M.I.A.’s Niqab: Costume or Comment?

For Spike TV’s “Scream 2010″ Awards, M.I.A. wore a niqab. There’s another image here.


Image via Getty.

Thanks to Jezebel for the tip.

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  • http://DeadAmericanDream.blogspot.com Jihad Punk 77

    I thought her niqab/abaya was hilarious and brilliant. The prints on her dress are the same images taken from her new album and one of her music videos. I dont know how M.I.A feels about the burqa ban in France, but my guess is that she thought it was stupid, too. I love the concept of a dark skinned brown woman wearing a colorful niqab and flipping the bird at the paps. It’s M.I.A meets Princess Hijab

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    I think it’s nice that she’s trying to make a statement using the burkha too. One thing I’ve noticed is that even though she also dresses as outrageously as Lady Gaga (remember her polka dot ensemble for the Grammys) for attention, that she’s not talked about and praised for her work like Gaga. I’ve heard her lack of attention is due to a combination of things including racism (because she doesn’t act all “exotic” and “demure” like a South Asian woman should in the public limelight) and the public’s dislike over her “politics” (her stance on terrorism for example). What do you guys think?

  • PinkMuslimah

    finger: comment

  • JJ

    But, she’s not dark skinned, she’s barely even brown…???

  • http://www.notmyhijab.squarespace.com Khadija Anderson

    Since MIA is Sri Lankan, there is a good chance that she is Muslim, or has Muslim relatives…Either way, good for her!!!

  • Lara A

    Dear M.I.A,

    If you like dressing as a Muslim so much, please feel free to convert to the religion.

    Otherwise, please stop appropriating Muslim clothing in order to seem ‘edgy’ and ‘dangerous’ it makes you look like a vacuous try-hard. Our clothes are not ‘terrorist chic’ and you do us no favours by showing them in that light.

    Thank you.

    Folks, this is no better then non Native Americans wearing feathered headdresses. If you wouldn’t give a hipstar a pass for that, you can’t give M.I.A praise for this.

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  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH


    That’s true you have a point there. I guess it would be good to know in what context she’s wearing this under. Is she trying to make some sort of statement with it (something political but not necessarily about terrorism but more in reference to that whole burkha ban in France)? Or is she as you say appropriating for the sake of cheap publicity (like Kesha and her Indian headdress)? It would be good to hear if she’s said anything about this.
    And now that I think of it maybe whatever statement she’s trying to make will just fly over people’s heads here because they’ll conflate burkha with terror and since MIA’s stance on terrorism is pretty clear, they’ll just disregard her real reason for donning this…

  • http://www,vsthepomegranate.blogspot.com Joe Shahadi

    I don’t think it’s the same as wearing a Native headdress because the type of oppression being parodied here is fundamentally different. From the beginning Native people were simultaneously emulated in theory and reviled in person: white people have been “playing Indian” since the “discovery” of the Americas–and the appropriation of Native dress is rightly viewed as part and parcel of their oppression. Euro-American antipathy to Muslims (always racialized as Arab or South Asian) has no such element of racist appropriation. As long as the “covered woman”is going to be employed as a racist trope it is fair game for re-appropriation, which is how I understand what MIA is doing here.

    Granted, the niqab has no cultural or religious context for me, so I am reacting to it more broadly–as a sign for ALL eastern/brown/beige/tan/peach/Arabs/Middle Eastern folks/South Asians etc etc who are sick of being the designated boogeymen for white power structures. In that spirit I say: good on MIA.

  • http://culturalfascinations.blogspot.com/ SakuraPassion

    I see what she’s trying say, but many people may or may not be aware of her political aspects of her music. Thus, people will think this is just a publicity stunt. I personally do feel that she’s taking a jab at the French burqa ban. But her reasons for donning the niqab could be interpreted in many other ways. Perhaps she’s trying subvert the Muslim woman=oppressed stereotype. Even though she’s not Muslim.

    @Lara A

    I also think you have a point, but I agree with RCHOUDH, I don’t think she’s going for “terrorist chic.”

