Taking off the hijab…for now


A blogger stopped wearing the hijab, and she wrote a blog post about it.

This wasn’t an easy decision. I had been struggling with it on a daily basis for the last five years. During the final years of my undergraduate degree, I was constantly reminded of how much my personal beliefs clashed with those of the Islamic orthodoxy. It’s hard to reconcile my mix of libertarian, socialist and humanist values with the conservative ideals of the orthodox Muslim community that I inadvertently become a part of as a Hijabi.

Hmm. “Inadvertently” seems an odd word to use. Did she think putting on the hijab was a libertarian, socialist, humanist thing to do, as opposed to an orthodox Muslim one? If she did she was deeply confused.

At the same time, as the only visible Muslim in my undergraduate program (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) I became the de facto representative of all one billion or so Muslims to my classmates. I was always conflicted between expressing traditional/orthodox Muslim beliefs and my own.

But then why wear it at all? If the beliefs are not your own, then don’t wear the belief-based bandage. And the idea of “visible Muslim” is somewhat creepy too. That’s exactly why religious clothing has always seemed repellent to me. I don’t want your religion made visible (unless I’m actually in your religious building for some reason). Keep it to yourself.

During my first stint in graduate school, I became somewhat of a novelty. Here I was, a brown female visibly Muslim scientist working in a white, male dominated field. I organized academic journal clubs, hosted international researchers and attended conferences both at home and abroad. I was the only Hijabi in my field and I’d like to believe to think that I challenged commonly held stereotypes about Muslim women.

But that again is confused. Wearing the hijab confirms the commonly held stereotypes. Yes, you can do a party trick of wearing it only to reveal that you’re actually a feminist believer in gay rights, but what for? The hijab is what it is and not something else. It stands for conservative values, not liberal ones, so wearing it is a silly way to disconfirm the stereotypes.

So I’ve decided to take it off for now. It feels dishonest to represent myself as an orthodox conservative Muslim, when I’m not. I’m tired of representing all Muslims, Islam and dealing with assumptions of both the Muslim community and the general public about who I am and who I should be. For once, I just want to represent myself. My religious belief is not my defining identity, but it is an important one for me. I’m unsure of how to feel like one without wearing Hijab. (How do all the non-Hijabis and Muslim men do it?????).

I don’t know what is going to happen. I might put the Hijab on again. I might take it off permanently. For now, I just want to see what life is like without it.

What about a concealed substitute? Something carried in the pocket or under the clothes? A physical symbol that’s free of the baggage that goes with the hijab. I would think that would work. Honestly I think wearing a hijab when religion is important but not defining is bound to be a bad fit.

Comments

  1. says

    I can’t imagine why someone might rally to an identity they consider important when it’s under constant attack by the society they live in, even if it isn’t defining. Really, Ophelia?

  2. says

    Yes, really, Rutee. The fact that it’s under attack doesn’t make it good. What if it were Nazi “identity” or KKK “identity”? People who considered that identity important might rally to it. What of it? We could still say they were wrong.

    This is the problem with treating religion as primarily an “identity.” It’s more than that, and the more does a lot of harm to many people. We get to say that.

  3. strange gods before me ॐ says

    I don’t want your religion made visible (unless I’m actually in your religious building for some reason). Keep it to yourself.

    FSMers, don’t wear your t-shirts (let alone your sacred noodle strainers!) in public.

  4. strange gods before me ॐ says

    What if it were Nazi “identity” or KKK “identity”?

    Then it would be different. But it’s not.

    What of it? We could still say they were wrong.

    This is the problem with treating religion as primarily an “identity.” It’s more than that, and the more does a lot of harm to many people. We get to say that.

    It is in part an identity, that is a fact. Anyway, you get to say what you want, and no one in this thread claimed otherwise (praise be upon freeze peach).

    But you are acting like you don’t understand why she did what she did — “But then why wear it at all?” — and you are getting an answer to your pretended question.

  5. says

    Being a muslim is not really analagous to being a nazi. Being of middle-eastern descent, the actual crime behind most of the jackassery done to muslims, is even less so.

    This is the problem with treating religion as primarily an “identity

    You think ‘race’ is any more real than religion? It’s only ‘real’ because society treats it as such. When people stop being utter assholes towards middle eastern immigrants, then we can start talking about this in relation to muslims. That day is not coming any time soon.

    We get to say that.

    Yeah. You do. And Islam, like pretty much every other religion, has a lot to answer for, even restricting ourself to the modern era. That’s not really the effect of what you’re doing now though.

  6. says

    What of it? We could still say they were wrong.

    Oh shoot, I missed that. And I can say you’re wrong to identify with being a woman, that you’re wrong to identify with being an atheist, and a host of other things. You can say whatever the hell you want, but it isn’t necessarily true, and it is definitely not here.

  7. Walton says

    When people stop being utter assholes towards middle eastern immigrants, then we can start talking about this in relation to muslims. That day is not coming any time soon.

    QFT.

  8. pipenta says

    It is confused. I think a lot of women who continue in the traditional religion of whatever culture they are from are confused. They want to support their community and their families and friends, but many are very conflicted about their religion.

    Also confused is the woman who posted this response:

    “The hijab is a type of uniform in a way and obviously meant to be an equalizer – as all uniforms are. But as you pointed out, the hijab is also an instant identifier that causes you to be classified. The way we dress is an expression of our personality. To take off the hijab is to allow your personality to shine through.
    I never quite understood why Muslim men are allowed to wear blue jeans and T shirts while their sisters, girlfriends and wives wear the hijab”.

    Now that has some interesting vocabulary choices. Equalizer? And she has never quite understood why men are allowed to wear what they want and women are wearing this equalizing uniform?

    I don’t have the same emotional response to someone on the basis of their race as I do when they are wearing a religious uniform. I have a pretty specific internal reaction when I see a woman in a hijab or a Catholic nun’s habit or wearing Amish clothing or the uniform of any other patriarchal religion, and it is not a comfortable one.

    It ain’t the same thing as race at all.

  9. says

    It is in part an identity, that is a fact.

    It is? It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact? Really?

    But you are acting like you don’t understand why she did what she did — “But then why wear it at all?” — and you are getting an answer to your pretended question.

