There is an emerging trend in the hijabi world that has me extremely concerned. I’m talking about women wearing hijab not primarily for spiritual reasons, but because they feel it is increasingly fashionable, a way to “stick it to the man”, or a means to show solidarity with minorities and social justice causes.
It’s as if these individuals are saying, “We want to use hijab to stand out, but heaven forbid we’re pegged as religious as well.” As someone who took the decision to wear hijab extremely seriously, this is incredibly troubling. Tossing aside religiousness and spirituality for rebellion and style not only disrespects the sacredness of the hijab in Islam, but it also completely misses its point: to symbolize one’s personal relationship with and devotion to Allah.
My own decision to don the hijab in my early twenties was not an easy one. In a world where appearances were paramount and Islamophobia ran rampant, I knew that dressing conservatively and putting a scarf over my hair would leave me vulnerable to anti-Islamic vitriol as well as exile me to a non-existent fashion category altogether. (This was back in the pre-Instagram days when hijabi fashionistas hadn’t yet gone viral and hijab was definitely not cool).
But I also understood that it was time to submit my own desires to Allah’s and follow His command, regardless of what others might think. I threw out my short-sleeved tops, bought a couple of scarves, and braced myself for the backlash with a prayer and full faith that Allah would help make my transition to the hijabi world a smooth one.
Flash forward a couple of years later and I have no regrets about wearing the hijab. But I am beginning to feel quite “old school” about my reasons for doing so. Hijab is no longer the symbol of modesty it once was.
Today, many hijabis in heavy makeup, skin-tight skinny jeans, and short tops flood our Instagram feeds and fashion blogs, talking about wearing the hijab to look different, to stand with the oppressed, or to secure a racial or socio-political identity. It’s as if the meaning and responsibility that used to accompany it have completely vanished, degrading the headscarf to a malleable accessory.
Being an “old-school” hijabi in a world where the hijab is becoming more and more popular can be a very lonely place to be at times.
In addition to being ostracized in a largely non-Muslim society, we now face scrutiny from our fellow Muslimahs as well. We are pegged as backwards, too conservative, and comparably unattractive as we stand next to a hijabi decked out in the latest body-hugging fashions. And where does it leave women who don’t wear hijab? Are they homogenous, indifferent to social justice issues, and incapable of sympathizing with the oppressed simply because they blend in a bit better with the crowd?
This is not the first time that hijab has been appropriated. Historically, women have used it to rebel against the West and support Islamic nationalism while governments have enforced or outlawed it to exert power and influence.
Rarely did these movements recognize the hijab as a personal act of worship or grant it the respect it deserved. Today, most of the countries where this new trend is occurring don’t have issues of political oppression. Women living there have the ability to go way beyond their clothing and hijabs and use their words, actions, and organizations to make a statement, fight for social justice, and show solidarity with people of color.
This lack of respect also underlies the issue of women wearing hijab primarily because it is increasingly fashionable to do so. I completely understand if people want to customize their hijabs with different colors, styles, and outfits (I myself enjoy doing so) but to go so far as to make fashion the main motivation defeats the purpose of wearing what is supposed to be a reminder to not focus so much on outward appearances.
Would the same people don a nun’s habit or Jewish yarmulke if it seemed fashionable? Why isn’t the hijab afforded the same deference as other sacred elements of religion?
My purpose for writing is not to pass judgment in a “holier than thou” attitude, but rather to express my discomfort with what hijab is becoming. It’s as if the purpose behind the hijab, an outward expression of one’s spiritual state, has completely shifted from what it once was. But if fringe benefits, such as appearing unique, fashionable, or rebellious are the main motivation behind wearing it, then is one’s intention really to please God or please oneself?
At the end of the day, a woman can decide to wear a hijab for whatever reason she wants, as Allah is the ultimate Judge. I simply hope that every woman who chooses to wear the hijab does so with the careful thought and clear intention the decision deserves.
13 replies on “Let’s not appropriate hijab”
There are as many reasons for wearing hijab as there are those who wear it, just as there are as many version of Islam as there are Muslims. It is easy to go down a spiral that leads to religious fundamentalism when we start taking it upon ourselves to determine who and who isnt a proper Muslim, or who is or isnt practicing Islam correctly. It is a personal voyage, as each one of our lives necessarily is, and can not be dictated by any other person.
Veiling, in general, was in fact co-opted/appropriated by early/middle Islam from pre-existing cultural practices. There is nothing specific to Islam about covering ones hair with an article of clothing, whether out of modesty or for protection from the elements. There are so many forms of head covering, in Pakistan it is quite customary to wear a dabuta rather than an arabic style hijab, that to say that they all need conform to your particular motivations for wearing hijab (or risk a negative final judgement as you suggest) are a little strained.
Hijab – way over analyzed, way over discussed to the point where I almost get sick to my stomach when I hear the word. It’s almost completely lost its value which means it doesn’t matter whether you wear one or not. And really it’s suppose to be enhance spirituality but is that how spirituality is measured? Hijab? It’s not a very good measure. It’s too much of an issue in our own community let alone the non-muslims. Just tired of hearing about it. It is not the end all or be all of Islam. It just isn’t. It’s a visual thing to grasp at but it certainly does not define women of Islam. It’s so over discussed and over analyzed I can not even bring myself to wear it because in a way I’m rebelling against the overuse of Hijab and it’s use to measure religiosity and spirituality. Ugh!