  • http://blog.hichamaged.net/ Hicham Maged

    I think this is her way to publicize what-is-supposed-to-be-a-song titled “XXXO” and you can spot it written over her dress. Moreover, I found this review about this ’song’ where the RollingStones says:

    When M.I.A. sings, “You want me be somebody who I’m really not,” she does it with her middle finger raised high, pointing squarely at your face.

    – link: (rollingstone.com/music/news/14639/85545)

    For me, this review explains such photo. Nevertheless, I actually wonder about two things:
    -1- how did the idea come to wear this in the 1st place?
    -2- and who the heck has designed this very ugly dress?

    Finally, if we try to imagine that there’s a comment behind such appearance, then I wonder why we suppose it’s anti-burka ban policies only? It could be the contrary; against burka itself. The possibilities are the same for me till something else show up!

  • Lara A

    Salaam Alaikum,

    While face covering can be found in many cultures, the fact remains that the niqab in our context is viewed as a piece of clothing associated and worn by Muslim women.

    One of the most harmful things the media does is to exoticise the niqab, taking it away from what it actually is, which is an every day piece of clothing worn by women all over the world.

    I do not see how M.I.A’s posing helps achieve the acceptance of women who wear niqab whatsoever. She’s done it to be controversial and attract attention, whereas women who wear niqab are seeking the exact opposite.

    She’s worn it to BE provactive and actually posed with her middle finger up, which is exactly what the mainstream media accuse women wearig niqab of doing (how many times have you heard face veiling being described as provocative?). She’s playing into the stereotypes and doing so for her own publicity.

    M.I.A gets her moment in the spotlight then goes home and takes it off. Meanwhile, women who wear niqab are being denied their civil liberties and being attacked in the streets.

    She’s wearing it as fancy dress, that’s offensive, regardless of her ethnicity.

  • http://www.vsthepomegranate.blogspot.com Joseph Shahadi

    I respect your point of view and I am not trying to be difficult but I think you aren’t appreciating the larger context for an image like this.

    The niqab (and all manner of modest Islamic dress) is ALREADY exoticized in the West and it is that dynamic MIA is commenting on here. You are quite right that non-Muslims adopting Islamic garb is something that should be unpacked–but Islamophobia is a shotgun blast, not a laser beam and it impacts a lot of us who aren’t Muslim. My point is that there is a significant difference between hipster fancy-dress culture shopping (i.e. henna tattoos, bindis, dreadlocks, etc.) and an artist re-appropriating an orientalist symbol that implicates her and gleefully up-ending it in front of a big bunch of white people, which is what MIA is up to here. I don’t think anyone is arguing that her goal here is to help “achieve the acceptance of women who wear niqab” but rather to push back at the sexist/orientalist/Islamophobic scenario that South Asian/Arab/Middle Eastern women deal with every day, whether they are Muslim or not.

  • chuu

    I love MIA’s niqab, but I also love to hate it…
    The more the hijab is used, the more people will recognize it and start seeing it as a regular thing and not a threat. All publicity is good publicity!

    Go MIA :D

  • Lara A

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Chuu – If all publicity was good publicity, the burka/niqab would be the most loved and adored item of clothing on the planet. But it’s not.

    Joseph – The Niqab is not M.I.A’s to reappropriate. I can’t stress that enough. You can’t re-appropriate something that is not yours to begin with, however ‘gleefully’. It is an item of clothing associated with Muslim women and she is not a Muslim woman.

    Think of the stereotypes aimed at women who wear niqab, from the fact that they are oppressed, to them being defiant and refusing to fit into Western society, those stereotypes are not aimed solely at the niqab itself, but at the way of life that is seen to go with it. That a woman can choose to cover her face in public all the time is what people object to.

    How is a non-Muslim women putting on niqab and then taking it off again later going to counteract any of those stereotypes? There has to be a better answer than, ‘but she’s soooo cool’.

  • zanjabil

    She did this to get publicity…and I must say it’s been very effective. I’m honestly tired of seeing this pic, it’s been on every other (slight exaggeration) blog. Who cares!! She did it for attention, it has nothing to do with Muslimahs,really.

