Retorts to Hijab Apologists

I have listed some of the most common and inane arguments cited when highlighting the Hijab’s origins as a tool of patriarchal theocracy. These lines are most commonly heard in the West, where the vast majority of the world’s most privileged women reside; and typically feature ad hominem and fear-mongering tactics that seek to distract from Islam and Islamism as institutions and refocus on highly westernized and individual interpretations of the faith that have no relation to Islam’s historical meaning and practice.

But it’s about a woman’s choice! Prohibiting it makes one no different than ISIS!

Stating that the hijab is a tool of patriarchal theocracy to police women’s bodies and codify female worth as ancillary to man’s and primarily sexual, is not the same as arguing for the hijab to banned, such as in France. In fact, they have absolutely no relation to one another. So this first argument is a non-argument, and is a perfect example of the kind of re-framing that western hijab apologists will do when faced with the reality of religiously motivated headscarves.

Secondly, the hijab has nothing to do with choice, actually, quite the opposite. The hijab is ‘about’ policing women’s bodies and tethering them to patriarchal concepts of female purity, male property, and bearers of the burden of family honor. ‘Choice’ has nothing to do with the history and concept of hijab. To counter this is similar to asserting that the subordination of nuns to priests in Catholicism, another conveniently female to male power dynamic, is about choice and not the usual sexual politics. Such counters seek to deny the history, if not the present global practices, of that particular church.

Thirdly, these often made comparisons to ISIS are not just baseless, but grotesque. If one has doubts they may wish to live under ISIS for one day and then compare that experience to a year in Paris. Taking the exception in democracies and comparing them to the rule in terror-run dictatorships, is as teenage as it is hysterical.

The oppression of women and minorities we see in the Muslim world are not the product of the hijab but of American and Western imperialism.

This argument is another classic dodge to avoid holding cultures accountable for their values and instead blame foreign conspiracies for their inferiority complex. It goes without saying that Western imperialism has a lot to answer for, but contempt for human rights and free thought is a problem that Islam, like any religion, has created for itself. It did not need any outside help. Were this argument legitimate the imperialist Islamic polity, the Ottoman Empire, would have to be explained. Islamic contempt for science, free thought, and human rights developed alongside the religion, not after toxic Western influences. In short, ideologies are responsible for their own values, not conspiracies, real or imagined.

But indeed, the hijab is not the sole cause of female oppression in the Muslim world, it is however a symptom.

I don’t care what extremists say, the hijab means feminism and freedom to me!

If everyone just went about tailoring Islam to their own particular values, it would cease to exist as a cohesive institution. Islam either has something to say about the hijab or it does not. If it does, then there is one, defined thing the hijab represents. If it says nothing about the hijab, then a so-called extremist’s interpretation is as good as the so-called moderate’s. And guess which set of practitioners prevails? I’ll add here, simply because one’s interpretation of a faith is more peaceful than another’s, does not qualify it as the truer interpretation.

The strongest indicator would seem to be the interpretation of those countries that practice Islamic jurisprudence, Sharia Law. Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan all agree that the hijab exists to burden women with notions of female honor, male property, and emblemize woman’s worth as a sexual object. So you can ‘not care’ all you want, and invent all the cutesy representations of the hijab that you wish, but in the Muslim dominated world there is an overwhelming consensus that the hijab represents not female liberation, but female subordination.

In one Pew study asking what was appropriate for women to wear in public, the overwhelming majority of seven different Muslim countries supported some kind of head scarf. If the hijab was really about choice and freedom, then this study would leave me to wonder where the notion of ‘what’s appropriate’ figures into it.

But the Koran says men and women are partners, and that women should seek knowledge too.

Really? Well does it say what kind of partners men and women are? Or what sort of knowledge women should seek? Does the Koran ever explicitly state that men and women are equals? The word ‘partner’ does not necessitate equality. Nor does the command ‘seek knowledge’ translate to ‘seek equality’. And if men and women are equals under Islam, why don’t men wear a hijab? This is similar to Catholicism’s justification of male dominated power in the church. Are we to believe that men and women are equal in Catholicism despite the fact that women cannot hold any meaningfully high office there? Come on ladies…this is some pathetic reaching.

These lines are often used to ‘prove’ that the hijab is not a symbol of sexism. But these vague, optimistically translated passages say nothing about the relationship Islam intends between men and women.

Every person should have a right to wear what they wish. But the hijab isn’t just a necklace or scarf worn to keep the head warm. It is a religiously motivated symbol, and pretending that it doesn’t have a history or intent is as silly as wearing a swastika and claiming it is just a pattern. We need to be honest, not stupidly optimistic, about what these symbols represent and what their agenda is.


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