    Figure out a way to disagree with me without accusing me of lying. I’m very tired of people accusing me of lying.

  10. says

    Being a muslim is not really analagous to being a nazi.

    I didn’t say it was. But treating Islam as an “identity” is roughly comparable to treating Nazism or membership in the KKK – and more benign political or ideological groups – as an “identity.”

    You think ‘race’ is any more real than religion? It’s only ‘real’ because society treats it as such.

    No of course I don’t. That was my point.

    When people stop being utter assholes towards middle eastern immigrants, then we can start talking about this in relation to muslims. That day is not coming any time soon.

    But now you’re mixing things together. Are we talking about immigrants? Or about Islam? I was talking primarily about Islam in the post.

  11. says

    Rutee what exactly is your point? You seem to be saying or assuming that the author of the hijab post was wearing it to express solidarity with Muslims as oppressed (Middle Eastern) immigrants, but she doesn’t say that at all. It’s not a bit clear from her post that she has faced oppression or racism. Her post wasn’t about xenophobia or racism, it was mostly about her religion and its conflict with her evolving views of things.

    You seem to be trying to force it into a different box.

  12. says

    It is? It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact? Really?

    Considering it is used as a vehicle for racism, yes, it is really a fact.

    I didn’t say it was. But treating Islam as an “identity” is roughly comparable to treating Nazism or membership in the KKK – and more benign political or ideological groups – as an “identity.”

    Saying this and acting like Islam is uniquely bad as a religion isn’t going to make either your conclusion or your premise any more true.

    No of course I don’t. That was my point.

    Then your point is as confused as you believe the muslim in your OP to be. Society treats it as real, and it attacks them for it. Whether Islam ‘should’ be a valid identity in a vacuum is immaterial, given that.

    But now you’re mixing things together. Are we talking about immigrants? Or about Islam?

    It’s true that we’d need to stop being imperialist assholes to middle-easterners outside of our own borders as well as within them, so I was slightly mixed up…

    I was talking primarily about Islam in the post.

    …You were talking primarily about the one specific muslim in your post, and how ‘confused’ she must have been to consider her islamic identity important in the face of racism using that same identity as a sword.

  13. strange gods before me ॐ says

    It is? It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact? Really?

    Yes, it is a fact that religions are a way that people identify themselves to each other and construe as their own identities. That is what an identity is.

    I suspect you are coming at this from an angle of “if it’s an identity then we have to treat it in ways X Y and Z,” but if so then your approach is a non sequitur.

    I didn’t say it was. But treating Islam as an “identity” is roughly comparable to treating Nazism or membership in the KKK – and more benign political or ideological groups – as an “identity.”

    Like here. Being a Nazi or a Klan member is an identity, and one often important enough to the individual to tattoo or brand themselves for life.

    But you move from “is an identity” to “treat as an identity” without evidently noticing the conflation.

    It is a fact that all these things are identities. It also makes sense for us to react differently to them.

  14. strange gods before me ॐ says

    I mean, what does it even mean to treat something as an identity?

    All I can think of is we recognize what that means: we recognize that it’s self-defining to the subject. Okay. And there’s a lot more to consider besides.

  15. says

    strange, no, it isn’t a fact. It’s not cut and dried enough to be a fact. It might be fair to say “it’s accurate to call it” or something like that, but just to announce that it’s a fact is absurd. A contested and shifting definition can’t be a fact.

  16. says

    Rutree – again – you’re reading extraneous stuff into the post. You’re reading it as yet another simple-minded claim about identity, and that’s not what it is. It’s not primarily about racism. It’s about beliefs.

    You’re also reading this post through a filter of having decided that I’m a racist. That won’t work either.

  17. says

    Rutee what exactly is your point?

    That you are treating her as a freak for being a muslim, and this is wrong.

    It’s not a bit clear from her post that she has faced oppression or racism.

    In that it is crystal clear, this is true.

    At the same time, as the only visible Muslim in my undergraduate program (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) I became the de facto representative of all one billion or so Muslims to my classmates. I was always conflicted between expressing traditional/orthodox Muslim beliefs and my own.

    During my first stint in graduate school, I became somewhat of a novelty. Here I was, a brown female visibly Muslim scientist working in a white, male dominated field.

    Her post wasn’t about xenophobia or racism, it was mostly about her religion and its conflict with her evolving views of things.

    Yes, that was her post. And your post was about how ‘confused’ it was for a feminist woman to identify with her muslim-ness at all.

  18. says

    You’re reading it as yet another simple-minded claim about identity, and that’s not what it is.

    The ‘simple-minded claim about identity’ is more what I saw from your comments after. The post more seems like “WTF a muslim feminist NO”, all told.

    You’re also reading this post through a filter of having decided that I’m a racist. That won’t work either.

    Are you a unicorn, an alien, or a time traveler from the future where class oppression has ended? No? Then you’re at least somewhat racist. Probably less so than average, surely. Similarly, basically nobody grew up in a non-sexist culture.

  19. says

    I am not treating her as a freak. I’m also not treating her as anything “for being a muslim.” That’s just inane. I don’t accept that people are [whatever religion it is]. I don’t accept that religion is ontological; I consider it something people buy into and can buy out of.

    She says herself her beliefs have changed. She says herself there is tension between the hijab and her evolving beliefs. I’m not “racist” for pushing her thoughts a little farther down that road.

    I really don’t want to discuss this subject in these baby terms.

  20. Rodney Nelson says

    strange gods before me ॐ #3

    FSMers, don’t wear your t-shirts (let alone your sacred noodle strainers!) in public.

    You are aware that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a parody, aren’t you?

    strange gods before me ॐ #4

    It is in part an identity, that is a fact.

    In your opinion it’s a fact.

    You seem to be confused as to the purpose of parody and the difference between opinion and fact. I’m missing something because I fail to understand what your complaint is. All I understand is you’re complaining.

  21. says

    The post more seems like “WTF a muslim feminist NO”, all told.

    Yeah…you’re on the wrong blog then. Go shout at someone who actually does think like that. All told.

  22. says

    Yeah…you’re on the wrong blog then. Go shout at someone who actually does think like that.

    Why should I think that you don’t? You haven’t given me a lot of reason not to. FFS, you compared being a muslim to being in the KKK.

