April 2nd, 2011
01:00 AM ET

Living under the headscarf

Editor’s Note: "Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door" features the Muslim community of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where sisters Dima and Lema Sbenaty grew up and live. CNN’s Soledad O’Brien chronicles the dramatic fight over the construction of a mosque in the heart of the Bible belt. Watch “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door” airing at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET April 2 on CNN.

By Elizabeth M. Nunez, CNN

Few items of clothing inspire as much controversy as the hijab, or headscarf. To some it represents oppression or radical Islam.

But to American-born Muslim sisters Dima and Lema Sbenaty, the hijab is a source of pride.

“Before I thought it would bother me to wear a scarf in public. I was surprised to feel that I was proud of my religion and all of my friends," says Dima Sbenaty, 20.

"We all go out together and they’re all wearing headscarves as well. It’s nothing that I’m ashamed of, and that’s part of my strength with my religion.”

The sisters have lived most of their lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Now they are students at Middle Tennessee State University. Lema, a chemistry major, wants to become a pediatrician and dreams of tending to children in Ethiopia. Dima, a biology and chemistry double major, is working toward becoming a dentist. Neither has decided if she will permanently wear a hijab, but both cover during daily prayer.

In Arabic, hijab roughly translates as “barrier” or partition. In Islam, it refers to the principle of modesty in behavior and dress, as described in the Quran: "Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments.”

Women raised in the faith like the Sbenaty sisters say the moment to start wearing a hijab is theirs to choose.

For others who convert to Islam, like Ivy Balloul, a blue-eyed American raised as a Methodist, the hijab comes with her adopted faith. “This was part of me converting to Islam," she said. "You can’t divide it up into little pieces and pick and choose what you want. It’s a whole package.”

Ivy, married to the imam of the Murfreesboro mosque, has received negative comments for wearing a hijab. “One man said to me in the post office that I can take off my scarf, that I’m free here. Another woman felt like I was a traitor. A man called to me one day from his car telling me that, uh, I should go back home.”

But these experiences do not discourage her from covering her head.

“I feel like I have more respect. Before, I could be pumping gas in my car and some guy would whistle or make some type of catcall. It was an uncomfortable situation," she said.

"When you put on a scarf ... [you] know that people can’t look at you as a sexual object. The first time I put it on I felt more comfortable in my own skin.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Islam • Muslim

soundoff (1,575 Responses)
  1. LOOK

    I think we have found the LAW that we can use to ban Islam in USA, its called the SNAKE HANDLING LAW it restricts any religion that can harm people

    April 2, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  2. Joe USA

    As long as the Muslim population remains around 1% of any given country they will be regarded as a peace-loving minority and not as a threat to anyone. In fact, they may be featured in articles and films, stereotyped for their colorful uniqueness:
    United States — Muslim 1.0%
    Australia — Muslim 1.5%
    Canada — Muslim 1.9%
    China — Muslim 1%-2%
    Italy — Muslim 1.5%
    Norway — Muslim 1.8%

    At 2% and 3% they begin to proselytize from other ethnic minorities and disaffected groups with major recruiting from the jails and among street gangs:
    Denmark — Muslim 2%
    Germany — Muslim 3.7%
    United Kingdom — Muslim 2.7% (Although actually, the UK's problem is more like the next category below.)
    Spain — Muslim 4%
    Thailand — Muslim 4.6%

    From 5% on they exercise an inordinate influence in proportion to their percentage of the population. They will push for the introduction of halal (clean by Islamic standards) food, thereby securing food preparation jobs for Muslims. They will increase pressure on supermarket chains to feature it on their shelves — along with threats for failure to comply.
    France — Muslim 8%
    Philippines — Muslim 5%
    Sweden — Muslim 5%
    Switzerland — Muslim 4.3%
    The Netherlands — Muslim 5.5%
    Trinidad & Tobago — Muslim 5.8%
    At this point, they will work to get the ruling government to allow them to rule themselves under Sharia, the Islamic Law. The ultimate goal of Islam is not to convert the world but to establish Sharia law over the entire world.

    When Muslims reach 10% of the population, they will increase lawlessness as a means of complaint about their conditions (Paris — car burnings, etc.). Any non-Muslim action that offends Islam will result in uprisings and threats (Amsterdam — Mohammed cartoons).
    Guyana — Muslim 10%
    India — Muslim 13.4%
    Israel — Muslim 16%
    Kenya — Muslim 10%
    Russia — Muslim 10-15%

    After reaching 20% expect hair-trigger rioting, jihad militia formations, sporadic killings and church and synagogue burning:
    Ethiopia — Muslim 32.8%
    At 40% you will find widespread massacres, chronic terror attacks and ongoing militia warfare:
    Bosnia — Muslim 40%
    Chad — Muslim 53.1%
    Lebanon — Muslim 59.7%

