Asma Gull Hasan, 31, is a lawyer in San Francisco, an author, and a speaker. She's also a self-described "Muslim Feminist Cowgirl" who grew up in Colorado and went to prep school on the East Coast. The daughter of Pakistani immigrants and born in Chicago, she considers herself an all-American girl. Hasan, who writes often for Beliefnet, discusses her book, "Why I Am a Muslim."
Why do you call yourself a feminist?
Muhammad was a feminist. He stood for equal rights for women. To many people, feminist means something negative. And so when I am called a feminist, they think that's derogatory--but by feminism, I mean equal rights for men and women.
When I was at the Islamic Society of North America convention last year selling my first book, there were a lot of women who wanted to buy the book. Many of them wore the head cover, and it wasn't an issue to them that I don't. But there were also young, traditional men and some older traditional men--they were a minority for sure--but they would come up and say, "Why aren't you wearing a cover? And how can you expect me to buy a book when there's a picture of you on the front and you're not wearing a cover?" And I would say, "Look, you don't have to buy the book." Meanwhile, a rumor got spread around that on a certain page of my book I wrote that the head cover is not required. So throughout the convention, young men would come up in groups of two or three and pick up the book and go right to this one page. Don't they have something better to do then to be skulking around the ISNA bazaar and gossiping to each other, "Oh my God. That author says the hijab is not required"?
Are most Muslim women covered in America?
No. Most Muslim women are not covered. I was doing an interview about hijab and the head scarf on CNN once, and they said that about 10 percent of Muslim women in America wear the head cover. I have no idea where they got that number. But based on what I've seen, I would say that statistic is pretty accurate.
But when you go to an event like ISNA, there's a lot of peer pressure to wear the head cover, because literally every woman is wearing the head cover. Probably out of all the women wearing the head cover there, less than half actually wear it every day. But it's an unspoken thing among Muslim women that when you're going to an Islamic event, you cover your head because everyone else there is going to be covered, and the men are going to expect you to be covered.
Now certainly in a mosque, when you're praying, both men and women are supposed to cover their hair. Men are supposed to wear a prayer cap and women are supposed to wear a scarf, so in the mosque I cover my hair, no question about that. But I don't think in daily life it's required.
It's more of an Arab custom. But there are South Asian women (like me) who do wear it. And South Asia's had phases back and forth, wearing it, not wearing it. Here in America, the young women who wear it, say, in college, feel that it's their way of protest. Some of them feel that it's a feminist thing. It's their way of protesting judgment based on their appearance--which I really respect. If I were to wear it, it would be for that reason.
Why do you so firmly believe Muslim women don't have to wear hijab?
I don't feel the Qur'an is asking us to. I think the Qur'an asks us to be modest in our appearance, and I think you can be modest wearing regular clothes, Western clothes. I think this is pretty modest [looking down at her shirt and jeans]. But I think it's also stylish.
One could argue you're wearing tight jeans.
I don't think they're that tight. I have tighter. [Laughs.] Modesty comes from within. I have been to ISNA conventions where all the women except me and my sister are wearing the head cover, but we're the only ones wearing loose clothes. All the ones wearing the head cover in our age group are wearing tight pants and showing cleavage in their blouses.