Hijab vs. Objectification of Women

13 February, 2017
Q Dear Muslim Counselor, I used to the wear the hijab about three years ago. I believe when I wore it initially, I wore it for the sake of others to win their approval in the Muslim community. I took it off, because I felt that I was not being sincere and that I should work firstly on ensuring that I prayed my five daily prayers. I am still working on my five daily prayers, and it’s been three years. I want to wear the hijab, but fear that my sincerity might not be there. I fear I might wear it only to remove it at a later stage. I also fear that others won't take me seriously wearing the hijab again because I previously wore it and took it off. Please advise me on what I should do? I really want to be a good Muslim: do my five prayers, wear the hijab, and not to be caught up in worldly affairs.

Answer

Answer:

As-Salamu ‘Alaikum my dear sister,

We thank you for sharing with us your concerns on an issue that many Muslim women might be facing today, for many reasons. However, when one is in the midst of situation, one is not always cognizant of all the elements playing with our choices.

The challenge of being a Muslimah in any era is that we become part of Allah’s (swt) work on earth. Hmm! That sounds like a hefty challenge; however, why I say this is because I am beginning where you left off: not wanting “to be caught up in worldly affairs”.

We are here as humankind to help raise the level of vibration on earth and to learn to raise ourselves above our personal interests, our lower selves, the self that only knows worldly affairs, i.e. to be in it but not of it! The trick then becomes how to be in the world but rise above it without being devoured by it!

Feminists, who are supposed to further the cause of women, have failed to support Muslims. Feminism grew out of the needs of Middle class European women. In their struggle to make themselves equal to men, they have made the rest of womankind objects of men – from work to leisure! That freedom (or rather slavery) that they have fought for affects the way women relate to each other (more competitive, manipulative than in the past), and how women see themselves – as objects to entertain, to be available, to attractive enough to influence a man’s perception. This process of objectification affects the way in which we view our bodies and even the health of our bodies. The way we as Muslim women dress today is more in line with this process of objectification than ever before. We are not aware that we are doing it, or we might be, but we fall prey to the need to:

  • Dress how we want with total disregard of the fact that how we dress does affect others.
  • Dress in the most uncomfortable and impractical clothing simply because it is attracting.
  • Change any part of our bodies as long as it fits in with the popular notion of beauty, which is culture bound. This includes cosmetic surgery, make-up, and harmful dieting (including fasting when in fact the intention is to lose weight).

One walks along the road and sees a sister (Muslim or non-Muslim) who is “more attractive” than us. Next, one finds one does something with one’s hair, make-up, shopping for that same dress, etc., anything to look as good as, if not better than that sister. One has no idea about the life of that sister, whether she is respected or whether her opinion is valued. One has no idea if she even likes herself. Yet, the impression one has of her leads one to want to be like her, physically speaking!

  • Is that self-control?
  • Who is controlling what?

The process of objectification is a subtle one, but every day, all women receive the same message in different forms from the T.V., music, fashion, magazines, social signs of approval/disapproval, and women who have already received the message and in turn influence other women.

Sister, take a look at yourself and ask yourself, which is superior: “for the sake of people”, or “for the sake of Allah (swt)”?

You have been prone to those messages for a long time, so much so that even though you “know” what the right thing to do is, to start seeing yourself through your eye, the process of objectification has controlled you to the point whereby you have a weak will. This, my dear sister, is what it is like to be enslaved. If it was freedom, if it really was your choice, there would be no conflict between what you know you should do, and what you have been doing.

If one can begin to respect one’s self, start seeing one’s self worth, listening to one’s inner voice, then our actions follow accordingly because one has the will to do it. One’s will is no longer enslaved by the superficial trappings of man’s world. When one respects one’s self, one is more able to respect other’s true selves (even when the other does or cannot), and likewise, all of Allah’s (swt) creation, including the bounties which He (swt) has given to us in the form of this planet earth. In this way, we become part of His work on earth. We are able to discern the truth and to recognize its value in our lives. The hijab means all of this because, from the heart, hijab is not just the veil; it is the clothes we wear, and the way in which we wear them – with self-respect and not with objectification.

The fact that you once wore the hijab and the reason you wore it is no different to anything else we wear. So, in that sense, you were within your rights to remove it. However, to fear wearing it again because of what others might say only means that you are still acting for their sake and not for the sake of Allah (swt). When you can respect the inner you, you will have the courage to wear the hijab because then you will be wearing it for the right reasons, in sha’ Allah.

Sister, you have much fear. How can you live with so much fear? When fear plays such a big role in our lives, there is only one thing to do, and that is to face it. If you no longer want to be part of the process of objectification, if you want to feel comfortable in your own body, if you want to be respected for who you are and not how you look, then there is only one thing to do: don that hijab. Take control of your own life, and if someone says something sarcastic about wearing the hijab again, just smile and say “As salamu ‘alaykum (peace be with you). If the community’that you live in are so intolerable, then show them some tolerance. Laugh and say, “Yeah! It’s part of my struggle, and we all have struggles, don’t we?!”

The sincerity you fear not having does not come ready made; it comes with every step we make, every challenge we face while reflecting on what we do. We make mistakes and we fall down, and then we pick ourselves, dust ourselves down, ask ourselves what was that really about, and start all over again. It is life, sister, and it is all the more enjoyable when you are yourself and not somebody you are not.

May your journey be full of surprises, and may those surprises bear fruit, in sha’ Allah.

Salam,

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About Hwaa Irfan
Late Hwaa Irfan, may her soul rest in peace, served as consultant, counselor and freelance writer. Her main focus was on traditional healing mechanisms as practiced in various communities, as opposed to Western healing mechanisms.