“Wearing a hijab isn’t inherently liberating – but neither is baring one’s breasts. What is liberating is being able to choose either of these things. It’s pretty ludicrous to think that oppression is somehow proportional to how covered or uncovered someone’s body is. Both sides of this argument present a shallow understanding of women’s empowerment, which only drowns out the substantive challenges facing all women – issues that cannot be encapsulated in a debate about a piece of fabric.”—Sara Yasin, Is the Hijab Worth Fighting Over?
“Wearing a hijab isn’t inherently liberating – but neither is baring one’s breasts. What is liberating is being able to choose either of these things. It’s pretty ludicrous to think that oppression is somehow proportional to how covered or uncovered someone’s body is. Both sides of this argument present a shallow understanding of women’s empowerment, which only drowns out the substantive challenges facing all women – issues that cannot be encapsulated in a debate about a piece of fabric. ”—Sara Yasin, “On Both Sides, a Weak Vision of Feminism,” NYT Debate: Is the Hijab Worth Fighting For?
Hijab Politics, Policing, etc.
For those genuinely curious. I’m not interested in polemics. If you’re not interested in understanding, don’t bother coming to me to argue. I won’t engage in discussions in which the only purpose is proving the other wrong.
- “That’s not Hijab!”
As a matter of fact, “Hijab” as the physical concept is not defined in cultural terms. What I mean by that is someone can cover their body in a way that doesn’t conform to the Arab-centric way of covering. If you’re covered, you’re covered. Islam is a universalist religion and doesn’t impose cultural standards of one region on the other. Regardless, why does it matter if it’s Hijab or not? She will answer, not you. I promise.
- “But Hijabis are better than non-Hijabis!”
I really shouldn’t have to refute this, but, alas, the mindset is prevalent. How you dress doesn’t define you as a person, I’m sorry. Of course the dichotomy between “Hypocritical Hijabi who wears Hijab but does everything else wrong” and “Noble non-Hijabi who doesn’t wear hijab but does everything else right” is false. But Hijab can never be the sole identifying factor of assessing a person’s character or eligibility.
- “But why can’t I as a man give my opinion on how Hijab should be worn?”
You can. But you have to understand that unless it is a woman who is extremely close to you, your opinion will likely not be valued because you’re unaware of her particular circumstances. Regardless, while you can have your own opinions, please understand that as a man, you will never understand what it is like to be a woman, to be reduced to your appearance and to then be expected to hide most of it. Just the way I wouldn’t understand what it’s like to be a man and hence shouldn’t comment on how a man is to deal with expectations of hypermasculinity etc. Just remember that your opinions will always merely be based on observations, never experiences and that hence, they have little merit to those who constantly undergo the female experience.
Also, please keep in mind that we, as women, face constant policing for how we should handle our bodies. It’s just so draining to come to your own community and face the same sort of scrutiny So, it would be nice of you to allow women to have control over this discourse; that is empowering in itself.
- “But the Prophet (pbuh) was a man why can’t I as a man police how women should wear the Hijab?”
Because you’re not the Prophet (pbuh). He was infallible, you’re not. He is one of the two major sources for Islamic jurisprudence. You are a fellow Muslim, just like me.
- “But I only say it because I care about my sister in Islam!”
That’s nice. But realize that your “care” is part of a patriarchal construct. The concern with the female body stems from an entitlement to control it. If you cared, you’d also care about other aspects of faith, still, I’m yet to see any concern of equal proportions when a prayer is missed, or Zakat is not paid, or a woman is domestically abused, or a Hajj not performed, or a Muslim is publicly slandered, or women are deprived of their God-given rights etc. etc. etc. Oh, what is that? That’s a private matter? They answer to God, not you? So how is Hijab any different then?
- “All I wanna do is help my sisters!”
That is noble of you. Realize that shaming and pressuring them to do as you please won’t achieve that. Constant nagging and “Why aren’t you wearing Hijab?” inquiries only achieved one thing for me: Push me further away from Hijab. So don’t feel like you are in some sort of superior position from which you can “save your Muslim sister from the darkness of not being a Hijabi” by pressuring her into wearing Hijab. It has to come with conviction — if it doesn’t, the ramifications will be severe. (e.g. if she wears it because people are pressuring her to and then faces a lot of hostility and racism while wearing it, you will be blamed; if it’s done out of conviction, nothing can shake the core).
- “I know this girl who took off her Hijab and that’s so wrong because Hijab is a life time commitment, I just don’t understand why she can’t keep it on”
Chances are she took it off because she was pressured into wearing it in the first place. Or because she was facing negative repercussions from her surroundings (believe it or not, many Muslim families are against their daughters wearing Hijab; let alone non-Muslim families). Or because the pressure from the community to be perfect in outward actions took away her focus on improving inwardly (e.g. concern with making the community shut up about her outfit choices outweighing the concern with pleasing her Creator etc). Or maybe because she realized she’s wearing it for the wrong reasons. Or maybe for other reasons. I don’t know. But good for her, she doesn’t owe you an explanation. People develop, people go through phases in their lives. They answer to God, and He ‘azza wa jal knows.
- “She doesn’t deserve to wear Hijab because she does X, Y and Z and that’s wrong so she might as well not wear Hijab at all!”
Hijab isn’t a trophy you get once you’ve achieved perfect-Muslim-status. Also, sinning in one way doesn’t disqualify you from following God’s commandments in other ways. So if you think that wearing Hijab is obligatory, your statement of “She shouldn’t wear hijab because she does X” is the equivalent of “She shouldn’t pray her five daily prayers because she does X”. Exactly. It doesn’t make sense. And it’s not up to you to decide how people are allowed to follow God’s commandments. So while a woman sinning while in Hijab might not be aesthetically pleasing to you, remember that everyone struggles in different ways and that just because your struggles differ, it doesn’t mean that one of you is inferior to the other.
I’ve also written about this here.