Recently, a blogosphere debate erupted on headscarves/hijab among various Muslim women. The debate was preceded by physical harassment against visibly Muslim women. The worsened climate of Islamophobia was greeted with shock and disgust by a number of Americans. A number of non-Muslim women—Dr. Larycia Hawkins of Wheaton College, for instance—put on the headscarf as a gesture of solidarity with Muslims. While some Muslims critiqued hijab solidarity as a form of appropriation, many welcomed it as a well-intentioned and courageous gesture in difficult times.
Fatima was an adventurous designer of third space identities, a non-hijabi who was at the same time religiously devout, socially liberal, sexually conservative, and politically aware. When Fatima entered the gates of Georgetown, having newly graduated from a strictly Islamic school, she was horrified to find that some of her Muslim friends drank alcohol.
Recently, I took (and passed) my citizenship test, and the interviewer asked me if I had a middle name. When I said no, she asked if I wanted to change my name. Hmm, I thought, am I supposed to, to become an American? For many Americans, including those born and raised here, there’s an assumption that they must prove just how American they are. My research participants felt that way much of the time, but those who practiced certain kinds of behaviors—drinking, dating, dressing in mainstream Western fashion—felt the pressure less. Diya was relatively indistinguishable from her White American friends in terms of lifestyle, but then she came under question for just how Muslim she was. If she didn’t wear hijab, was she a nominal Muslim? Amber, a hijabi, was on the other hand perpetually being required to speak up for Muslims in classroom discussions on Islam and terrorism, or Islam and gender. Almost all of my research participants felt that because of the pervasive nature of Muslim stereotypes, they were always or often having to prove that they were really American, normal, empowered, peaceful Muslims.