Some thoughts on hijab (as published on Double Bind)

Last week I wrote the following article for the new Double Bind magazine. I would encourage everyone visit this magazine as it is a wonderful new platform giving space to unheard and often ignored voices of dissenters within Muslim communities. Below is some text from their “About Us” section.

“Double Bind features predominantly female writers from a Muslim background who understand what it’s like to face oppression based on gender within our communities, and discrimination based on faith or skin colour outside of it.

… our concerns have for the most part been dismissed by all except those who use our stories to fuel racism and xenophobia; who call for refugees escaping from torture and risk of death to be left to die in the water, or others who care little for women but will become vocal about sexist abuse when perpetrated within minority communities. Ironically, an unacceptable number of activists and campaigners intent on combatting the tide of right-wing hatred towards minorities has only served to exacerbate it further by  dismissing and denying the experiences of some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society.

No culture is perfect, and criminals exist of all faiths and backgrounds. To pretend otherwise is both disingenuous and dangerous, and it is incumbent upon each of us to challenge human rights abuses wherever they arise. We reject any form of marginalisation relating to gender, faith or sexuality, and we will no longer have our voices usurped by others. Here, we speak for ourselves.”

http://doublebindmagazine.com/aboutAs an ExMuslim woman who wore the hijab and who openly disagrees with it, I wanted to wade into the discussion of hijab and mainstream fashion trends. Here’s my article published on the Double Bind.

 

As an ExMuslim woman who wore the hijab and who openly disagrees with it, I wanted to wade into the discussion of hijab and mainstream fashion trends. Here’s my article published on the Double Bind.

“Having followed news about the onset of global hijab fashion trends and ‘modest’ clothing lines, I am conflicted about whether the normalisation of Islamic attire is a good step forward or whether in reality it dismisses the brutal experiences of some who wear hijab.

When I used to wear it, the idea of putting earrings on, or a attaching a sparkly, colourful chain on my scarf would have been unacceptable, because the whole point of it was to remain modest and deter male attention. But the hijab of the fashion world seems to be little more than a pretty accessory. This raises so many questions for me, because by emptying the hijab of religious meaning there is a dismissal of the fact that many women are coerced into wearing it. I am all for adult hijabi women who truly choose to wear the headscarf to do so in whatever way they want, but I also recognise that perhaps the young girls who follow changing hijab fashions are doing so because that is the only form of self-expression allowed to them within their communities. I am all too aware of the many young girls who are forced to wear it and who now only have the ‘choice’ of a few colourful trends to console themselves with. Does this enforce their subjugation or does it give them an outlet for self-expression?

By way of background, I used to sport the hijab and jilbab in my teenage years as a Muslim. After 6 years I took it off for several reasons, not least because of the fact that I am now an ex-Muslim. Below is a snippet from a journal entry early last year. I wrote it after an incident with my parents, when my mum insisted that I resume wearing it again to hide my ‘disgusting female body’.

“I cannot wear the hijab because it means more than a headscarf. I despise it for many reasons, such as the fact that I am perceived as a sexual object requiring covering. I cannot, for the life of me, separate the ‘cloth’ from all the symbols and representation that comes with it. I cannot wear a hijab because it reminds me of dark days when I was trapped, and I promised myself I would never go into that cocoon again. The hijab comes with expectations and a strict code of behaviour. The hijab incapacitates my ability as a woman to be seen as a human being, to be on an equal standing with a man. The hijab restricts my movement, it makes me hide and feel incapable of socialising in public and with men (without guilt and long stares). The hijab removes my femininity, dismisses my aspirations and desires as woman. The hijab mutilates my sexuality. The hijab makes me feel like a sex object and completely worthless.”

In my opinion I think it is dangerous and misleading for the fashion industry to promote hijab fashion. Of course there is huge demand from some consumers in this spiritual supermarket for pretty hijabs and jilbabs. What the industry forgets – or simply does not care about – is that it removes every bit of meaning and conditioning attached to that piece of clothing. For them it is little more than a money-making strategy, and an irresponsible one at that. When you look into what the hijab means, it is defined as a piece of clothing to cover the awrah, or ‘private parts’. In simple terms, the woman is reduced toawrah and must be covered. Many women around the world are coerced into wearing hijab because their religion dictates that they should – or they will face the burning flames of hellfire. The hijab is a symbol of ‘modesty’ that promotes an unjust purity culture. This means that a woman’s character is judged on whether she is sporting it or not. It is a tool (given legitimacy by religion and promoted by conservative patriarchal cultures) used to control a woman’s behaviour: it is a weapon of subjugation.

