Saturday, February 1, 2020

World Hijab Day, No Hijab Day: Collating Women's Experiences with the Hijab

February 1st.

Today is World Hijab Day.

A day in which the World Hijab Day organisation ask non-Muslim women and non-Hijab wearing Muslim women to wear the hijab in solidarity with Muslim women who face discrimination for wearing the garment.

But today is also No Hijab Day.

A day in which ex-Muslim women predominantly, but not exclusively, come together to share their stories of forced veiling and raise awareness of the many women who do not have the choice to unveil.

February 1st, 2013 was when World Hijab Day was born.

Nazma Khan came up with the idea to make a bridge between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. She invites non-Hijabi Muslims and non-Muslims to experience what it is like to wear the hijab for a day. Growing up in the United States in the post-9/11 climate, Nazma experienced her fair share of discrimination for wearing the hijab.

Khan says on the World Hijab Day site: "In middle school, I was ‘Batman’ or ‘ninja’. When I entered University after 9/11, I was called Osama bin laden or terrorist. It was awful. I figured the only way to end discrimination is if we ask our fellow sisters to experience hijab themselves."

The day has gained support from politicians across the globe, with the Scottish Parliament holding an exhibition in 2018 to support World Hijab Day.

But, what are they missing?

The millions of women who are subjected to forced veiling, whether this be imposed upon them by their government or by family and community pressures.

This is why you have No Hijab Day.

The counter-movement was set up by activist Yasmine Mohammed. In her book Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam, Mohammed explains why No Hijab Day is needed.

"I encouraged everyone to stand in solidarity with women and girls across the world who do not want to wear the hijab but are forced to by their governments, their communities or their families."

Now, No Hijab Day is not asking Muslim women to remove their headscarves, that would be the direct response as Yasmine outlines in her book, but we cannot ask that. In too many cases it is simply unsafe for women to remove the veil. Look at Iran, women have been fighting since the early days of the revolution for the right to choose to wear the garment. Indeed, let us not forget figureheads such as Masih Alinejad starting the White Wednesdays protests, where women in Iran wear white veils to protest against the country's forced veiling laws.

Instead, what people can do is share the stories of women forced into the hijab and support them in their protest against the policing of their bodies. Support the women of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, etc. Thinking about it now, if World Hijab Day was to be really inclusive of the entire Muslim experience, of both women who face discrimination for wearing the hijab and for women who are forced into the hijab - again, forgetting those who do not want to wear it, still face that same discrimination.

Why don't they adopt the White hijab? To show solidarity with the women forced into it. It still fits in with World Hijab Day, but encompasses the whole experience that Muslim women have with the hijab. This would be something I would be very interested in seeing.

My stance is that both days are needed. There does need to be an awareness raised for the discrimination and harassment that Muslim women face for wearing the hijab. But, there also needs to be an acknowledgement of the many women who are forced into wearing the hijab because they share the same discrimination and harassment as those who choose to wear the hijab, except they are also struggling with the interpersonal pressures of having their bodies controlled by outer agencies.

Shutkicrew, a Bangladeshi Hijabi woman from the U.K, told me her opinion on both days, and hers is one that closely aligns with own.

"I personally think it would make sense to have the on 2 separate days. I'm against the forced hijab law in Iran & forced hijab in general & I support those people who refuse to wear hijab, but I also support those that choose to wear the hijab. I believe everyone should have the right & freedom to dress any way they want to dress. People should be allowed to take off their hijabs without facing any punishment & people should be allowed to wear hijab without facing any punishment."

Leading up to today, I asked Muslim women, Ex-Muslim women and those who fall somewhere in between the two about their experience with the hijab. I am so grateful for the responses I have received and the diversity in responses, from women across the Muslim and Western world.

I received twelve response from a variety Muslim and Ex-Muslim women with the majority being Muslim women (75% Muslim to 25% Ex-Muslim). From women residing in countries such as the UK to Pakistan and Israel, to women of Arab, Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and African descent. 50% of the women began wearing the hijab from the age of 9 or lower, with the oldest age to take on the hijab being sixteen.

For the majority of women who responded, hijab was a choice for them.

But, that does not mean it did not come without its own internal and external pressures, many of which I think Ex-Muslim women can relate to.

A Muslim Israeli-Arab freelancer who used to wear the hijab said that she chose to wear the hijab at age sixteen because of her belief in Allah and it made her feel good. However, her family was against her wearing it.

She explains why she took off her hijab two and a half years later: "Some man once was terrified to see me and he quickly grabbed his daughter from McDonald's as if I was gonna hurt her. I will never forget his face or this feeling."

Her father was pleased she took off her hijab and others remained neutral. Yet, she hated it, but there is so much discrimination and hate she could take from the society she is living in.

When asked about World Hijab day, she did not even know it existed and believes that it shouldn't, citing the reason that: "Other religious women wear customs or wigs nobody puts emphasis on this."

It is not just Ex-Muslim women, who are forced into wearing the hijab, which is what I think many people forget sometimes, when you have Hijab day and No Hijab day, it is automatically assumed that No Hijab day is only for Ex-Muslim women.

Nineteen-year-old Zar explains her struggle in wanting to remove the hijab as a Muslim woman living in Pakistan. She currently wears the hijab now, it was her choice to do so, but that choice comes with a hidden depth to it

"It was at first because of being a kid i was emotional manipulated into it. Though, I always wanted to take it off but felt like it was wrong of me to think that. I dislike it now but I wear it for my cultural reasons imposed by my family." 

