Article Op-Ed

"Why Can't You Be More American?"

"Why Can't You Be More American?"

Author Iman Zahra by

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“Why can’t you be more American?” was a question I received the other day from someone who characterizes herself as an American. As a hijabi Muslim, I face numerous stares, cold treatment, and am even sometimes completely ignored. I realize this is not something Muslims who choose to express their religion through their clothing face rarely.

Although I responded to that woman who questioned my religious dress code, I want to use this opportunity to speak to the many people who might be wondering the same thing.

Firstly, freedom of religion is protected under the First Amendment. Therefore, if you choose to embrace a certain religion, or embrace no religion at all, it is solely your choice. No government official or citizen can stand between you and your faith. By embracing Islam, I try my best to embody the values of my faith, which include dressing modestly. For this reason, I cover my hair and full body.

Secondly, America is built upon various cultures: Native-American, European (which may include, French, Italian, Greek, English, etc.), African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian (which may include, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc.), Middle-Eastern, etc. Therefore, we all have different methods of embracing our culture based on our parent's or grandparent’s country of origin, the community we live in, the faith we embrace, and our circle of interest. There is no one culture that you can define as American, and that’s what makes our country unique - it embraces people from various lifestyles who are continuously learning from each other and understanding the real meaning of diversity.

Thirdly, fashion trends in regards to clothing are continuously changing. One year skinny jeans may be popular. The next year high-waist jeans come into fashion. Currently, there is a trend of washed color jeans with holes that is popular. My point is, the appropriate way to dress is subjective and socially constructed. There is no law that says “you must wear jeans everyday in order to be a real American!” Quite the contrary, the way you dress is a personal choice. With that in mind, the decision of covering my hair with a hijab was a personal choice that I took hoping that, God willing, it would bring me closer to heaven.

The woman who questioned my hijab reasoned that when women who do not wear hijab go to Saudi Arabia, they are forced to put on a hijab, and adapt to that country’s rules. Therefore, why are women in the United States not forced to adapt to our social norms?

Technically, she makes a valid point. However, the rules in Saudi Arabia do not apply to every Arab or Muslim country. If you went to Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, etc., no one is going to force you to put on a hijab. With that in mind, the United States does not have rules that require women wearing hijab to take them off. Therefore, Saudi Arabia cannot be compared to the United States.

If the government says I have the right to practice my religion, and our country is a combination of different cultures, and there is no law declaring my dress code politically or culturally wrong, I ask anyone who may think the same way as this woman, “why can’t you be more American?”

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