Earlier this month, the national paper you probably haven’t read since the last time you stayed in a hotel published a piece lauding the hijab as a symbol of “resistance, feminism in the age of Trump.” The absurdity is suffocating.
The USA Today article makes two points about an alleged increasing willingness of young, Western Muslim women to don hijabs which they may have previously shirked because of ties to oppressive religious themes.
First, the article says, the hijab is experiencing a re-birth as a symbol of resistance to President Donald Trump’s hardline policies involving travelers to the U.S. from heavily Muslim nations. Those policies, combined with some of Trump’s previous statements, have been used as proof that the current administration has deeply rooted Islamaphobic ideals.
The article then relays that the hijab is ripe for use as a symbol of empowerment in Western culture because no one in the U.S. is forcing women to wear the head coverings.
From the piece:
Since the election of President Donald Trump, the debate around Islamic dress has taken a new turn: The hijab has emerged as a symbol of resistance to Islamophobia amid policies from the Trump administration targeting Muslim immigrants.
Scores of non-Muslims have donned hijabs to express solidarity with Muslim women, too, though some criticized the move, arguing that the garment represents oppression of women.
Young Muslims like Sameeha disagree.
“I do believe hijab support feminism,” she said outside the Muslim prayer center at her school’s College Park campus. “The way you look at it from a religious perspective, it empowers you by strengthening your relationship with God. It’s a step you are taking to further yourself within your own religion.”
“No one forced me to dress this way,” she added.
Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a non-profit organization working to empower American Muslims, says while some countries do require a hijab, “the ‘hijab oppresses women’ narrative is not only racist, it is also sexist.” To assume a woman’s hijab was forced without asking her is to presume she views Western styles as ideal, Mogahed said.
That leftist non-Muslims have taken to wearing the garments as a sign of solidarity is particularly amusing. Many of these, mind you, are the same people who believe it racist for white people to sport dreadlocks and who would describe support for U.S. conservatism in any form as an unadmitted partiality toward fascism.
Wearing a hijab in the U.S. may be a choice—but there’s a reason for that. It’s because the nation values personal freedom. And because its evolution since founding has thankfully included many advancements for populations who were once disenfranchised because of archaic ways of thinking.
The United States’ puritanical origins meant that certain practices widely accepted in other countries today were once considered common in the U.S., even if to a lesser degree than some of the more fanatical theocracies that exist in the Middle East as you read this.
It took a long time for U.S. laws to update, moving from all men are created equal to all people are created equal. And there’s still work to be done. Anyone with a basic understanding of the nation’s history already knows this. Until the dawn of the 20th century, it was quite common for women in America to cover their heads before leaving the house. And while they may not have been say, stoned, for not doing so, there’s plenty of historical information out there about the lengths to which early American communities would sometimes go in shunning and degrading women deemed loose by strict religious standards.
Today, there are still small portions of the U.S. female population who choose to cover their heads as an act of modesty. Mostly, you’ll find them in certain stricter Christian churches and, yes, in mosques throughout the country. And among those who adhere to the strictest theological ideals, head covering is sometimes a daily norm. In the United States, so long as it doesn’t harm another person, we have the right to worship in any way we please.
Those women aren’t protesting anything. Rather, because of deeply held faith, are opting to add an extra element of modesty to their appearance out of respect for God. They also aren’t being featured by USA Today because they are a very small minority and they aren’t looking for attention.
People claiming the hijab as a garment of “resistance” and “protest” are, meanwhile, looking for attention. And even though they too are a minority, they’re getting it. Why? Because it furthers the lie that Trump and his supporters hate Muslims.
But starting with the idea that the hijab is in some way effective as a form of political protest against Trump’s policies regarding Muslim countries, the claim of “resistance” to oppression gets a little difficult to defend. U.S. foreign policy deserves massive credit for the proliferation of dangerous theocratic regimes in the Middle East; but these so-called protestors seem to ignore their existence.
In places where that leadership exists, the hijab is no matter of choice. Those also happen to be some of the same places where our intelligence services tell us terror plots on the U.S. homeland are most likely to be hatched.
In other, more moderate, majority-Muslim countries the hijab is far less common, in some cases virtually nonexistent.
In the U.S., it’s correct to say “no one forced me to dress this way.” Nor will anyone stop you. That’s why some American Muslims encourage a different form of protest regarding the hijab, one that has nothing to do with Trump.
Writing for The Washington Post late last year, former journalists and U.S. Muslims Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa relay why they find the embrace of the hijab by U.S. activists troubling.
From the piece:
We reject this interpretation that the “hijab” is merely a symbol of modesty and dignity adopted by faithful female followers of Islam.
This modern-day movement, codified by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Taliban Afghanistan and the Islamic State, has erroneously made the Arabic word hijab synonymous with “headscarf.” This conflation of hijab with the secular word headscarf is misleading. “Hijab” literally means “curtain” in Arabic. It also means “hiding,” ”obstructing” and “isolating” someone or something. It is never used in the Koran to mean headscarf.
In colloquial Arabic, the word for “headscarf” is tarha. In classical Arabic, “head” is al-ra’as and cover is gheta’a. No matter what formula you use, “hijab” never means headscarf. The media must stop spreading this misleading interpretation.
The women, both of whom remember the Islamic mainstreaming of demands that women cover themselves with “curtains” following the Iranian revolution and the subsequent spread of hardline Islamism, implore readers: “Do not wear a headscarf in ‘solidarity’ with the ideology that most silences us, equating our bodies with ‘honor.’ Stand with us instead with moral courage against the ideology of Islamism that demands we cover our hair.”