Immigrant Muslim women and the hijab: sites of struggle in crafting and negotiating identities in Canada
Ruby, Tabassum F.
This study illustrates the ways in which immigrant Muslim women construct distinct Muslim identities with particular reference to the hijab. A short history of the veil and the hijab indicates that the covering of women's heads is an old tradition and it has different meanings in different societies and that these meanings change over time. In contemporary non-Muslim Canadian society, however, the hijab is often recognized as a symbol of Muslim women's oppression. In contrast, using focus groups, the results of my research show those women who wore the hijab professed it to be a positive experience in their lives because it confirms their Muslim identities, provides them a chance to take control of their lives, and offers them the status of respectable person. The meaning of the hijab, nonetheless, is not limited to attire in this study. Conducting life modestly was seen by most participants as a part of the hijab and the idea of modesty led many of the informants (whether they wear a headscarf or not) to carry on the values of their "back home" cultures. Muslim traditions, nonetheless, are not woven into larger Canadian society and the participants often confronted difficulties in crafting distinct female Muslim identities. Wearers of the headscarves faced the negative stereotypes of Muslim women and nonwearers of the headscarves encountered the Muslim community's criticism because many Muslims recognized the hijab as a mandatory dress code. Therefore, maintaining distinct Muslim identities for my participants was not without a struggle either inside the Muslim community or in non-Muslim Canadian society.