Reported by Estebsar:
Since 2013, each year on February 1st the World Day of Hijab is celebrated in 140 countries worldwide. In Western World, Argentinian Muslim women are pioneers in wearing Hijab so that by the efforts made by Mrs. Masuma Assad de Paz, the President of the Union of Argentine Muslim Women (UMMA), in 2011 this Latin American country declared Hijab is allowed for legal documents. Here is Shafaqna‘s interview with an Argentinian young Muslim woman who wears hijab. Sofía Castro is a Muslim in Latin America and a member of Argentina’s Shia community
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Castro: My name is Sofía Castro, I am 29 years old, I am from Argentina and I am currently a student of the theological seminary in the city of Qom.
What motivated you to embrace Islam? And what changes occurred in your life after accepting Islam?
Castro: Thanks to God, at the age of 17, I had the blessing of encountering a Muslim woman and we became great friends. Through her I began to discover Islam, we exchanged books, we had talks, debates, and she answered all my doubts and questions. After a while she invited me to visit the mosque and I started to participate in some classes, first in Arabic and then in the knowledge of Islam.
For almost a year I attended the mosque every Saturday until, convinced at the soul, but especially convinced with intellect, I decided to accept Islam as my religion and way of life.
The changes in my life were happening gradually, before giving my Shahada (testimony of faith), I had begun to pray, fast and I had eliminated the consumption of pork or alcohol. My parents were noticing these changes in me and thank God they saw that these changes were positive. Even my character was changing, I had become calmer, and more understanding and I think it was because of these reasons that it was not difficult for them to accept my conversion to Islam.
Then, shortly after becoming a Muslim, I decided to start wearing Veil (Hijab) and it was a great challenge! Facing not only the society, the people of the city who had never seen a Muslim except on television, but the biggest challenge was to face those who knew me all my life and saw such great changes in me. Many people decided to leave me, but those who really loved me and valued me, stayed close to me, and accepted my new version and the changes I had. I felt happy and peaceful and I think that was reflected.
What is your point of view regarding women in Islam?
Castro: I think for me the best way to know the position of women in Islam was to get to know Muslim women, especially the role models in history.
There is a belief that the place of women in Islam is to serve the husband, the house and the children, but the examples in Islamic history show us that women have played a decisive role in the protection and continuation of the religion.
Fatima Zahra (S.A) was not only the daughter of the Prophet, but she was also the one who stood up and stood before the oppression of the rulers after the death of the Prophet (P), also claiming the rights stolen from her husband.
Zainab El Kubra (SA), whose speeches are still retained, allowed the continuation of Islam, reviving the martyrdom of his brothers and family. The place of women in Islam is one that allows spiritual, familial and even political aspects of life of a woman develop in harmony with each other.
What do you think about the Islamic Hijab?
Castro: For me, the hijab, although it has a function of protecting women’s modesty, is much more than that. The hijab is identity. When we walk down the street with our Veil, people know that we are Muslim and often come to ask questions about our religion.
When we study or work with our Veil, stereotypes about the Muslim woman are broken, and then people become interested in our way of life. The hijab acts as the flag of Islam.
I had a very strong spiritual need, a call from the soul. I no longer felt comfortable without wearing it and that is why I decided, despite living in a city where there were no Muslims, to face everything and put on my hijab … and thanks to God I have gotten more positive experiences than negative.
Have you had any experience talking with non-Muslims about the Hijab?
Castro: Yes, many times. Every time I go out there is always someone who asks about the Veil and about Islam. It can be a bit tiring, but for me it’s really very satisfying to see people want to know what Islam is.
Do Muslim women in your country participate in social activities?
Castro: I think that although the Argentinian society is quite open and understanding to the use of the Veil and Islam, we still lack land to conquer. We still have a very big challenge in terms of labor, many companies do not employ Muslim women because of their Veil and at the political level, the government of Mauricio Macri has initiated a series of actions that seek to criminalize us, show an image that is not real, of the Muslim as dangerous for Argentinian society that has been very bad for the Islamic community, meanwhile I believe that young people especially, are very open and unprejudiced part of society’s most reactionary not only Islamic but all minorities.
But apart from this, we are already part of the social network and in general people accept and respect us.
What are the most important ideological questions and needs for knowledge of the Shia brothers and sisters in your country?
Castro: I think what their mainly question is the reason of why we wear the Veil and from there it will rise many questions about Islam, about our family life and our beliefs.
In your opinion, what is the best way to introduce Islam to non-Muslims?
Castro: I always say that the best way to teach Islam is through the example. If we show that Muslims are people with ethics, that we treat our compatriots with respect, if they see how we treat with our parents and children, people will wonder if Islam is really what the media say. And from there comes the thirst for wanting to know what makes us have certain behaviors and abstain from others…
We are in a time where people have a strong spiritual need to satisfy and this is a fertile ground for Islam.
On the other hand, Islam brings, in the culture of banal and ephemeral enjoyment, a way of life based on the enjoyment of connection and closeness to God … to enjoy small things, stand and admire God in our surroundings … it makes us stand amidst this society around us and demands an unnatural pace to enjoy and appreciate what we have … and that brings peace to the soul and the heart.