The heated debates around Muslim women and their hijabs have only gained traction after waves of Islamophobia and racism continuously fueling them. On one side, we have adamant Muslims arguing about the beauty of the hijab and the inevitable blessings it would bring to its wearer; and on the other, racists and Islamophobes who harbor an incredible amount of hatred towards Muslim women.
Both sides surprisingly have one thing in common: the lack of Muslim women speaking.
Both spaces not only lack Muslim women who wear the hijab, but also the women who don’t. Visible Muslims who wear the hijab have to deal with rampant Islamophobia in addition to criticism from their own community — this criticism usually centers over the way a Muslim woman wears the hijab, as well as the way she behaves, dresses or acts on social media and well, everywhere. Not only does the Muslim woman have to deal with a constant hurl of harassment from Islamophobes, but she is also urged to do better by her own community.
Racists and Islamophobes claim that their distaste for the hijab stems from a place of concern for Muslim women, who are supposedly “oppressed” and forced to wear it, when we know that is anything but the truth. The hijab remains a prized symbol to Muslim women — something they cannot seem to understand.
Muslim women who don’t wear the hijab suffer differently. While they might not be at the same risk as a visible Muslim, it is extremely insensitive and ignorant to claim they’re safe from Islamophobia and harassment themselves. And in certain instances, the same Muslim women who either take off their hijabs or stop wearing it have to deal with an incredible amount of torment from their own community as well.
Of course, the hijab is compulsory. To deny that mere fact would be to deny an essential part of Islam. But to police Muslim women on how they should wear it when we have to deal with constant harassment from Islamophobes and our community is not the solution. To go on a witch hunt against Muslim women who chose to stop wearing the hijab is not the solution.
So, what is?
Allowing Muslim women to be wholly themselves, whether or not they wear the hijab (which, in retrospect, may look elementary but is anything but). Muslim women are people themselves — whole beings capable of feeling, forming a coherent opinion of their own and working hard. They are capable of doing better and being better when they’re allowed to thrive, with or without the hijab.
By reducing a Muslim woman to her hijab or lack thereof; by pretending the circumstances that surround a Muslim woman is from the way she dresses; by policing a Muslim woman based on how she wears the hijab or if she doesn’t — all of this tears into her and eats her from the inside. It reduces her to nothing less than a vessel.
There are a few that might argue that the hijab is compulsory and I am not denying it. There are a few that might argue that the hijab is a symbol we need to see more of, that it is important we see women wearing the hijab, and I do not deny that either. It is impossible to brush off the overwhelming responsibility that comes with wearing the hijab and understand just why some people choose to stop wearing it. But it is easy to respect anyone despite what they wear. We are in no position ourselves to discern just why someone wears the hijab or why they don’t, and we never will be.
Featured Artwork by Anna Parini