Why World Hijab Day is Gross

Standard

IMG_0868

I’m keen to thrash out my thoughts on World Hijab Day but if I’m honest, one tweet summed it up probably better than I can: ‘#WorldHijabDay only serves to give people who shouldn’t have a voice on this issue a platform on which to speak over the ones who should‘ by Amal M. AlHazred (@AmalAlHazred)

The day itself, conceived by New York Bengali Nazma Khan, invites women who don’t wear hijab to try it for a day. The intentions behind it are well-meaning. The day aims to break down stereotypes, bridge gaps and encourage empathy with the hope of eroding abuse and prejudice. But it is so mind-numbingly naïve in its conception, development and execution that it does almost the exact opposite.

Written into World Hijab Day are narratives of moral superiority, binary ideas on modesty and spirituality and worse, a globalised approach which eclipses the local and personal details that are paramount in understanding hijab as an idea and a practice. Within the point put forward by Amal Al Hazred above, I can see a dozen arguments that explain why World Hijab Day is such a colossally bad idea.

For starters, it promotes the idea that Muslim female experiences are in fact homogeneous, monocultural, easily wrapped up in a length of fabric and neatly exportable to satisfy the curiosity of non-Muslims. It turns hijab into more of a commodity than it already is and claims to educate people who know little about hijab. If there is education involved, World Hijab Day is a kindergarten level, finger-painting exercise for people still learning that the world and all the people in it (including themselves) are vast and almost overwhelmingly complex.

Muslim women in their various localities, with their wildly different histories, cultural heritages and levels of self-awareness cannot be summed up in a day of dress-up. Suggesting that World Hijab Day might encourage people to learn more about Islam, is to encourage people to use hijab and by extension hijab-wearing Muslim women (like myself), for their own agendas. Hijab is not a costume, it is not a mascot, it is not a sandwich board for your message. It is, as Hijab Tales discusses, spiritual, political, oppressive, liberating, confusing and clarifying all at once. It is historic and contemporary, it is organic and synthetic. It is complicated! By contrast, World Hijab Day seeks to simplify it, to “demystify” it and in doing so, it approaches hijab with a cack-handed, Orientalist mindset. It entrenches the idea that Muslim women and their identifiably “Islamic” clothing are an exotic curiosity to be explored.

In welcoming exploration, it places the discourse on hijab in the hands of those whose critiques should not hold as much weight as those who know hijab intimately. And those who do know hijab intimately, who are able to engage with its complexity and contradictions, are all too often overlooked.

Lastly, to those who might claim that World Hijab Day encourages introspection and empathy. Please understand that there are so many levels of heritage, politics, religion and spirituality simultaneously at play in the practice of wearing hijab, that to reduce it to something you can access in a day, is crude.

Naima Khan

More of Naima’s writings are available at: http://naimakhan.wordpress.com/

Advertisements

Why?

Standard

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/a0b/69303077/files/2014/12/img_1080.jpg

Writing a piece on headscarf. Well, at first, the subject put me off, whenever we talk about Muslim women, the headscarf comes up.

But, above all, it brings back all the memories: the anger, the pain, the tears, the questions why? Why? Why?

Why am I rejected by members of my community? Why do I have to face racism because I am black and a Muslim in the society and face rejection within the Muslim community because I do not wear a headscarf?

Why is that? I support the right of women to choose to wear the headscarf. I proudly demonstrated against the ban on headscarf in schools, in France.

Why can’t Mosques be a place of relief, appeasement for me? Why do people ask me when I “came back “to religion, when they see me performing my prayers; whereas I do not wear a headscarf outside mosque?

Why the sister says to her friend when she hears me reciting the Quran in Arabic that I have learnt how to read some months ago when she knows it was in my childhood? My mum taught me, how to read the Quran in Arabic .Why does she reinvents my story? Why does she erase my mum from my story?

Why do people say, “she does not wear the headscarf BUT she is nice!” what does it mean?

