This study takes a very specific look at the intersectional prejudice hijab-wearing Muslim women face here in Canada, by combining previous academic research with recollections of one’s own observations. By intersectional prejudice, I merely mean the clash of gender discrimination with racial discrimination. I argue that intersectional prejudice (in general) does indeed exist, it does impact the lives of many families, and it may be beneficial for everyone to truly look at ways of stopping its growth.
I have and continue to notice the negative ways in which some individuals have viewed and continued to view the hijab/hair veil of Muslim Women (on a personal note, that of my mother); therefore I seek to unravel this particular social phenomenon, which I may subtly refer to as Gendered Islamophobia or discrimination based on fear of the other (inter-contextual).
I seek to question the current social fabric of our society and moreover question the ways in which our country’s institutions have been created and continue to function. I do not want to look the other way on such an important and growing societal phenomena. In a broader sense, as a Canadian society here in Edmonton, we can only really move towards living up to our multicultural image, by exposing the systematic problems prevalent in our systems. Moreover, I do identify with a certain kind of feminism (specific to my specific beliefs and values) but I do know that many (if not all) western feminists subconsciously view the hijab as oppressive and an exercise of patriarchy, which I respectfully state yet truly believe is a condescending, demeaning and ignorant assumption that is prevalent in the minds of many. I seek to explain the notion of Orientalist thinking and also encourage the marketing of the hijab in a more empowering light and manner; in a manner that is not tainted by “othering” which only really proliferates societal exclusion and alienation for all human beings.
Additionally, I must note that I do not wish to generalize that all non-Muslims act the same, because that is certainly not the case. We all hold within ourselves a certain level of ignorance. Given my background and scope of my interest as an undergraduate student studying Sociology as a minor, I seek to approach all societal issues from a human rights perspective and maintain an argument that connects back to defending ones sense of right as a human. Additionally, I may never wear the hijab (it is a personal choice for me), but I do seek to use my voice to stand up for the due rights of Muslim women who do wear the respective hijab and who do, in fact, face known or unknown/hidden/disguised repercussions for doing so. Muslim hijab-wearing women are human beings just like any other women out there, worthy of unconditional respect due to their essence and their intelligence. The simple notion of respect is universal and absolutely necessary to encourage and implement, in order to coexist and leave in harmony with one another.
A hijab-wearing Muslim women should not have to face an unequal and heavily politicized playing field, simply because she chooses to practice freedom of speech/expression by wearing a marker of her devotion to her faith: the hijab.
In this study, let us:
– focus on gaining a deeper understanding of the hijab and why Muslim women choose to wear it
– look at negative perceptions of the hijab and subsequent acts of hate towards those wearing it
– analyze the ways in which Muslim women have reinvented the tarnished image of the hijab into one that maintains modesty but connects with western values, through artistic means.
Note: the order in which the issues are tackled may vary but the images should be able to guide you.
By truly analyzing possible ways women are affected by wearing the hijab, I hope this inspires people to truly look at the hijab from a new, empowering perspective, perhaps one that allows individuals to treat the hijab with more respect and acknowledgement of the dignity the head covering truly represents. To stand up for women rights, we must be willing to stand up for the right to choice of ALL women. Without the ability to choose, a person is still oppressed. To truly liberate women of all backgrounds from the restrains of male hegemony, we must start difficult conversations and encourage the facilitation of cross-cultural, inter-faith and cross-gender discussions, which may not be as difficult to assemble here in Canada, compared to other nations.
I stand up for values and principles that I believe in
It is worth noting that as Zine (2006) quoted, researchers must not only be responsible for what is written, but also truly analyze how the work might be interpreted by others, given that racism and imperialism influence all of our lives. It is worthy to state that I have been raised to be respectful of all religions, all cultures and to truly embrace my Canadian values, therefore my perspective is that of an outsider from all communities which exist where I reside. I have built up my own identity and perspective of this world using the principles of human rights through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Canadian values from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and my own sociological imagination and/or intuition to pinpoint issues we face as a collective society; issues that may be found in other marginalized groups.
