Today’s Hijab Friday post is coming together from a couple of different ideas; firstly this awesome reminder by Shukrallahblog on the deeper meanings behind practising hijab beyond just the clothing you wear, and secondly, many discussions that are being had in the mainstream media that are, for me, quite interesting, and something I wanted to think out loud on a bit.
That first factor, the post that I just mentioned, talks a lot about how hijab is more than the thing on your head, it is your behaviour as well. I highly recommend take a second to go read that one before picking back up with this one. After reading that a week or two ago (a timely reminder for me, in my new jilbab obsession phase), it got me thinking about the whole conversation that is had in the mainstream media and the “modest fashion industry” surrounding hijab and Muslim women.
This post is titled ‘More than a Piece of Cloth,’ but often, in this budding industry, the hijab is being reduced to exactly that: a stylish scarf that you put on your head. It can go with skinny jeans, it can go with ¾ sleeve t-shirts, it goes will all of your jewellery and make-up and the strongest perfume you can find. More expensive scarves are better, and “name brand” scarves on your head are best.
And while you’re at it, make sure you match the media’s ideal body type and fashion standards. And don’t forget to show yourself off plenty in your nice, haute-coture hijab, whether online or promenading down the streets of the city.
Obviously, the fact that this is even a discussion stems from the fact that hijab, or the very concept of modesty, has been reduced to covering skin or hair. It would seem that we have come to let the media and the fashion industry define what “modest” is, instead of looking to our own Islamic definition of the word. And I understand—in times of deeply rooted Islamophobia and xenophobia both in the United States and Europe, we have an innate desire to fit in, to prove we are “just like you.”
But the thing is, there are as many different versions of modesty as there are cultures and religions in the world. What may be considered modest by your average atheist, American 17-year old is a far cry from what an Orthodox Jewish woman would term modest based on her religious laws, which is different from how different sects of Christianity practice modesty, which is different from how the Qur’an and sunnah tells us to practice modesty.
And within the Islamic guidelines for modesty, there is space for many different manifestations of that, as far as clothing goes. It is not necessarily the jilbab, or the abaya, or the salwar kameez that is the “one and only” way to practice hijab. In fact, anything that is loose, opaque, and covers both the colour of the skin and the shape of the body, except hands and face, is perfectly fine by Islamic standards. Some will debate about colour, and makeup, accessories, and the like, but needless to say there is plenty of room in Islam for personal expression and style.
And there is plenty of room to show people with your words and actions that you are, indeed, human just like them, regardless of what you are wearing. What there is not room for, however, is an industry dedicated to making you look as fashionable and “sexy” as possible, with a scarf on your head.
Circling back to the point that hijab is far more than just a piece of cloth on your head, the whole industry goes against the very concept of hijab (and even modesty as it is defined in many religious practices). Because, as I mentioned above, hijab is more than a headscarf, it is more than even your clothing. It is about how your conduct yourself and how you carry yourself, in public and in private.
It is about behaving with dignity no matter where you are, and remembering exactly Who is watching you and Who you are doing it for. I have been dwelling on this concept for a while now, which is why you may have noticed me shift my vocabulary from saying that one “wears” hijab to one “practices” hijab.
Now I’m not saying that you have to never speak in public, or some such nonsense. Or that you can never speak to a man that isn’t your husband. If you go into the DMV to renew your driver’s license and the only person there to help you is a man, you gotta talk to the man. But hijab is how you interact with that man behind the counter.
Do you shake his hand when you greet him? Do you smile and bat your eyelashes at him, and laugh at all of his small talk? Do you tell him about your day and your kids and your this, that and the other? Or did you convey the business you needed to in a quick and professional manner, while still being polite and kind? Hijab is about conducting yourself with dignity and respect.
And this isn’t just about the public. The other day my husband turned on the TV, and an actor that I (pre-Islamically) considered quite attractive came on the screen wearing only wee tiny little swim trunks. I didn’t even just look away, I left the darn room and went to do the dishes because I knew I was going to be tempted to stare.
That is my hijab.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect. If I hadn’t just recently read that post I mentioned in the beginning of this, I may well have just stayed and pretended I didn’t see anything…
But the fashion industry, even the “modest” fashion industry, still encourages the same conforming to standards and attention seeking that goes against the very basic principles of hijab. Yes, you can express your personal style with your hijab, but the whole point is that you are not supposed to feel the need to fit into some ideal style. In Islam you are meant to be more than your style and more than your body; you are defined by your behaviour and your taqwah. You don’t need to have this or that name stitched onto your clothes, and you don’t need to throw money away buying new clothes every season to keep up with what is “in.”
To finish up, I would like to point out that I am not criticising all of the hijabi fashion bloggers or YouTubers or anyone personally. I actually think that people like them are a much needed bridge between the Muslim community and the majority community that many of us live in in the United States or Europe. But the industry that is built around taking your money in order to make you fashionable, to me, is a huge issue that truly needs to be addressed by more people.
Please do let me know your thoughts down in the comments: what do you think about personal style in Islam, and the up and coming “modest fashion” industry?
In shaa Allah I will be seeing you next week for another Hijab Friday!