    From 60% you may expect unfettered persecution of non-believers and other religions, sporadic ethnic cleansing (genocide), use of Sharia Law as a weapon and Jizya, the tax placed on infidels:
    Albania — Muslim 70%
    Malaysia — Muslim 60.4%
    Qatar — Muslim 77.5%
    Sudan — Muslim 70%

    After 80% expect State run ethnic cleansing and genocide:
    Bangladesh — Muslim 83%
    Egypt — Muslim 90%
    Gaza — Muslim 98.7%
    Indonesia — Muslim 86.1%
    Iran — Muslim 98%
    Iraq — Muslim 97%
    Jordan — Muslim 92%
    Morocco — Muslim 98.7%
    Pakistan — Muslim 97%
    Syria — Muslim 90%
    Tajikistan — Muslim 90%
    Turkey — Muslim 99.8%
    United Arab Emirates — Muslim 96%

    100% will usher in the peace of "Dar-es-Salaam" — the Islamic House of Peace — there’s supposed to be peace because everybody is a Muslim:
    Afghanistan — Muslim 100%
    Saudi Arabia — Muslim 100%
    Somalia — Muslim 100%
    Yemen — Muslim 99.9%

    If you protest in response, their rhetoric weakens. We must show them how strong WE CAN BE.

    April 2, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  3. peacppl

    Im a muslim....BOOO!!!

    April 2, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  4. jake

    Whats the difference between a muslim woman wearing a covering and one that is not? Give up?? One has an attached head and the other doesn't.

    April 2, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  5. peacppl

    attn alll nascar fans......Garlic, a stake and pork will ward off all us scary muslims

    April 2, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  6. jake

    If we all join in burning Korans and posting Mobombhead cartoons this would help desensitize them. They can't blow all of us up. Instead most are in fear – even in this country – of taking this freedom of speech overture. They are fine bashing Christians, but are afraid of the mohammadans. I will join in on the book-burning next time around!

    April 2, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • peacppl

      stop talkin and go get your teeth fixed and play yourbanjo

      April 2, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • Yasmine

      this is pathetic.

      April 3, 2011 at 1:03 am |
    • bethe123

      @jake - Yes, that is correct.

      It is only because the Muslim apologists continue to try to shift the blame elsewhere, rather than on Islam, that this continues.
      The condemnation of Islam acts of terror must be universal and unequivocal. The pastor should be defended as having done no wrong...because in fact he did none.

      April 3, 2011 at 1:08 am |
  7. Ted Ward

    The more one looks into and learns the history of the profit (sic) and the origins of his faith the worse things look. In fact it's downright creepy. What with religiously sanctioned lies and deception ( al taquiya) to name but one apalling practice this faith should have been consigned to the ash heap of history centuries ago. Why would anyone in his/her right mind want such people next door. It's like inviting Charles Manson into your neighborhood, maybe worse.

    April 2, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  8. peacppl

    thank God i live above the mason dixon line

    April 2, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  9. puppo

    For all the genius types on here: christian women used to cover their heads in church here in the USA. The bible says to do this, but the new pretty boy preachers know they won't fill their 5k seat stadiums if they go strictly by the bible. So they rationalize that part away. Feed their egos, and pass the collectin plate. It's in the Book though, if you believe it, you gotta do the whole 9.

    April 2, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  10. jake

    I've learned everything I need to know about Mohammadans from 9-11, Satan Verses by Rusdie, and akbar the puppet!

    April 2, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • peacppl

      go drink your blue ribbon beer ...grown folk are talkin

      April 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  11. Alex

    You're not in a Muslim nation that's why you have the freedom to feel it's fashion.

    April 2, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  12. Cavemen Amongus

    Religion, in general, is the root of all evil. The creator wouldn't want people to bicker about which one is better or worse. They are equally as bad! Get rid of all religion, and let's all get along.

    April 2, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Ted Ward

      Saying "all religions are equally bad" and are "the root of all evil" is highly erroneous. There is only one religion that tells its adherents to literally kill people en masse simply because they believe differently, and that's the one being discussed here. In addition, recorded history shows plainly that again and again this has actually occurred. In this day and age this is and should be unacceptable and condemned by all, religious or not.

      April 2, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  13. talis

    Can someone show me the text in the Koran that says a woman MUST wear a habib?

    April 2, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  14. bomber

    All this trouble and strife of an invisible dude! yup that is what it boils down to, fairy tale stories passed down from forever ago. Yes all the religions are equally stupid and wrong. Get over it and move into the future!

    April 2, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  15. Seriously

    And the very same Christains who say the Islam needs to progress into the 21st century are the very ones who want to keep politics and government repressed into the 1800's. Progressives (or liberals and they say as almost a curse word) are wrong and need to be culled from the electorate. Pure hyoocracy, lunacy, and moronic behavior – now isn't it?

