No big deal. Many other sportspersons would’ve made it to the US Olympic team or other teams in other sports but we didn’t hail everyone so why Ibtihaj? Well, because Ibtihaj is not only a 30-year-old Maplewood, New Jersey native; she is the first Muslim woman to compete for United States in international sports. And she wears her hijab like a crown. Ibtihaj’s success was hailed even by President Obama as he gave her a shout-out on his visit to the Baltimore mosque last Wednesday when he told her to ‘bring home the Gold!’
Ibtihaj’s story is yet another stone breaching the stereotypes claiming that hijab equals oppression.
In the recent past, many other women have come forward, proud to be Muslims and proud to wear the religious head covering: Amna Al-Haddad (weightlifter, UAE), Stephanie Kurlow (ballerina, Australian), Noor Tagouri (journalist, USA), Zahra Lari (figure skater, UAE), Muna Abu-Sulayman (MBC social program host and media personality), Linda Sarsour (racial justice and civil rights activist, USA), Dalia Mogahed (renowned scholar, USA), Mariah Idrissi (model, H&M fame), Yasmin Kanar (YouTuber and fashion guru), Ayesha Farooq (fighter pilot, Pakistan), Asma Shirazi (anchorperson and journalist, Pakistan) – to name a few.
These women, and any like them, are rebels. Their hijab doesn’t oppress them; it emboldens them. They are breaking barriers by taking up professions nobody thought were suitable for a woman in a hijab because they truly believe that nothing is impossible. They shatter the stereotype of the shy burka-clad woman who is silenced into oppression. They pursue their careers with bold stances that show the world that it’s not their hijab that’s clipping their wings but rather a world that suggests a woman who dares to choose how she should dress herself has little to no place in a world that wants to control what a woman should wear.
The conservative East is obsessed with forcing women into yards and yards of fabric without respecting her very being and sells that as modesty – as if that’s a trait important for only a woman to have. The liberal West, on the contrary, prefers to strip off the clothes and calls it freedom – as long as the woman chooses not to cover, she is dubbed free but should she dare to add layers to her clothing, she is demonized for giving into the culture of the ‘oppressed’.
I’m sorry but seems to me that a burka and a bikini could well be two sides of the same patriarchal coin designed to be flipped just to see how to control a woman best according to what the circumstances call for.
This fight, I wouldn’t even pick with the religious lot as they don’t boast to be champions of feminism. This is a question the feminists and the liberals need to ponder over. If they believe in giving women their rights and making sure that they are in charge of their own lives and that they should be free to make choices for themselves and all that blah, why is it that they simply forget it all when a woman chooses to don a hijab? It is a small scarf that covers the head – her head. What’s so scary about it that we throw away all freedom of expression and choice out the window and deem it necessary to school her in how she’s being oppressed?
A hijabi woman’s choice to wear her hijab is belittled with ‘childhood indoctrination’ as an excuse to insult her intelligence. Let’s be clear. A little girl dressed in a hijab is only as free or oppressed as a little girl dressed in shorts. Both are suffering from childhood indoctrination, if you will, because in both cases it’s not really them but their parents making this dress selection for them according to what they think is right and acceptable.
The notion that the hijab represents oppression is not untrue. Yes, it does in most cases. But then so does a bikini and a scooped neckline and revealing outfits if you’re okay with women showing skin only when it’s appealing and easy on the eyes but gross out or feel uncomfortable to see a mother breastfeeding in public because somehow suddenly that is what’s obscene…? I mean really, out of the two scenarios, there’s only one that doesn’t objectify the woman in any way and it’s not the former.
Another criticism I’ve heard of hijabi women breaking the traditional mold, which comes from the conservative Muslim corner, is that it’s not really ‘hijab’ if you’re just covering your head but not really being modest in your demeanor. And that the hijab is not a choice but a commandment, hence, must be obeyed.
I was guilty of judging Mariah Idrissi, the H&M model, with this same that’s-not-really-hijab mindset. I simply couldn’t understand all the hype about the ‘hijab’ in a place where people appreciate you for your looks and clothes and evaluate you for how attractive you appear – totally defeats the purpose of the ‘hijab’ which literally means modesty. But looking at that ad, you can’t deny that she is the only one that represents Muslim women in that 5-minute clip celebrating diversity of people. Besides, she is dressed modestly, fully clothed and looking utterly chic. Like a friend of mine pointed out, it’s not Mariah’s fault if she looks hawt even in a hijab; you can’t hate her for being beautiful.
Point is, these women aren’t desecrating the hijab. In fact, they understand the implication completely and they are proud of it, which is why they are choosing to wear it. Truth is when you look at a group of women, the one with the hijab is the one saying I’m a Muslimah, regardless of how many other Muslim women there are in that same group. She is the only one identifying herself as that, the one deciding to stand out and be unique and embrace everything about herself, and that is a brave thing to do.
As for the commandment versus choice part – the choice comes from following it or not following it, and I’m guessing the one to judge should be the One who revealed the commandment in the first place. Furthermore, this isn’t the only commandment meant to be obeyed by those who believe so let’s not hate our women for sinning differently than our men.