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Islam, Women and Feminism (29 May 2012 NewAgeIslam.Com)

The Hijab has Liberated Me from Society's Expectations of Women


By Nadiya Takolia

28 May 2012

Wearing the hijab doesn't have to be about religious dedication. For me, it is political, feminist and empowering

When you think of the hijab, you probably don't think "political". Or "independent". Or "empowered". Feminist? Certainly not – feminism is far better known for burnt bras and slut-walks than headscarves.

There is much misunderstanding about how women relate to their hijab. Some, of course, choose the head cover for religious reasons, others for culture or even fashion.

But in a society where a woman's value seems focused on her sexual charms, some wear it explicitly as a feminist statement asserting an alternative mode of female empowerment. Politics, not religion, is the motivator here. I am one of these women.

Wearing the hijab was not something I deliberately set out to do. It was something I unexpectedly stumbled upon as a twenty something undergraduate, reading feminist literature and researching stories of women's lives in the sex industry. From perfume and clothes ads to children's dolls and X Factor finals, you don't need to go far to see that the woman/sex combination is everywhere.

It makes many of us feel like a pawn in society's beauty game – ensuring that gloss in my hair, the glow in my face and trying to attain that (non-existent) perfect figure.

Subconsciously, I tried to avoid these demands – wearing a hat to fix a bad-hair day, sunglasses and specs to disguise a lack of makeup, baggy clothes to disguise my figure. It was an endless and tiresome effort to please everyone else.

Sure the hijab was not the only way to express my feelings and frustrations; but knowing that our interpretation of liberal culture embraces, if not encourages, uncovering, I decided to reject what society expected me to do, and cover up.

It was not a decision I made overnight. It took several months of agonising over the pros and cons – will it change the way others treat me? Will I get hot in a headscarf? Is it possible, at all costs to avoid the all-black look?

I rarely discussed the decision with others – I wanted it to be mine and mine alone. Like so many women, my main reservation was the discrimination I might face. Things like looking for a job, or socialising and being judged by others based on prejudices about Muslim women (because now I would look like one) before they even got a chance to know me. And not just the prejudices of non-Muslims, but also the simplistic assumptions of Muslims who think that a veiled woman is a holier woman.

The first day I stepped out in a hijab, I took a deep breath and decided my attitude would be "I don't give a damn about what you think". The reaction was mixed. One friend joked that I was officially a "fundamentalist". Extended family showered me with graces of "mashallah", perhaps under the impression that I was now more devout. Some, to my surprise (and joy), didn't bat an eyelid. I was grateful because, ultimately, I firmly believe that a woman's dress should not determine how others treat, judge or respect her.

I do not believe that the hair in itself is that important; this is not about protection from men's lusts. It is me telling the world that my femininity is not available for public consumption. I am taking control of it, and I don't want to be part of a system that reduces and demeans women. Behind this exterior I am a person – and it is this person for which I want to be known.

Wearing the hijab has given me a new consciousness of this. Though my mode of expression may appear Islamic, and my experiences carry a spiritual dimension, there is no theological monopoly on women's empowerment; I really believe that a non-Muslim woman could do this if she chose to. My motivations have been explicitly political, and my experiences human.

The result has been refreshing. In a world as diverse and changing as our own, the hijab means a multitude of things to the many women who choose to wear it. I speak as a woman who just happens to come from the Islamic faith, and for me the hijab is political, feminist and empowering. This dimension is increasingly important for many women who choose to wear it; it's a shame it is understood by so few.

Source: The Guardian, UK

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islam,-women-and-feminism/nadiya-takolia/the-hijab-has-liberated-me-from-society-expectations-of-women/d/7476


  • I am in agreement with Nadiya Takolia with reference to her motivations. To tell the truth, I find this happening right in my household – and let me swear without my slightest involvement. In fact, I am trying to study this phenomenon or rather God has given me an opportunity to understand this phenomenon from close quarters. To Susan Schechter. 
    I know, nothing would make some women happier than revealing all that they have. Look at a Muslim-born actress, Veena Malik of Pakistan (and the likes of her in India by the scores). She is lusting to reveal her inner-self to the last details, only if she were confident enough that her revelations would not repel men of taste and significance. The plain truth is that some women may have unlimited desire to make unearned money through the way of all flesh, but most men do not have unending desire to view the vulgar (not everyone has the gumption of a Mahesh Bhatt). If, their fully dressed sisters do not hold these revealers in high esteem, then I think the revealers have a case to cover-up, and possibly shut-up. They can look for a more laborious and thus more honorable job, or else they can drift along the margins of society (I do not advocate more hardship than a body can bear), but never try to occupy the mainstream under the garb of modernity!
    By Manzoorul haque - 6/2/2012 2:33:37 AM

  • @Yusra, would you please provide any ayat with its exact numbering which says 'wearing hijab is m-a-n-d-a-t-o-r-y?
    By sadaf - 5/31/2012 11:54:18 AM

  • In in a society if, a woman wears hijab because she may otherwise be stared by men as if she is a sex object, then it doesn't speak very highly of the men who belong to that society.
    By Syed Rizvi - 5/31/2012 12:36:46 AM

  • The views expressed here are very commendable, but where hijab is worn to deceive, it ruins the very essence of this very symbol of Muslim womanhood beyond redemption. Wearing hijab is mandatory to Muslim women, not for convenience only.
    By yusra - 5/30/2012 10:50:04 PM

  • Hijaab is seen as a very controversial issue in Muslim society but in Islam I think Hijab (the veil) is one of the most important elements of identity in the personality of the Muslim women. We do not deny that the man is a source of attraction to the woman just as the woman is to the man, but historical reality has made the woman the only symbol of sexual attraction. She has been raised in all human communities without any exception on the notion of taking care of her family. Her outlook and body being the major source of her value in the future. In Islam a woman’s real worth is not accounted by exhibiting a half exposed body, or the fascination that the opposite sex has for her, rather it is by her modesty, piety and moral conduct.
    By Sonika Rahman - 5/30/2012 2:30:21 PM

  • Wearing the hijab: Islamic status seeking, an innate primate urge or feminist "don't see me as sexy" disguise. So long as you don't live in a hot, humid climate where you are choosing to be miserable justify it however you choose. If I see you wearing the hijab I know that you are a slave to one orthodoxy or another.
    By Susan Schechter - 5/30/2012 11:15:52 AM

  • “…hijab is political, feminist and empowering…” Hear hear to that, particularly when Islam is left out of it! But the world view of that garb is un-ambiguously and strictly “Muslim, Pious and Religious”, just like the nun’s garb. Other types of “modest” dresses do not convey that religiousity as it is also worn by non-Muslim and even feminists’ ladies. May be with time the world will come to accept it as just a part of the modest dress, just like the Crucifix necklace on buxom chests! So keep it up as a ‘statement’ of whatever till then. Mr Mohiyuddin makes a very good point.
    By Rashid - 5/30/2012 3:01:46 AM

  • Nadiya says, "In a society where a woman's value seems focused on her sexual charms, some wear it (hijab) explicitly as a feminist statement asserting an alternative mode of female empowerment."

    If society values a woman for her sexual charms, the woman can fight it by succeeding in fields that have been male preserves rather than by wearing a hijab which only reminds people of the very sexual charms that the woman wants under-emphasized.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 5/29/2012 2:08:17 PM

  • Miss Nadia: You deserve to be appreciated and emulated, your opinion may correct the wrong notions of some people who see use of Hijab as an oppression prescribed in Islam. It is purely voluntary and being practised by choice not by force.
    By Raihan Nezami - 5/29/2012 12:18:19 PM

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