Why do women wear the Hijab?
This question can often be a subjective point of contention for many. Muslim women wear the hijab for a variety of reasons, all of which has a deeper meaning and value to each individual women. By following the Quran, the simple act of wearing the hijab is seen as a spiritual step towards fulfilling the command of both Allah (swt) and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). As mentioned earlier, Muslim Women wear the hijab for personal, religious, cultural, image-related and/or political reasons (not mutually exclusive), it all depends on the woman, her background (family, upbringing, education, surrounding, etc). As Leila Ahmed states, “the veil today has no universal meaning. It’s meanings are always local” (O’Donnel 2011).
Normalizing the Hijab: An explanation of its many dimensions
The hijab has three layers: the physical (covering your hair), the societal (how you interact with people around you), and the moral/spiritual (what your intentions are and essential your moral compass – right/wrong/awareness). The “Hijab” goes beyond physically covering ones hair and has a lot to do with a personal relationship with the Creator. Historically, Virgin Mary wore a veil and is a strong figure in Christianity, and there is plenty of other examples, which further emphasize that the hijab existed long before Islam. It may be beneficial to connect Western/Canadian values with the values behind the notion of the hijab, to find a middle ground to establish discourse around, because by doing so we can share a raw sense of humanness with one another and emphasize the similarities across faiths (opening a new dimension of understanding and respect amongst on another). We all seek meaning in our lives as human beings, and the hijab is an example of this for some people.
Social and Political Context: Canadian Society and Diversity
We can learn a lot by looking at the way in which history has unfolded. Many of the first Arab immigrants who came to Canada in 1882 were from Ottoman Syria (Zines 2012), and as expected of those with Syrian heritage, they easily passed as white individuals (light hair, light eyes) and most were Christians but a few Muslim Syrians passed through as well. The brave Muslim pioneers in Canada’s past paved the way for more immigrants of Muslim faith, by then bringing in their respective wives. Certain muslim families are very well-known for establishing homes here in AB since the early 20th century. By the end of the twentieth century, Muslims [have become] the largest non-Christian religious group in Canada (Zines 2012). As can be seen, Muslims are not going disappear from the Canadian population (“going back home” now means going back to Edmonton, Calgary, etc…), therefore it may be best to look at ways to establish a more inclusive approach towards Muslims and work to move beyond the facades brought about by media representatives.
Where is our Canadian society heading?
According to Lefebvre (2005), as “old stock Canadians” are becoming less religious, immigration is only really increasing and subsequently further establishing cultural and religious pluralism (Ramji 2008). Although Canada remains predominantly Christian, between 1991-2001 the Muslim communities (amongst Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist ones) has nearly doubled in size ( Ramji 2008). Since the 1970s, Muslim communities have grown and many of the Muslims who been arriving over to Canada are from middle and upper-middle class families, so peaceful coexistence is becoming a stronger reality to face.
We state we are a multicultural country and I will always hope that we do truly become one, but as Zines (2012) quotes through the words of Adams (2007), the multicultural utopia our country leans on operates more as a national fiction than as a social reality right now. It doesn’t take much to see that the overt racism of the past has now transformed into polite racism.
Historical Context: Beyond Canada to Europe
According to Allen (2010: 19), it was in Europe where the overriding notion of the threat of Islam was widespread. Europe’s Christian elite had begun the long history of codifying what might be described as its subjectively informed scholarship about Islam and Muhammad. In Europe, Roman Christendom and beyond, the concept of Muslims as “others” were established (Allen 2010: 19). As Islam continued to encroach on the peripheries of Europe’s borders, so European powers felt the need to respond. The crusades started as a means of defeating the burgeoning Muslim armies and freeing the holy city of Jerusalem (Allen 2010: 19). During the crusades, many Christians not only killed huge numbers of Muslims, but also Jews and those Christians that the Vatican deemed heretical… thus the threat and encroachment of Muslim armies therefore provided a convenient scapegoat, a much needed and necessary enemy against which the Vatican and its supporters could wage war. It was all done under the disguise of unifying Europe. On a personal note, I lack religious knowledge (at least not that of a theology scholar), so I leave the interpretation of historical accuracy according to history to your own discretion.