  23. says

    I just told you – I don’t think of it as “being” a Muslim. You’re determined to force the discussion into stupid clumsy categories that I reject, and then rail at me based on your distorted picture of what I’m saying. You’re not reading with attention. As I said: you would spend your time more productively shouting at someone who actually does think in the terms you’re talking about.

  24. says

    She says herself her beliefs have changed. She says herself there is tension between the hijab and her evolving beliefs.

    Yeah, and that has nothing to do with what you were doing.

    I’m not “racist” for pushing her thoughts a little farther down that road.

    Is… is that what you were trying to do by condescending to her and acting like she was not permitted to hold liberal beliefs while being a muslim (or if you prefer, ‘buying into Islam’)? /)_-

    I just told you – I don’t think of it as “being” a Muslim. You’re determined to force the discussion into stupid clumsy categories that I reject,

    So you wish for me to believe that the comparison to the KKK or Nazi-ism was solely based on it not being ontological? Why not the Girl Scouts of America, a college anime club, or for that matter, feminism? If this were merely about ‘categories’, why didn’t you step in when I pointed to identifying as a feminist or atheist, and specify there that “each of those things shouldn’t be an identity”.

  25. says

    Excuse me? What do you mean that has nothing to do with what I was doing? It has everything to do with it – it’s the subject of the post!

    You clearly think I’m just pretending to be talking about tensions between religious beliefs and “obligations” like wearing a hijab, and what I’m really doing is demonizing the Other. I’m telling you that’s a crock of shit.

    You think in ready-made formulas. Again – you’re reading the wrong blog. You have me confused with someone else.

  26. says

    Excuse me? What do you mean that has nothing to do with what I was doing? It has everything to do with it – it’s the subject of the post!

    then why are you focusing on islam’s special uncompatibility? Ah, fuck it.

    I’m telling you that’s a crock of shit.

    …hence the comparison to the KKK or nazism.

    You have me confused with someone else.

    Only if you are a unicorn, a time traveller, or an alien.

  27. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Rodney Nelson

    You are aware that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a parody, aren’t you?

    That is irrelevant to the point he was making. If one frowns at any visible marker of religious affiliation in the public sphere (as Ophelia put it, “I don’t want your religion made visible” [something that seems totally unreasonable to me, BTW]), then consistency requires that this standard apply to all such visible markers, and also to visible markers of rejection of religion, such as endorsements of atheism or of mock-religions.

  28. Mira says

    ——
    “It’s hard to reconcile my mix of libertarian, socialist and humanist values with the conservative ideals of the orthodox Muslim community that I inadvertently become a part of as a Hijabi. ”

    OB:”Did she think putting on the hijab was a libertarian, socialist, humanist thing to do, as opposed to an orthodox Muslim one?”
    ———-

    I believe(since I also write such goofy constructs), that sentence was supposed to be read as –
    It’s hard to reconcile my mix of libertarian, socialist and humanist values with the conservative ideals of the “orthodox Muslim community that I inadvertently become a part of as a Hijabi”.

    the “that I …” qualifies the orthodox community and does not mean ” so I …”. She did not become a hijabi, she just came out of it after a lot of struggle.


    “I organized academic journal clubs, hosted international researchers and attended conferences both at home and abroad. I was the only Hijabi in my field and I’d like to believe to think that I challenged commonly held stereotypes about Muslim women.”
    OB: “But that again is confused. Wearing the hijab confirms the commonly held stereotypes.”
    —-
    Here again she did not challenge the stereotype of the Muslim women by wearing a hijab, but she challenged it by “organize/host etc…”.

    —–
    “But then why wear it at all? ”
    —–
    It is not that easy, even if we live in western world. None of the women I know(Indian) have any agency to do anything on their own , unless they risk total ostracisation from all of their family and friends-from-same-community.

    I feel that it is a great/bold move from a young woman and that it just deserved recognition/congratulations. :(

  29. Mira says

    //Rutee Katreya says:
    September 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    OB: I didn’t say it was. But treating Islam as an “identity” is roughly comparable to treating Nazism or membership in the KKK – and more benign political or ideological groups – as an “identity.”

    Saying this and acting like Islam is uniquely bad as a religion isn’t going to make either your conclusion or your premise any more true.
    //

    I completely agree with Rutee’s statements.

    Treating Islam as an “identity” is roughly comparable to treating “Christianity” as an identity, not kkk/Nazi.

    And I do see so much hatred in
    //That’s exactly why religious clothing has always seemed repellent to me. I don’t want your religion made visible (unless I’m actually in your religious building for some reason). Keep it to yourself.//

    Does this appeal to every person wearing a cross in public place conspicuously? is it equally repellent – or is it proportional to the size of the religious insignia?

  30. Mira says

    Doesn’t A+ give more credit to social justice than the just Atheism?

    Then why do you neglect this woman’s feminism (or the journey towards it)/freedom totally and just go with swords at her mild-theism (just important – not an identity)?

    Is it important at all, if she believes in Allah/Jesus/Santa-Claus at all, if she is being “libertarian, socialist and humanist”, as she says.

    [“libertarian” as in what we outsiders know from the dictionary – not as in the US context]

  31. Billie says

    #22 Rodney Nelson says:
    “You are aware that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a parody, aren’t you?”

    Don’t you mock our religion, sir!
    We have ways of dealing with those who insult His Noodly Existence.

  32. jose says

    I don’t see what’s so confusing about the post. She used to agree with conservative muslims and wore the hijab. Then she began doubting and she changed her mind about the islamic orthodoxy and this led her to take it off. To me that sounds like the former christian that stops going to church because she just isn’t feeling it anymore. Perfectly usual.

  33. callitrichid says

    I don’t have a blog of my own, but let’s say I did. You make a blogpost about something that I have sincere questions about. The best way to get those answers would be to blog about it rather than comment here to ask you directly? I don’t think so… in my opinion, your questions come across as rhetorical and disingenuous in this context.

    I don’t understand the intent behind this blogpost for another reason, as well. You belittle someone for making a difficult choice to step away from a life-long tradition when she realized it was incongruent with her personal values. This seems like a choice you would support. I don’t get it. Maybe you can enlighten me.

