look less
powerful and educated than men. She eventually proves that the negative
misrepresentations of Muslim women are wrong by being different while
maintaining her Islamic identity. Besides, Shelina also counters the argument
that hijab wearing women are oppressed by their fathers, brothers and husbands.
To her, hijab symbolises liberation and she is persevered to wear hijab despite
the warning given by her buxom aunties and the quizzical looks given to her
following the 9/11 attack. Lastly, this essay also covers the views of marriage
in Islam and its importance to the mankind. This issue cannot be left out when
discussing Love in a Headscarf as other important issues come to exist during
her journey in searching for a life companion who is ready to be her partner in
seeking the pleasure of Allah. The Islamic perspectives in this memoir are relatable
to Muslim women especially to those who live in the European countries as they
are highly exposed to the West’s Islamophobic behaviours. Thus, as an Islamic
Feminist text, this memoir successfully discusses the struggles faced by Muslim
women and how to deal with the issues in an intellectual and Islamic way.

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