Democrats, now having secured a majority in the House of Representatives, plan to propose several rule changes next year when the new Members take their seats. Among these changes will be a lift on the 181-year-old ban of headwear on the House floor – a move primarily motivated by the incoming Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Abdullahi Omar of Minnesota and her desire to wear the hijab as she has always done in her daily life.
Despite the mixed reactions this news has elicited, lifting the ban is the only ethically defensible action to take. To prohibit Rep.Omar from practicing her faith as a Congresswoman in a way that she has always been free to do as a citizen runs counter to the most central of American ideals. Denying her this right would send a very direct message to every Muslim American: You are welcome to be open about your faith as an ordinary citizen, but you cannot be allowed to freely express it once elected to a position of public prominence and authority. This sentiment is transparently toxic to social cohesion, and it cannot be understated how destructive its manifestations could be down the line.
Aside from the ban feeding a mindset that is cancerous to the goals of preserving and improving American pluralism, it would also act as an ideal recruiting tool for Islamic extremists. They would eagerly point to this decision, as they have with American militarism and support for Israel, and regurgitate the same tired tropes that they always have: American values are incompatible with Islam, America secretly hates all Muslims, and so on. Only this time, it would be more difficult to convince some of their potential recruits that these anti-American messages are baseless, since the first-ever Muslim Congresswoman would be denied the freedom to wear what she (and many other Muslims) see as a defining outward indicator of their faith.
The lifting of the ban would also serve to delegitimize the pervasive stereotype that all Muslim women wear the hijab. Another incoming representative, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, is a practicing Muslim as well, but she chooses not to wear it. Allowing Rep.Omar to wear her hijab on the house floor will highlight the fact that Rep.Tlaib, like many other Muslim women, are also making a choice to not wear one.
Furthermore, permitting Rep.Omar to wear her hijab would be a much-needed counterweight to the anti-Muslim bigotry expressed by more than one Republican candidate during the campaign. At a time when, in addition to anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric being on the rise, anti-Muslim hate crimes are as well, it is all the more important to do everything we can to push back against bigotry and show solidarity.
The United States prides itself on being a free and tolerant society where everyone is treated as an equal, no matter what their religious beliefs happen to be. In order to stay true to this guiding principle, it is imperative that the House Democrats’ proposal be adopted and Representative Omar be allowed to wear her hijab on the House floor.