  34. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    What a fine kettle of fish. Rutee, Walton, strange gods—I know all of you and I know your political and ethical concerns. Your disdain for racism and anti-muslim shit is genuine and well-motivated. But you have calcified into a formulaic position. Ophelia’s right. You HAVE to have the narrative you want to have and you’re talking bullshit.

    What you’re doing isn’t anti-colonialism. It’s a parody of it that infantilizes the oppressed. You want the kind of criticism Ophelia is making off the table until some indeterminate time when people don’t react to muslims out of pure xenophobia. That’s bullshit. And it’s not going to happen. And it shouldn’t happen. Just because there’s a lot shit flung at middle eastern people (and there is) by reactionaries does not mean that ALL such criticism is reactionary. Ophelia doesn’t have to apologize for other people’s shit.

    And before you write back and say, “I never said it wasn’t possible to criticize X legitimately,” just don’t. Watching you converse on this topic I seriously doubt there is any kind of criticism or questioning of things muslim that you would not label as racist or feeding into oppression. I’m sorry that sounds harsh, but on this topic you’ve become unable to make reasonable discriminations among conversations. It’s all anti-muslim racism to you. No matter what. And yeah, you are working off a narrative that Ophelia Benson is an unreconstructed Islamophobe, even if you wouldn’t use those terms. You talk about it in other venues frequently. You call it “her big blind spot,” or you accuse her of propping up oppressive narratives.

    There is literally nothing she could say on this topic that you wouldn’t view that way. It’s tedious as all hell to watch you all go at it. You’re right on a great many things but on this you utterly suck, frankly.

  35. Mira says

    If I hadn’t been lurking in FtB for so long, I would have definitely thought Josh@38 is trolling as I would, if I was crafty enough.

    //Ophelia Benson is an unreconstructed Islamophobe//
    //“her big blind spot,” //
    // You’re right on a great many things but on this you utterly suck, frankly.//

    I am an Islamaphobe myself.
    But the post(original) was not advocating/apologizing for Islam at all and OB’s post was insensitive.

  36. Lyanna says

    Yeah, what jose and callitrichid said.

    Her post seems pretty clear to me. She thought the hijab was compatible with humanism and libertarianism and socialism. Then she found, through experience, that this might not be so.

    Her Islamic beliefs are her own, and there’s nothing creepy about displaying them, any more than my “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt is creepy. She thought the hijab was expressing HER Islamic beliefs. She found that it instead expresses a much more conservative, orthodox belief system. That’s what I think is the most reasonable interpretation of this quote:

    I was always conflicted between expressing traditional/orthodox Muslim beliefs and my own.

    She’s a Muslim, but not a traditional or orthodox one. She thought she was valiantly breaking stereotypes by claiming the hijab for HER type of Islam.

    She found, through trial and error, that it doesn’t quite work that way.

    Nothing hard to understand here, and I applaud her for what she’s done. I don’t think Ophelia is being racist or Islamophobic. But I do think she comes off as strangely hostile to a young woman who is learning and growing and has had an important realization, a realization that most of us here agree with.

  37. julian says

    Rutee, Walton and Strange Gods are all being incredibly thick on this thread.

    She thought the hijab was compatible with humanism and libertarianism and socialism.

    And she was incredibly foolish to believe so. The hijab is a clear indicator of conservative/orthodox religious beliefs. It’s almost universally recognized as such, particularly among Muslims. What’s wrong with recognizing this and being somewhat taken aback by an educated woman (a Muslim woman) somehow believing the opposite to be true?

  38. callitrichid says

    julian, it’s one thing to be taken aback by an educated muslim women who was propogating the idea that the hijab was compatible with humanism et al., but this woman said:

    “On a personal level, I no longer hold the same religious perspectives that I did when I started wearing the Hijab a decade or so ago. During my undergraduate studies, I took Islamic history classes and was surprised to find out that the practice of veiling in the Arabian peninsula predates Islam and was used as a class identifier. Women belonging to the families at the upper levels of clan and tribal hierarchies wore veils. Furthermore, the two verses in the Quran that are interpreted as an injunction for women to veil themselves, only call for women to dress modestly and do not specifically mention hair. The more I read, the less convinced I became.”

    Clearly this was a process wherein her education made her realize the incongruence with her personal values.

    She posted a blog describing that process, and not propogating the idea that the hijab was compatible with humanism et al., so publicly chastising her past beliefs seems unnecessary.

    In fact, it seems like encouragement from OB to someone like this would be more aligned with the beliefs she promotes on her blog. That’s the mismatch I am observing.

  39. Lyanna says

    And she was incredibly foolish to believe so. The hijab is a clear indicator of conservative/orthodox religious beliefs. It’s almost universally recognized as such, particularly among Muslims. What’s wrong with recognizing this and being somewhat taken aback by an educated woman (a Muslim woman) somehow believing the opposite to be true?

    Because it’s unimaginative and ignorant.

    She was not foolish at all. Wrong, yes, but not foolish. The hijab may seem like a “clear indicator” to you. It’s not such a clear indicator at all to young educated Muslim women. I know many who struggle with this issue a lot. They don’t think it’s so clear, and they actually live and socialize with Muslims.

    “Almost universally recognized as such”? Nope. That’s a very strong and unsubstantiated claim. It’s commonly assumed to be such, but that’s not the same as “almost universally recognized.” Tell that to the Muslim humanists and feminists and socialists who wear hijab, or who have people in their families who do.

  40. Mira says

    // Julian said
    Rutee, Walton and Strange Gods are all being incredibly thick on this thread.
    “She thought the hijab was compatible with humanism and libertarianism and socialism.”

    And she was incredibly foolish to believe so.
    //

    Except that “she” did not think so. She thought exactly the opposite. She said humanism etc could not be reconciled with hijab etc.

  41. Lyanna says

    Callitrichid: right. Education is a process. Dismissing people who are at the beginning of that process (and who actually moved on from there) as “foolish” is wrong.

  42. says

    Honest, I’m trying to puzzle through this thing…

    … but it got long. Figured it’d be a bit obnoxious to dump another wall o’ text here. So I put it here instead.

    I’m not promising it’s actually helpful, even. I’m too tired to try to make it more so. And probably too stupid just to throw it out, the way I usually would.