Negative Perceptions: Dislike because of fear?
Post 9/11, the “war on terror” has cast Muslims as the new “enemy within” (Zine 2012), and Canadian Muslims are seen as potential threats to public safety, as well as a compromise to their civil liberty is. The notion of negative media portrayals and the limited constructions of Muslims has had a great deal in throwing Islam into the landscape of Canadian social and political matters, and certainly not in a positive manner (Zine 2012).
Now, the issue at hand is how the negative perception of Islam affects Muslim women who wear the hijab. Carland (2011) analyzes this in an interesting manner, explaining that the loss of freedom (due to negative perceptions about Muslims such as oppressive, evil, etc) can lead to Islamophobia against Muslim women in the West (especially hijabi’s) and that Islamophobia can lead to a loss of freedom for Muslim women in the West, in a constant/perpetuating loop of true oppression. All of this then creates the false and demeaning idea of the “big, bad Muslim woman” (Carland 2011).
SEMIOLOGY AND THE HIJAB: MARKER OF FAITH
Why does the act of wearing the hijab signify a courageous act?
SEMIOLOGY AND SUBSEQUENT HATE CRIMES
If we respect human rights as a component of the democratic country we are, we must apply those human rights to all humans, regardless of background. By standing up for the rights of hijabi women, semiology can attest to how such a stance is essentially the idea of standing up for the human rights of Muslims.
Muslim women and girls appear to be more susceptible to hate crimes motivated due to their status as Muslims (Perry 2014), due to what is explained by semiology.
Semiology states that meaning is established through signs and visual identifiers (Allen 2010: 149).
The “signs” (products) are the medium through which meaning is given form and made known. The “form” then informs, shapes, perpetuates and sustains that meaning which exists and circulates in society, leading to a reaction and often an unnecessary fear-induced/hateful one.
How does Semiology work for the Hijab
Specifically for hijab wearing Muslim women, semiology rules out that the hijab (head cover) is a primary sign or product which embodies meaning that identifies those wearing the hijab as Muslim and therefore belonging to the same religion as the perpetrators of 9/11. By being labeled Muslim because the woman is wearing the hijab, this label then feeds into and draws upon the pool of meaning and knowledge pre-existent to 9/11 about Islam and Muslims which are mostly negative (Allen 2010:135). This pool meaning includes interpreting Islam and Muslims as anti-western (incompatible and asymmetrically opposed to the ideas and values of the west), which in turn supplements and inflates the meanings emerging from the volatile post 9/11 climate we reside in (Allen 2010: 135). Fear is proliferated. The attached meaning signified onto the hijab then results in a limited foundation of knowledge being generalized and Muslim women becoming the primary targets for retaliatory attack and abuse, which represents the signifier: the form that the meaning takes place in our society.
I recently personally encountered, spoke to good hearted RCMP interfaith chaplain coordinator. The man stated that the fear of the hijab stems from fear. Soldiers, in particular, come back from combat and the hijab triggers PTSD reactions in them, they are triggered and they re-live what they faced overseas. The sense of fear that is triggered by seeing a hijab must be overcome through the most proactive means possible, and we both agreed that education, active and open dialogue, awareness and a simple smile can go a long way in unwinding the fear.
Lastly, the hijab disseminates meaning about Muslim women as inferior, oppressed and of being second class citizens, while simultaneously disseminating meaning about Islam and its alleged associations evil acts, both inferring knowledge and meaning whilst negating somewhat entirely any spiritual or theological value to the hijab”(Allen 2010: 166). A poll conducted by Angus Reid of Public Opinion, found that attitudes toward Islam have deteriorated markedly across the country over the past four years. The disturbing level of mistrust has seen Canadians grow indifferent to Islam, faster than any other religion (all other religions reputation have not changed as drastically in the same four year period” (Geddes 2013). For women who do wear the hijab and go about in their daily business in society, they are courageous and without a doubt – fearless.
