A large number of Muslim men who advocate for women’s right to wear the hijab do not actually think of the hijab as a right.Aqilah-Layla Bashir
I hissed in exasperation as I came across a Twitter thread advocating for women’s right to wear the hijab. My reaction wasn’t in itself against the content of the thread, but the hypocrisy behind it. This thread was written by a man who is notorious for demonising feminists and women’s rights activists and condemning them to hell. Right under the tweet was a video of an Iranian man in Qom; one of Iran’s most conservative cities, trying to arrest a woman for not covering her hair properly. I smiled; not the wide cheeky, full-hearted kind, but the one that masks a fiery surge of anger at the hypocrisy and misogyny in our communities.
Speaking as a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, I cringe when Muslim men exclusively fight for women’s right to wear the hijab. Where is this same energy when we talk about women’s socio-economic and political rights? Why are they also not advocating for Muslim women’s right to self-determination and full agency and seeking justice for Muslim women? How do men who believe that women lack legal existence; men who see women as subhumans and aggressively seek to control the minds and bodies of women suddenly begin to talk about a woman’s “right” to wear the hijab? Centuries of Islamic law legislations, which have departed from the original principles established in the Islamic community led by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) erased the Muslim woman’s legal existence and consolidated it into that of the men in her life, under whose wings and authority, she performs everything.
In the part of the Qur’an where the moral codes became defined for women and men, the Prophet was asked to tell the believing men and women to lower their glances and guard their private parts (Qur’an 24:30) He was further asked to tell women to let their headscarves fall to cover their necklines, and not reveal their charms except to their relatives, children, women and slaves. (Qur’an 24:31). The headscarves referred to in this verse of the Qur’an were already customarily worn by both Arab men and women before Islam. The women’s headscarves covered their heads and trailed their backs, exposing their necklines and some parts of their breasts. Hence, the injunction to use some part of their head coverings to cover their necklines and bosoms
These verses of the Qur’an were addressed to women, believed to have full agency and freedom of choice regarding whether or not to observe the prescribed mode of dressing. Such was the case of Fatima Al-Kubra, a great descendant of Muhammad (PBUH), who refused to cover her hair along with the noblewomen of her time. A piece of clothing, which was initially an expression of freedom of choice became unfortunately manipulated and politicised over time.
Centuries of Islamic law legislations ensured that one set of laws applied almost entirely to women, and was aimed specifically at muting their voices. The jurists reduced women to sexual beings and held them responsible for controlling men’s lusts. They considered women weak and prone to moral weakness and sin. The solution, therefore, was to seal women away from the view of men. Women could be harshly humiliated simply for talking too much or too publicly or in a tone of voice that seemed grating or soft. The dress code prescription became expanded and more stringent for women. It became the responsibility of men to impose the hijab on women to ensure that they fell in line. If a woman got harassed, attacked or raped, it was because she wasn’t obeying the law by either covering up completely or staying in her home.
Today, there is no general consensus that the hijab is mandatory. While many jurists ruled that it is indeed, obligatory for Muslim women, some others ruled that it’s merely prescribed and not compulsory. And while many Muslim women who engage with these arguments believe that it is indeed mandatory and choose to observe it, other Muslim women believe that it isn’t mandatory and choose not to wear it. Every Muslim woman should have the right to freely debate the hijab and choose whether or not to wear it. To insist otherwise is to deny the agency, bodily autonomy, and choice of these Muslim women.
In a world where the hijab is still being used to confine many women to their homes, restrict them from participating in the public sphere, and deny them their socio-economic rights, I cringe when Muslim men blindly ignore all the issues bedevilling Muslim women today and aggressively advocate for our right to wear the hijab. I find it really hypocritical and insulting. A large number of Muslim men who advocate for women’s right to wear the hijab do not actually think of the hijab as a right. They are not fighting for the Muslim woman’s right to self-determination and freedom of choice. These men show harsh judgment and intolerance towards Muslim women who do not wear Hijabs. Their insincere agitation is an extension of their misogyny which stems from the belief that women are the source of evil and temptation, and should therefore be sealed away from the public sphere. They believe that men’s salvation lies in curtailing the power that women hold over them. What they are, indeed, fighting for is their own right to impose the hijab as a political tool of power and control.
If these men are indeed sincere about their agitations, they should invest the same energy into fighting oppression, inequality and injustice. They should also respect the choices of those women who choose not to wear the hijab. Until then, we do not need them to fight for us.
Aqilah-Layla Bashir is a skincare entrepreneur and social justice activist.