Why do smile fed away when I say I am not a convert but born Muslim? Why do they stop talking to me? Why do not they reply to my salaam?

Will she continue being friendly with me? Now, she has seen I do not wear the headscarf or would she walk away like the other?

I have stopped questioning; the community is too big to focus on group of individuals and overlooked those who accept the existence, the co-existence of interpretations regarding, the question of headscarf, among other.

Acknowledging the different upbringing, and background was part of me moving forward from this questions and subject.

Indeed some person who I have met ,never encountered a Muslim women without a headscarf, non Muslim only in their country of origin do not cover , some are not aware, never heard of different interpretations regarding the head covering of women and some negative belief are associated to it such as women without head covering wont be blessed .

In the same fashion, it never occurred to me that people would not expect to meet a Muslim woman without a head covering.

My only concern today, is the attitude of those with the firm belief to own “the truth” ,whether they understand the head covering as compulsory or whether they understand it as not mentioned or not compulsory.

Some of them find no limit to impose their “truth”. Often in these cases, they do not notice when they hurt another human being.

We should always remember History; it is full of evidence of the danger of such stand.

Fatima Adamou

Let’s Not Appropriate Hijab

Standard

IMG_1083.JPG

‘There is an emerging trend in the hijabi world that has me extremely concerned. I’m talking about women wearing hijab not primarily for spiritual reasons, but because they feel it is increasingly fashionable, a way to “stick it to the man”, or a means to show solidarity with minorities and social justice causes. It’s as if these individuals are saying, “We want to use hijab to stand out, but heaven forbid we’re pegged as religious as well.” As someone who took the decision to wear hijab extremely seriously, this is incredibly troubling. Tossing aside religiousness and spirituality for rebellion and style not only disrespects the sacredness of hijab in Islam, but it also completely misses its point: to symbolize one’s personal relationship with and devotion to Allah.’

The rest of the article can be found here:

http://www.comingoffaith.com/gender/stop-trying-stick-man/

Hijab: no longer a religious garment?

Standard

IMG_1077-1.JPG

In the last few weeks, Britain has seen two campaigns making front page news and getting numerous shares, likes and retweets on various social media network sites. The first campaign had a Muslim(?) woman in the Union Flag wrapped up in a hijab, which was launched by the NGO Inspire with the hashtag #makingastand. This campaign collaborated with The Sun to call ‘on Britons of all faiths to unite to defeat IS fanatics’.

IMG_1073.JPG

The second campaign was launched by the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB), which is urging British Muslim women to wear a poppy hijab ‘as a challenge to extremist groups who ‘spout hatred’ about the Armed Forces’

IMG_1074.JPG

What I find highly problematic about both the campaigns is that the onus is on the Muslim woman to represent her community and the use of the woman’s body to make a point. Why does a woman have to wear the Union Flag as a hijab to prove that she stands against IS? Or wear the poppy hijab to stand against the extremist minority and remember the Muslim soldiers who fought in World War 1? By making the wearing of the hijab THE requirement to remember or condemn you are: a) marginalising women who don’t wear the hijab therefore placing proper ‘Muslimness’ on the covered woman and not being representative; b) bringing further unnecessary attention onto Muslim women, especially those who do wear the hijab, as covered Muslim women have been under scrutiny by various governments here in the UK and Europe.

To me, this is no different to when George W. Bush, prior to the invasion of Afghanistan, announced that Afghan women need to be liberated. It is the use of the woman’s body, especially that of the Muslim woman, that I simply cannot ignore in these campaigns. It also takes me back to all those Orientalist paintings Edward Said discusses in his seminal book ‘Orientalism‘ and how the European white male would fantasise about these ‘exotic’ women in their harems. The politicisation of a Muslim woman’s body isn’t new here but it is rather disappointing when it’s Muslims who are perpetuating this when it could be avoided.

