I believe the Muslim world needs a #NoHijabDay to return the power of choice to Muslim women!
The hijab, more than any other cultural signal, is the most ready identifier of Islam today. Almost twenty years after 9/11, the world is still seeing a rise in Islamophobia. Islamophobes of the physically aggressive variety zero in on to these cultural signals and the hijab is the most obvious one. Hijab wearing women are victims of these attacks quite sadly possibly due to their perceived vulnerability. They need greater protection from the community.
Although this piece will criticise and deny the hijab as a command from Allah, let me be very clear – I respect the right of any woman to wear whatever she chooses within the bounds of the law. While I do not approve of the cultural invasion the hijab represents – my own native Malay culture has been changed beyond recognition thanks to the Arabisation brought about with the hijab – I do acknowledge that this is a cultural democracy. If people choose to accept it, who am I to deny them that right? After all, for many Muslim women, the hijab represents their attempt to become modest and we must support them for that.
What I am speaking out against is the attitude that Islamofascists take about the hijab. They tend to impugn women who do not wear it claiming they are ‘modernists’ or ‘liberals’ and worse, question their morals. This judgemental attitude is worsened by the fact that they claim that the hijab is an Islamic duty, overlooking the fact that, although the Quran does mention the word ‘hijab’, it never uses the word to mean ‘headcover’. This linguistic incongruence in itself should indicate the logical gymnastics required to prove that it is mandatory. There are actually many arguments against the hijab in my understanding of the Quran but that warrants an article in itself.
In Malaysia, hijab-related politics has given room for the patriarchy to exert even greater control over women. Far from respecting the rights of women not to wear the hijab, they even attack the various styles of hijabs and some even insist that nothing short of the full face veil suffices. Worse still, when Malay-Muslims do wear the hijab, they are thus subject to the patriarchy’s criticisms in an attempt to control their movements.
Last month, it was the case of the Malaysian Muslim entrepreneur Neelofa who launched her new style hijab in a nightclub called Zouk in the Malaysian capital city. It was an unorthodox place to launch such a product, to be sure, but the condemnations she received were far from warranted. Some even called her a disbeliever and called for strict punishment to be taken. In the end, she had to publicly apologise.
The point here is not whether it was appropriate for Neelofa to launch her product in a nightclub. The point is, the fact that her product is associated with Islam, makes her accountable in the eyes of the Islamofascists. She is therefore subject to their control and must follow what they consider appropriate. So while they are ok with changing our cultural landscape, they are not OK with hijabis taking control of the hijab’s cultural trajectory.
The Neelofa case is but a single issue in the long history of the hijab being used as a tool of the battle of the sexes. In Malaysia, there is a growing number of ex-hijabis who have decided to remove their hijabs and they face intense backlash from the Muslim community. One only needs to search for ‘Maryam Lee’ (social activist) or ‘Uqasha Senrose’ (actress) to see the glaring examples.
This is why I believe we need a #NoHijabDay. We already have a #WorldHijabDay (which recently happened on the first of February) so why not a #NoHijabDay? It is a day when hijabi women show solidarity with their non-hijabi sisters and say ‘We stand with you. Even though we believe the hijab is a religious obligation, we choose to take it off today to stand with you. We deny the patriarchy their right to choose for us’. This can be a powerful message to the Iranian women who recently took off their hijabs and now face persecution.
I believe a sentiment such as this is just the antidote to the oppression of the Islamofascist patriarchy. #NoHijabDay