By L. Ardor | Lamoi
On February 1, Muslim women all over the world are extending an invitation to cover up. World Hijab Day, founded by Nazma Khan in 2013 in recognition of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab and live a life of modesty, is also an opportunity for women of all backgrounds, faiths, and beliefs to experience a day as a Hijabi. This is an open invitation to all women to come with your questions, curiosity, and open mindedness. This is a physical and spiritual invitation for those who are ready to [un]learn.
This is not an invitation to put together undercover and covert rescue teams to save the “oppressed” Hijabi women.
As a young woman, I would see features that resembled mine covered beneath bundles of fabric, and I would pity those women. I would rail against their lack of choice, and speculated on abusive relationships. I would denounce the men that had such a hand on these women to make them cover what I considered to be beautiful. I would denounce the Islamic religion for the control they wielded over them. I would demote those women to the fabrics and cloths they wore, and judge my understanding of them based on the clothes I wore, and essentially forget their right was the same as mine; to be seen as more than their appearance. I would oppress them with my view of what freedom was.
Oppression—the state of being subject to unjust treatment or control—is like the human race, it takes on many shapes, sizes, shades and hues; the main difference being that none of these differences make oppression beautiful.
Privilege—a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people—is very similar to oppression in that it has many facets of its own, and very often takes the shape of judging another culture, based on the norms, and societal expectations of one’s own culture. It has become common knowledge that privilege and oppression walk hand in hand, and often both are oblivious to the loudness of their footsteps and the identity-swallowing cracks they leave behind in the sidewalks.
As I grew older and evolved in knowledge, I had the opportunity to learn that many women who profess Islam, and who wear the hijab, do so out of choice, out of love for the faith, out of love for themselves, and according to their definition of freedom. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, and without a doubt there are oppressed Muslim women wearing hijabs; however, that should not dictate the over generalization of an entire group.
As a woman, a budding feminist, and an emerging humanist, I understand the desire for all women to be free from the shackles of oppressive patriarchal systems, in every country, religion, and household. I understand that our desire for equality screams in rants, and slogans for the benefit of women everywhere, but in the stillness of the quiet, between the rants and slogans, one can hear the hum of privilege and oppression.
In this new age of solidarity, our need to “help” often looks like a need to rescue, and comes with an undertone of our socially constructed advantages, and seemingly natural penchant to unjustly control another human being or situation. In our eagerness to help women from across the globe reach the proverbial promise land of freedom and individuality, our [North American] definition of what freedom and/or beauty looks like, or understanding of what it means to be a modern woman fighting the system, becomes our template and desire for all woman, regardless of their social norms, religious beliefs or community mores, and often from the perspective of an outsider looking in.
I am not throwing our sisterly good intentions and will to help into the fire; I am encouraging you to check what your help looks like. If your help looks like speaking over, and for a marginalized group of people, drowning out their voices, in an effort to tell them what they should want to want, you are not helping. Telling a Hijabi woman that a facet of her freedom should be expressed by showing off her body, based on socially constructed views on beauty and what makes a woman desirable, without understanding that a hijab is designed to free a woman’s mind and body from the scrutiny, male attention, and abuse from those she calls her community is not helping.
As a matter of fact, let us remove the word “help” from the solidarity glossary, and embrace the word “support”, adjusting the definition to read “to bear PART of the weight, to hold up.” In the same vein of thought and action, let us allow women to tell us how we can best support them, and not the other way around. Let us understand that our [North American] society is not the ideal for the rest of the world, and let us be ok with that.
As a community, even in our privilege, we are bearing part of the weight of oppressed women all over the world, as we hold up our sisters’ right to pursue, and attain the qualities they want their life to embody. We also bear part of the weight of women everywhere that are not oppressed, and do not wish to subscribe to our definition of what freedom for women should look like. Our duty remains to support individual and collective definitions of freedom.
Not all women that wear the hijab are oppressed by their ideals of modesty, beauty, their religion or the men in their lives. Whether you choose to receive the invitation to cover up, and experience the freedom they experience or not, let the slogan for World Hijab Day dictate your method of support; Better awareness, greater understanding, peaceful world.
Ardor is a writer who believes that everything in life stems from love. Her mission is to spread her philosophy to all brave enough to embrace. You can find Ms. Ardor on twitter: @LaLaArdor.