Living in the West, it feels as though every other month there’s another government or organisation actively trying to make the lives of Muslim women harder. Countries like France, Belgium and Germany all have varying bans on the hijab and niqab in certain spaces, and just last month the European Union ruled that the hijab could be banned by employers. For countries that praise themselves as being free, open-minded and liberal, I can’t help but find these legislations and rules incredibly problematic and counter-intuitive.
It’s no secret that Europe has a problem with Islam, and even more so specifically Muslim women. But this obsession with policing our bodies by telling us what we can and cannot wear has got to stop. Feminist groups think it’s all for our benefit because as Muslim women we are seen as “oppressed” and don’t seem to have a mind of our own. Governments think the bans are a counter-terrorism hack or a way to instil neutrality in workplaces, but they don’t realise they’re having the opposite effect.
For Muslim women like me who call countries in the West home, laws like these can make us feel even more isolated in countries that already marginalise us. What these governments fail to understand is that further marginalising already underrepresented groups is only going to make it harder for them to feel accepted and as though they belong in the wider society.
Ultimately it all comes down to a lack of understanding of the true meaning of the hijab. It doesn’t help that when you Google the word hijab, most of the images and meanings that come up are talking about the head covering or veil worn by some Muslim women. The Arabic word, hijab, means “barrier”, however, within the Islamic context, the meaning is much broader.
Hijab is more the principle of modesty, so not just the way in which we dress, but also remaining modest in our behaviour too. In fact, when it comes to the hijab, Islam places a responsibility on men too, to observe the hijab. Just like women, men are also required to observe modesty in their dressing, with Muslim women using the headscarf as one way of doing so.
In an age where the West talks boldly about women’s rights and feminism, is this really an act of supporting women, if ultimately you are removing their freedom of choice to dress how they want? I find it ridiculous that a simple piece of material covering a woman’s hair can cause such outrage and offence, particularly if it’s her choice to cover.
Some schools here in the UK have taken issue with young girls wearing the hijab. Now, I can’t say whether a young girl should or should not wear the headscarf – it’s simply not my place since it’s not considered compulsory before puberty – but this constant need that a Muslim girl or woman must justify why she is wearing it is what I find frustrating. There are many reasons a young Muslim girl may decide to wear a headscarf. For myself, although older when I started wearing one, it was to get closer to God and my religion. For other girls, it may be that they want to look like their mother. And some may have no reason at all.
Celebrities are applauded when they decide to own how they truly look and choose to go against societal norms of makeup and Photoshop, yet a Muslim woman cannot stand proudly in her decision to wear the hijab without someone calling her oppressed or viewing her as a victim of her religion. No matter what your opinion on the wearing of the headscarf is, surely, we can agree on the fact that there should be no law in place determining the way any woman should dress. But it’s so exhausting that something that is an important and beautiful part of my religion faces such criticism and inspection, especially under the false pretence that there is a concern for girls’ safety and well-being. All these bans and decisions are just laced with the underlying theme of Islamophobia. The West promotes tolerance of all people, no matter what their faith, race, sexual orientation and the list continues. But it’s high time as a society, they start to practice what they preach in the name of Muslim women.