As a non-Muslim living in Western society, the idea of modesty was not exactly foremost in my mind. Like all other women of my generation and mind-set, I thought such ideas were antiquated and excessive. I felt pity for the poor Muslim woman who had to "wear all that junk," or "walk around in bed - sheets" as I used to call it.
I was a modern woman, educated and liberated. Little did I know the awful truth. I was more oppressed than any Muslim woman in the most culturally oppressive village in the Muslim world. I was oppressed not by an inability to choose my clothing or to choose my life-style, I was oppressed by an inability to see my society for what it really was. I was oppressed by the idea that a woman's beauty was public, and that lustful admiration was equal to respect.
It was when Allah guided me to Islam, and I put on the hijab, that I was finally able to step out of the society in which I lived and see it for what it really is. I could see how the highest paid women were those who exposed themselves to public display, like actresses, models and even strip-tease dancers. I was able to see that the relationship between men and women was unfairly stacked in the man's direction. I knew I used o dress to attract men. I tried to fool myself by saying I did it to please myself, but the painful reality was that what pleased me was when I was admired by a man I considered attractive.
I now know that there is no way for a person to know that he is dirty if he has never been clean. Similarly, I was not able to see that I was oppressed until I stepped out of the darkness of this oppressive society into the light of Islam. With that light shined on the truth, I was finally able to see the shadows that had been so obscured by my Western philosophies. It is not oppression to protect yourself and society; it is oppression to voluntarily throw yourself into the quagmire while denying it is dirty.
I am grateful to Allah that He allowed me to recognize that when I covered my head, I was taking away from people any means for judging me other than my mind, my soul and my heart. When I covered my head, I took away the incentive for exploitation based on beauty. When I covered my head, I made people respect me because they saw that I respected myself, and when I covered my head, I finally opened my mind to the truth.
Teach, Don't Preach
One of the factors which attracted me to this great deen of ours was the fact that so much of it can be understood based on logic and reason. that is why I feel that many Muslims parents do themselves a great disservice by not explaining more to their children. The old, "Because I say so...", or because you are an Arab, Pakistani, Somali, (fill in your cultural preference)..." never has worked and never will work. Human beings have a natural desire to understand what they do and why they do it, that is why Islam is such a great religion, because it satisfies all of our basic intellectual and emotional needs; it does this simply because it is the truth, and the truth is always easy to understand and defend.
When we teach our children, we should use the same sound reasoning and logic that we use to convince ourselves that a particular deed is beneficial. Thus, as we accept it, so, inshallah, will they because it will be understandable. Of course we preface every instruction with the understanding that we do what we do to please Allah and Allah only, even if we can not understand it, but alhamdulillah we have a means to understand the majority of what we do and avoid as Muslims.
For instance, we know that we don't eat pork because Allah commands us in the Glorious Quraan to avoid it. Then, we know that our beloved Prophet (Sal Allahu alayhi wa salam) commanded us to avoid it. We need to tell this to our kids, and as they grow and increase in their understanding we need to show it to them.
This teaches them some important lessons. It shows them Allah's commands; it shows them the importance of the Prophet's (Sal Allahu alayhi wa salam) commands, and it shows them the basics of researching into the deen. Then, once we set this as our base, we need to explain to them the wisdom of this command. Talk about the diseases associated with eating pork. Discuss the unsanitary living/eating habits of this animal.
Essentially, teach them those things which help you to avoid this sin. Teach them to use their faith and their mind in unison as tools towards achieving the ultimate goal of reaching Jannah.