    (/Honest, I really do just throw out a lot of stuff. You have no bloody idea. Forgive me that I failed this time, if it turns out I should have.)

  43. says

    I’m astonished at some of the idiotic comments in this thread. For fuck’s sake, the OP is ABOUT how her feminism and the inherent symbolism of the hijab are in such conflict that as a Muslim feminist, she has decided to STOP WEARING THE HIJAB.

    For anyone to suggest that Ophelia, by agreeing with this MUSLIM FEMINIST’S conclusions, is therefore saying Muslim women can’t be feminist, is just such crap that the proponents are either illiterate or arguing in bad faith.*

    *Ha, get it? A pun!

  44. callitrichid says

    …except she’s dismissing the original poster by describing her own perception of her or her ideas as “deeply confused” and “somewhat creepy.”

    Further, without any obvious attempt to clarify her understanding of which stereotypes about Muslim women the original poster was trying to combat while simultaneously wearing the hijab (because clearly the stereotype that this Muslim woman is referring to in her post is *exactly* the one that OB could come up with, as a non-Hijabi, non-Muslim woman), OB assumes that she knows which sterotypes were being referred to and states that doing anything while wearing the hijab is a “a silly way to disconfirm the stereotypes.” However, the original poster says that she:

    “loved being able to shatter stereotypes about Muslim women, especially Hijabis as being meek and oppressed and uninterested in Science and Mathematics. I love Mathematics, Statistics and Theoretical Ecology, so it was great seeing people grapple with their preconceived notions of who I am and who they thought I would be. I miss this, especially since global muslim communities need positive role models that aren’t just experts in Islam or the Middle East. But I don’t want the burden of solely representing my ethnic/religious community anymore. I am more than just Muslim and Pakistani and I would like to be able to express myself without worrying about whether or not I am doing a good job in paving the way for other Muslim and/or Pakistani men and women in my field.”

    In response to why she would choose to every wear the hijab again, the original poster says, “I’m trying to figure out how I want to express myself, including my religious beliefs and if wearing the Hijab ends up being more true to me than not wearing it, then I might put it on again.” which is totally up to her own personal choices, but OB’s take on that seems to be:

    “I don’t want your religion made visible (unless I’m actually in your religious building for some reason). Keep it to yourself.” Or, hey!, “What about a concealed substitute? Something carried in the pocket or under the clothes? A physical symbol that’s free of the baggage that goes with the hijab.”

    I still don’t get where this all fits into the general ideology of this blog. It’s quite the mismatch indeed.

  45. Beatrice says

    And the idea of “visible Muslim” is somewhat creepy too. That’s exactly why religious clothing has always seemed repellent to me. I don’t want your religion made visible (unless I’m actually in your religious building for some reason). Keep it to yourself.

    What is so strange about her considering her position as the only “visible Muslim”? Muslims are getting shit from pretty much everyone in non-Muslim countries. I don’t find it in any way strange that a Muslim would feel pressure to be the “good Muslim”, to show that people of her faith are not all monsters that a lot of people are making them to be. While I agree that she would be better off if she realized that it’s all bullshit and became an atheist, I think the treatment of Muslims in “the west” is a pretty big obstacle to conversions like that. She’s not a Catholic imagining persecution. While Muslims aren’t being exactly persecuted, they are under constant attack of “the west”. I can understand how that would make her defensive, even if she disagrees with most of Muslim beliefs. I get part of what you are saying, but I’m a bit baffled by your incredulousness, Ophelia.

    I very much disagree with your position on visible expressions of religious affiliation. I don’t care if someone wears a cross. There are problems with hijab, but none of them is that it publicly shows someone’s religion.


    And there is just something off in comparing Muslim as an identity to being part of KKK as an identity.

    You can be raised in a community of KKK members and be brought up to believe the same shit. You can be raised in a Muslim family and be brought up to believe the same shit. Hating non-white people is kind of an essential thing in KKK. You can’t support KKK without that. You can be Muslim without supporting the violent, hateful parts of Quran. It’s an inconsistency that we see in most religions and usually bring up when discussing the ridiculousness of religion. But it exists and people function by working around it and still staying Muslim (Christians, whatever).

    Or in other words, there is an inevitable maliciousness in being part of KKK or a Nazi that doesn’t necessarily exist in being Muslim.

    So there’s a difference. It puts them in different categories.

  46. Beatrice says

    [1]So I’ve decided to take it off for now. It feels dishonest to represent myself as an orthodox conservative Muslim, when I’m not. [2]I’m tired of representing all Muslims, Islam and dealing with assumptions of both the Muslim community and the general public about who I am and who I should be.

    [1] Great!
    I should have said that first, before trying to grapple with everything else.

    [2] I don’t see how she could explain her troubles better than with this and that’s why I don’t understand why Ophelia doesn’t seem to understand this woman’s conflicted feelings.

  47. Walton says

    Rutee, Walton and Strange Gods are all being incredibly thick on this thread.

    WTF? I QFT’d a single sentence in one of Rutee’s posts. You’re somehow reading into this a great many things that I have not said. I didn’t say I agreed with everything Rutee has subsequently said (I don’t, for the record).

    Watching you converse on this topic I seriously doubt there is any kind of criticism or questioning of things muslim that you would not label as racist or feeding into oppression. I’m sorry that sounds harsh, but on this topic you’ve become unable to make reasonable discriminations among conversations. It’s all anti-muslim racism to you.

    That’s a strange accusation. I didn’t accuse anyone in this conversation of being racist, nor do I think that they are. Nor do I think, nor have I ever said, that all criticism of Islam is racist or feeds into oppression. (For a counter-example, I’d point to Johann Hari’s piece Can we talk about Muslim homophobia now?, which is entirely reasonable and justified criticism of Islam. For that matter, I’ve agreed with some of Ophelia’s criticisms of Islam, too.)

    I do think that some criticism of Islam is racist and/or feeds into oppression (Pat Condell’s xenophobic rants, for instance), and I’ve frequently said so, but that isn’t at all the same thing. Nor is this post an example of such, nor did I say that it was.

