Today, more than ever, anti-Islamic rhetoric has been widely accepted in the media and the result of this rhetoric has been violence and hatred against Muslims, primarily Muslim women who wear the hijab. The hijab, first and foremost, is a representation of Muslim identity. Many Muslim women in America have reported physical assaults and verbal abuse as a result of the popular Islamic bigotry expressed in the media. It is challenging for us Muslim women to come up on top and show our strength against these powerful figures who continue to belittle us, and it is articles like As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity that was recently published in The Washington Post that is backpedaling the progress Muslim women have been trying to make over the course of these troubling times.
There are many problematic assertions Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa make in this article. The purpose of this short piece is to address the badly concocted claims about the hijab Nomani and Arafa make by cherry picking quotes from the Quran and taking them out of context to fit their “modern-Muslim” agenda. More so, this is about the showing the disingenuous and condescending notes Nomani and Arafa made while writing this article.
The title of the article, As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity, indicates that taking off the hijab shows that women who are taking part of this campaign to get women to take off their hijabs is becoming one with all religions.
Let us just break this down for just a moment. Nomani and Arafa are asking Muslim women to strip their identity to be a part of an interfaith solidarity movement. The key words in this are interfaith solidarity. Essentially what is being asked in this interfaith solidarity movement is to adapt to their standards and essentially assimilate to their cultural values. That is not interfaith solidarity, that’s the exact opposite in fact. One would actually think that this campaign for interfaith solidarity would be more so about coming together, to learn about their religious backgrounds, understand the complexities of subjects, and learn to tolerate differences. Asking for Muslim women to take away a major part of who they are is not solidarity, it is sugarcoating stripping one of their identity.
The irony in all of that is comical—really, but it is also frustrating that these Muslim women are telling other Muslim women to take their hijab off. Nomani and Arafa were forced to wear the hijab in a time of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and the conservative Muslim movement that swept through Egypt. They have reasons to be upset at the coercion behind wearing the hijab, but that does not legitimize their ideas that the hijab is not essential in Islam. Their “modern-Muslim” views is not really initiating liberation for women, it is teaming up with anti-Islamic views that one should not outwardly practice their religion. This anti-hijab article also insinuates this idea that in order to obtain acceptance of Americans and Westerners, Muslim women need to take their hijab off.
Muslim women continue to get the brute of the punch because the media has linked wearing the hijab as being extreme. For Muslim women today, they must choose between being loyal to American values and assimilating to American culture—which also means taking off the hijab or being cast to the side as an outlier to society. Muslim women constantly have to win over approval of society to be seen as normal American citizens who enjoy American values like other non-hijabis are privileged with.
We also should consider the audience of this article. It is very unlikely that Nomani and Arafa were writing to women in countries like Saudi Arabia where women are forced to veil themselves. It is very unlikely that Nomani and Arafa were writing to these women to tell them to start a new liberation movement for women. Nomani and Arafa’s audience are Americans. There is no law that enforces the hijab on women here in the United States. The Muslim women who wear the hijab and are most likely women who chose to wear the hijab. Because the audience is primarily American women (the main picture also being an American Muslim at Starbucks) the point of the article is not about liberating the American Muslim woman, for I’m sure the pictured girl is studying for a university test, or preparing for work, or just working on a hobby. American Muslim women do not need other Muslim women to tell them what to do—we do what we want.
In my experience as an ex-hijabi, if you would like to refer to it as that, is that I took the hijab off because I wanted to—not because anyone told me to. I read the Quran, and I read Leila Ahmed’s brilliant works, and I read other Islamic and scholarly works on the hijab. It is condescending to tell Muslim women who wear and do not wear the hijab to take the hijab off. Nomani and Arafa should not be telling other Muslim women to take their hijab off to be part of this interfaith solidarity movement. Nomani and Arafa should be telling women to accept and tolerate Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab. Girls and women should be who they want to be, and if wearing the hijab is a part of who they are, they should not be discouraged from wearing it.
It is not practical nor is it intelligent to try to unravel Quranic verses in a limited space where the main focus is not even interpreting and understanding the Quran’s meaning of the hijab. Their strategy to getting their point across by cherry picking verses and giving quick, limited interpretations of it does not mean they have solved the hijab puzzle. Nomani and Arafa have left out a significant amount of information about the hijab, and claiming that the hijab is not required is irresponsible and disingenuous—especially to Muslim women who wear the hijab.
Equally disturbing is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, pseudo Muslim feminist, staunch Islamophobe, and self-proclaimed Muslim reformer endorses this belief. It is not shocking that she does. Following the publication of this article, Ayaan Hirsi Ali went on a twitter rant about how the hijab promotes rape culture and reduces a woman to her genitalia. I will not go into the obvious reason for why statements like these are troublesome and wrong. It is this narrative that not only stifles the progress Muslim women have made in society, but it also furthers this notion that Muslim women who choose to follow a certain way of Islam are seen as barbaric and uncivilized. This outrageous and inaccurate claim by Hirsi Ali not only demonizes women who choose to wear the hijab—it also sends a message to people that the hijab is dangerous, and girls and women who do wear the hijab need to be freed from it. Nomani and Arafa exposed a side of supposed feminist Islam that coincides with the anti-Islamic narrative the media wants to hear from Muslim women; and that practicing Islam and wearing the hijab disrupts American and Western values. To remedy this, Muslim women should take off their hijab.
The Washington Post article is not about interfaith solidarity, this article is to encourage Muslim women to take the hijab off and assimilate to American values so they can fix the wrongs extremist have done in the name of Islam. As an American Muslim woman, I do not need to be told what to believe. As an American Muslim woman, I need people to tolerate my religion and see Islam as a part of who I am.