Wearing the hijab is among the most overly dissected concepts both inside and outside of the Muslim community. Your decision to wear — or not wear — a scarf is a political statement, or a symbol, or an endorsement of specific social theories. And as a consequence of this manipulation, hijabis are subject to criticisms from all sides: Muslims, non-Muslims, feminists, male chauvinists, liberals, conservatives – everyone. Everyone around us uses our personal decision as a talking piece.
Visible minorities are already challenged enough in the increasingly intolerant political and social climates of today, but you’d think that members of their own community would provide a refuge from the rigid impositions and arbitrary judgements of those outside. You’d expect that their brothers and sisters would be understanding of challenges and tolerant of the circumstances of individual faith journeys.
Yet hijabis treated as fodder for our Friday khutbahs. Mistakes and triumphs are polarized based on dress – either exemplified or dismissed. The current treatment of the hijab within Muslim communities is one that is dismissive, simplistic and reductionist, rather than understanding, tolerant, and supportive.
We need to recognize the problems that come with wearing the hijab.
Many times, the challenges and tribulations of wearing the hijab are minimized in a misguided attempt at making it more palatable for the current or prospective hijabi. You can extol the virtues of modesty night and day, champion the scarf as a symbol of resistance to a patriarchal society, or avail the visible Muslim identity all you’d like, but the fact remains that observance of the hijab is a difficult thing –we are doing no one any favours in denying this.
The impact of this collective dismissal is that Muslim women are seemingly left without allies. When their own brothers and sisters are trying to negate the legitimacy of their struggle, how can they possibly expect to find a space for understanding?
There is no space for us to be open and honest in working through the individual challenges that come with wearing the hijab. Of course the overarching principles make it worth the personal sacrifices for many who do choose to wear it, but the fact that it was my choice does not negate the validity of the trials that come with it. The fact of the matter is Muslimahs need the support of their fellow Muslims, and acknowledging the obstacles facing them will go a long way to support and understanding within our communities.
We need to stop making individual hijabs a public matter.
Communities have destroyed our private acts of worship by making them public debacles and equivalent to the be-all end-all of a person.
“I just need a break to get myself together again and then I’ll put it back on.”
“I’m not Muslim enough yet to wear it.”
“I’m not ready to have to change everything about myself.”
And while many of us would leap to dispel these apparent misconceptions about the hijab, the truth is that these statements have measures of merit. The fallacy of using the hijab as a measure of worth or piety is no different than using anyone else’s appearance to determine an internal state. Particularly when it comes to one’s relationship with God, an incidental observer would be hard-pressed to accurately make any judgement. The hijab is just another of many aspects of Islam, and is by no means a determination of the ‘level’ of a woman’s Islam.
We need to re-evaluate our emphasis on just the hijab.
The hijab certainly carries with it a standard of conduct. In fact, the hijab wouldn’t be such a trial if it was just a simple piece of cloth. This standard of behaviour, though, is true of every Muslim, not just the ones with fabric to identify them. Underhanded remarks under the guise of ‘reminders’ are counterproductive and quite frankly self-serving. Reminders that stem from shame are ineffective and misguided. To expect that the millions of Muslim women would understand and implement religious doctrines in the manner you would have them is a mockery of their agency. In fact, removing the level of arbitrary judgement we inflict upon the women of our community achieves quite the opposite of undermining the hijab. The approach we currently have to the hijab as merely a checklist of criteria, or a diluted ‘tool’ lessens its inherent value and nature.
We need to understand the nature of the hijab.
And that nature is personal and subjective and pluralistic. It is obvious that the hijab is a nuanced topic, and discussion of it must take into account a myriad of elements. And in all of these statements, the plurality regarding our communities is emphasized because we are as much a part of this collective need for change as anyone else.
We have to promote honest dialogue within our communities, we have to support our sisters in the challenges they face, and we have to make an effort to understand the Islamic concept of the hijab on its terms rather than ours. Quite frankly, if you’re not willing to support Muslim women, then just leave them alone — they don’t need any more empty judgement. If we’re not helping each other grow spiritually, emotionally, or intellectually, if we don’t care about each other’s well-being, if we don’t share in celebration and struggles alike, and if we don’t have each other’s backs, then what type of Muslims are we?