Apparently, February 1st is “World Hijab Day.” I don’t support the campaign for many reasons, although I feel it incumbent upon me to say that I fully respect hijabi women and the hijab (and I wear the hijab myself, too, whenever I feel like it); I recognize the struggles that Muslim women–not just hijabis but non-hijabis too–face and these struggles, and Islamophobia more generally, definitely need to be recognized more widely; I do not support and do everything to condemn the discrimination against people because of what they wear (or what they believe or how they identify themselves in term of their sexual orientation, etc.). But this campaign isn’t helping with anything. Let me explain briefly below; I’d go into details, but a few really nice articles have already articulated that.
The following two articles (“Everyone’s Favourite Dress-Up Day” and “All Hijabbed Out”) explain how I feel about the whole “World Hijab Day” campaign, too. But to add to them:
1) The campaign has a very narrow idea of what the “hijab” is and what women who decide to participate in it are supposed to wear: no tight clothing; covering the hair, chest, neck, whole body; etc. Uh. No. That’s not even how most hijabis wear the hijab themselves! If you’re going to ask people to volunteer to do something you do, you need to give them the option to do it however they want to do it. There’s so much diversity with how the hijab is worn, that it doesn’t make sense to narrow it down to one specific way that works for you.
2) It perpetuates the same old expectation that Muslim women are really all about their clothing and nothing else. What else is new? An entire damn day dedicated to what a woman is wearing – basically sexualizing a woman for an entire day and inviting people to do it, too.
3) “World Hijab Day” implies in each of its missions and motives that Muslim women are supposed to wear the hijab (that it’s required and whatnot), and so when certain groups of non-Muslims come to expect this and nothing else of Muslim women, they’re like, “How come your hair is showing?”
4) The article makes this point but not visibly enough: chances are, if someone is going to try the hijab on to understand and respect all the struggles that Muslim hijabi women face *the entire time they’re wearing the hijab*, they’re already respectful towards Muslims in the first place. That’s not the audience we need to be getting to open their eyes.
We need to grow out of this habit of making everything about the hijab or about what a woman’s wearing. Fine, I recognize the importance of dedicating a day to the struggles and concerns of Muslim women, but let’s also remember that Muslim men and non-hijabi Muslim women, too, are victims of Islamophobia; for them, it’s almost always simply because of their skin color – they “look Arab, South Asian, Middle Eastern,” etc. Non-hijabi women, too, are victims of Islamophobia. This is not to say that hijabi women have it easy. It’s to say that the campaign and its efforts are, as the author of this article says, reductive.
We should also be equally fighting against other sorts of discrimination, such as those based on our gender and/or sex. That includes the bigotry within Muslim communities. We know that Muslim communities discriminate against hijabis, non-hijabis, niqabis, non-niqabis; or against those who wear certain kinds of “tight” clothing; against certain sexual orientations; against certain ideologies and beliefs and practices. Let’s focus our energies not on the many issues beyond a woman’s clothing or hijab. Let’s also include men, non-hijabi women, and Muslims who practice Islam differently than we believe they should.
Simply, let’s stop reducing the Muslim woman to what’s on her head, and let’s not make Islamophobia entirely about hijabi Muslim women–and, also importantly, let’s recognize the bigotry, discrimination, injustices within the Muslim community as well, not just in the larger non-Muslim (specifically Islamophobic) community.
Some highlights from the articles:
From World Hijab Day: Everyone’s Favourite Dress-Up Day, by Shireen Ahmed
– “My team doesn’t ask to try to wear a hijab. They are smarter and more respectful than that. But, wearing a scarf while playing may give them COMPLETE INSIGHT into the lives of half a billion Muslim women. Right? RIGHT?!? *hijabdesk*.”
– “This is the part where I get to be thankful that my teammates don’t want to liberate me. They don’t insult and patronize me inquiring as to how my hijab “makes them feel”. It’s not exotic and interesting. It just is. They respect me enough to know that how they “feel” about MY decision is bloody well irrelevant.”
– “Do we celebrate International Paghra Day with Sikhs? Or International Habit Day with Peruvian Nuns? International “Wear a Wig to Shul” Day with Orthodox Jews? Nope. Because that would be minimizing and politicizing their choice.”
– “By inviting commentary, Muslim women are taking the power away from themselves. If Muslim women want to be empowered, perhaps NOT asking other women their unwarranted, unnecessary opinion may be the place to start.”
And virtually every other sentences there!
From All Hijabbed Out, by Rabia Chaudhry:
– “[T]his is not an anti-hijab rant. This is a stop-making-hijab-the-only-important-thing-about-us rant.”
– “The fact that most conversations about Muslim women, both from outside and inside our communities, inevitably begin and end at how we dress is the sisyphean rock we can’t seem to get out from under. … We dangle between Islamophobes who think we’re brainwashed/oppressed and some conservative Muslims who keep a stink-eye on us to make sure we’re covered enough. Forget our souls, forget our trials, forget our needs, forget our humanity, we are now all about a little piece of cloth.”
– “I am not the sum of my hijabs. Neither is any woman I know.”
– “So while many tens of thousands of Muslim women do incredible work, raise families, run corporations, nonprofits, and households, we keep getting boiled down to the hijab.”
– “Efforts like “World Hijab Day” and plays like “Unveiled” reinforce the cliches and stereotypes we are trying so hard to escape. When is the last time you met or read about a non-Muslim woman and thought, ok fine, but what are her religious practices like? We don’t do this to other women, and heck we don’t even do it to Muslim men (though they have their own cliches to battle).”
– “It’s important to note that I also don’t feel these kinds of projects are effective strategies to deterring discrimination against hijabi women, or increasing tolerance, or breaking down stereotypes. They reconfirm a caricature of us, where our identities are literally tied to the hijab.”
– “By the way, highlighting hijab also preaches to a choir that’s already on our side. The folks that need a learning on respecting Muslim women will only get one if they are introduced to us as intelligent, thinking, achieving human beings and our stories have very little (or nothing) to do with how we’re dressed.”
– “I could get behind a “World Muslimah Day” that showcases the achievements and diversity of Muslim women, or a play about Muslim women that brings unexpected perspectives on our lives and concerns to non-Muslim audiences. But I simply can’t get behind the same old story, a story that limits us to hijab, or terrorism for that matter. There are too many anti-Muslim bigots trying, and getting paid well, to do that already.”
– “My female Muslim friends are battling disease, raising special needs children, caring for aging parents, looking for love, negotiating marriages, writing books, running marathons, making movies, counseling people in pain, traveling the world, advocating for health policy and immigration reform, assisting domestic violence victims, and doing a million things that are completely and totally unrelated to hijab. Our public narratives must start to reflect that.”
– And every other line in there!