    April 2, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  16. peacppl

    Dan Collins gives good raghead!

    April 2, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Dan Collins


      April 2, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  17. Prince Tamino

    Why in the world are they living in the South! A good deal of the backwards South hates Catholics, never mind Muslims! I live in SC and can't wait to get back North.

    April 2, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Ted Ward

      Well, it's not because they want to eat pork rhinds!

      April 2, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  18. Yasmine

    I have to say that when I saw this show I got sick to my stomach. The fact that there are people who perceive Muslims as a threat to this severely, harsh extent diminishes any hope I had in humanity. This is a world and time that embraces knowledge not ignorance.

    April 2, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Yasmine

      And you're telling this to a Muslim. Just so you know, you're talking to a Muslim. And I have NEVER defended any of the extremist's view and their barbaric acts but your judgement is being reflected on not just them but those who practice the "moderate" aspect of the religion. So once again, I'm a Muslim. I'm you're neighbor. Treat me with the same respect I treat you with.

      April 2, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • sheisugly

      Funny, Dan speaks exactly like what an extremist would speak like. Wage war against the rag heads? Sorry Hilter, cannot compute 🙂

      April 2, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Iman

      The problem Yasmine that Islam doesn't recognize your "moderate" practice as Islamic. So you may be truly a moderate and very nice person but then you are not a true Moslem. I really know what I'm talking about because I was born and liver among Moslems. In the end; Islam is what Islam does.

      April 2, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • Ted Ward

      My dear poor Yasmine, if my country and religion treated you in my country the way your religion treats me in an ***amic country you'd be dead. Instead, I will pray for you and wish you peace and happiness. But keep your faith to yourself.

      April 2, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Yasmine

      Ted open up your blind eyes. You always get upset about how publicly we display our religion when you work so hard to note it out when you see it. All you see when you hear Islam are the women covered for head to toe, the men who yell "Allah Akbar" and people blowing themselves up. You never see the girls who wear the shorts, those who play on the same teams as "your" people, who create new inventions, who help better society. And you will never be able to see that. And I feel sorry for you. So I will never keep my religion to myself just to make you feel more secure about your ignorant self.

      April 3, 2011 at 12:57 am |
  19. peacppl

    thei are two kind of people n america.....intelligent and dumb as dog--!

    April 2, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • A Noun

      Dogs are not dumb. But hey, let's talk about Muslims and dogs for a moment. Having dogs as pets is "un-islamic" - dogs as service animals, discouraged. All because your Mohammed was afraid of dogs.

      And the women? Cover them up, because the men can't control themselves. Since uncontrollable Men can do what they want, punish the women. Yeah, that's brilliant.

      If there are really two kinds of people here, I know I'm intelligent – too intelligent to buy into this. I don't like spiders, but I'm not going to ban them as part of a "religion" I make up to control the people around him. Which, incidentally, is what your Mohammed did. Strategist? Yep. PR Whiz? Yep. Prophet? No.

      April 2, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Ted Ward

      Stop insulting dogs!

      April 2, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  20. Rhodna

    "Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments.” Who says this? Who wrote this? God? No, a man.......

    April 2, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Dan Collins

      Quit blaming men for everything. If it was not for a man you would have never been born. Who wrote this are the authors of a perverse religion that has no respect for humanity be it male of female. Don't wage the war against men, wage it agianst all the rag heads that have invaded out once great nation.

      April 2, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • peacppl

      did God say strip for a living?

      April 2, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • chzwiz

      I do not think Rhodna (sp?) means to single out men in general. I read it as this sharia crap is controlled by a bunch of misogynist mooslim men. On top of that, Mohammad, may his name be cursed forever, was not a prophet. He was just another product of his times.

      April 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • peacppl

      chzwhz...may your mother be cursed forever for having you...loser

      April 2, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • ndlily

      Dan Collins . . . Men are to blame. Who's been in charge for the last few thousand years? And as for the "rag heads," it's not that we don't have comparable idiots in our own culture, from the Salem witch trials or the modern-day Fundamentalist Mormons. But you do have a point in that as long as we have women who are stupid enough not to question their religion and the motives of the males running that religion, we will continue to see such inane articles as the one above, where women hide their weakness of mind and temperament behind religion and "faith."

      April 2, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • East Coast

      It's very sad that women are mistreated like this and brainwashed to believe this Muslim garbage. Yeah, the bible says that people should be stoned for adultery but times change and the world changes. Rules need to be adapted for modern people. The violent Muslim faith even justifies killing of woman for whatever reason, also beating them, having more than one wife. What a joke Mohammad's made up faith is and the losers who follow it.

      April 2, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Rhonda

      Chzwhz is correct, I was not putting down men, I was pointing out that the book that those words came from were written by a mortal man, not by God.

      April 2, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.