    No matter what. And yeah, you are working off a narrative that Ophelia Benson is an unreconstructed Islamophobe, even if you wouldn’t use those terms. You talk about it in other venues frequently.

    I never said anything of the sort. Nor do I think it. Ophelia isn’t an “unreconstructed Islamophobe”, and if I thought she were, I would not trouble to read her blog. I agree with her opinions the vast majority of the time (and I’ve said so, on some occasions).

    I do sometimes disagree with some of her comments about Islam, and when that happens, I say so. To be honest, the only part of this post with which I disagree is this part:

    And the idea of “visible Muslim” is somewhat creepy too. That’s exactly why religious clothing has always seemed repellent to me. I don’t want your religion made visible (unless I’m actually in your religious building for some reason). Keep it to yourself.

    I don’t think anyone should be telling anyone else what they should and shouldn’t be wearing, or demanding that they “keep it to [themselves]”. None of us has the right to police other people’s appearance. Especially when the person doing the telling is a member of the cultural majority talking to a member of an oppressed cultural minority.

  48. Walton says

    To be honest, the only part of this post with which I disagree is this part:

    Well, that’s not quite true, actually. I also agree with Beatrice’s criticisms at #49.

  49. Rodney Nelson says

    I have a serious problem with that aspect of Islam which demands I respect it. Certain Muslims want this respect codified into law and enforced on non-Muslims. “You will respect our religion and our prophet or else you’re a racist who deserves punishment.”

    I don’t respect Islam (nor do I respect any other religion). I resent bitterly someone trying to bully me into respecting their religion or at least not expressing my disrespect. My right to express my disrespect is at least equal to their desire that I respect their fantasies. I don’t think it at all unreasonable for me to express my disrespect of something I find horrific nor do I think it racist or xenophobic to talk about the horrors of Islam or any other religion.

  50. Forbidden Snowflake says

    That was a lovely self-righteous rant, Rodney, but how is it relevant to anything that was said in this thread?

  51. Select says

    Rutee what exactly is your point?

    To tie back the muslimah’s abadonnment of her hijab to white racism against people from the Middle East.

    She was ‘forced’ to remove her scarf because she ( her identity) “was under constant attack”.

    And yet there isn’t a shred of evidence in her blog posting that that was ever the case.

    There are far more Muslimahs in America wearing veils because of the threats and intimidation emerging from their own communities than there are Muslimahs taking them off because westerners are being “utter assholes” towards middle eastern immigrants.

    Likewise, there are far more Muslimahs murdered at the hands of their own families than by us westerners being “utter assholes” towards middle eastern immigrants.

    As though this women’s quandry has nothing whatsoever to do with her attempting to think things through herself, but was instead foisted upon the poor lamb, against her will, because…

    westerners are “utter assholes” towards middle eastern immigrants!

    Easy isn’t it?

    Rutee’s entire argument, ironically, is the result of bigotry towards middle eastern immigrants because Rutee clearly thinks that those same middle easterners are simply too stupid and too infantile to think for themselves.

    They can only react; they can never engage in critical thought or introspection.

    Think I’ll go and scratch my A-hole now.

  52. Ysanne says

    What Beatrice said in #49.

    And: Wearing some kind of headscarf for reasons of feeling adequately “covered” is not a unique feature of conservative orthodox Islam. It’s a common practice in many cultures, including the “Western” ones not too long ago.
    Yes, it stems from a patriarchal desire to control women’s bodies. Just like the convention of women covering their breasts in public to the point of hiding any indication of nipples under fabric (and their buttocks and genitals, for that matter).

    So why is it an acceptable argument for a feminist that she doesn’t want to show her breasts or bum in public because it’s her body and therfore her decision how much of it she shows to whom (for whatever reason), but suddenly a total buy-in into the worst parts of muslim orthodox conservatism when she decides the same about her hair?

    Is it so totally unimaginable that a woman can identify with a liberal interpretation of Islam, and at the same time decide that point on the “full body bag <–> naked” scale that she feels comfortable at includes wearing a hijab? She had apparently hoped to wear the hijab like just another piece of clothing; she found out that this doesn’t work. She realised that the hijab has been completely appropriated by people she doesn’t want to get lumped in with, that it is associated with a telling a message that she doesn’t want to tell, and that’s why she stopped wearing it. There’s no reason to pretend that this is anything but easy to understand (especially after her explanations) and then be so condescending about her thoughts and motivations as the OP was.

    Oh and one more thing, re Select in #55:

    She was ‘forced’ to remove her scarf because she ( her identity) “was under constant attack”.
    And yet there isn’t a shred of evidence in her blog posting that that was ever the case.

    Nope, you don’t get to dismiss out of hand a person’s first-hand experience of feeling attacked/forced/stereotyped just because she’s a muslim woman and what she says doesn’t match what you think she experiences. (Cf. women feeling harassed and whether one should believe them.)

  53. Beatrice says

    She was ‘forced’ to remove her scarf because she ( her identity) “was under constant attack”.

    You are completely misinterpreting what people are saying.

    The woman is under pressure from both the Muslim community and non-Muslims. That’s what she said and I don’t think anyone here disputed that.

    There are two parts to this:
    1) Wearing a hijab makes it obvious that she’s Muslim.
    which then drags along point
    2) Wearing a hijab makes people assume things about her beliefs that are not necessarily true

    Both of these things have become a problem to her. I have recognized that and said that I understand why she would have conflicted feelings, not that she was forced to remove the hijab by anti-Muslim attacks.

  54. julian says

    Could someone please point me to the condescension in the OP. I’m still not seeing. There’s a scornful tone towards the hijab but I still don’t see Ophelia as condescending towards Muslim feminists. And I still don’t see any reference or dismissal of anyone’s feelings either. The post doesn’t even touch on them. There’s incredulity someone would think a hijab is some sort libertarian statement but that’s it.

  55. says

    Hi Olivia,

    I’m very surprised (and rather flattered) that my personal decision to unveil was of some interest to you and that you decided to blog about it. I do occassionally read your blog from time to time, so it was nice to see something that I wrote being a source for discussion here. I would like to address some of the questions (and assumptions) you and a few of the comments here raised.

