I work with the Lamborghini’s of the world. They can all make a Lamborghini. And then I draw it.
“I like having a lot of options,” a young woman in a hijab sitting at a table in a swank Manhattan steakhouse told me, during one of our many interviews for our new book, My Arab Stepdad. “Having a choice in what to wear, as long as you’re comfortable with it, is a privilege. That’s what women have in America. There are a lot of choices for women. In the Middle East it’s the opposite. Our culture doesn’t allow the choice.”
To be clear, it’s not just an issue of freedom of choice, and no one is suggesting Americans are living lives of immorality by letting their children wear whatever the heck they like. The only thing truly lacking in this discussion is an understanding that the choice itself is the issue here.
Here in the U.S., we have our culture, our religion, our institutions. But, even though we have a freedom of choice, it’s not the choice for every individual or group and a very narrow definition for it would even exclude a great many Americans:
Some folks might consider a certain choice to be an act of immorality.
Others, like the young woman we visited, could not conceive of any situation in which wearing the hijab is immoral, and they said there are so many good things about hijab that it should never be banned.
We would say, in effect, let’s stop trying to force Muslim men (or women) into any kind of religious obligations (which they will say is necessary to uphold Islam), and instead focus on creating a more nuanced and more respectful conversation about religious freedom, because that is the whole point of our discussion — including how we can do better for the majority of American Muslims:
In our conversation, I felt like my questions and experiences were not being taken seriously. In the end, I decided that this was an issue that needed to be a conversation about. The other women there, both hijab-wearing and not, spoke of the freedom of choice many Muslims have in their own lives. They did not believe that being Muslim in America had to have consequences — they were, in fact, relieved to realize the reality of what they really had, a choice, and not a burden.
Many Americans are trying to limit Muslim girls’ access to school, to housing, to the Internet —
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