If we are really that eager to remember the Muslim soldiers who died in WW1, we need to start incorporating histories of the colonised people into our history lessons in school and start educating. Through education our children will learn that events happening today across the globe did not arise out of the vacuum but came into existence because of events in history. If we wish to condemn IS, then we need to work collaboratively with youth clubs, local governments and communities to facilitate spaces where people can openly discuss and condemn and to create initiatives for ALL to participate in, not just a picture, which is likely to die out in the next few weeks anyway.

By AnonymousMuslimah1

Hijab at the Inclusive Mosque

Standard

IMG_0862.JPG

You’d be forgiven for assuming hijab at the Inclusive Mosque Initiative is a non-issue. For the most part you’d be right. In fact, the only issue we’ve really discussed at length is how to remain neutral about hijab. Given that the team behind IMI aims to create a non-segregated mosque space that includes people of all faiths, sects and none, we embrace diversity in religious expression. We try to convene spaces where people can be themselves without judgement and we promote a deeper understanding of our existence rather than preach any one brand of Islam. Our line on hijab is simply that it’s your choice.

But during our first run of inclusive jummah salahs in Dalston (currently on hiatus until we find a more central location), we were approached by people who wanted to pray in hijab but didn’t have one with them. These raised some questions about our role and responsibilities: if we provide hijabs, are we encouraging it? Will people assume they have to wear a hijab at an IMI jummah? How can an organisation such as ours encourage choice and remain neutral?

On 21st June 2014, we held a discussion to address these and other questions around hijab and mosques. To keep the event as democratic as possible we didn’t invite a speaker but gave the floor the to the attendees with myself chairing the conversation. What followed was an impressively wide-ranging critique that covered some well-trodden ground but also opened up new and rarely talked about notions. As you might have anticipated, we looked at the idea that hijab is a reduction of religiosity, the ways hijab and the discourse around it used to control and shame women and we took a while to appreciate the history of head covering; its different cultural implications and its many contemporary meanings. We also discussed the positive outcomes of wearing hijab such as feeling like you’re part of a wider Muslim, or broadly religious community.

Of the newer considerations about hijab that came forward that day, I’ll pick just three to expound here. The first was a very logical suggestion put forward by a woman with a PhD in hadith. She’d examined a range of sources and formed her own theory about hijab relating to wudu. What I can write here will only be an oversimplified summation but she said the ablution ritual includes a specific set of body parts that have nothing to do with the body parts most commonly used to break wudu – if you get my drift. So what is it that the face, ears, nose, hair, arms and feet have in common? Other than symbolism (which I think you could equate to any body part), they are all exposed. Or at least they are easy to get to when it’s time to make wudu.

The woman who mentioned this had concluded that it would be unlikely that women were made to cover their hair (at least in the tightly-bound and fastened way we do today) when we are also asked to run water over our hair multiple times a day for wudu. The Inclusive Mosque as an organisation remains neutral on the issue but we want the mosque to be a space where views like the one above can be expressed. Where people can come to their own conclusions about sacred texts and feel free to share their thoughts with others. Opposing viewpoints were put forward but the woman who spoke was not shouted down or insulted.

The second most memorable point raised during the event was put forward by a woman in her mid-20s who was concerned about what the discourse on hijab implies for women post-menopause. If we mark the things we desire by covering them up (a manipulative logic in itself), what are we saying when we tell women in their 50s and older that they’re no longer required to wear hijab? She argued that drawing a correlation between desirability and the need to cover is insulting and ultimately perpetuates the idea that beauty exists only or predominantly in youth.

The third point that really struck me was the idea of hijab as quiet protest. This discussion was put forward by one of the men in attendance. He mentioned the work of political scientist James. C . Scott, author of Weapons of the Weak and its follow-up Domination and the Arts of Resistance, and extrapolated Scott’s ideas to make the point that for some people, wearing hijab is a way to indirectly confront a more powerful group. In a society that is becoming increasingly – and I’d argue – aggressively secular, wearing hijab can be a small, socially acceptable way of asserting ones agency. It expresses a religious affiliation in a nation which is slowly losing respect for such public demonstrations of personal belief.

