While I’ve known about the annual event for years, today was the first time I was invited to the Facebook event, and I could only sigh in response.
While I believe the organizers mean well, I disagree with its premise simply because it is meant for well-intentioned, generally white, people to put on hijab to “experience” the discrimination that hijabis face on a regular basis. The problem with giving people this power is that they suddenly think they now have “experience” to discuss Islamophobia from a perspective that is not a daily lived experience.
We’ve seen this in “social experiments” done by non-Muslim white women who put hijab on for a day and commodify their experience by writing about it and it suddenly shocks everyone. Meanwhile, Muslim women are talking about this and ignored, because it isn’t “trendy”. These are women who are harassed, verbally and physically, for wearing hijab as a part of them, not as some “well-intentioned” social experiment.
The problem isn’t with people who take part in it – I am sure the majority have decent motives and do support Muslims, but a better way to beat Islamophobia is actively taking a stand against it where it DOES hurt Muslims. Address Islamophobic friends and family instead of being silent, intervene when you see harassment, talk and discuss issues Muslims are silenced on and advocate for us – but don’t speak over us. World Hijab Day is, at its roots, about taking a hijabi’s experience and making it into a costume for a day.
World Hijab Day further stigmatizes Muslim women who do not wear hijab. Their “Muslimness” is constantly seen as lesser if they don’t wear hijab, by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. By having an event that is supposed to represent how Islamophobia “feels”, it will not show what it’s like to go through an airport with the name Muhammad or Ahmed or a last name like Khan or Abdullah. It will not give insight into the experience of having “Arab” features or darker skin and being stereotyped based on physical features. It will not even give an understanding of what it’s like to be Muslim and wear hijab on a daily basis – because, at the end of the day, the person will take it off and not have to worry about putting it back on again, or even having their Prophet and beliefs constantly mocked by Western media.
The only thing World Hijab Day can contribute to non-Muslims, is pity for the Muslim women who do wear it. They will feel the stares and may be verbally harassed about it. They will get the unwanted commentary about wearing it or the questions about their faith, or the standard, “aren’t you hot in that?” They will not know what it’s like to be a hijabi unless they become Muslim and wear hijab because of their beliefs.
If people want to understand what it’s like to wear hijab, it is much easier and more socially responsible to allow the women who wear hijab to speak about it, not to mention more empowering for the hijabis who are discriminated against by wearing it. By taking part in World Hijab Day, people are masking voices that already silenced about their experience.
On February 1st, many Muslim women will be wearing hijab, as they do every day. If you want to understand their experiences, listen to their voices all 365 days of the year. Listen to the voices of all Muslims when they speak about discrimination and Islamophobia, rather than play dress-up for your look “behind the veil”.