A couple of months ago, I shared an article on my Facebook page about ‘Hijabi Hipsters’; a new generation of hijabis who fuse fashion with faith by wearing stylish hijab-friendly outfits.
“Wow, that sounds like you!” One of my friends noted. Most of the other people in the thread seemed to agree with him. His comment made me smile. Although I wouldn’t consider myself a hijabster, I was glad my friends thought I was stylish.
Then, it happened.
The negative comments started pouring in.
“Umm…isn’t the point of a hijab to be modest and not attract attention to yourself?” My male atheist friend remarked.
“Yea, I have met girls who wear a hijab with tight jeans and it just doesn’t make sense. How is that even modest?” My female non-religious Hindu friend chimed in.
“You can’t wear that with a hijab. It still attracts boys. She is beautifying her face.” My male Muslim friend offered.
Soon, the entire thread took a dramatic turn and went from praising hijabis for being modest yet stylish to bashing “hoe-jabis” for making a mockery of an important religious symbol by wearing “slutty” clothes in the name of modesty.
Throughout the encounter, I sat next to my computer screen, a cup of hot Kashmiri chai in my hand, wondering when I will finally get a chance to live without having to justify my attire to every single person I interact with on a daily basis.
I am writing this in defense of every girl who has been told that her clothes are not “hijab-friendly.” This piece is for every person who thinks (s)he has the right to tell hijabis what they can and can’t wear.
I became what Muslim women call a “permanent hijabi” at age 18. Before that, I had a rocky relationship with the garment I chose to wear at age 10 to school only. I was the first female in my family to start wearing it. I had no guidance whatsoever. No one told me I couldn’t wear short sleeves with a hijab, for example, so I proceeded to do just that until I got called out for it at age 14.
Since I lived alone and didn’t interact with Muslims (especially hijabis) on a daily basis, I wore all kinds of “inappropriate” clothes with my hijab: short skirts, short sleeved shirts, tight skin-hugging pants, etc.
It wasn’t until I started living with my aunt (who had also started wearing a hijab by then) that I finally realized the hijab was more than just a cloth you wear on your head. It was an entire lifestyle that you couldn’t just pull on and off as you pleased.
Here’s what I wish people understood about “hoe-jabis”:
- They may be confused. They may not live with or around other hijabis so they have no idea what really counts as “modest” since different people have different perceptions of modesty.
- They might be experiencing a change of heart. Often times, hijabi girls stop covering their hair for a multitude of reasons. Usually the transition starts with them wearing more “inappropriate” clothes. Once you start wearing the hijab, it’s hard to take it off. It literally makes you feel like you’re walking around naked. That’s why many hijabis use that as a stepping stone so when they are ready to finally take it off, they feel more comfortable doing it.
- They might be wearing a hijab for reasons other than modesty. It is not uncommon at all to meet a Muslim girl who wears a hijab in order to make a political statement. I’ve also met cancer patients who wear headscarves once they start losing their hair due to chemotherapy.
- They are tired of being judged. Think about how hard it is to be a hijabi. Islamophobes are more likely to attack them than any other group of Muslims. White feminists keep telling them that they’re oppressing themselves by choosing to dress a certain way. People of other religious groups judge them on their “fake” modesty. Perverts fetishize them. Misogynistic Muslims try to police their behavior and choice of attire while other hijabis judge them on their style.
- They are human, too, and are thus not incapable making mistakes. Hijab-malfunctions exist. Sometimes the way someone steps out of their house is not the way they end up looking halfway through the day.
If you are a hijabi who is really interested in helping another out, guide her toward hijabi style bloggers who manage to wear Sharia-approved clothes and still look fashionable…or towards actual Muslim sources written by scholars explaining what a hijab is and what the rules are for wearing one.
If you yourself are not a hijabi, please take a seat.
Hijabis do not exist for you to mock, criticize or fetishize. We are not “forbidden fruit” or hypersexual oriental beauties who are ladies on the street but freaks between the sheets. We aren’t repressed creatures who need Orientalist men to come and “save” us by sexually exploiting us.
Judging women for dressing “immodestly” is a form of patriarchal oppression, even when aimed at women who choose to cover their hair. Remember this the next time you try to tell a woman what she should or should not wear.
Nabah Rizvi is the owner of the Facebook page “Thoughts of an Angry Hijabi,” a safe haven for all Muslim feminists. She was born in Pakistan and raised in the Middle East. Currently residing in Michigan, she enjoys listening to Yuna while looking for excuses to stay indoors.