Last week the Daily Mail published an article claiming that “a fifth of 800 primary schools now list the hijab in their uniform policy” with Muslim feminists advocating for a hijab ban in primary schools and suggesting that it should be “fiercely resisted”.
Let’s keep things in proportion – the 2011 census highlights that Muslims make up only 5% of the population in Britain. One fifth of 800 primary schools whose websites’ uniform policy was checked would equate to 160 primary schools listing hijab in their uniform policy. With 22,821 schools in Britain, we have no concrete figures that suggest how many girls of primary school age wear the hijab. This discussion is important but the way in which it has been framed, particularly in our current climate where everyone seems to be obsessed with talking about Muslims and our problems, presenting statistics in a sensationalised way is unhelpful.
Muslim feminists have objected against girls wearing the hijab arguing that it sexualises them. As a Muslim woman and a feminist, I wholeheartedly agree. The hijab is mainly worn by Muslim women for religious purposes; sometimes the choice is personal and at other times, it’s political. Among Islamic scholars and Muslims, there seems to be a consensus that the purpose of the hijab is to conceal a woman’s sexuality and is only a requirement once a girl reaches the age of puberty. By placing a garment which is used to conceal the sexual appeal of women on prepubescent girls, we are sending the message that their bodies are sexually appealing to men.
For many Muslims, the hijab is not just a religious garment. In some communities, it may be expected of young girls to wear the hijab as part of their cultural tradition, for others it is a way of encouraging their daughters to embrace their faith. We cannot expect parents who have encouraged their daughters to wear the hijab to suddenly stop this practice without making aconscious shift in their cultural attitudes towards girls and women. The hijab holds a significant religious value amongmany Musl
Indeed, this discussion has given a platform for people to express Islamophobic views. Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury stated that he is “against the wearing of hijabs altogether” as he believes that “we are in a secular western country largely influenced by the Christian faith.”. This conflation of a woman’s choice to wear the hijab with primary schoolgirls wearing the hijab, out of cultural expectations, impl
As someone who wears the hijab, I do not believe it to be oppressive. When a woman actively makes an informed choice to wear the hijab, it can be liberating in many ways. For a child who has yet to comprehend the religious and historical context behind the hijab, as well as its cultural and social significance, it is oppressive. Psychologically, it is concerning as it encourages young girls to maintain the appearance of a woman and carry the burden that comes with being a woman in our society before they’ve even understood what it means. It signals that young girls’ bodies are merely sexual objects of male desire resulting in them viewing themselves through the eyes of men and indirectly sends the message that girls should be held responsible for unwanted sexual advances. But this is just one of the many ways in which the oppression of women presents itself in the lives of girls from an early age. There is no denying that sexist and misogynistic attitudes are present within Muslim communities and driven by patriarchy. Whether intentionally or not, it is these attitudes that act as a catalyst for parents who encourage their daughters to wear the hijab. By placing a ban on the hijab in primary schools and dealing with this issue in isolation without making room for a wider discussion about the rights of girls and women, we risk ignoring the root cause of the problem.
We should encourage more open avenues to discourage the trend of young girls wearing the hijab but turning to the right-wing media to voice our concerns under dramatic headlines is not one of them. Banning the hijab outright in schools is counterproductive and will only be met by resistance. Ultimately, this discussion needs to be led by Muslim women and we must begin by encouraging a change in cultural misogynistic attitudes towards girls and women as objects of sexual desire.