Let’s celebrate International Women’s Day but No Hijab Please

Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.

International women’s day falls on the Wednesday 8th March this year. A day all about Embracing Equity. The official website states on the home page:

Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.

Sounds pretty utopian and this statement and list of values suggest hijab is part of the conversation. Surely it is an all-encompassing sentiment that not only are men and women equal, making the case for abolishing the gender pay gap, but also that all women are equal. Internationally. That women dressed in Saris deserve the same respect and appreciation as those wearing suits, kimonos or the African dashiki. That regardless of skin colour, language or religion, all are entitled to a voice equally loud and equally heard. But as we have seen with the preferential treatment of some war victims over others arriving from elsewhere, these sentiments do not always translate into actions.

But we may wonder why the war on Hijab is so lasting and so antagonistic and why the attacks on Muslim women in the media are tolerated.

So many false and baseless ideas are being associated with Hijab and it is not only the non-Muslim masses assimilating these, but our very own Muslim sisters and daughters are beginning to believe them too.

Hijab is anti-freedom

One such idea suggests that Hijab is restrictive and therefore anti-freedom. Freedom is seen as doing what you want when you want but is that truly freedom? Are women not trapped in the cage of comparison, commodity and sexualisation consumed by fashion, image and fear of ageing? In a world where external beauty determines value and fairness and flawlessness elevate the woman’s perceived power and appeal, hijab categorically opposes this, removes those shackles and pulls the beholder out of this futile race. However, where hijab has become an accessory worn with fashionable clothing rather than directing what is worn, we often subject ourselves to these very shackles and standards once again.

Hijab is a regressive, old-fashioned practice

Another idea is to label hijab as an outdated practice no longer relevant in today’s world. No rational individual would ever actively choose the regressive option, so hijab loses, right? But in fact it is evident to see that modesty often increases with a woman’s level of education, social status and with maturity. Hijab and modesty are natural consequences of our intrinsic nature and inner purity as exemplified by Adam and Eve when they first felt exposed and gathered leaves to cover themselves, despite the absence of any onlookers.

Here are 2 reasons I think Hijab is being fought with such ferocity:

Firstly, Hijab doesn’t fit with the capitalist model of society in the West which relies on one’s insecurities fueling endless pursuits and purchases and therefore the constant need to keep earning so we can keep spending. As someone aptly put it recently ’doing jobs we hate, to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like!’

Secondly, Islam and Muslims through sheer numbers, strong beliefs and influence have become a force to be reckoned with. Their strength of discipline is enviable and their devotion to their God gives them focus, patience and integrity.

But false depictions of Islam, defamatory ideas and propaganda are not new. Centuries ago, Muslims and the Middle East were also targeted. The consequence was a de-humanisation and inaccurate perception by Westerners towards the East.

Labelling Hijab as a sign of oppressing women is one such way to create an image of a barbaric religion that repels and angers others while causing members within it to question and harbour doubt.

Two well-travelled and open minded ladies from the upper classes of London society in the 18th and 19th centuries wrote letters of their experiences of the Middle East that challenged these false perceptions. They received much criticism for being so outspoken. Lady Mary Montague and later Lady Duff Gordon wrote of their experiences of the Middle East especially with regards to gender, religion and lifestyle.

They dispelled many of the stereotypes and misconceptions about the region of Islam with specific focus on Turkey and Egypt. They found that the relationships between men and women were not as strained and abusive as was constructed in the West. In their letters, both women show an interest in reading and understanding the Quran and its teachings whilst recognising that European interpretations depict it as an evil and violent book. Interestingly, the women also wrote about interaction between the genders and that ‘these women’ had freedoms that many in Europe did not possess.

Lady Montague believed that the veil was actually a way for a woman to exercise her freedom rather than be constrained into a life away from mainstream society. In other words, it allowed women to be full participants in the society in which they lived.

So this International Women’s Day, let us not allow our beliefs about our own religion and its guidelines to be shaped by anyone else, especially not those looking to poison the narrative on Islam.

Islam continues to grow and defy all its critics. The recent conversion by prominent US based catholic priest Father Hilarion Heagy is yet another testament to the pull of Islam and its beauty. Islam and the Quran came to halt oppressive practises against women at a time when they were rife. The Quran speaks with gentleness and protectiveness of women.

Whatever cultural and ignorant oppressive practises and views against women exist, they are not Islam and far from its teachings. Neither are they in keeping with Allah’s justice nor the Holy Prophet’s treatment of the women in his Holy Household.

Allah (SWT) says in the Quran ‘The believers, men and women are helpers, supporters and friends and protectors of one another’ (9:71) And ‘and their Lord answered them – I do not allow the labour of any worker from among you, male or female, to go to waste, you are similar to one another’ (3:195)

Religion is one of the protected characteristics under the equality act 2010. This means discrimination whether direct or indirect is absolutely unacceptable and against the law whether at work or wider society.

As Muslim women, this International Women’s Day, whether hijab wearing or not, let’s be more aware of the value of hijab and that if it wasn’t a threat, it wouldn’t be so aggressively fought! Let’s reclaim the narrative around our modesty.  Let’s be bolder and braver in calling out prejudice. Let’s exemplify all the beautiful characteristics that Islam teaches us so we can win the hearts and minds of everyone we interact with, for we are all ambassadors for this religion and as Imam Sadiq (AS) says ‘Let your actions advocate for us and not turn people away from us (Bihar Al-Anwar v 68, p310)

, , , , ,

Keep Reading