I remember getting ready to go to school, and right before I left, I grabbed my hijab, the one that I wore when praying and reading the Qur’an. My father asked me, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I said “Yes.” He bent down to kiss me on the forehead and on my nose with his nose. He smiled.
I started wearing the hijab because my mother did, my sister in law as well as my sister. These women are my role models and I wanted to look like them. I saw that the hijab was a significant component of their Islamic physical and spiritual identity, and I wanted the hijab to be that for me too, and it is. My father didn’t tell me to wear it, but he praised me for doing so. My mother didn’t want me to wear it and she told me continuously not to. She told me that I would be treated differently by people because they don’t agree with what I stand for. When I asked her ‘Why is it okay for you to wear the hijab, but not me?’ She responded with ‘I am old, and I wasn’t born here, you are young, and you were born here. You can wear it later, maybe when you are married, but just focus on your studies first.’ I didn’t listen to my mother, and I’m glad I didn’t. She was looking out for me, but I didn’t want to compromise my deen (faith) because other people might think or feel differently about me.
As I grew older, I continuously heard through different British, French and American media outlets and platforms that ‘Muslim women are oppressed’, ‘the hijab is oppressive’. Growing up, I realised that everyone who voiced this opinion on how my dear mother, sister in law and sister dressed were mainly non-Muslim white men or women. In social and political debates surrounding the hijab, Muslim women who wore the hijab were never present to voice their own opinion on a discussion where they themselves were the subject. The Muslim woman was only seen through a white medium, in relation to how she is perceived by the ruling classes in society.
Although some young Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab, not all are. A lot of Muslim women, especially in the West, wear it because they want to. Therefore, by telling a Muslim woman who chooses to cover, that she is oppressed, is contradictory. And by not allowing Muslim women to wear the hijab if they want to is oppressive. The way a woman dresses and expresses herself physically is her choice, she oversees how she constructs her own identity. Who are you to prevent that? In contemporary society, the hijab has been highly politicised, and many people feel the need to voice their own opinions on female Islamic wear, whilst disregarding the actual people who are affected by this subject matter. The media has played a significant role in constructing how Muslims and Islam are perceived, especially after 2001.
We live in a society which tells women that female empowerment and liberation only lies within sexual expression. However, when Kim Kardashian posted a nude selfie on Instagram in 2016, she received backlash for it. People said that she was showing that women have only their bodies to offer. However, isn’t the freedom of physical and bodily expression something mainstream feminism has been working for, for years? On the other hand, when Rihanna wore her thread bare dress in 2014 on the red carpet, she was praised for it. It was labelled as one of the boldest feminist statements the music industry had ever seen.
There is evidently a double standard of how women are perceived, and this is based on intersectional factors such as race and overt physical displays of religion etc. My point is, we live in a world which speaks about democracy, modernity, liberation, and freedom. Yet, in 2017, the patriarchy as well as other feminists whom have internalised patriarchal attitudes, have a significant say in constructing how minority women are perceived, whilst saying that they are aiming to deconstruct institutions that repress women.