Sinner in a scarf

Sinner in a Scarf is an op-ed column by journalist Zara Asad that breaks down the stereotypes about Muslim women, tackles taboo topics, challenges the patriarchy and empowers women of all backgrounds through a raw, blunt, satiric conversation.


For over sixteen years Muslim women have collectively chosen to move forward. To move forward past the vicious attacks towards them, the name calling, the labeling, and the stereotypes. Stereotypes which have been embedded so far beneath the realm of reality that despite the thousands of articles and tweets from Muslim women politely saying f*** you, people persist on telling Muslim women what Muslim women are all about.

After exceeding the ten year mark, one would think the sweeping generalization that Muslim women are oppressed, subjugated, without a voice would reinvent itself and people would demand more discerning inaccuracies since spreading fake news is an open trend now, but that’s not the case. Muslim women are still pitied, considered overtly obedient string puppets of the patriarchy, treated in some instances like India’s untouchables, and considered second-class citizens in the fashion world.

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If donning a headscarf doesn’t empower you to respect that Muslim women are trying to blaze their own path in a hyper-sexualized society where exploiting women is like recycled oxygen, then perhaps the irony that we’re all connected because we are sinners, mistake-makers, screw ups, despite our skin color, origin, ethnicity, geographical location, and religion will help you take a back seat.

A public service announcement: as human beings, no one is exempt from being a sinner. Perhaps people fail to see any compatibility between a Muslim woman and themselves so let sinning be that bridge. Whether you believe in a abrahamic faith or not, all faith’s conclude that Adam, the first man ever created, fell into error. He messed up, so in a nut-shell what that Sunday school lesson was trying to teach us was that as human beings we are all sinners. We are bound to make mistakes but that is precisely what should soften our hearts in admiration and solidarity towards one another because it’s ironically the most common trait we share with one another.

I guess pushing a false narrative consistently for political, and sexist reasons will get the job done. It will absolutely take out the humanity of a group of people, in this case, Muslim women where all that’s left is a mendacious ideology about them. An ideology so dangerous that it sells the fear that a five foot long piece of fabric could be a global threat. An ideology that justifies speaking on behalf of Muslim women on national platforms yet simultaneously attacking them for “not speaking out.” It’s a creed that has white women on Fox News telling the world Muslim women need saving because they’re subservient and tyrannized when the only thing burdening Muslim women is white supremacy’s stupidity.

This cycle of misinformation makes me ask what’s more astonishing, that Muslim women are expected to make those who target them feel comfortable by constantly denouncing that they don’t condone terrorism or is our fear of individuality that out of control? We fail to realize that originality is not just a hashtag we use but a concept we apply to mold ourselves and our minds in order to become strong enough to push past our comfort zones and think for ourselves. We preach to our young girls to pave a path of their own and to not be weighed down by boys and society, yet we become the precise ones who cut their wings of free self-expression.

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You are a sinner, just like that girl wearing layers to cover her body on a scorching 95 degree day.
You are a sinner, just like the woman wearing a niqab whose eyes meet your gaze as she sits across from you on the bus.
You are a sinner, just like the teenage girl getting glares on the first day of school for coming to your class wearing a headscarf.
The only difference is she’s a sinner in a scarf. A scarf which everyone’s decided to have preconceived notions about.

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Called the hijab in Arabic, the word quite literally translates to a barrier or partition and serves many different purposes. The mainstream media for years thrived off of selling the narrative that the hijab is a means of men controlling women, and that it’s a symbol of a piercingly aggressive faith which puts men before women.

The truth could not be more hilariously violative. The concept of hijab is transparent yet overwhelmingly liberating. The hijab is not a piece of fabric draped over the bodies of women to simply conceal their beauty and preserve their modesty, but it is a physical manifestation of their submission and connection with God. The most striking purpose is that the hijab serves as a constant reminder that Muslim women are enough the way they are. They don’t shy away from sticking out, in fact that’s the whole point because the hijab represents an external representation of their inward spirituality. The belief is that they don’t need to imitate society’s trends to stay relevant, nor do their bodies serve as hotspots for men to tap into to gain pleasure. Rather, their mind and intelligence is what matters, not the color of their hair or the shape of their bodies. Their identity is their own, and they should boldly stand out because they serve a bigger purpose than remaining in the shadows of men.

If people weren’t engrossed with speaking on behalf of Muslim women but let Muslim women tell their own narrative, not only would their shallow understanding of the hijab be shattered but they would learn that by wearing the hijab Muslim women are not declaring, “I am Islam,” rather “I am a Muslim.” A person who is not perfect but is trying. A person who isn’t self-righteous but someone who is susceptible to making mistakes and is constantly reminding themselves to keep striving to excel in their personal and spiritual development. The scarf on their heads is a reminder for them to not fall into despair even if they commit the worst sin but instead remember to rise from the ashes and chose to move forward.

Octavia E. Butler famously said, “In order to rise from its own ashes a phoenix first must burn.” Similarly, in order for a Muslim woman to rise from the  constant backlash and continue to insolently wear her hijab like armor,   she must lucidly declare to the world through her headscarf that she  is a  powerful, ambitious, independent, open-minded women who is also a sinner in a scarf.

Journalist | Filmmaker | Speaker

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