Since 2013, February 1st has been marked as an annual “World Hijab Day”. The intention behind this labelling was that women (Muslim and non-Muslim) globally would be invited to experience wearing a head-covering for one day in hopes of fostering “religious tolerance and understanding”. I get where this comes from, I do – but I do not support the endeavor. In suggesting that one must actually dress as a hijab-wearing Muslim woman in order to understand and empathise with us and thus join in anti-racist work, it acquiesces to the status quo wherein Muslim women are dehumanised, tokenised and completely silenced. Whilst seemingly a day for us the day completely strips us of our own voice and legitimacy.
Time and again it seems that hijab-wearing Muslim women’s experiences of “hate” (it’s not really “hate” though is it…), discrimination, Islamophobia and both micro and macro aggressions are not valid or believable until non-hijab wearers have confirmed them. Channel 4’s My Week As a Muslim back in October 2017 showed exactly this. A non-Muslim white woman quite literally “dressed up” as a hijab-wearing Muslim woman to find out “how bad it really is”. Despite the continuous trope of the image of a hijab or niqab-wearing woman who must accompany news-stories about “failed integration”, “terrorism”, “declining British values” and everything else, those women themselves are rarely given space to speak.
In fact, hijab-wearing Muslim women are spoken about, spoken for and spoken over. We get discussed, dissected and our experiences assumed. We are tropes, targets, objects, symbols of contestation, figments of the imagination but rarely anything more. Even recent rows about children wearing hijab at school stem not from child welfare concerns but the continual fear, suspicion and exoticism which surrounds the hijab and the way it has become a symbol for Muslim “backwardness”, sexual deviancy, Otherness, patriarchal men’s invisible hands and shadowy Muslim households which the state cannot access the going-ons of. Wearing hijab puts one constantly under a microscope. The times when some of us are allowed to speak or are given a platform we have to be exceptional, we have to speak from the primary positionality of “Muslim woman” and we have to battle presumptions; in reality, this is just another way of being under a microscope. The number of times I have felt tokenised, reduced and boxed speaks to the fact that it is not listening to our voices alone that is required, but allowing us to speak on our own terms.
For that reason, this “world hijab day” I ask you to reflect on yourself and denounce whatever notions you may have that hijab-wearing Muslim women are primarily or only that. Reject any inkling that you cannot understand us until you have tried on our costume. But that is not all. Many are willing to nod, agree, retweet and sadly shake their heads at the situation of Muslim women, but here’s what I’m actually asking for: material support.
I, and several other hijab-wearing Muslim women (including Yvonne Ridley, Rumana Lasker, Shaista Azia, Azeezat Johnson, Sabeena Akhtar and many excellent others have written a book, Cut From The Same Cloth. It is for us and by us. It will not be a book explaining why we wear hijab. It will not be a book within which we write primarily or only from our perspective as Muslim women. In the fact it is an anthology including multiple of us, we are afforded the space to be multifaceted and contradictory. In speaking on our own terms we are able to speak whatever way we want. The only way we can do this however, is through bypassing traditional publishing techniques to retain our independence in what we can write and thus not be reduced to tokens once more. This means we are crowd-funding. This means we need money. This means that if you can afford to support us with £10, you should, here.
Don’t think it is enough to don a hijab and say you understand. Don’t think it is enough to retweet and say you support. This World Hijab Day, support a group of hijab-wearing women speaking for OURSELVES. Support has to be more than tokenistic, put your money where your mouth is (if you can!).