What the Hijab does NOT do

What the Hijab does NOT do December 5, 2011

Before TLC’s “All-American Muslim” aired a few weeks back, I and several other journalists received two episodes to watch and review, so I knew that Samira Amen-Fawaz, who wore a headscarf as a child/teenager and then later took it off after 9/11, would be donning her hijab again. She had a number of reasons for doing it, but what alarmed me was when she visited her local imam to ask for advice on infertility.

In her discussions about what her and her husband’s options were for infertility treatments, she also mentioned that she was considering wearing the hijab again, and was thinking that she had been receiving a wake-up call from God asking her to do what was right, and if she did so, maybe He would shower his blessings upon her.

Alarm bells ringing.

Although neither she nor the imam drew a direct correlation between hijab and having a baby, I knew that’s what would be taken from that exchange. Over at Muslimah Media Watch, guest blogger “wood turtle” wrote a very interesting post addressing this very issue and various things attributed to wearing the hijab, for better or for worse:

Hijab: As Seen on TV

Introducing the Hijab 5000! Your life will be transformed within seconds of putting it on! Not only will it protect you from the untoward gaze of lustful and sexually uncontrollable men, but you’ll sure turn heads when everyone hears of your hijab’s scientific miracles. With just one application, the hijab will deep condition and protect your gorgeous locks from pollution; keep you warm by helping you retain 40-60% of your body heat; protect you from the sun’s harmful rays; promote healthy hygiene – no more stray hairs in your salad; boost your self-esteem; pave the way for marriage proposals; grant you protection from the evil-eye and cure your infertility!

I love it when the media sensationalises the hijab – othering, exotifying and generalising a personal religious symbol. But Muslims sensationalise the hijab too. While a few of the above “facts” are actually true, they’re often used to market the hijab beyond reasons of modesty, religious adherence or identity with Islam.

Hijab influencing one’s fertility is something I recently heard on TLC’s All-American Muslim. Now, I know the show is reality TV – the aim is to sensationalise and pick up on minuscule but shocking sound-bites just to blow them out of proportion. So I wasn’t that surprised when looking through their online clips I found one called, “Hijab’s Influence on Infertility.”

Though after watching the clips, reading reviews, and speaking to fans of the show, I would have simply called it: “Women wear or don’t wear the hijab for a million different reasons.”

(But wood turtle, it’s just a title – lighten up! I know, I know. But it reminded me of all the little, ubiquitous ways the media continues to perpetrate misunderstandings about hijab. So I’m going to take this opportunity to complain.)

So in last week’s episode, Samira Amen-Fawaz decided to put on the hijab. She wore hijab pre-9/11 but took it off believing that people saw the hijab as something “scary.”

One of her many reasons for putting it back on includes her desire to become closer to God, in the hopes that by doing so, she’ll have the support to get through this trying time of infertility while she and her husband attempt to produce a child. Now, she doesn’t overtly say, “wearing hijab will help me get pregnant” but simply explains in a twelve second sound bite, that her infertility struggles are a sign from God saying, “when are you going to wake up and listen to me?”

Naturally, this is the point reality TV wants to exploit.

Samira spends the rest of the episode experimenting with a funky, not-at-all-scary pink and orange florescent hijab; receiving compliments from her family when they see her in hijab; saying she wants her hijab to be friendly; claiming that she can still swim whenever she wants to and that she feels “God will protect her” from any negative attitudes.

The show also discusses hijab in a quick roundtable with a few of the other “stars.” The women all agree that non-hijabis are 100% Muslim and a hijabi on the panel states she has no right to say otherwise.

It’s the men who claim that, “a Muslim woman who wears the hijab is empowered because she controls how much men can or cannot see. And as men we sometimes don’t think with our upper head.”

Classy. Well, it is reality TV.

 Click here to read the rest of the Muslimah Media Watch blog post.

Well readers, what do you think? Had reality television exploited a woman’s decision to put on her hijab, making it to be about an infertility issue? Is the hijab a magical ticket to receive God’s good graces? (I would say no, being as I wear hijab and that has not been the case with me …)

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