A few weeks ago a Muslim friend and I went out dancing together. This isn’t something I usually do with my Muslim friends though. There is something completely taboo about asking a Muslim woman, particularly a hijabi, to go out to a bar and dance. Even though I also identify as a hijabi, I can’t bring myself to ask my peers to engage in one of my favorite pastimes because it feels illicit and wrong.

I am not even referring to the bump-and-grind, ritual-mating dance of our generation (which is basically all I can do thanks to the suburban ‘hood I grew up in). I’m talking about the bounce around to pop songs, lose yourself in the energy kind of dancing.

After all, hijabis don’t go to bars. They definitely don’t go to clubs.

And heaven forbid one of us dances.

Hijab makes a socio-political statement, whether we want it to or not. To the west, hijab epitomizes conservatism and the dreaded word among Muslims, oppression. The popular conception of hijabis in Muslim communities can be just as stifling though.

We are cast as model minorities, embodiments of Islam fit to conservative ideals of what a Muslim woman should be.

Drawing attention to yourself in what could be construed as a sexual way, by laughing in front of men or dancing in mixed company, is taboo. How we use our bodies makes a political statement, so we are encouraged to steer clear of actions that may be outside the conservative norm.

To be honest, I don’t wear my hijabi persona in those situations either.

Despite the fact that I am not doing anything that is strictly wrong in my own eyes, it still feels wrong and uncomfortable. I rationalize my choice to be in that environment. I am not dancing with men after all. I am not drinking after all. I am not even making eye contact with anyone but my friend and that disco ball that this bar resurrected from a by-gone era.

So I can’t be doing something wrong, right? I wear a hat or a turban that conveniently covers all my hair while still refraining from screaming out to the world that I am a hijabi.

I distance myself from the message I wear on my head on a daily basis and I dance.

I dance because I love it. I love the release of losing myself in the music. I love moving my body in fun and funky ways- even the robot isn’t safe from me. Dancing in a crowd is a different experience than having a dance party in a ‘safe’ all women environment.

The anonymity of a crowd you don’t know and aren’t accountable to means you can break free.

I can finally lose my hyper-vigilance and let go.

Something magical happened that particular night though.

I saw, across the foggy dance floor littered with the remnants of that night’s boisterous crowd, a woman in a sea-foam green hijab dancing. She wasn’t riddled with the guilt I had felt earlier in the night when donning my beanie.

She wasn’t even awkwardly standing to the side, dancing in a corner, hoping one of the brown dudes there wasn’t her mother’s friend’s cousin’s son (he could be there without repercussions of course; his honor was never on the line, his Muslimness less overt) and would report her presence and doom her family’s honor.

Nope, she was front and center, a carefree example of what I could be if I gave up the notion of what a society thought a hijabi should and shouldn’t be doing.

The truth is I conform.

I forget that I can break out of the mold, that my stories and actions speak just as loudly as the normative view on Muslim women. I forget that dancing in is a part of who I am, and I don’t need to sacrifice any one part of my identity for another.

So maybe I will be the next hijabi you see busting a move on the dance floor. I certainly hope so.

  • Nushrat Hoque is a second generation Bengali-American who enjoys laughing at her frequent third-culture related existential crises. A recent graduate of Bard College, she has grudging penchant for biochemistry and a passion for south-Asian feminist art.