    1)About using “Inadvertently”

    I used inadvertently because,the assumption that anyone who wears the Hijab/headscarf is “conservative/orthodox” and anyone who does not wear isn’t is not true within the Muslim communities that I have participated in and interacted with (disclosure: anecdotal evidence). Within these communities, some Hijabis are conservative/orthodox leanings, while others ascribe to their own set of personal Islamic beliefs which include the Hijab. Conversely, some non-Hijabis espouse “liberal” values while others are conservative, sometimes even more so than conservative Hijabis. In this context, wearing the Hijab has very little to do with ascribing to conservative/orthodox beliefs. Some people wear it to assert Islam as their primary identity. Some wear it to assert their cultural identity reasons (note: there are a number of ways to veil, depending on culture). Some wear it for feminist reasons, believing that it prevents them from being seen solely as objects of male sexual desire and some that don’t want to wear it but their families expect them to. Some non-Hijabis do not veil because they do not believe in it. Some do so to fit in with the dominant culture. Some don’t wear it since they believe themselves to be modern and the Hijab not to be (economically modern, not modernity as espoused by Locke, John Stuart Mill, Voltaire, Hobbes, Hume etc..). Some don’t veil because they are feminists and some want to wear it but their families do not allow them to. In this mix, wearing the Hijab or not wearing it means many things. Thus for me to be associated with conservative/orthodox values simply because I was wearing it was suprising, leading to the use of “inadvertent”.

    2) Why wear it, when it conflicts with your values?

    First of all, when I wore the Hijab my values were different from what they are right now and there wasn’t any conflict then. Now that I feel that the Hijab is not the best way to be myself, I took it off. People change. I’m still religious, just not in a traditional sense. I also took the Hijab off because I was burdened by the weight of other people’s assumptions. I was tired of assumptions about who I am and who I should be. It’s exhausting to answer questions on a daily basis about why I believe XYZ, when one interpretation of Islam espouses ABC. More specifically, I was an attraction at scientific conferences and constantly asked sometimes nicely, sometimes not so nicely, why someone like me is interested in science and mathematics. I didn’t want to deal with that anymore.

    Secondly, after taking Islamic history classes, I did a lot of reading on veiling and found that it was not obligatory, only that modest dress was for both men and women. So if there is no injunction for it, I don’t really need to wear it.

    3) Visible Muslim

    You have the right to be disturbed/creeped out by public displays of religious belief. This however does not give you the right to tell me what to wear or not wear, just as I do not have the right to impose my religious beliefs on you. Telling me what (not) to wear is patronizing because it assumes you know what is best for me, more than I do. If religious clothing makes you uncomfortable, that’s fine…but I don’t have to make you comfortable since public space belongs to both you AND me

    4) Party trick and confirming stereotypes

    As I said in #1, there is a lot of diversity among Hijabis and non-Hijabis in terms of their beliefs, so what’s up with the stereotypes? Also I’m not sure how being a Hijabi scientist confirms any stereotypes, since there are not many Hijabi scientists.

    As for the party trick, it’s not really a trick since I did believe in the Hijab and feminism and gay rights at the same time. Right now, I just don’t think that the Hijab is a necessary expression of my beliefs. I’m still passionate about feminism and gay rights and…gay hijabi rights.

    5) A dangerous decision?

    Not even a little bit. My father was and continues to be extremely supportive. My mother isn’t very happy about it, but she has accepted it. My brothers don’t really care and my sisters (Hijabis) support me 100%. In my family, most women don’t wear the Hijab. Historically, women did wear some sort of veil but many of them were forced to abandon it by their husbands and fathers due to class reasons (in the 1910s and 20s, middle and upper class women wore the veil, while in the 1950s and 60s middle and upper class women did not wear the veil and wearing it exposed them and their families to extreme ridicule and social ostracism). Some of them wanted to re-veil and they have. Others don’t care to wear it at all, so they don’t.

    6)Threats and Intimidation

    @select I just want to clarify a point thath you brought up. You mentioned that many Muslim women nowadays veil because they are forced or threatened to do so. This is the case for some women, but the vast majority of Hijabis I know wear the Hijab because they feel it has value in their lives. Some of these hijabis do so against the express wishes of their families that feel veils are “backward” and in some cases have rejected their daugthers because of it. I acknowledge that there is a problem within Muslim communities (more than one) with regards to the veil especially enforcing it, but I think it reflects a broader issue on how intersections between patriarchy, culture and religion influence the agency and perceptions of agency of Muslim women.

  56. says

    Hey rotifan –

    Thanks for commenting and replying – much more nicely than I deserved!

    I re-read my post a few minutes ago, before I saw your comment, and saw that it ended up being more snippy than I’d intended. I started out just wondering about a couple of points that seemed sort of tangled to me, but I got…erm…ruder as I went on.

    You’re right about the religious display item, of course. I don’t get to tell anyone what to do.

    I was already (before you commented, I mean) planning to start over and say that whatever questions I may have, my main view is hooray for you.

  57. says

    This issue of wearing the hijab for multiple reasons – that’s what interests me. As an outsider, I don’t think that works. What do you think? I guess to some extent you agree, because that’s part of why you took it off.

    So that’s where I’m coming from, and why I sounded more snippy than I meant to. (I apologize for that. I should have started with hooray for you, because that’s really what I think!)

    I think women who think they can wear it as you say “to assert their cultural identity reasons” are making a mistake, not only for themselves but for other women. They may think that’s what they’re doing while conservatives and reactionaries will take it as a victory for their way of doing things. That’s why it worries me when it’s treated as a badge of identity and a blow against racism and thus progressive.

  58. Aratina Cage says

    As quoted by callitrichid,

    I took Islamic history classes and was surprised to find out that the practice of veiling in the Arabian peninsula predates Islam and was used as a class identifier. Women belonging to the families at the upper levels of clan and tribal hierarchies wore veils.

    That’s funny because these kinds of religious outfits are also a sort of class identifier for people who buy into the religion. They give off a whiff of, “I’ve got mine; if you want to move up from being part of the unwashed masses, and if you work at it and come around to emulate me, you’ll get yours.” They broadcast that the wearer is spiritually wealthy. It’s all so smug given the ridiculousness of theism. I know they always accuse atheists of being smug, but really I think that theists have the smug market cornered.

