I have to admit something here – my stance about Noor Tagouri has been changing back and forth between whether it was okay for her to do the interview as a Muslim woman and whether I condemn her choice in particular or whether I condemn every woman’s choice to feature in Playboy. I can firmly say that nothing about this can make me want to celebrate her appearance and a lot of it has to do with Playboy itself and not the contents of her interview.
I’d like to firmly draw a line under the entire issue and move on from it, however the reaction from the Muslim community in general has been incredibly disgusting and abusive with criticisms aimed at Noor ironically calling her disempowered, a ‘slut’ and a ‘whore’ all in the same sentence thus revealing some very disturbing attitudes that we as a collective need to address and rectify.
One reaction that really struck a chord with me was that of Dina Torkia’s, popularly known as Dina Tokio, that took place on Snapchat yesterday. Although she felt she didn’t make much sense with her analysis, I think her general point was that she still supported Noor and her talent in spite of this one questionable choice of hers. But a further point she made was one I would consider completely on point – hijab isn’t normal. By normal, she means that in keeping with current norms within fashion and, on a wider level, within society Muslim women have a code of dress that non-Muslim women don’t need to comply to. From what I understood, Dina essentially said that it’s okay for hijabis to be different and feel different; we don’t need to care what the world thinks neither do we need the mainstream media to ‘normalise’ Muslim women by featuring hijabis in magazines and newspapers. In principle, it’s great if they do, but it still won’t normalise the concept of women covering their hair.
I’ve spent some time wondering why the hijab is so controversial and the answer is definitely not because that it represents the oppression of women. On a superficial level, for many people hijab represents oppression especially when covering is compounded with the appalling treatment Muslim women face at the hands of misogynists within the Muslim community. But when you dig a bit deeper the discomfort with the hijab is to do with a level of spirituality that an increasingly irreligious society is finding very difficult to stomach.
Scrutiny on the hijab has become so intense that it has placed Muslim women under pressure to find reasons other than just ‘because God commanded it’ to explain why they wear it. But there should be nothing wrong with simply offering that as an explanation. After all, why do Sikh men wear turbans and Jewish men wear the kippah? Much of the reasoning behind these head coverings are due to devout observance of their faith. Wearing the hijab is no different and nor should it be. The essence of hijab lies in the fact that it isn’t a cultural, social or feminist identity, but a symbol of faith first and foremost. Both the turban and kippah are viewed as alien and not part of ‘normal’ society but neither have negative connotations attached to them, and it isn’t normalising of hijab that we want but the removal of negativity from it so that we can go about our lives without being viewed through the paradigm of those labels.
I don’t think Muslim women can ever have the negativity of being women removed from us – it’s just a fact that applies to all women. That fact will always be compounded by many of us being women of colour. But if there is one thing that we do have control over is the way hijab is viewed by wider society. Much of the negative connotations with hijab are related to how women in the Muslim world are treated and the transference of those cultural attitudes to Britain and the rest of the Western world have contributed to it on a greater level than we realise. As a result, we’ve become unnaturally defensive about why we wear hijab.
I think we have some level of responsibility upon us to fulfil the essence of hijab, and it’s something we might not want to take on. I don’t mean that we need to go through the motions of prayer and fasting; those are merely the basics of what God has commanded of us and apply to Muslim men, too. But in order to reclaim our narrative as Muslim women and remove the negative connotations of hijab, we simply need to carry on with our lives as we are right now with a greater level of God-consciousness and spirituality in our actions and speech. We need to be better, kinder, politer, more charitable, more eloquent and be more focused on what God wants from us instead of what society demands of us. We need to be connected to each other in our sisterhood and do it for His sake instead of ripping shreds off of each other. When we appear in the media, our message should be less about how hijab empowers us against a white-centric or male-centric society and more about how hijab empowers us to be who we are – Muslim.
In the current climate, being openly spiritual is ridiculed and considered abnormal. As a result, hijab isn’t normal. We need to accept that instead of trying to normalise it.