Guest-Post: Modesty Goes Beyond the Hijab

Guest-Post: Modesty Goes Beyond the Hijab October 28, 2016

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This is the second guest-post from my friend Farah Shah. Farah is an aspiring writer who is based in Canada. She did her bachelors in Sociology, and later specialized in Communications. She has an unbridled love for fashion, and bunnies. This is her Facebook page. You can read her other post here.

I hail from a *comparatively* “liberal” family. Comparatively is the key word here – liberal compared to most Desi Muslim families in Pakistan. But still not liberal or progressive in the *real sense* of the word. My family was one that actively discouraged hijab, and not just my immediate family but also my extended family.

My family’s outrage towards the hijab goes up to the point where any woman in our family who would decide on wearing the hijab had a really hard time gaining acceptance, and not many went into that direction given the fact that it was always actively discouraged. But hell, my family buys into the modesty doctrine just as much as anyone else within the culture – they have just found other ways of thrusting it on women without any need for the hijab. Here is something that my mother always says, “I don’t believe in the hijab, the point was never to hide your hair, but to hide the more sexually appealing parts of your body.” She believes herself to be “too liberal” a Muslim for the hijab. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are so many ways to enforce that modesty without ever enforcing the hijab, like:

  • Not “allow” women to wear short dresses that show their legs.
  • Not “allow” women to wear sleeveless shirts or tanktops that show their cleavage (not allow them even if the tanktops don’t show cleavage because exposing shoulders is bad enough)
  • Not “allow” women to wear a pair of jeans or a pair of tights because these things accentuate the shape of their legs or their ass.
  • Not “allow” women to wear tight shirts cause, you know, seeing the shape of her body will lead everyone straight to hell.
  • Not “allow” short skirts or shorts because, again, bare legs be such a taboo.

The list goes on, you get the drift.

I’ve seen so many live with these fucked up rules – I have lived with some of them of them myself, and it suffocates you to a point where you wish you simply didn’t exist. And people and communities making such fucked up rules always have this cop out to throw at you: “OH HEY, why you have a problem? I never forced you to wear any hijab! We are progressive, you are so fucking lucky!

I realize I absolutely cannot compare my experience to the women who practically had the hijab forced on them, I will never know how emotionally and physically violating that could feel. I do realize that to have not had the hijab forced on me IS a privilege of sorts. But the modesty doctrine poisoned me, too. Though it poisoned me in more subtle ways, it fucked me up nonetheless. The discussion about modesty in Muslim communities needs to move beyond just a discussion of hijab – the modesty doctrine goes much further than that, it very tactfully preys on women never forced into wearing the hijab or niqab or burqa.

Modesty is the monster that takes many forms: Sometimes it takes the form of violent threats from a woman’s family, telling her she’d be beaten if she doesn’t wear the hijab. Other times it takes the form of being berated and humiliated not because you didn’t wear the hijab but because you had the gall to wear a sleeveless shirt that reveals “too much collarbone”.

So you see, not forcing the hijab alone on a woman does not automatically make one progressive, or make one way beyond this bullshit. So even if we are to take hijab completely out of the equation, is that enough to beat or get rid of such bullshit thinking? I think it just becomes very important that when the criticism of hijab is done, it is done in the broader issue of the concept of modesty as a whole and criticize all the ways in which it is enforced – even without the hijab. There are more ways than one of trying to control women’s bodies.

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