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The term "hijab" comes from the Arabic word "hijaba," which means to hide from view. It is the long dress and veil worn by many Muslim women with the function of distinguishing them from non-Muslims, reminding them of their Islamic faith, and concealing them from the public view of males. In many of the more traditional Muslim societies women tend to remain outside the public sphere of men, devoting themselves to child rearing and taking care of the home. In part because of this apparent restriction from the public realm, many Americans see the Muslim hijab as a symbol of female oppression.
Despite this perception, Islam is growing rapidly in Americaâ€”and female converts outnumber males four to one. Indeed, according to my sister the hijab is not a symbol of oppression, but is instead a symbol of liberation. Naheed Mustafe, a Canadian woman who converted to Islam, writes that "young Muslim women are reclaiming the hijab. . . to give back to women the ultimate control over their bodies." Yet to most Americans this is a strange assertion. How can a law that restricts a woman's dress be liberating?
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