Removing Hijab IS a Big Deal
Updated: Feb 28, 2020
I know, I know.
"Who are you to judge, Nour?"
"There are bigger issues facing the Muslim community."
"Hijab is about modesty and modesty is about your behavior. It's more than just a
"My body, my choice."
"There are some 'scholars' who say hijab is not obligatory."
And so the retorts ensue...
Three years ago, around the time I began wearing hijab, four Muslim girlfriends of mine chose to remove theirs. Two college activists in their early twenties, one graduate student, and a mother of two. At the time, I posted this on my Facebook page:
Needless to say, for voicing disappointment, I was met with rabid fury primarily by sisters who, like my four girlfriends, had also removed the hijab. In their comments, they defended one another for exercising personal choice. They flooded the thread with passive aggressive "lols" and "hahas." And one Muslim professor who had abandoned her hijab years prior, and with whom I had a cordial and positive relationship, advised me not to "aid the patriarchy." But, it was one well-known college activist who led the stampede against this post. Yes, she had also removed her hijab. In typical critical theory speak, she advised me to "deconstruct" my feelings and compared my disappointment about the matter to "white people's 'heartbreak' over women wearing hijab."
When the phrase "toxic parenthood" entered the conversation, I knew it was time for me to stop. I once had the opportunity to sit with this sister over dinner and we had a long conversation about a range of things. I learned a bit about her childhood and family life, and I empathized with much of what she shared. This young sister unfortunately took on adult responsibilities way before her time. She had a difficult relationship with her father, a man whom she viewed as controlling, tyrannical, and a classic archetype of patriarchal oppression. I understood that her feminist activism had much to do with her personal experiences. I did not press her to challenge her beliefs. Instead, I listened.
About a year later, she found herself triggered by my Facebook post. This scenario, in which a fellow Muslim sister is offended by my statements regarding hijab, feminism, and gender issues, has repeated itself many times over. I have experienced a very consistent pattern among sisters who rise to the top as the most vocal, the most enraged, and the most persistent critics of the hijab.
Such sisters, I learned, had a pattern of personal trauma. In their personal lives, they had witnessed men (often their fathers) as unjustly powerful and women (often their mothers) as bitterly powerless. They loathed their fathers for their tyranny and their mothers for their weakness. Is it any wonder such sisters believe in the big, bad patriarchy? Is it any wonder they relate to the tenets of feminism? By the time they reach the crossroads of whether or not to maintain the hijab, sisters with such traumatic experiences are more readily willing and able to tear off and burn the symbol which they have come to associate with male dominance. By this point, the associations and sentiments such sisters have developed about hijab are not that different from the Western narrative of Islam as a patriarchal religion designed to oppress and abuse women.
So, why is removing the hijab actually a big deal?
Yes, transgressing is a sin for which we will each have to answer individually. And yes, when abandoning the hijab becomes a trend, as it has, this can have dire implications for Muslims as an ummah. But, if for no other reason, many sisters who remove the hijab are signaling a deep wound. No longer associating with it can be a symbolic act in response to a traumatic past. It can be an unconscious cry for help.
But, this does not justify abandoning the hijab. Much in the same way that turning to drugs to numb one's pain is unjustifiable. Doing so opens the door to a pathway of problems to come, the least of which not being a further crumbling of one's faith. Instead, therapeutic treatment is necessary for sisters who have experienced trauma. Creating an environment in which emotional and spiritual healing can occur is crucial. Empathy and patience from family and friends will be vital. Staying off of social media where empathy and patience rarely exist, and where most things can trigger remembrance of trauma, is a must.
Removing the hijab is a sign that something deeper is going on. For some, it is a battle of the nafs. For others, it is a fight against trauma. May Allah (SWT) make it easier for each and every sister to heal from her past and to fight her demons here in the dunya for the sake of her future in jannah.