  • http://www.nuseiba.wordpress.com Sahar- Nuseiba

    I think i’m with Lara on this one. I love M.I.A’s music (rather the person), especially for its politics. However, I think she’s mistaken here even if her intentions are in solidarity with women who wear it. Despite the negative coverage of the niqaab and the political climate in which criticism of it has emerged, the niqaab seems to have become a commodity( like the hijab )for fashionistas and subversive types due to its shock-value and exoticism. I don’t really see what M.I.A has done as any different from other cultural symbols or political slogans that have been (re) appropriated to fit the insatiable demands of consumer culture.

  • Maha

    As a Muslim, I honestly believe that there’s nothing inherently Islamic about hijab/niqab. Head covering and face covering has historically been part of other non-Islamic cultures throughout time. I think Muslims seriously need to move away from representation. Just like the 9/11 hijackers don’t represent all Saudi men (or Muslims for that matter), a niqabi-M.I.A. doesn’t represent Muslim women in any way, shape or form. Representation is one of the most dangerous businesses right now. Why should anyone represent me because they look or dress like me? If you want to be accepted as a niqabi in society, accept the way a non-Muslim chooses to dress as well (even if they are wearing clothes usually associated with Muslim—which is absurd bc we all know there is no such thing as “Muslim garbs”—). Or wait, maybe there is such thing as Muslim garbs: http://muslimswearingthings.tumblr.com/

  • http://www.youtube.com/KimDonesia KimDonesia

    I think she’s great, and to be frank, she can wear whatever the hell she wants. The niqab is a part of Saudi Arabian culture, so if she wants to wear it, it doesn’t mean she has to convert to Islam. A lot of Muslim women wear a niqab, but heck, it’s irrelevant to Islam.

    That’s like saying you need to be Jamaican to wear Bob Marley on your t-shirt. “Aaah wearing a Bob Marley t-shirt, why don’t you just convert to Rastafarianism already!!?”

    Not to mention her music video for her song XXXO has an Arab feel to it. I think she was just sporting the niqab to market her XXXO song… Nothing to do with Islam.

  • Dina

    MIA’s father is a deceased Tamil Tiger militant, so I would guess she is Hindu by religion.
    While some of her political “engagement” (which really is throwing around “provocative” opinions which often contradict each other) is interesting, her niqab appearance makes me uncomfortable. She is regularly lumping together revolutionary/freedom fighter causes the world over that have very little in common, and vary – in my opinion – largely in legitimacy. Throwing together the Tamil fight in her Native country, and the PLO is of bad taste to me. Like some wanna-be revolutionaries, I have the feeling she has first appropriated the Palestinian cause for her world view, and now it seems to be niqab. Not very suitable, in my opinion, nor applaudable.

  • Muhammad

    Hey guys, what’s with all the fighting? She’s free to do whatever she likes, without having a wave of self-righteous mosque-going demagogues tell her otherwise. You guys are so controlling over others

    • Fatemeh

      @ Muhammad: We’re discussing. She’s in the media, and we critique media images of Muslim women. Though she isn’t Muslim, the niqab is a high-profile symbol of Islam and Muslim women, and so we’re discussing her use of the niqab. That’s…what we do here. <_<

  • http://www,vsthepomegranate.blogspot.com Joseph Shahadi

    I’m not trying to prolong this, I said what I thought already.

    But, just as a point of clarity:

    The Tamil Tigers trained with Arafat’s PLO in the 70s. Both groups were/are secular and Marxist and despite the particular differences in their situations found points of identification with one another. So while I don’t pretend to know MIA’s thinking it isn’t correct to characterize her as “appropriating” the Palestinian struggle to legitimize Tamil politics. If she is referencing Palestine at all here (which isn’t clear in any case) then that association is a historically valid one, not a shallow appropriation.

  • http://www,vsthepomegranate.blogspot.com Joseph Shahadi

    Oops, that was meant for @Dina. Sorry.

  • Aaminah

    Total disrespect!