The hijab has been getting a lot of attention lately. Women who wear the hijab (Islamic head covering) are becoming more vocal, asserting their existence in a world that has attempted to define them. Women who wear the hijab are speaking, shouting, writing, running, jumping, strutting, fencing, dancing and singing their way to recognition, in an attempt to redefine themselves on their own terms, to show the world that hey, we wear the hijab and we can do anything.
Anything and everything. NOTHING holds me back.
I am a proud, hijab-wearing, independent, Muslim WOMAN who can make her own choices and do whatever she wants.
And the world is seemingly responding. People seem to be accepting the fact that (believe it or not!) Muslim women who wear the hijab are. Just. Human. Female. Girls. ETC. who happen to cover their heads and most of their bodies.
Which is of course a good thing. Right?
The “modest fashion” market is recognised as a booming niche that big corporations need to tap into. From Nike, to MNG, corporations are wholeheartedly embracing (or cashing in on, whichever way you prefer to see it) Muslim women by creating collections specifically for them, all touting the #diversity trend.
Hijab style bloggers are now found in abundance and are making waves by normalising modest fashion.
In fact, we just had our first hijabi model strut the runways at NYFW, with many applauding this “huge step forward” for the Muslim, hijab-wearing woman.
I happen to be a Muslim, hijab-wearing woman, and somehow, I do not think this is a huge step forward for us. I think this is a step in completely the wrong direction. Why do I think it’s wrong? Because it reveals this desperate need to “show” the world that we hijab-wearers are “completely normal” and more so, that we can also do “anything”.
Furthermore, it still espouses the concept of the “self” that is the object of worship in this 21st century.
Most of these things that we seem to be stamping our presence into are things that have all been done before by women, who just happened to not wear the hijab. And I’m saying hijab specifically because there are models who are Muslim, but just do not observe the hijab. There have been Muslim female athletes who have competed in the Olympics, but they just don’t wear the hijab. There are Muslim female journalists, professors, doctors etc who just do not wear the hijab.
I know the struggles and difficulties that hijab-wearing women face, the stigma that is attached to this choice of ours to cover ourselves and how much we have needed to work to bring down these walls of misunderstanding, of ignorance, of fear, outside our culture, and within it.
But simply throwing ourselves into EVERYTHING is not going to help us either. When we make the decision to do things that are entirely against the core values of our religion, it will inevitably harm us. Our religion is based on guidelines that clearly show us the limits of what we can and can’t do. This is something that we should have confidence in, that we have a framework that shows us how to tread the middle path, not throws us into an open field, leaving us to meander along aimlessly. We shouldn’t be trying to mould the religion to suit our desires and wants in this life, we should be trying to mould ourselves to do what our Creator has decreed for us.
I’m going to take the example of modelling and fashion. It is by its very nature an exhibitionist, shallow and demeaning industry. It uses women’s bodies with the intention to objectify and exploit. How then do we applaud and cheer when a Muslim, hijab-wearing woman has now been “accepted” by this industry? How do we say to ourselves, YES, this is progress, when the whole situation is such a contradiction. When a Muslim hijab-wearing woman can strut Kanye West’s runway and met and was styled by him and his wife Kim Kardashian. Yes, let’s pat ourselves on the back and be proud of our “steps forward”.
As we seemingly take these “steps forward”, in reality, we are taking steps backward as the more we engage in such acts, the further we move away from a core tenet of our Deen; the need for humility.
And the great irony is that as we scramble to show the world that we can do “anything”in our hijabs because we are striving to smash the Western narrative that Muslim women are controlled by men and were forced to wear the hijab, we are simply doing this in a way that still frames us within their narrative, within their definitions of what being a successful, independent, strong woman is.
That she must be beautiful. That she is valued for her appearance. That she must exhibit herself to the world in designer labels and a contoured face with fake eyelashes and lip fillers and plastic surgery, that she must strut down a runway to be an object, a clothes hanger… with a hijab on and an IG feed full of selfies to document all this.
It actually makes me incredibly sad. It makes me so sad because I think about the example that we are setting for our young girls. Are we showing them anything different? Are we showing them that we need to hold onto the rope of our Deen, and that this might (or does) look different from the “norm”, and that no, we don’t need to strive to be styled by Kim and Kanye, and that this is something that we should be thankful for, that we should be confident in, as Muslims.
Not as women. Not as hijab-wearing women.
But as a Muslim. As a servant of Allah (swt).
That we are able to be confident in what Allah (swt) has decreed for us and not just attempt to “break down barriers” simply for its own sake. Not because “hey, I want to be the first so-and-so to do this in a hijab…” so that I can “go viral”, oops I mean, “break stereotypes” and “empower women…”
What we are taking away from ourselves and our youth is the history, the beauty, the wisdom, the incredibly unique culture and religion that they come from and we are telling them that this is superseded by the need to fit into this (Western) world.
We are not taking back our own narrative. We are not redefining our selves. In fact we are fighting to be permeated, assimilated, obliterated into a culture whose values are against everything that the religion that we so obviously parade and hold up the flag with our hijabs, stands for.
This is not to say that “Western culture” is “wrong”. What I’m referring to is the capitalist, consumerist, exhibitionist, narcissistic, shallow and exploitative culture of fashion, of music, of Hollywood and so on.
Delpozo’s Fall/Winter 2017 Ready to Wear collection was interesting for me because the collection included this…
Hijab? Nope. Just “art”. Just “fashion”. Just “ready-to-wear”. Just Vogue.
How different is it from this?
Both are art and fashion. Both are simply garments. Both objectify women by placing them on a platform strutting to fast-paced music. One is designed by a non-Muslim, the other by a hijab-wearing female Muslim designer. Sure the intentions are different, but the outcome is the same. Both place the woman as an object to be gawked at.
And so, “hijab” by any other name is simply…fashion.
Unless, we define ourselves, our hijab, in the terms of the religion that we claim to follow. Unless we take back the definitions of what it means to be female and Muslim.
There is another way to “break stereotypes”. There is another way to engage with the fashion world. A way that does not compromise the values of the religion that we proclaim to want to teach the world about. A way that is confident and uncompromising and unique.
Yes we live in this world, but we do not live for this world. And our attempts to be seen as “normal” should not come at the cost of our values. We should revel in the beauty of our religion and go out into the world confident in it, not for the sake of this world, or for society, or culture, or breaking down stereotypes, or acceptance, but for the sake of pleasing our Creator.
I am not raising my daughter with the mantra of the 21st Century, “you can be anything you want to be…” I want to raise my daughter to spend her life seeking what it is that Allah swt has decreed for her, and to fulfil this purpose, not for her to pursue her passions, her desires and her whims, which can ultimately lead her to folly. I want her to pursue the path that Allah swt has written for her, one that teaches her to put her Self aside, one that teaches her to serve humanity, the one that teaches her to have mercy, compassion, and humility…
Featured image source.