There is a new and under-reported phenomenon. I refer to the increasing number of Muslim girls who out of their own sense of religiosity have chosen to wear the hijab or indeed the full covering niqab against the advice of their families who “do not want them to draw attention to themselves”.
It is undoubtedly true that there are many examples of girls who have worn a hijab/niqab at either the request of, or due to the coercive or in extreme cases subversive pressure from their families and communities. In most cases the pressure is subtle and is applied at an early age, so by the time the girl reaches puberty she feels that it is a fait accompli that she should cover. In a sense it becomes almost like a rite of passage like a Bar Mitzvah is for Jewish boys. One of the reasons for this is could be down to the ‘Lollipop’ metaphor (shown in the image below). As you can see the depiction of the wrapper being the headscarf is pretty self-explanatory. Are woman far less attractive and undesirable if she doesn’t wear ‘protection’ over her head, or is she seen as impure and not ‘Muslim enough’? Surely we should be teaching our society to grow up with an open-minded view and respectful of women no matter what they choose to wear. This lollipop diagram makes women look weak and portrays them in a vulnerable light.
So why are some Muslim families asking their daughters not to wear the hijab? The answer is entirely down to fear that Muslims feel since 9/11 and the siege mentality that exists in certain communities. Most young Muslim men (unless they dress in a particular way) are reasonably undistinguishable from non-Muslims, even those with beards, as these have latterly become fashion symbols, even being referred to sometimes as the ‘hipster beard’. A young woman with a hijab or a niqab is instantly recognisable and in effect has marked herself out as a Muslim or ‘target’. It is the fear that their daughters may get attacked or unfairly targeted on the public transport system or on the street due to the dress that results in many parents asking their daughters not to wear hijab. We have the odd situation then of these women being the object of scorn, contempt and even physical violence from forces of the reactionary right; in turn those on the so-called liberal left and feminists see them as helpless victims of male misogyny and for good measure they come under pressure from their families as well. It’s less a case of being caught between a rock and a hard place – and more a matter of being hounded on all sides!
Religiosity is not and should not be a crime. We must not fall into the trap of regarding those who are overtly religious as potential terrorists. Indeed history has proven that most Islamist terror attacks in the West have been undertaken by those who displayed no outward religiosity or a proper religious education. Nor should the way a woman dresses become the object of attack on her person – hijab or no hijab. No individual nor the state has the right to tell women how to dress, except the woman herself.
I am a Muslim and I do not wear a hijab. I suspect if I chose to, my parents would probably not prevent me but would become much more fearful. They do not deserve to feel anxiety on the account of how I choose to dress. If we are really true to the principles of Fempower then we must not be afraid of standing up for our sisters who choose to wear hijab. In so doing we must acknowledge that not all women who wear hijab do so for coercive reasons. Perhaps in doing so we may belatedly start a dialogue between women who hold deep Islamist convictions and wider liberal society. Surely that is better than remaining in ideological ghettos and drawing unsound abstractions about each other?
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