Today’s post is all about an argument I hear ALL the time from critics of the hijab, on why Muslim women are stupid “sheeple” to wear it, and why it is so inherently oppressive:
“Well Islam forces women to dress a certain way and be ashamed of themselves.”
Quite honestly, it’s ridiculous; I literally just let out an audible sigh even writing that sentence. So I figured it may come in handy to have a whole blog post about this topic, so that the next time a random man tries to teach me my own religion on social media, I can send the link and be done with it (plus others may stumble upon this and find it interesting, who knows)!
Firstly, I would like to make a slight differentiation between Islam, and the human-run governments of Muslim majority countries.
Yes, in Islam modesty and covering oneself is obligatory for either gender. Yes, the way to do that for a Muslim woman is in loose, non-form fitting clothing, that is opaque and not ostentatious.
But everyone, every single Muslim, has to wake up in the morning and make the decision every single day to practice Islam.
This applies to all the obligatory acts in Islam; Islam tells you what to do through the Qur’an and sunnah, and you have the choice whether you are going to do that or not.
Some may say forget it, I can’t pray ‘asr today. Some may be careless about their fasting Ramadan. Some choose to drink alcohol, some choose not to wear the hijab. And let’s not forget the fact that Muslim men run around all the time in ridiculously tight jeans, or shorty shorts that barely cover their underwear, let alone their full awrah, with all manner of ridiculous hairstyles that are not necessarily condoned in Islam.
Now, I’m not saying there aren’t consequences for these choices, but that rests with Allah swt. It’s not my business force anyone, man or woman, to practice any part of Islam that they don’t want to practice. Allah swt guides who he wills. Gentle advice and caring discourse with that person is all I can do.
This is where that differentiation comes in: Islam tells you do to X, Y and Z, for example, wearing the hijab, and you make the choice whether to obey or not, and live with the consequences of that choice on your life and the hereafter. Governments, however, make laws that exploit Islam to their own benefit in order to control half of the population and keep the power in their own hands.
See where they diverge there?
Because we all know that when you force a woman to cover when she leaves her house, whether that be abayah and niqab, or the Persian chador, it is a matter of control, not one of faith.
Because you are for sure not doing anything to help her faith. You are forcing her into an insincere action, which at best will put her off of sincerely wanting to wear hijab for good. It is doing nothing for her in terms of reward or sincere piety. At worst (and sadly most commonly) you are pushing these women straight out of Islam.
So what do laws like this actually do? Control how a woman uses her own body, make her a second class citizen, and all the while consolidate your own power over the half of the population that you are subjugating.
Yep, this is an issue in the government of many Muslim-majority countries, but lets take a look at that excuse again, this time changing “Islam” to a generic “you”:
“You are forcing women to dress a certain way and to be ashamed of themselves.”
So, are the French, German, and Austrian (among others) bans on veils not forcing women to dress a certain way? Forcing a woman to uncover herself, or dress in a way that is uncomfortable for her, just for basic opportunities like education, a job, going to the police or court or taking care of other every-day things at a government building; isn’t that just as inhumane as any other infringements on the rights of women?
Is the ever-changing fashion industry not subliminally forcing women to dress a certain way, and at the same time shaming them for anything that makes them different? The beauty industry, whose sole job is to tell women what they should be ashamed of and then make them buy their products to fix that, isn’t that teaching women to hate themselves in a very subversive and deep-rooted way?
Street harassment, groping, whistling, staring, all of these things that occur to women daily in the “civilised” West and the East alike, are these not examples of men trying to exert control over women as objects?
You see, forcing women to cover themselves and forcing them to uncover themselves are two sides of the same dirty old coin. Either way, it is usually a bunch of elite males sitting around in a room signing laws that will give them the rights to control women’s bodies, from how we are dressed to reproductive rights-things that they will never feel the impact of on their own lives or bodies but will continue to reap the financial and political benefits from.
In short, Islam has nothing to do with forcing women (or men) to do anything, but lawmakers sure do quite a bit, whether it is in the name of religion or secularism, East or West.