Zar's response here outlines the very problem I have with the hijab in particular. It is always hailed as a choice until you decide you want to take it off. I, luckily, did not experience that but for many it is all too common. Look at social media stars like Dina Tokio who faced a barrage of abuse from the Muslim community for removing the hijab.

Recently, a video circulated social media where a hijabi girl took her cap off for a couple of minutes to let her hair dry to which she faced a whole stream of abuse on social media and felt like she had to make a lengthy post apologising. There should be no need for that, none of it because if it is a choice, truly a choice, no one would have cared about people like Dina taking it off.

Hijab, in that case, will only become a choice once people stop caring about it being worn on or off, like changing from a t-shirt to a jumper. It needs to become as mundane a choice as that for it to be a true choice. The struggle and apathy is highlighted in Zar's response to the question, do you believe there is a choice in wearing the Hijab?

"I don't know at this point."

An anonymous Pakistani Muslim woman grew up in a household where hijab was not imposed, neither is it mandatory in Pakistan for her. But, that does not mean she was protected. There is a common argument surrounding the hijab is that it protects a woman's beauty, that she is less likely to be harassed than the non-hijabi.

Saira's case defies this.

At thirteen-years-old, in the holiest of places, whilst on Umrah in Saudi Arabia, Saira was sexually assaulted.

In a public place, a man grabbed her ass while she was passing by. The event shook her up, despite being fully covered she was still a victim to abuse. No one in her family noticed, and she only recently told someone about it because she never felt like she could talk about it. After that incident, and seeing the laws countries like Saudi Arabia have regarding the hijab she developed an aversion to it. She views it as a choice, but would not wear it and has no issues with women who do.

The physical assaults that women experience for wearing the hijab is very real. A good friend of mine who contributed to this shares her harrowing experience of abuse at such a young age.

Aisha, an African-American Muslim, has had her hijab ripped off her, called countless slurs and was even told to find Jesus. She's been chased, and has even had someone literally tug on her scarf in a classroom to see if she could feel it.

She wishes she was told that the hijab is a choice and she could wear it when she was older, instead of wearing it at age six.

"I do wish people wouldn't disrespect girls who don't wear hijab and I wish I was told not wearing the hijab didn't make me a horrible person."

Similarly, living in a western country Shukticrew has faced numerous incidents of verbal discrimination, but counts herself lucky, as her aunt had been attacked with a baseball bat outside her home, whilst the attackers shouted terrorist at her.

For someone like Aisha, hearing about World Hijab Day made her incredibly happy, she finally felt recognised. The problem for her when it comes to whether or not hijab is a choice, is the men and women who have a patriarchal mindset, along with toxic cultural norms.

In the minority of responses I received, three Ex-Muslim women shared their hijab stories with me.

London based activist and educator, Fay Rahman details her hijab story, starting from age five. She was forced into wearing the hijab by her parents, and wore it for a while after she left Islam.

"When I was a Muslim, Islam made me feel as though my whole body was a living trap for men to be trapped by."

The biggest personal struggle, as many Ex-Muslims do feel, is that you are living a double life. Fay completely stopped wearing the hijab in 2018, after being disowned by her family. Despite describing the feeling of removing the hijab as liberating, Fay still felt paranoid and afraid of men. For those, who are not aware, Fay is very vocal on social media, via Twitter and her YouTube channel talking about her experience leaving Islam, as well as producing art work like the pieces below for No Hijab Day.

                                         (Credit: @LaIlahaIllaAna on Twitter)

Zola, an Egyptian Ex-Muslim began wearing the hijab at age eleven, and now only wears it sometimes. At first she had a choice in wearing it, but it seems to be a coerced choice as she says she knew she would be forced into it once she reached puberty. Her story is most interesting when it comes to facing discrimination because she faced discrimination living in the U.K. without it, but by wearing a hijab she would be accepted into a group.

She removed the hijab at twenty-one and says the first time she went outside without it she felt alive. Zola does not believe the hijab is a choice, she chose it out of coercion.

"I needed the Hijab cuz I was bullied like hell. I hated myself."

Finally, Yara, a Syrian Ex-Muslim started wearing the hijab age twelve, and still does now. She chose to wear the hijab after being surrounded by women who wore the hijab and described the experience as life-changing, it made them happier and closer to God. She also heard of the punishments that are for those women who do not wear the hijab, so she thought the earlier she started to wear it, the better.

The biggest personal struggle she had with the hijab was the issues around anxiety and self-image that comes with living in a society where the majority of the women do not wear the hijab. Yara says: "I didn't want to be seen as a foreigner, or a Muslim."

People assumed she did not speak English because of how she dressed.

"It also started to feel like a literal weight over my head, and I couldn't bear that along with the internal conflict."

Similar to Fay, Yara is struck with paranoia, she feels like people are talking about her, giving her looks or simple avoiding her because she wears the hijab. She tried removing her hijab, but was told that if she did her grandmother would disown her.

"I was also told I was being a whiny brat and my problems would be solved by buying new headscarves."

I want to say a huge thank you to all of the women who shared their stories with me. My heart aches for every one of you, no woman should feel what you have felt. Thank you for your bravery and your honesty. I hope things get better for you all.

As an Atheist Muslim woman, when asked what I was going to contribute to No Hijab Day, this wave of creative energy sprung over me and at one in the morning on a Saturday night, the foundations of this poem came together.

To end this post in a different manner to others, this is my experience and thoughts on the hijab.




Links 

World Hijab Day site - https://worldhijabday.com/

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