Internalised Misogyny is a Serious Issue Plaguing our CommunityImaan Asim
As Muslim women, we often aren’t afforded the same space to grow and explore all the facets of our religion as our male counterparts. Everything we do is public-facing, as our relationship with our religion has unfortunately been intrinsically linked to our appearance, therefore bringing along unwanted criticism from people both online and offline who believe that they have a right to comment on our personal decisions.
Possibly, the largest challenge Muslim women face in our modern age is modesty. While fashion has brought the concept of modest clothing into mainstream media, on an individual level, and for many Muslim women with large social platforms, there still remains an issue of how we navigate this concept on our own terms. Modesty is not just about dress, it is about how we show up spiritually, our actions, intentions and speech. This often gets forgotten, with the focus being solely on what clothes you’ve decided to wear today and whether or not that means you are a ‘good Muslim’. We are never beautiful enough, never strong enough, never faithful enough.
I have often found that both in the online and offline sphere, men and women equate how a Muslim woman dresses to her level of faith. If she is wearing form fitting clothes, then she’s a whore begging for attention who is destined for hellfire. If she’s wearing a Niqab then she shouldn’t be taking authority over her own life, and instead have a male family member make decisions for her. Do you see the double edged sword we are dealing with here? It is impossible to win because no matter what we do, somebody will always have an issue. While the unnecessary sexist comments are sadly expected from men, it is other women who slut-shame each other that hurts me the most. I wish for all women to be able to reclaim their true, full power without feeling fearful or facing backlash from fragile masculinity and the patriarchy.
Most often, this issue boils down to internalised misogyny; a serious issue plaguing our community. It is women who are struggling to wear the hijab properly who are shunned aside and labelled as a disgrace to Islam. We all struggle with our religious identities, and no one should be judged for that. As multifaceted beings, it is not healthy or useful to disregard a woman’s journey, or compare her healing to another woman’s.
Hijab is more than wearing a piece of cloth over your head, it is your clothing, the words you choose to express yourself, how you communicate with other people and your relationship with God. To narrow a woman’s entire existence and status in Islam down to how they choose to dress is reductive and a form of internalised misogyny. Shouldn’t we be encouraging women to cultivate their own form of spiritual practice and personal relationship with the divine, outside of what mainstream society tells us is acceptable? Where is the support for the women who suffered abuse at the hands of men, and are shamed by their sisters for choosing to take off their hijab because of that? We always talk so passionately about the hijab not being oppressive to Muslim women, and being the woman’s own choice to wear it; but we never talk about the women who are quietly cast aside for struggling with their religious identity and making that same choice to take a sacred material off their heads.
My religious identity is not constant. How I view myself as a Muslim woman fluctuates constantly, and my relationship with my hijab never has, and never will be steady. I am not the same girl that I was when I was twelve, or sixteen, or two weeks ago, so why should I be held to those same standards of how ‘faithful’ I was perceived to be back then by outsiders. It is okay for me to change my views as I grow and develop from an impressionable, fearful girl into a self-assured young woman. My strength of faith is not and will not be defined by how I choose to dress. If anything, it is a reflection on your behalf if you judge me based on the amount of hair on my head that is showing. We are flawed humans. We are not angels, and we will never be perfect. This world isn’t made for us to live in forever and we will make mistakes. The most important part is keeping your own faith close to your heart and not letting anyone else take that away from you, as you navigate life and return to God in a way that makes you feel whole.
The shame, the judgment, the online hatred, the internalised misogyny and the lack of support from men and women in real life is dividing us. It is pushing Muslim women further away from the beauty of Islam and deeper into the pits of the patriarchy. It is this which will shackle us, not set us free.
Imaan Asim is a modern languages student studying French and Arabic at QMUL. She enjoys writing about decolonising female sexuality, creating poetry on the themes of faith and love, and using forms of broadcast to share the stories of those taking back their power. To read more of her work, visit her portfolio at imaan.journoportfolio.com/