One of the main reasons I joined the Inclusive Mosque Initiative (IMI) is because it embraces the fact that people change and so do our beliefs. It encourages a sense of community, one that embraces our differences without fear of confrontation. The Hijab and the Mosque discussion embodied this and as far as remaining neutral goes, we’ve decided we will provide hijabs and kufis for those who want them. We’ll also display a sign explicitly stating that your religious expression is your choice.

Naima Khan

More of Naima’s writings are available at: http://naimakhan.wordpress.com/

Reflections of a Muslim Scandinavian gender-equality enthusiast

Standard

IMG_0989.JPG

Growing up in a Scandinavian country, my experience of sexuality, modesty and the concept of hijab are markedly different to even those living in the UK. I say this as is it is common knowledge that globally Scandinavia leads the way when it comes to gender equality. As a child in school it was a mantra that you were conditioned with, and in almost every class one took, it was an underlying truth that directed the way we interacted with opposite sex. I would have to say that personally, I am very grateful for this as I developed a healthy attitude towards my own sexuality and very rarely ever felt that my sex hindered me from certain pursuits or that I had anything to fear from the other boys.

That last point is an important one, as it underlies much of the traditional arguments for female-male interaction in Islamic discourses. And I am not just talking about the fear of being raped or assaulted because you “aren’t dressed right”, I am too talking of the fear of angering God because you might be in a state of perpetual sin; leading men on via your dress, the way you speak, and the level of your exposure in the public sphere. As Muslim women we are conditioned from a very young age to think of our bodies as sexual and sources of fitna in society, to the extent that it defines our very being and colours how we perceive our potential as individuals and what we can achieve in the world.

I would often go to my mother’s Muslim/Arab home country during the summer months, where I experienced a completely different gender dynamic. I remember as a teenager being extremely conscious of my surroundings every time I was out, because of the sheer amount of unwanted male attention I was getting. I was always conscious if my top was long enough to cover my bum, and being naturally endowed with large breasts, if my top was too tight- I would always wear cardigans and jackets to hide them. I would never acknowledge anyone going out or make eye contact; I learned to walk with my eyes glued to the path ahead of me and completely ignored all attention- even if it was innocent or a shop keeper asking me for change. I was told I looked scared. My female cousins, almost all of whom wore headscarfs, told me that I should be flattered by this attention and many of them indeed liked the catcalls and would dress to impress, even under the guise of modesty. However for me, coming from a society where I didn’t even think twice being outside about how men would view me, the experiences were always unsettling. I felt a deep sense of injustice over the fact that I was made to feel so uncomfortable, but moreover, I could not reconcile the idea that I was in a Muslim country and I got more respect from non-Muslim men than I did Muslim men.

These experiences subsequently altered my perspective on the khimar. My mother didn’t wear one growing up, but post-911 she did, and I felt that I should wear one too. Not out of a sense of modesty as I felt I was already modest, but I sensed that as a Muslim I had a duty to proclaim my Islam in the public and prove all those who maligned Islam, wrong. I had a deep-seated sense of self-righteous indignation and need to proudly wear Islam on my sleeve (or in this case my head). I started watching online videos, sermons, and reading justifications for it. And I was left feeling completely unsatisfied, especially with the oft-cited modesty arguments. The modesty reasoning went against everything that I had been taught. I thought they were there because of certain cultural contexts and norms, but I never brought the idea that they were the core justification for wearing the khimar. I knew it was an element of it, but I believed the purpose to be deeper than that. And living in a society where women weren’t reduced to sexual beings, and all the benefits of supposedly wearing a piece of cloth on your head were already present, the rationale for it just seemed absolutely nonsensical and counter-intuitive to everything I believed. Nonetheless, I still believed it was fardh and decided that once I was ready I would wear it and I should practice my deen out of a sense of duty to Allah, not to assert the whims of my ego.