If you’re covering for the “right” reason (I’m assuming that is “for the sake of Allah”), then why do you care if other people cover for different reasons and you’re judged because of that?
Actually, I think you and the likes of you are the ones judging. If you feel the way you feel, it is because you feel superior to others who wear hijab not according to your standards. Furthermore, old school hijab and new school come on give me a break. I do not wear a hijab, yet I am dressed conservatively by our ‘societal standards’. Whatever the reason one decides to wear a hijab, that is solely between them and God. If someone was prompted and inspired by solidarity – who are you to say that that inspiration did not come from God. Clearly, you have much to learn that wearing hijab is not paramount to understanding Islam as clearly evident by your self-absorbed, judgmental, superiority that claims faith as reason but it is nothing but bigotry in its worst form.
Sulaiman, my thoughts exactly! I feel like the contemporary narrative of Islam in America is focused on one or two cultural frameworks ignoring or even shaming those of other countries such as Pakistan which houses one of the biggest Muslim populations but is culturally more similar to India. And those who argue that culture doesn’t play a role in Islam or Islam is somehow impermeable to culture are ignoring the fact that the way we see ourselves and the world around us has much to do with culture and language. So with 2 billion Muslims from diverse backgrounds who speak different languages they are going to see Islam in very different ways, which is not a bad thing. I personally think that all beliefs and opinions needed to be respected and we as a community need to be careful and cautious not to shame fellow Muslims. There is so much argument within the Muslim communities on what is considered modest, but to me the most immodest things you as a Muslim can do is to claim that you know what is Islamic or Muslim whereas others do not. No one is qualified to speak on what is Islamic or Muslim because the Quran was written 1400 years ago.
Jazak Allahu khair for writing this. I am extremely troubled by the new fashionista hijabis etc. Those of us who do cover properly and dont wear make up in public are becoming the minority. You are so right, the hijab is being completely disrespected and ultimately so is Allah. It is mirrored with the Jewish tradition of wearing wigs. Almost like a smack in the face to Allah. These sisters are giving the wrong impression of Muslimahs and have broken that barrier of respect that we used to get. It sends mixed messages to be in hijab but tight clothing and/or makeup. May Allah help these sisters to see the wrong in those actions otherwise I fear we are going to see an increase in rape amongst the community of Muslimahs.
There is only one valid reason for wearing the hijab and that is to obey Allah. That is what the sister is trying to point out in the article.
Girls who want to strip off their clothing just to seek the approval of this sickening dismal society, which does nothing but sexualize women, and groom them from a young age to compete in a life long tournament of beautifying themselves for men that don’t offer them anything… A society that treats us like nothing but obsolete dirt on the floor; is like the royal family stooping down to the level and moral value of common folk just because there happens to be MORE common folk than there is royalty.
The pure essence of this sheep-like mentality is the definition of hilarity. Seeking the approval of a certain people just because they happen to be the majority is one of the many reasons the world is the mess it is. I’m not speaking for just muslim women when I say that, but all women.
As for the muslim women, when they wear hijab and tight clothing/makeup it’s like they’re saying to the world, “Look at me, but DON’T look at me.”
It sends a very conflicting message; and strikes the none-muslims with a huge cloud of confusion. Men begin to see us muslim women as fair game. I’m not speaking of just the fashionable ones when I say this, but the ones who like you, are “old school”. These girls have stripped away our image of untouchable modesty.. We were respected like nuns in that regard, but now we’re getting hit on by randomers like any other none muslim.
I’m speaking from the experience of both me, and people I know. Even Niqabis are suffering from this issue now, thanks to these girls.
They seem to not realize how pathetic it would look for a nun to walk down the street in makeup and skinny jeans. Anyone would assume they’re dressing up for a costume party. Nobody would be able to take them seriously. The message is so contradictory…
Even if they don’t wish to please Allah, surely they should stop wearing this combination of clothing for their own self respect. For LOGIC.
I appreciate the sentiments you’ve expressed.
It’s sad yet unsurprising to read some of the comments on this article. People who take a less popular, less modern view on things will always be attacked. Kudos to Wardah for having the guts to say something that so many of us are thinking. It is very hard to express this opinion without seeming “holier than thou,” and Wardah did a great job with it.
I actually found the article was somewhat condescending and judgemental. I concur – it really shouldn’t matter what the motives behind other people wearing hijab – only your own intention should matter.
In any case, so what if people think that you are or are not making a fashion statement or you are observing an act of worship?
I thin each of us need to take a long hard look at ourselves and decide why we do what we do. That is in relation to all issues, not just an over stated emphasis on hijab.
I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to say that these women who wear the hijab while simultaneously wearing make-up or skinny jeans are all fashion minded individuals. The truth is; It is HARD to wear the hijab in a western society; you begin to feel old, ugly,self concious, and scorned and the only power that keeps you motivated to wear it is God. As a hijabi, I find it easier to wear my hijab with make-up (since my face is all anyone can see why should all my acne and scars be fore-fronted?) I also find it easier to wear when I get to dress nicely while still maintaining what I feel is modest. Reading this article made me think one thing: Just because these girls on the outside don’t meet your standard of hijab, that doesn’t mean they don’t have pure intentions when they wear their hijab. I would also like to add that every single woman I know who wears hijab slowly graduates into a more modest wardrobe. Initially jeans, make-up, bright colours,and tight clothes are donned but with time, knowledge, and individual growth their sense of modesty changes into skirts, abayas, etc. So just because these girls look a certain way now it doesn’t mean they always will.