I believe we must break past common misconceptions of what a hijab means, by emphasizing the spiritual and theological value of a woman wearing one, and it seems reasonable to think that encouraging youth to express themselves in ways that shows the beauty of Islam as an ideology amongst many and not in any way inferior to others will help greatly. For indeed, our actions as human beings talk louder than words. Easier said than done but no action means you agree that there is nothing wrong with this.
Hijab: visible marker of the faith, Islam.
Unfortunately, as stated by Basmadji (2007), hijabs/veils are used a central marker of difference and it does hinder assimilation into western society. Basmadji (2007:6) goes on to say that Muslim communities become very visible through the practice of women wearing the hijab, and due to media distortions, the veil has become metonymic of all that is wrong and unassailable about Muslim communities in the west. With all this said, how can we ensure the safety of hijab-wearing Muslim women? The purpose of the study Basmadji (2007) did for her thesis/dissertation, was focusing on giving a voice to the women in Muslim communities here in Canada, who are currently seen as vulnerable and in need of rescuing, and furthermore, encouraging Muslim women to speak out about their own concerns, as well as represent themselves. Basmadji (2007) encourages the notion of speaking out instead of being spoken about and represented by others (analogous to moving away from the rhetoric of Orientalist hegemonic ideology silencing the Orient into unwilling being represented). Basmadji’s research is a clear example of what is missing in our society are more women in Muslim communities who have the courage to have a voice and talk openly about the prejudice and negative experiences they are facing in society from non-Muslims due to their hijab. I can’t speak on behalf on them, they must speak for themselves. If Muslim hijab-wearing women do not speak up against the injustices they face daily by those in their society, then that allows discrimination, fear and stigmatization/marginalization to continue on, until a new “race” is labelled as inferior or evil. This discourse surrounding the hijab and Muslim women comes down to the issue of oppression and the notion of ensuring Muslim women know that they do have the human right to speak up, whether through an academic route such as this or a different route.
Women wearing the hijab do face discrimination in the workforce
It has been asserted that women who do wear the hijab do experience barriers and discrimination when they do apply for work, simply by having a potential employer make a reference about the woman’s hijab (90.6%), being outright denied jobs, being told they need to remove their hijab (40% told to do so) or fired for continuing to wear the hijab (Lukas and Persad 2002: 3). Women who do not wear the hijab were not racialized. The Muslim hijab-wearing women applying for jobs in this study were also made to feel invisible and unwelcome and it is, furthermore, necessary to recognize the negative impact this poor treatment had on the self-esteems of the women and even if they were granted the jobs, the hijab-wearing women did in fact face harassment on the job from supervisors and colleagues (Lukas and Persad 2002: 40). What’s worse is that the women discriminated due to the hijab, in Lukas and Persad’s (2002) study, experienced the prejudice in all sectors, regardless of age, skin colour, experience in Canada and so forth. Muslim women entering the workforce here in our Canadian society is still a tough terrain to embark on, considering the lack of Muslim women who are given the opportunity to work in “banks or other similar institutions” (Lukas and Persad, 2002:36), therefore the Muslim community is in need of “pioneers [to] help convince employers to give [Muslim hijab-wearing women] a chance” but until then, it is a clear struggle for hijab-wearing women to secure employment or work somewhere that is a completely safe and welcoming environment.
Contrary to assumptions of many Muslim and Non-Muslims, this study done by Persad and Lukas shows that gendered Islamophobia operates on social, cultural and ideological levels, permeating through the employment world and denying Muslim women wearing the hijab full access into the public sphere of Canadian life.
We need change, fellow Canadians.