I personally am against the idea that hijab can be a mere fashion trend. I feel that it perpetuates a misguided perspective that wearing it is always a choice. I do not support a culture that celebrates hijab and the oppression of many women. I know some hijabis who claim it is, but I find it hard to believe it is a choice when the consequences of not wearing the one for all too many women is the accusation that they are not obeying Allah and that they are destined for hellfire simply for displaying her hair. Or perhaps they are perceived as loose and immodest without appropriate veiling. Nonetheless I am also a secularist, and as such, I do accept an adult woman’s sincere choice to adorn herself in whatever she may wish despite, my personal views against it. But I am strongly against the promotion of hijab for children (such as the hijab Barbie) – this is just plain wrong. Children cannot make a reasoned choice to wear a hijab and neither should their bodies be sexualised.

I had a damn hard time taking off hijab, and I still suffer the shaming consequences of it.”

http://doublebindmagazine.com/297-2

Suffering

Suffering is a human condition. What separates each of us is how we deal with the suffering we face. Do we scream and wail to feel the harsh vibrations of this debilitating emotion or do we silently shed tears to dry on their own? I have been thinking a lot of about suffering lately. I am suffering a great deal because I am trying to come to terms with accepting a life without my family. Just few days ago I was invited by my elder brother and sister to have that long awaited “chat” with them about my disbelief. My mother pleaded for me to accept and discuss with them (in the hope that some change may occur). I simply accepted this offer; after all I’m still naively eager for acceptance. For the last few days I wondered why I had done this, and why I was taking it so lightly. I mean, I was going to walk into a lion’s den, and yet I appeared to be calm about it.

Days went by and my anxiety grew. I thought of whether they wanted to talk to me to lovingly tell me what they thought would be a better way for me? Or that maybe they truly wanted to tell their little sister to not make this life mistake by forsaking their God. Thoughts of reuniting with them gave me comfort and terror. Anticipation of a bittersweet ceremony. I spoke to a few of my close loved ones and all highly disagreed with this proposition. They felt that it was not going to work out well and that simply it was way too early to get into such a situation where I would be outnumbered and simply, beaten through emotional manipulation and abuse. Even though my intention of going into this was only to “stand up” for myself and speak my mind, in reality I would be entering into an unequal territory and conversation. They don’t want to hear me. They want to control me and keep me in line. Why should I put up with such abusive behaviour?

Abuse. That’s when the penny dropped. I cannot imagine my family and abuse being in the same category. I don’t want to accept that, perhaps, there is some abuse going on there. That perhaps they are being vile and unaccepting of me, and they simply wanted to be seen as the saviours in our family dynamic. They wanted to save my parents from the evil horrors of their younger sister. I find it so hard to believe this. I believe a part of this is because I am unable to accept myself being the victim of abuse from my family. I always say I am lucky as my family have never ever been physically abusive and nor have they threatened me. However, this emotional manipulation and abuse through the systems of honour and shame have been crippling me. I speak about the horrors of this, and yet, how could I not comprehend that I myself was living through this?

Abuse. It is a hard term to swallow. A hard acceptance to know that perhaps you’re the victim. Despite feeling supremely strong and brave at times, I feel like I am a victim of my experiences and family. I want to be angry to tell them this is not fair. I want to say that I’ll be completely ok without them and that why should I want such people in my life who do not accept me, and simply, wish to control me? I mean, after all, isn’t the whole purpose of this meeting for them to “understand” me and then somehow want me to “seek their permission” for me to change, and be the way I am. I know they’re not bad people, but even good people can be abusive because all they know is how to control because they are simply insecure.

