A letter to the culture that raised me - by Yasmin Mogahed

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Muslim girls with hijab

Growing up, you read me the Ugly Duckling. And for years I believed that was me. For so long you taught me I was nothing more than a bad copy of the standard.


I couldn't run as fast or lift as much. I didn't make the same money and I cried too often. I grew up in a man's world where I didn't belong. 


And when I couldn't be him, I wanted only to please him. I put on your make-up and wore your short skirts. I gave my life, my body, my dignity, for the cause of being pretty. I knew that no matter what I did, I was worthy only to the degree that I could please and be beautiful for my master. And so I spent my life on the cover of Cosmo and gave my body for you to sell. 


I was a slave, but you taught me I was free. I was your object, but you swore it was success. You taught me that my purpose in life was to be on display, to attract, and be beautiful for men. You had me believe that my body was created to market your cars. And you raised me to think I was an ugly duckling. But you lied. 


Islam tells me, I'm a swan. I'm different-it's meant to be that way. And my body, my soul, was created for something more. 


God says in the Quran: 'O mankind, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another (not that you may despise each other). Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is the one who is most righteous' (Quran 49:13).


So I am honored. But it is not by my relationship to men. My value as a woman is not measured by the size of my waist or the number of men who like me. My worth as a human being is measured on a higher scale: a scale of righteousness and piety. And my purpose in life-despite what the fashion magazines say-is something more sublime than just looking good for men. 


And so God tells me to cover myself, to hide my beauty and to tell the world that I'm not here to please men with my body; I'm here to please God. God elevates the dignity of a woman's body by commanding that it be respected and covered, shown only to the deserving-only to the man I marry. 


So to those who wish to 'liberate' me, I have only one thing to say: Thanks, but no thanks.


I'm not here to be on display. And my body is not for public consumption. I will not be reduced to an object, or a pair of legs to sell shoes. I'm a soul, a mind, a servant of God. My worth is defined by the beauty of my soul, my heart, my moral character. So, I won't worship your beauty standards, and I don't submit to your fashion sense. My submission is to something higher. 


With my veil I put my faith on display-rather than my beauty. My value as a human is defined by my relationship with God, not by my looks. So I cover the irrelevant. And when you look at me, you don't see a body. You view me only for what I am: a servant of my Creator.


So you see, as a Muslim woman, I've been liberated from a silent kind of bondage. I don't answer to the slaves of God on earth. I answer to their king.


Yasmin Mogahed received a B.S. in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is currently a graduate student in Journalism/Mass Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and working as a free lance writer. 

 
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