A strong point that I truly cherish is when Lukas and Persad (2002) pointed out that discriminated needs to be eliminated, no simply accommodated (by changing ones name to an English one or changing ones appearance as a means of surviving). We have a duty as a society (who cherish Canadian values) to stand up for those values by standing up for humans facing discrimination, whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh or what have you. By standing up for the rights of hijab-wearing Muslim Canadian women, I also aim to encourage a society that will then become inspired and stand up for the rights of those around them. I relate to those around me as humans and therefore, I will always take a very humanistic stance.
We, as Canadians, have a responsibility (as citizens) and as governments/institutions, to develop stronger policies, strategies and programs to educate and ensure that discrimination is not encouraged or allowed to exist quietly (Lukas and Persad 2002: 40), for the sake of the well being of our nation. If we allow hijab-wearing Muslim women to be discriminated, this will justify the prejudice inflicted on youth for simply having a Muslim name, as well.
Why is the Hijab associated with Oppression: Unwinding Orientalist thinking with Edward Said
In his 1979 book “Orientalism”, Edward Said reveals the engrained oppression embedded in our western thinking towards those residing in or from the East. One concept of particular interest to hijab-wearing women would be the notion that “the idea of
representation is a theatrical
one” (Said 1979: 63). The Orient (eastern ancestral origin) is the stage that represents the whole east. Hijab-wearing women, in this sense, appear as figures “whose role it is to represent the larger whole from which they emanate” (Said 1979: 63), which is a strong generalization given that some hijab-wearing women are reverts or converts of western/european ancestry. These Orients are then special actors displaying their special ways to the West/Europeans (who are the Orientalists). These Orientalists (westerners) are presumably specialists in knowledge who then portray the Orients as “half-imagined, half-known; monsters, devils, heroes: terrors, pleasures, desires” (Said 1979: 63), thus the Orients are watched.
Why quietly watch and judge those we have limited knowledge of? Why not speak to them as though we are speaking to another human being? Perhaps you’ll make a new friend. Perhaps you’ll learn more about yourself. Said (1979) bluntly states that “Orientals believe that the Orient never changes and that to be understood, Islam had to be reduced to “trent and tribe”. Unfortunately, this generalization and mentality has affected millions of people, over many generations. In this sense, Orientalism is an exercise of cultural strength, whilst the Orient is apparently in need of the corrective study of the West (Said 1979: 41).
The issue arises in the twisted representation of hijab-wearing women as something others deem is what they are and thus should be. We, as Canadians, need to truly reflect and pinpoint our own socialized ignorances, in this regard, toward “Others” of any kind (even outside the realm of this study), who are in actuality not inferior to us, nor are they as scary as historical and modern Orientalists have and/or continue to paint them to be.
Due to Orientalism, Perry (2014) also points out that muslim women are sexualized and reduced to their bodies, and the body is then seen as something conquer, violate, humiliate and shame. Male muslims are seen as barbaric and dirty, whereas female Muslims are seen as beautiful, striking, exotic (Perry 2014). Through a specific perspective, in western eyes, the veil apparently enhances the Sexualization by hiding what is desired, so as much as symbolizes chasteness, the Oriental perspective views the veil as something that is alluring, because apparently what is hidden becomes very desirable (Perry 2014). The veil is not only seen as a sign of submissiveness but also, apparently, submissiveness which also further oppresses Muslim women and this is where gendered Islamophobia comes in (Perry 2014). Currently, we do have set gender, race and religious orders in place in our society, so in consideration to all of this, Muslim women then either adapt to the orders by assimilating or they stand by wearing the hijab but that then leads to isolation from not only non-Muslims but also one another, as a means of trying to limit the collective threat “their kind” brings to society.
Reinventing the image of the Hijab: Combining modesty with Western Value
Muslim women have sought a solution to issue of becoming isolated due to wearing the hijab, by westernizing their hijab (if not themselves) and turning the hijab into a fashion statement with correlating makeup shades/choices. By westernizing the hijab, the Muslim woman then has one foot in the western world and one foot in the eastern world, and she can empower herself and choose which world she wants to live in each day. It is fascinating looking at the pictures of women turning themselves into a fashion icon through various patterns of cloth as their hijabs, especially since this is something new to me as well. This counter-orientalist movement serves to portray the hijab as: rational, peaceful, liberal, logical and capable of holding real values.