Validation. That is key. Pursuit of validation from family compounds the inability to recognise abuse and to acknowledge it. Pursuit of validation from others gives us little self-worth. But then why do I seek it? I have become this woman who on the face of it has it all together, but, look deeper and you’ll see the fragmented pieces. Although I know true validation comes from oneself, in reality, practising it is pretty darn hard.

Validation. Abuse. Control. Survival. Suffering. All very important conditions to deal with make me overwhelmed at times. I am not speaking of this because I am weak. I speak of this because a family based on a religious and cultural upbringing which demands such levels of conformity leaves a person this impacted.

Nonetheless, suffering is a human condition. What matters is how we deal with it. Today, I chose to share it.

~x~

 

Edit: This post has been cross-posted  on the Double Bind Magazine.

 

Repetitions

sorrow

Every day I wake up with a knot in my stomach. I feel anxious and worried. I feel awkward from the weird and obnoxious (yet similar) dreams I saw that night. I feel fearful of my future. After a cup of tea, a check through my emails and a little benign banter with my colleagues, I start to feel a little normal again. The usual trawling through Facebook and Twitter posts keeps me entertained for a bit. A little bit of normality returning to my otherwise disjointed existence. Soon after work, meetings and deadlines takeover. Having to challenge, persuade and convince people for a living makes me feel like perhaps I can do this. I can win at work, so I can win at life as well! Including with my family…! In my ambition to keep myself fully busy and distracted, after work I either go home to my loving partner or meet some friends for company. Seems pleasant, bitter-sweet conversations fill the evening until night time beckons.

Night time. Once a pleasant time of the day, now became a time to avoid. I long to keep the evening going forever. Chit chat and laughter with my partner, watching silly TV shows, ranting on Twitter. I try to keep such happy and comforting moments going on for as long as possible. You see, I’m afraid. I’m afraid to sleep. I’m afraid of what tomorrow will bring. I’m afraid that my mother will die from the grief she feels because of her inability to accept my choices. I feel fear and guilt. I fear that I’ll see a horrible nightmare again. What will it be this time? People dying? Me being unable to escape a maze? My partner cheating on me? My partner and family laughing at me? Being naked and exposed while people laugh at me? Oh it’s endless. Feels totally dramatic and stupid – but – these are all true dreams (or more like nightmares) of the past few weeks. What I struggle suppress and avoid all day, comes to haunt me at night. I have no escape and my unconscious mind takes over and likes to taunt me.

Come Friday, some sanity returns. It’s the weekend, I can rest. I am eagerly awaiting the moment I can just put my feet up and think about nothing. This lasts for a day or so. But, such happiness is temporary. Shortly afterwards on Sunday, I am bitterly upset about having this time to myself. Horrible thoughts and painful experiences with my family come back like a ton of bricks. Even when I want to rest, I seem incapable of it. This leaves me with the burning desire to connect with them. I hesitantly pick up the phone and brace myself for the call. I want to hear their voices – I miss my mum and dad. They answer and all I hear is love with disappointment.

My father has become a broken man. My mother repeats all the time. She doesn’t get it. They don’t get it. Am I being impatient and wanting their acceptance so quickly? Maybe. But, the alternative of waiting around and giving time is most definitely not easy. The phone conversation with my mother is so sad. It’s so hopeless and yet like a ritual I fall into it. We want to embrace the drama and feel the anguish. I grew up in it, it’s no surprise I still seek it out.

It’s been 5 weeks now, but it feels like a very long time to me. Crying over stupid shit just isn’t so great. And the more they try to convince me of their God, the more I hate the idea of any God or religion. Such a terribly futile cycle. The years of indoctrination of religion and a culture influenced by such a religion, leaves me a miserable and guilt-ridden wreck. I feel ashamed of things I shouldn’t. I feel as though I have let down my family. But I know I’m right and I did the right thing. But then, why am I still the one going through this pain? Facing rejection and emotional blackmail because I chose to think for myself? I know I’m right; I’m introspective enough. Yet, the years of my conditioning as a Muslim woman, has left me like this. Social stigma and becoming a social pariah are such horrible punishments passed on women like me. My crime? Leaving Islam and choosing a non-Muslim partner. And yet, it hurts. Yet, I cry. I miss my family. The only family who will know my childhood.

I guess I will do this until one day I don’t. Until that time, this is my life.