Writers' Articles

A Wig of Oppression

For years she had taught math with joy and enthusiasm.  Student after student looked forward to her class, and she looked forward to them.  This happy arrangement of daily sharing knowledge and encouraging its pursuit was one she hoped to look forward to for many years to come.  But that was not the case.

One day all that changed when this Muslim teacher was told she could no longer wear her scarf if she wanted to work.  She was devastated.  Her students were in their final year of high school and would suffer greatly by losing her as their teacher in these crucial moments of preparation for their university exams.

Torn apart by being forced into this situation, the teacher struggled with her obligations to Allah and her students.  In the Qur'an and as explained by the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), the Creator calls on His creations to guard their modesty.  Having chosen to wear the head cover out of conviction, she could not abandon this, but the current environment was not giving her any option as a teacher.  She felt compelled to compromise and chose a lesser evil than uncovering, the wearing of a high-collared shirt with a wig.  She just couldn't bring herself to walk away from her students and classroom, but the price to pay for this was steep.

Each morning standing in front of the mirror, she was filled with anguish knowing that wearing a wig is forbidden for Muslims, knowing she wasn't doing what is pleasing to God, and knowing how much her students depended on her.  Pushing aside the voice inside her crying out for her not to go through with this, she placed the wig on her head as tears rolled down her face.  Perplexed by it all, her mind would race with questions.  How could things have come to this?  Where are the men who are supposed to stand up for my rights to believe and work?  Where are those who are supposed to protect my freedoms to participate in society as a person striving for righteousness?  How can this invasion upon my identity be considered beneficial?  How can those in power possibly conclude that forcing people to abandon their beliefs will lead to a healthy, productive society?  It's utterly impossible!

And yet, it was under these miserable conditions that this teacher felt forced to continue.  Morally and spiritually tortured, it was not long before the extreme stress of this social and religious oppression began to show up in physical symptoms.  She began to be afflicted by a strange, unknown illness.  So despising having to wear that wig, she began to desire being ill.  The powers-at-be couldn't blame her if she was ill, and they couldn't force her to go on with that hypocritical charade either if this illness incapacitated her.  Day after day, she wanted her agony to end and preferred illness to oppression.  Eventually, her medical condition became too debilitating; she could no longer go on teaching the subject and students she loved so much.  Her body could not bear the torture of hypocrisy any more. Her doctors told her to retire.  She was both heartbroken and relieved.  What a shame it was that it had come to this.  She so wanted to help students through her love of math, to contribute to society in this good and crucial way, and to make a difference in the world.  On the contrary, she was handicapped by circumstances that burdened her mentally, spiritually and physically.  Only now, after many years of being free of the wig, has she begun to recover from her illness, but the sadness of her being cheated out of what she could have contributed to her students and humanity still aches within her.  At least she feels at peace before the Creator and within herself even though she longs for the oppression of others to end.

As a native of Texas who converted to Islam at age nineteen, Najla Tammy Ilhan strives to share glimpses of the wisdom she has found in the seventeen years since


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