Back in 1992, Ahmed overturned the ignorance of both herself and others (as all researchers do), by stating that “certainly there are violent elements of Islam at the extreme edges”, as there are with other religions, but according to experts – the diasporas of those with Muslim faith are overwhelmingly opposed to violence and committed to non-violence (O’Donnell 2011).
Rhetoric of the Modern Hijab
We are seeing more Canadian Muslim women choosing to wear the hijab (to each their own) simply because they are exercising their freedom to
choose to wear the veil, with “meanings…worlds way from what it means when you’re forced to wear it. It’s a critical point. The veil today has no universal meaning. It’s meanings are always local” (O’Donnell 2011). The new and uniquely fashionable styles of hijabs are cropping up is mainly due to westernization and fashion, says Woldesmait (2012), which undeniably is the case in many situations. The westernization of the hijab, much to the dismay of elders who see it as submitting to Orientalist thinking, can be positive in that allows Canadian youth to engage in self-expression that speaks to where they were raised (and in many cases, born).
Whether it’s preferred or not, Canadian youth of any upbringing will retain Canadian mannerisms and values that undoubtedly makes them unique compared to youth from other countries We cannot see progress, as a Canadian society, without change (both negative, positive, short-term and long-term).
The rhetoric of the modern hijab, in its entirety, does show the dynamic nature of the hijab and can be rephrased as the hijabization of modern and western fashion (Woldesmait 2012), which is helping pave the way from non-Muslims to meet halfway to Muslims and truly connect to one another in a more friendly manner as fellow humans, worthy of mutual love and respect.
Wearing the hijab as a means of practicing a kind of feminism
The hijab likely doesn’t currently represent the idea of being political, independent empowered or feminist (Takolia 2012)?
Yet, to many, the hijab is certainly a specific kind of feminism, among the arena of intersectional feminisms aloft, vibrant and growing in our society and those of the world, internationally.
The hijab “asserts an alternative mode of female empowerment” (Takolia 2012) by bravely allowing Muslim women to say no to sexual objectification or the male gaze, by covering that which many men do find beautiful and alluring in a woman (one’s hair, neck, collar bone, etc), therefore the hijab has a more political connotation to it for many women.
I can attest to this by encounters with several hijab-wearing women who I became close friends, and to whom I asked the question: why do you wear the hijab, to which they said they didn’t do it for religious reasons but rather for a personal but political reason. Though this perspective may not make sense to you as a reader, it does to other women, so why not empower those women by respecting their perspective. You, after all, are certainly welcome and encouraged to have your own views.
In a world that is rift with patriarchal perspectives, male hegemony, the over-sexualization of female youth and females in general, covering up with the hijab and modest clothing is a way of showing respect and asserting one’s own dignity, as a Muslim women. Even if a woman does not wear the hijab, the simple act of dressing modestly can boost a woman’s sense of dignity and self-worth, just like dressing scantily can liberate other women. To each their own. Let us embrace the diversity and array of “freedom” representations available in the masses of women present in our Canadian society.
Takolia (2012) points out that:
“The result has been refreshing. In a world as diverse and changing as our own, the hijab means a multitude of things to the many women who choose to wear it. I speak as a woman who just happens to come from the Islamic faith, and for me the hijab is political, feminist and empowering. This dimension is increasingly important for many women who choose to wear it; it’s a shame it is understood by so few.
For Gomaa (2014), the “hijab became a symbol of my rejection of white-passing (or at the very least racial ambiguity), a privilege I was distinctly aware I had, and that I knew was not afforded to many of my fellow non-white Americans”. This uprising shows that the hijab, historically rarely ever viewed as a rebellious material, is certainly not only just a sign of piety now, but also a way to express resistance as a youth or young adult and in that sense “a socio-political choice and representation” (Gomaa 2014).
