BY CLAUDIA RUSMAN
We live in a nation where multiculturalism comes into place and different cultures, religion and faith come into practice. In a world where Islam is the fastest growing religion, different perceptions are made, especially in our mass media.
Throughout the years there has been a focus of different perceptions of Muslim women wearing the hijab in our Australian society, and endless media debates. This has created a controversy to the whole Muslim community and predominantly to Muslim women. It is said that it hides an identity and that no choice are given to them.
Australia is becoming a full population of immigrants from different countries in the world and is known to be a “dream country”. A nation with government officials and supporting their citizens, they believe this is the right to life. Although there are other countries that are very restricted from their beliefs and many people grow differently according to their lifestyle, their way of upbringing and thinking is diverse. Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran, strongly follow their beliefs and must consent to the rules. In this context, the full covering, known as the burqa is mandatory to all women. However, for those living in Australian society there are different perceptions of wearing the hijab in the mass media.
The hijab is the most common type of Islamic dress, which covers the woman’s body, leaving only her face and hands visible. Muslim women believe the hijab is an act of modesty and righteousness. It is a responsibility that they hold in life and a crucial choice to make.
Eighteen-year-old student Sakinah Khairuddin from Malaysia – a country where Islam is the largest practised religion – is an example of this trend. She started wearing the hijab when she was 13 years old as an occasional exercise, but without fully understanding the reasons behind it. Indeed, she admits it was “more of a culture thing … I felt different and excluded from the majority of my friends in Malaysia.”
Over the years, she never had an unpleasant experience wearing the hijab in her home country, but arriving in Australia three years ago, she wondered if people would see her differently. Certainly, she did not know what to expect from the public as a ‘hijabi’. “I believe Islam is a true religion and this is why I take a [step] further to wear the hijab full-time,” she said. “By wearing the hijab, it has enhanced the faith that I have in Islam, and I’m very proud of my decision.”
For some individuals, the decision to wear a hijab is about educating an individual through their own beliefs, in which there have been negative remarks in the media based on a sense of identity or not allowing the opportunity to make their own choices based on their appearance. The news media are the main source of information on Islam for the Australian community and today’s media is now more influential than ever. This is where different perceptions dwell; individuals have different opinions and views on the topic of Muslim women wearing the hijab.
In 2001, the September 11 attack was one to never be forgotten in our lives and the biggest attack in history. This caused a worldwide hostility towards the Muslim community, and tension resulted from the media coverage. “The one that struck me the most was on September 11, and for few years later, there were people who would stare at me with dislike looks on their face or shout to me using rude words,” said Mahsita Sari. A 28-year-old Indonesian national who moved to Australia independently as an International student to study Engineering at the University of New South Wales, Mahsita started wearing the hijab 14 years ago. In the aftermath of September 11, she was walking through Hyde Park, in the Sydney CBD, when “a group of men in their car sprayed fluid on me and shouted rude words at me.”
Yet despite this and recurrent media controversy, she has not thought to reverse her decision since. There were a variety of influences which led her to this decision: “There is a strong peaceful feeling in my heart I cannot explain with words when I wear it.” She believes that modesty in Islam for women means guarding her chastity and faith. “The one thing that changed was and is I am more interested in learning about Islam and no longer interested in party, dancing, music and activities that do not have a meaning to it.”
Sari says the media have a pivotal role to play in fostering understanding and acceptance of Islam. “Some media try to be objective and that’s great,” she said. “However, a number of them have no basis to their story and clearly have an agenda to stir the community. It is sad to see this and sometimes it upsets me – however, I [also] realise that at the end of the day, I would make [a] far stronger impact to the people around me through their perception of my actions, characters and speech.”
She also emphasises the media’s role in sowing the seeds of ignorance across swathes of the Australian community, inciting intolerance over the value of acceptance. “I think they are not comfortable to learn and accept the truth as-is,” she said. “They are confused how to handle people who are radical, and to express their anger and fear they try to influence the greater community with what their limited knowledge has to offer. Muslim women are easy targets because they distinguish themselves as Muslims and they are women who simply very unlikely to strike someone on their face.”
With different media perceptions, this leads to a simple question. Would this be an ongoing issue for years that would be difficult to tackle down in the media? Or does religion have too much influence in politics involved? A woman has every right to feel beautiful and comfortable regardless of their religion.
Also by Claudia Rusman – The end of Ramadan: Eid Mubarak