Before today, I was considering writing an article about the controversy of the hijab. I was considering writing about how so many people choose to wear the hijab despite the perturbing fear of being judged by different communities and for a multitude of reasons. But I was going to do that without admitting one thing which has been central to me writing it; I don’t know if I want to continue wearing the hijab.
SO here I am, another young Muslim woman writing about the hijab. Must I explain that my hijab is not the centre? My hijab is not the definition of my journey however, it is the non-Muslim perspective that says it is. Wearing hijab does not limit me, it limits the perceptions others have of me. In the non-Muslim world it marks me a Muslim, it is an identifier. Hijab= she’s a Muslim. In the Muslim world, hijab suddenly jolts me into this world of religious practice, piety, the identity of a godly woman. It also enables others to decree my ‘Muslimness’ by looking at how I dress, behave, who I speak to and how I present myself.
Nonetheless, it seems more fitting to begin with my reason for writing this.
To hijab, or not to hijab? That is the question.
It is patronising in both communities when this identification as a Muslim seems to mean that people can ask me things like
“are you forced to wear that?” (Non-Muslim)
“have you read Qur’an?” (Muslim).
This is because hijab manifests as an entitlement. Other people become entitled to ask certain things, to chastise me for certain behaviours. A common example is how many Muslim men are offended by my fashion, my decision to wear jeans and baggy shirts with my hijab. It is not Muslim enough, it is “disrespectful” to the ideology that hijab was designed for them. (It never was)
On the contrary, it is also a problem for the non-Muslim, male, and specifically white community.
“But why can’t we see your hair?”
“But why do you wear western clothes and still have that thing on?”
So, I guess the question many of you ask is why? Why do so many young Muslim women choose to wear it despite all the controversy?
Aside from the few who wear the hijab by force, most of us wear the hijab because believe it or not, we want to. WE. ACTUALLY. HAVE. A. CHOICE.
Thus begs the question, why does a proportion of the male, Muslim narrative insist that there is only one way that the hijab exists and that there is no other possible way it should be worn or else you are a haraami.
Let’s look at it this way, the hijab is worn by so many women across the world – who have so many different fashions and cultural attires. Here I’m expecting a bearded bloke to interject and give me the classic “mixing Islam and culture is like dirty water” line. Let me stop you right there. Women having varieties of attire, varieties of clothing that have emerged as a result of them seeking an Islamic way of dressing is not mixing culture into Islam, it’s an example of how widespread Islam is. But until we are all wearing niqabs and in full black, some Muslim men and women will refuse to recognise it as hijab at all. I cannot help but think that it is the ignorance and lack of understanding or simply seeing the beauty in variety that leads to such conflicting perceptions of the hijab.
The situation is, hijab does not come with ownership. I cannot control the opinions that surround it. It is not just the male narrative, but also the narrative within the female Muslim community, a community that looks down on other Muslimas for being less Muslim, less conservative, for being too loud in the way we present ourselves. And then there’s the non-Muslim, female narrative that brands veiled women as oppressed individuals. Where veiled Muslims are less acceptable members of society for fear that they are extremists or training for Isis. Because don’t we all have an Al-Qaeda handbook chilling in our backpacks? Among the hullabaloo of Muslims being united under an umbrella and coming together to erase misunderstanding, there is also a posse of self-proclaimed, Islam-preserving, quick-to-pull-out-the-hadith-and-use-it-in-a-nonsensical-way Muslims. Unless you have been living under a rock, you might be staring at that statement wide-eyed and wondering what could possibly stir up such bitter hate in the Muslim community. Successful hijabi women, that’s what.
As I mentioned before, there is also the issue that some people see assimilation (wearing western clothes) as a deviation from Islam or seem to have a problem with Muslim women breaking down social barriers and being successful individuals. Look at how people have glossed over Noor Tagouri’s success just to bash her for using playboy as a medium to talk about the real issues that exist for Muslim women today. Nobody cared when Muhammed Ali and Malcolm X had feature articles in Playboy magazine! But as soon as it concerns a successful Muslim woman who wears hijab, all metaphorical Jahannam breaks loose. I’m sure the issue isn’t her success, or her choice to take up the opportunity from playboy, the problem is her hijab. It echoes what I said before, how wearing the hijab suddenly entitles others to judge us, to mock us, to decree our Muslimness on the Muslim chart. Here we have Muslim men comparing Tagouri’s article to “dawah in a brothel”, again, complete derailment and smothering of a Muslim woman’s success by using distorted analogies. In a letter to her public, Tagouri stated
“I knew that Playboy had overhauled the look of the magazine and took out the nudity; that was great but it wasn’t enough. This wasn’t a decision that I could take lightly. I spent time talking to my family and mentors, praying about it, and asking the writers a ton of questions. While doing my research, I learned that the magazine was committed to putting social justice and cultural progress at the forefront of their mission. It may sound wrong and it may make you uncomfortable to associate Playboy with social justice and cultural progress, but that’s what I do.”
Both her article and her letter were refreshing, especially for a young Muslim such as myself who is struggling with her identity and is torn between the spectrum of arguments surrounding the hijab. Believe it or not, it was just the push I needed to convince myself not to ‘dejab’. It was the push that I needed to confirm that no matter how many non-Muslims don’t understand it and no matter how many Muslims bash Muslim women and undermine their individuality and success, I can still wear my hijab and be me.