By wearing the hijab as “in their defiance of social convention”, western muslim women have “paved the way for others and developed a sense of social consciousness and social justice among themselves” (Gomaa 2014).
As Gomaa (2014) openly states in her article: “Wearing the hijab regularly is a “story of rejecting social pressure, of rejecting the influence of western media and the western world, and of choosing to openly and clearly declare our difference in a society that readily rejects us as part of its narrative”.
Seligson (2014) goes on to elaborate in her article that “Muslim women in their 20s and 30s are making their own mark on hijab culture, while propagating it in a way particular to the “selfie generation”: by posting pictures and videos of themselves on various social media sites.”
“According to the Quran and the Sunnah, teaching and practices by the Prophet Muhammad, Muslim women are told to cover their bodies, and may show only their hands, feet and face. But some younger women have declared that modesty doesn’t require them to be invisible or unfashionable. Social media, and Instagram in particular, give cosmopolitan young Muslim women (highly educated, well versed in global cultural trends and open to Western influences) an opportunity to own a piece of online fashion space, typically reserved for those who expose more skin or wear body-hugging clothes.” (Seligson 2014)
Through Instagram and other social media sources, Muslim women are posting images of themselves donning the hijab, while smiling and looking very high fashionable, therefore overturning the notion that the hijab is a sign of oppression (Seligson 2014).
Hijab-wearing Muslim Women Are Not Tokens
Turning the hijab into a fashion statement can help create a middle ground for Western-Muslims to find belonging amongst both fellow non-Muslim Canadians and Muslim Canadians, but it still requires changing the meaning of the hijab, simply as a means of fitting in or feeling included in daily activities. Why does this measure need to be taken? Why can’t girls wear a simple hijab with no makeup and move on with their day without being seen as oppressed? On the other hand, why must a Muslim female wear a hijab simply because it’s known that most Muslim females do?
Why must Muslim hijab-wearing women either become make-up artists and/or become obsessed with make-up in order to fit in or feel beautiful? We have ads online or on TV empowering women to feel beautiful, why not also have a hijab wearing-women on there (all simple and modest) embracing her unique beauty, without her being marketed as oppressed? The few hijab-wearing women who are becoming newscasters and the like in the media are hired as a means of promoting diversity, yet they are tokens. We need academic/scholarly research surrounding this societal phenomena (tokenism) that is rising in diasporas of Muslim female youth. You can wear a hijab and rock it, just like you can choose not to and still be a beautiful, good hearted human being.
Okay. So, what can you do? Take Action, Be the Change You Want to See and Empower.
Keeping in mind the Orientalist perspective of saving brown men from brown women, this perspective was used to justify the colonization so that hijab-wearing women could be saved from the oppression inflicted on them by misogynistic men (the “Others”), which was an excellent way of using feminism (the fight against patriarchy and for the sake of gender equality) as way of “liberating” the women and essentially as a colonial discourse against Islam (Woldesemait 2012).
Therefore, it is best to reverse this, as Canadians who are conscious that such a perspective runs against all our Canadian values. I personally do not want this kind of prejudice towards Muslim women being inflicting on other human beings of other ethnicities who choose to adhere to a certain tradition or custom. We need to change the way we think about the veiling practices of Muslim women and in turn, liberate others who have dealt with such oppression in the past, due to Orientalist thinking. Instead of dividing the world into two, why not work at building bridges of trust, communication and respect, as humanity.
Thinking full circle
We need work inside Muslim communities. Muslim communities are not immune to envy, gossiping, backbiting, two-faced motives, throwing each other down and so forth. Sexism is something families need to address with their children at a young age, especially their sons. A female has the ability to be equal: intellectually, socially and politically/economically equal to a male. Muslims will not be able to help themselves unless they truly unite with one another and with non-Muslims, for a common cause and purpose: for the well-being of one another.
