By Mahvash Afzal
I click on the newspaper tab on my browser to read the top stories. Some of the words that catch my eye — Burkini, radical Islam, oppression of women, regressive culture. In the wake of the Burkini ban by the French, the discussion on the Muslim women’s Hijab has been unearthed for the nth time (oh, did I forget that it had never been buried?). I guess it is a lot of fun telling other people what to do, and how what they are doing is actually the result of some kind of indoctrination. All this condescension is based upon the following assumptions:
Her family must have forced her into this.
She has been brain-washed by reading a certain type of literature or hanging out with certain type of people. Totally indoctrinated!
She is probably too dumb to figure out what she is doing and why she is doing it.
Thank you very much for your penetrating analysis. However, there are certain things that I want you to know. Your premise that the Hijab or Abaya or Burqa, whatever you like to call it, is a form of enslavement is based upon your assumption of the supremacy of your ideology. I, on the other hand, see semi-clad women as representing a form of enslavement to a social structure that requires them to dress a certain way, be a certain size, and have a certain type of hair and what not. I think that your likes and dislikes are not governed by you. They are governed by your peers, the media and the society in general. I see that as enslavement and I see you as enslaved to the idea of transient beauty and pleasure. However, I do not go on harping about how I think you are oppressed or your women are oppressed.
I want you to think for a moment about what the Hijab has done for me. It has liberated me from living by the standards that you have set for me — the standards of beauty, of acceptability. My existence is not validated by compliments, by 200+ likes on my profile photo or random people commenting that I am beautiful. My purpose in life is relieved of the baggage of my appearance. I would love to introduce you to my lifestyle but the choice has to be yours. Similarly, I would appreciate it if you talk to me about how wearing an Abaya is oppressing me and stopping me from enjoying my life… but I’ll not let you announce to the world that I have been indoctrinated into wearing what I choose to wear or that I am powerless to make the choice for myself.
Now let me discuss some facets of your egalitarian ideology. One of the most important forms of emancipation is somehow the clothes that women get to wear. The fact that women get only 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man in the US doesn’t seem to create such a stir. Of course, who cares about salaries when they have the choice to wear what they want, right? According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2010), nearly 50% of the women in the US have experienced psychological aggression from a partner, 24.3 % have been subjected to severe forms of physical violence, and 33.33% have been subjected to multiple forms of rape. Perhaps you need to sort out your priorities. Trust me, my dress is not life threatening! In the year 2015 alone, the US spent a whopping 13.5 billion dollars on cosmetic surgeries. You’ve made appearance such an issue! Don’t cover your corporate benefits in, “I want you to feel the breeze.” Thank you very much; I want to feel the breeze on my terms, not yours. I can go on and on about the statistics but I have a few more points to make.
Since the Hijab is seen as a mark of my servitude, let me tell you, yes it is a mark of servitude. It is a mark of servitude to God. I went to a convent school as a young girl. I have never seen anyone tell the nuns how their scarves or plain clothes were a sign of enslavement. They do that because they have dedicated their lives to God. Nobody seems to suggest that they need to wear glamorous clothes and “feel the breeze in their hair”. Just because my dedication to God is not the same as yours, does not mean that you have a right to condemn it. The fact is that we are both in servitude; you to your ideology and I to mine. Irrespective of its implications on my life, how I choose to dress is nobody’s business. I will not let anybody take charge of my life without my permission. So stay out of my wardrobe!