World Hijab Day–symbolically adopting the struggle of others–is not an original concept, there are many forms of it. In New Zealand we have the National Bandana Day to show solidarity with sufferers of cancer, who lose their hair due to chemotherapy treatment. In the case of World Hijab Day, non-Muslims are asked to show solidarity with Muslim women who face bigotry (not excluding physical assault) from ignoramuses and thugs, by adopting the Hijab for a day. Seems rather innocuous doesn’t it? However, when you think about what the Hijab represents; not so much. The mastermind behind World Hijab Day, Nazma Khan, is the owner of a headscarf company in Brooklyn New York. Aki Muthali humorously suggests this is more than mere coincidence, but perhaps that’s a bit cynical, after all it is possible to believe in a cause, and make a profit from the cause itself. I don’t see anything wrong with that in principle. Muslim reformers themselves are undoubtedly paid for public appearances and the books they write. The real issue for me, is the cause itself. I don’t begrudge any woman that chooses to exercise her freedom of religion to wear the Hijab, and I will defend her right to do so. However, I do take issue when she attempts to minimize or distort, what the Hijab stands for, and I take issue with her lack of solidarity with her Muslim sisters from conservative families or communities in their own [Western] countries, and their sisters in Muslim majority countries like Iran, who are unambiguously forced, often violently, to wear the Hijab or the Burqa.
In fact, many non-Muslim women already wear the Hijab, when they travel to countries like Iran, Kuwait, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Yemen etc. These sites give some useful tips for women who want to travel to the Middle East: “you are still perfectly safe, simply follow the rules you would anywhere – don’t go off alone with a man, or group of men, and if you do feel awkward, there are plenty of women-only areas in many parks”. First of all, how offensive is that to men, I recommend reading this site, talk about sexism, it reads as if every man is a potential rapist who froths at the mouth at the sight of a blonde. “Clothes – What you are expected to wear varies a lot from place to place. In a Red Sea resort, and more Westernized places, you can relax a bit [italics mine], but otherwise, you’ll need to cover your body”, “In general, it is better to be dressed too conservatively than to offend the locals. Do your research for each country before you travel to check what women wear.” The fact a woman has to “do their research” before traversing OUR planet is a moral scandal, and yet it is wholly acceptable to people. Make no mistake the “clothes” often involve wearing a Hijab in these places, and the rationale is scarily like the Islamists. Moreover, for a non-Muslim actually living in these places, where is the solidarity? Imagine being a woman in the Middle East attempting to exercise your human right not to wear the Hijab or cover your body. The Justice system is just as likely to condemn you, as the public for their bigotry.
Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa point out in their excellent article that Ahlul Bayt is a major contributor to World Hijab Day, their website Global Hijab Awareness provides a revealing resource on the topic. Firstly, “”You are not like any other women”: Muslim women are not like no-Muslim women. So, they should maintain their distinction and dignity”. Brilliant, no need for a World Hijab Day then is there? “If one asks why Hijab or Purdah is necessary, the only proper reply would be, ‘because Allah and His Messenger have so decided”. Yes, the freedom to choose flows so easily, when one choice goes against the creator of the universe. This resource from 1977, even has a Q and A section, and it’s priceless:
Q: Is it allowed for a veiled girl to attend co-education schools?
A: If she observes all the rules of Hijab and is sure that no one would look at her with lust.
Q: She would not be able to answer the questions put forward to her by the teacher, she would have to whisper?
A: Talking to Ghair Mahram becomes haram (forbidden) when there is a danger that [he] may get lustful ideas by hearing the voices of the women.
Q: Some ladies, without veil have kept their dignity. So why all this?
A: Purdah of Eyes and Purdah of dress, both are compulsory for all Muslim women. The dignity of a Muslim woman in the eyes of Allah depends on Purdah.
Q: Should parents abstain from recommending purdah to their daughters lest she is forced after marriage by her in-laws to take it down?
A: As far as she is with you, you are to perform your duties and responsibilities [enforcing the purdah].
Q: Is it respectable for a girl to have her veil removed by her in-laws?
A: No. It is haram. She has to refuse.
Any organization that includes this sexist garbage in its reading material cannot, and should not be taken seriously on moral questions. In all seriousness, it’s fantastic if your family had the human decency not to enforce the Hijab on you, but make no mistake that in Islam, by many interpretations, this is not only a privilege many of your Muslim sisters are denied, but it’s an outright defiance of Allah himself (or herself – oh no he didn’t, well yes I did).
Lastly Maajid Nawaz created a bit of a storm on twitter by asking Muslim women to take off their Hijab’s in solidarity with the victims of acid attacks, who are often targeted for their lack of modesty or their audacity, essentially their bravery. Why not? It would be almost impossible to get reliable statistics on this, but I can confidently assert that more Muslim women around the world, are persecuted, beaten, raped (only for their rapers to escape justice) or killed, for NOT wearing the Hijab or the Burqa, than those that face bigotry and assault for wearing the Hijab in the West. So again I ask, why not? Could it be, that the Muslim women who are “not forced” to wear the Hijab are afraid of the repercussions for such a brazen display of solidarity? Will their parents look on them with shame, will they be berated by members of their communities, or do they ridiculously think they will be raped on the spot? Or perhaps they believe that Allah himself will be displeased? If any of these concerns are stopping any Muslim woman from showing solidarity with her Muslim sisters, suffering under the yoke of Islamic conservatism around the world, then clearly their “choice” to wear the Hijab is not really a choice at all, it’s a display of cowardice and submission. If on the other hand they choose not to because they don’t believe in such a cause, then at best their morally abhorrent.