When I moved to the UK I started wearing it for a short period, loosely, to transition into it, but surprisingly got more unwanted attention from Muslim men wearing it- some even at the door of the mosque! I sought guidance from my Muslim friends, but was left feeling so underwhelmed with their arguments for it. I felt I was wearing it to please others more than any sense of religious obligation. And it wasn’t until I spoke to my brother about it that I understood why. I felt that wearing a headscarf sexualised me rather than de-sexualised me. My brother articulated to me that wearing a headscarf didn’t make me more modest, that men didn’t go crazy if they saw a woman with her hair bare, and if they did that’s their problem not mine. And I felt such a relief to hear that from a man; that It wasn’t my fault it men looked at me and I didn’t need to make a public and tangible proclamation about my virtue and modesty. It was then that I decided that in my heart of hearts, I didn’t believe it was fardh (though I had spoken to scholars and on the matter too, who left me with more questions than answers).

Ultimately for me, I cannot divorce my experiences as a woman living in a society where I have felt for the most part respected, non-fearful of men and free to be myself, from the idea that to wear something that I understand as making a statement for the effect of creating the very society that I have grown up in, as inherently contradictory.

If you are reading this, please don’t take this piece as a “take it or leave it” statement on wearing the headscarf. I completely respect and understand the multitude of reasons why women wear it. I really do understand why some women see it as emancipatory, and I also understand why some women see it as a prison. I 100% support the idea that all women should be free to make their own choices when it comes to dress, and this piece does not mean to belittle the genuine liberating experiences some women have felt adopting the headscarf. That being said, the khimar and the whole hijab debate has become so saturated with politics and the power-play of global patriarchy dictating what women should and should not wear, that I can’t change the idea in my mind that wearing it is for the most part to make a sexual statement about a woman’s presence in society with an implicit underlying premise that women are under the perpetual threat of the male gaze; and I just can’t bring myself to accept that.

Maghrebi

Hijab and Weddings

Standard

IMG_0955.JPG

I recently attended a wedding and some strange things occurred. After I arrived with my dad we were informed that we had to separate and enter via two different entrances because it was a ‘segregated’ (I put this word in vertical commas, which I will clarify below) wedding. Now, I got a little annoyed because I haven’t attended a wedding in a long time and wanted to share the event with my dad because no one else was attending the wedding from my family due to other commitments.

Since we were left with no choice, dad and I parted ways, and entered via our own entrances. I got upstairs and didn’t recognise a single face until much later someone from my mum’s side came upstairs. Many of you who may not be familiar with desi weddings they are known for being very colourful and loud, with or without music (this wedding had no music playing). There were many women sitting and you could see their burkas and scarves clinging onto the chairs behind them.

So I am now seated at a random table and some of my family members from my family’s side join me. The food arrives and we are all enjoying the food until I hear the women behind me creating a lot of noise. I turn around and notice that four women with their backs to me were grabbing their niqabs and scarves because a 9 or 10 year old boy came into the women’s section. The boy was there for no loner than a minute and disappeared. In that instant I thought: ‘Well, had you just stayed still and not created such a fuss NO ONE in the room would have paid you any attention, as that is what you want BUT by creating all the noise you had half the room’s attention on you.’

I sat there baffled at why you’d kick a fuss over a child. As we finished eating, there were announcements made from the men’s section that a relative will be coming to the women’s section to start preparing for the groom to come upstairs and majority of the women in the room grabbed their scarves and pinned their scarves on and were ready for some men to appear upstairs.

The reason why I am sharing this story is because I have witnessed moments like this during my hijab days and now that I no longer wear it I still see it: women creating a scene and drawing attention to themselves when that is the one thing they try to avoid. I remember another wedding where I sat at a table with four or five niqab-wearing women and when the men appeared, from an entrance far from our table, the women picked up their empty plates and used them to hide their faces. Again, I felt that they were drawing more attention by dong that. Perhaps next time just lower your head or be more discreet rather than drawing attention to yourself.

By AnonymousMuslimah1