Against the Hijab: An Arab Man’s Argument

Friday 30 June 201709:14 pm
As I watch my fellow students on campus wearing the hijab in solidarity with Muslims, I cannot help but to cringe silently. It is not easy to approach this subject; definitely not in my home country, Egypt, and to my surprise, not even in my new home, California. The bay area, has some of the most tolerant liberal people in the world. It’s why I specifically chose to move here out of all places in the United States. What I didn’t expect was this problematic type of tolerance- a tolerance for repressive symbols and toxic ideology; a tolerance for intolerance! I understand how it’s essential to support Muslim communities and stand in solidarity with them against the rise of ethno-nationalism and Islamophobia; however, what I don’t understand, is how a sexist symbol such as the hijab is embraced in the process. The fact that some Muslim women choose to wear the hijab doesn’t suddenly absolve it from the patriarchal rationale behind it, nor from what it symbolizes.  If anything, the hijab is a symbol for the status of women in Muslim-majority societies and in the Qur’an as second-class citizens. They are confined, repressed, and objectified. From Surat Al Nisaa 4:34, I quote: “Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.” Women in Islam are not allowed to lead prayers, to marry more than one husband (even though men are allowed up to four wives), or to show anything but their face and hands at the presence of men who are not their husbands or direct family members.   There are different interpretations of the text; some emphasize the choice to wear hijab and others see it as a non-negotiable must. Yet, such debate doesn’t even start to address why the hijab is an obligation for women only! It also does not explain the pattern of objectifying women, which in result, diminishes their role in society. Muslim women who don’t want to wear the hijab need liberals to implify their voices- not the voice of their oppressors. Many were pressured into wearing the hijab and some were condemned for taking it off. When Muslim women are told that they need to cover up as to not provoke men, liberals should not be nodding in agreement. They should be condemning this as a form of “slut-shaming,” which justifies, or at least waters down sexual harassment when the victim is not modestly clothed. What women wear should be up to women, individually. When a society tells women that unless they cover up, they are being immodest, there is no way we should see this as some sort of feminist empowerment. Speaking out against the hijab is not speaking out against Muslims. It is quite the opposite; it is speaking out for Muslims who feel pressured to wear it. I’m not saying Islam is the only patriarchal religion. I would be just as disappointed to see liberals embrace any discriminatory symbol from any religion. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t accept or embrace any symbols of sexism. period. There’s no issue with the hijab as an article of clothing. All people should be able to wear whatever they find comfortable including a hijab or even a burka. The problem is with liberals that have embraced a symbol of misogyny that promotes “modesty” so as to avoid distracting men and creating trouble (fitnah), whilst simultaneously criticizing rape culture and victim blaming. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.   Hijab is a part of Muslim culture and history, but it’s not one of the good parts that should be embraced. There needs to be a clear separation between people and ideas. Just as all people deserve to have equal rights, to be embraced by society and respected. All ideas must be scrutinized and questioned, regardless of how precious they may be to some people.

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