When World Hiyab Day (WHD) was held for the first time in 2013, I was an enthusiastic supporter. Even my friend Maria de los Angeles from Venezuela, wore a headscarf for a day in sisterhood. She went to her job and celebrated her birthday in a tropical country, fully head-covered.
I am a muslim woman who wears headscarves and turbans. I benefit widely from “Hiyab Fashion,” an opportunity I have to be creative and original with my outfits. I do assume there are good intentions and will of sisterhood behind WHB, but as years go by, I’ve got disappointed about the celebration. According to its founder, Nazma Khan, an Islamic clothing entrepreneur, the purpose of WHD is “the recognition of millions of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab and live a life of modesty.”
Maybe I am too picky, but this statement disgusst me for its hint of sexism and slutshamming. If heardscarf is equal to modesty and modesty is equal to virtue so, I wonder:
Are women who do not wear headscarf unmodest? If those who don´t wear hiyab are unmodest, and if modesty is a quality of honorable women according to Islam. What kind of women are not veiled women? By the way: Is the headscarf a garment with magical powers that gives modesty to women by the mere fact of using it?
What is modesty, anyway?
What is the real purpose of the WHD: Celebrating a piece of cloth or celebrating Muslim women and our spirituality as an engine to build more inclusive and peaceful societies?
In any case: Is the Hijab the same as the headscarf?
According to the Quran, hiyab is an ethical perspective on the relationships between men and women, and between Muslims and the world. Quran give us clear advice about hiyab awareness that has nothing to do with veils and a lot with ethics, like those related to gossips, backbiting, and judging people for the external only: Qur’an 17:36, Qur’an 24: 12-15 and Qur’an 49:11-12
Muslim men and women should be equally aware of their hijab. All fair and truly islamic celebration of Hiyab should include men, because Qur’an makes modesty Fard, mandatory, first for them!
If moral and virtue is uniquely identified with women, then it is sexism.
If moral and virtue is judged exclusively from what women wear, then it is slutshamming.
On the other hand, hijabis are not a pure example of modesty. I’ve seen some who call themselves feminists and even lead projects for women’s rights, who are often denigrating non-Muslim women or Muslim women who do not wear veils.
And this is totally expected, do you know why? Because Hijab and Muslim women are more than a piece of cloth. We women are people, complex and irreductible.
Nowadays, all over the world, Muslim women are thriving in different spheres of social, political and cultural life. Why not celebrate our concrete contributions to humankind, instead of reducing our presence in the world to our clothing choices?
Why are we not celebrating Muslim women without distinction? Why are we not celebrating the heritage from precedental Muslim women: intelligence, persistence, courage, sense of justice, etc.? Why are we reducing the expression of a rich spirituality to a headscarf?
Why not celebrate WHB as a value of Islamic ethics, that promotes friendship and mutual collaboration among believers and respect for women without distinction of race, culture, religion or costumes? Because, Islam is a message for all humankind, right?
Supporters encourage the celebration of WHD in behalf of women’s right to free choice. I agree. Muslim women have the right to freely decide how to dress and express our spirituality, without discrimination and pressure. Qur’an says that Hijab means respect for the body, life and private affairs of people, so let us celebrate the right of Latina Muslim women to wear headscarves and that of the Iranians to take away theirs!
Let’s encourage Muslim women to rather love themselves than a piece of cloth, for the simple fact that we are divine creatures capable of doing good, with our talents, differences and potential, so we can tackle hate with all our power!
Gender Islamophobia, a issue I’ve analized widely, is a more complex subject than the veil. It is related to racism, orientalism, colonial hegemony and imperialist discourses about Muslim women. As we keep reducing the religion of a woman to a piece of cloth, our scope is also reduced to develop new narratives about what being a muslim woman is about, that allow us to see humans behind the veil.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a Muslim feminist, activist, and writer.