More Muslim Women needed in Academia
In line with building strategic alliances, Zine (2006) goes on to state that building alliances then allows for building the right connections within the gender and woman studies academic arena, in order to ensure that Muslim women are no longer represented in the degrading and condescending tone that they often are in current feminist gatherings. I can personally attest to this by reflecting on the absolute distaste I noticed flicker through the face of many self-proclaimed feminists when I placed Feminism, Islam and Muslim Women in one sentence. For the sake of Muslim Women and all other non-white women, we need intersectional feminism. Muslim women need to gather together and build a strong academic presence in the field of intersectional feminism. ‘
Zine (2006) also states that through epistemological divergences, Muslim women and Non-Muslims can then, together, build a common set of platforms for social action and political critique toward the social phenomena of Islamophobia and moreover, gendered Islamophobia. We all need to partake in necessary, healthy mutually-driven conversations in order to truly uplift one another.
“For example, building alliances between secular and faith- based feminists in order to challenge common oppressions is necessary in building strategic coalitions between communities of difference.” (Zine 2006)
“ By respecting and validating the differences posed by the varied social and ideological locations that Muslim women inhabit, it then becomes possible to construct strategic spaces of Muslim feminist insurgency in the global arena. Such a process involves strategic solidarities where common interests intersect as well as strategic dislocations where incompatible interests and agendas diverge. Muslim feminist resistance must engage polyvocal and dialogical encounters that allow for both platforms of affirmation and dissent to be expressed.” (Zine 2006: 21-22)
Portray what freedom truly is through Art: limitless possibilities
“Whatever’s good for your soul, do that!” – unknown
Through the work of Samira Mahboub and Ania Catherine, both current postgraduate students at the LSE Gender Institute, a video art piece was created by them (Hafiz 2014). This video art piece “cloth” allowed by Mahboub and Catherine to carry out an academic discourse to a wider audience through performance art. Not only that, the work was done collaboratively between Mahboub (a Muslim of German and Moroccan heritage) and Ania (a non-religious Hispanic American), so in many ways the work create a bridge between both Muslims and non-Muslims, of different/mixed cultural backgrounds. We need more work like this in the academic world, nationally as Canadians and internationally. As citizens of country that embraces Multiculturalism, why not develop a reputation worldwide that caters to the image we’ve been embracing for generations now, on an international platform.
“Cloth plays on stereotypes of the veiled Muslim woman as the “oppressed” Other in binary opposition to the ‘liberated’ Western women. In doing so, it takes up academic scholarship that challenges the homogeneous (and negative) portrayal of veiled women, and the assumed mutual exclusivity of veiling and empowerment.” – (Hafiz 2014).
Concluding words by yours truly
I do envision a world, in the future, where cultures will mix even more, especially as interracial relationships continue (encouraged by Islam). As more and more humans start to look beyond the lines of ethnicity, culture and even religion, we will surely become a world of hybrids, and alongside the consistent rate at which this world is continuously changing, why not also push for the same change when it comes to the mindsets of the youth? Why should we continue to encourage our younger siblings and children’s to be scared of the “Others”, when these “Others” have more in common with us then we’d like to think. Let’s #humanizethehijab and liberate Muslim hijab-wearing women from the intersectional prejudice they face (for simply being who they are).
Change starts with our own mentalities. Let’s close our eyes and open our minds/hearts.
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Undergraduate Researcher: Samina Sana
Research Supervisor: Dr Sourayan Mookerjea
Sociology 403: Directed Studies
Intermedia Project for the Intermedia Studio
University of Alberta
More research is needed to truly develop towards
undoing the social phenomena of intersectional prejudice. It’s worthy
to note that facing intersectional prejudice (i.e. due to race and gender)
can span across ethnic groups or religious groups. Muslim hijabi women
are just one of the many marginalized groups in our society.
I hope this inspires some folks into viewing this particular
issue from a different perspective. No disrespect
was intended. Everyone is entitled and welcome to
their own views. The only thing I ask is
that we embrace each others differences
and label one another, first and foremost,
as fellow human beings.