  59. Aratina Cage says

    You mentioned that many Muslim women nowadays veil because they are forced or threatened to do so. This is the case for some women, but the vast majority of Hijabis I know wear the Hijab because they feel it has value in their lives. –rotifan

    Pretty much every religious person believes that their religious adornments have value in their lives, but we shouldn’t overlook that much of this “value” is brainwashed into these people. It’s not a physically violent type of force in the end (though it may start as such), but I would definitely call it being forced upon them. Just look at Christians with their mini torture devices dangling from their necks and wrists. The value they see in it is grotesque given what it is and the story behind it and what it stands for. Apply that to the hijab and you get the same results, like it standing as a symbol of feminism or gay rights.

  60. says

    Hi Ophelia,

    I don’t know why I referred to you as Olivia….too early on a weekend morning…my apologies…this should also explain the spelling and grammar gaffes in my earlier reply

    I’d like to start off by thanking you for your support.

    As for wearing Hijab to assert cultural identity, the problem is that it has been co-opted by too many forces both on the left and the right, so there is very little space for Muslim women to negotiate their identity on their own terms. If you do decide to wear the Hijab, conservatives and reactionaries applaud your decision and use it to indirectly pressure others to follow, which seems to be the case in Egypt and Pakistan specifically. On the other end, when you do takng it off or choose not to wear it, some people on the left see it as a sign of triumph of Western values over Middle Eastern backwardness, of rejecting Islam altogether which is not always the case. There are no easy answers. Personally, I think wearing the Hijab limits the wearer because it makes one identity more important than all of the others. In my case, this was not true…hence I stopped wearing it.

  61. says

    Heh – I get called Olivia a lot. It’s a nice name, I like it!

    Yes exactly. The Hijab may be the most freighted-with-baggage garment there is in the world.

    There are groups in the US who wear religiously-influenced clothes – the Amish, Mennonites, Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (a splinter of Mormons, whom the Mormons disavow), Haredi Jews…But none of them are global in the way that Muslims are, so their dress isn’t global either. The Hijab is very global.

    Are you a fan of Tarek Fatah? I am.

  62. says

    I agree with Tarek Fatah on some issues, but he loses me completely with some of his stances especially supporting Michelle Bachmann on characterizing Huma Abedin as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (see http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/tarek-fatah/bachman-muslim-brotherhood_b_1707362.html) and appearing on Glenn Beck’s show to warn about Islamists in the Obama administration, without any evidence (http://www.glennbeck.com/2012/05/22/watch-leftist-muslim-joins-glenn-on-gbtv-to-discuss-threat-posed-by-radical-muslim-brotherhood/).

    He doesn’t take criticism well. For e.g. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Wahida C. Valliente, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress stated that “Tarek Fatah’s views are diametrically opposed to most Muslims. There is a tremendous amount of discussion in the community. His point of view contradicts the fundamentals of Islam”, he responded by filing a complaint against the Canadian Islamic Congress with the RCMP (Canadian FBI) and stating that this “is as close as one can get to issuing a death threat as it places me as an apostate and blasphemer.” Yes, Wahida’s does call him a blasphemer in a round about way, but I don’t think that’s enough to be considered a death threat or to lodge a complaint against an organization. Not to mention his frequent op-eds on Middle Eastern and South Asian politics that are eerily reminiscent of the inane assertions in Thomas Friedman’s columns.

    I agree with his stance that Islam needs to be interpreted in a secular manner, his association with right wing figures already bent on marginalizing all Muslims in North American society disturbs me a lot.

  63. says

    Bachmann! Argh, I didn’t know that. Or Glenn Beck, either.

    On the plus side – I admired his supportive messages to Irshad Manji when she was taking a lot of heat in Indonesia and Malaysia.

  64. Jim Valentine says

    rotifan tells an inspiring story and merits our praise for her struggle to evolve into a person who supports gay rights, women’s rights, and presumably universal human rights exercised under lawful constraints within a democratic civil society.

    Implicitly, rotifan is telling us that her “personal” version of Islam incorporates the ideals outlined above in contrast to the conservative-orthodox version of Islam she opposes which frequently practices oppression, cruelty and misogyny. Reaching for a handy term, we might describe her as a “progressive Muslim” just as we apply the term “progressive Christian” to those Christians who embrace tolerance, compassion, civil liberties, social and economic justice, science education, equal access to educational and employment opportunities, etc.,etc.

    The ultimate and unresolvable problem of the Hijab – “to wear or not to wear that is the question”- emerges not so much from the cogent arguments between rotifan and Ophelia but rather from the irreconcilable positions of the two on the foundational authority of Islam itself, still cherished to a substantial degree by rotifan while scornfully rejected by Ophelia.

    I’m satisfied that rotifan has become a virtual secular humanist at this point in her life. Still I hunger for more details about what her “personal’ Islamic faith consists of beyond her generalizing that the Q’oran can be interpreted consistently with a liberal democratic worldview. For the interim, I can appreciate why and how she can critique all of our responses with qualifications, doubts and disclaimers because in a significant sense she remains a believer and we are not. She knows her story from the inside and Ophelia admits to the status of an “outsider.” In good faith -pardon the oxymoron- Ophelia can sensibly advise rotifan that wearing the Hijab is not a “good fit” for a host of logical and moral reasons. But the audible undertone rings with dissonance in the ears of the faithful rotifan…. “Take my word for it because I’m an atheist, there is no God and Islam is total bunk.”

  65. Lo says

    This is a very harsh critique of someone who had to deal with a very difficult personal choice. Personally, I never liked people quoting large texts of a blog, and then acting self-rightous about another person quandaries. I am glad you have everything figured out in life, and it is unfortunate the rest of us are not as perfect as you.

  66. anonymous 99 says

    i think u should read th quran back or refer to a scholar about da hijab thingy so that u could get a better understanding of islam what im tring 2 say is what u did isnt a good thing i hope one day u would repent of all the sins u did its easy to cover up ur aurah if u do it 4 Allah n u believe that Allah is da only one god remember its better to endure hardship now as in being hot in hijab rather than to taste the hell that Allah has promised to give to people who didnt obey him know i didnt quite say it properly but i hope u would repent one day coz they r thousand n thousand of people in the grave that wish to come back to earth to pray to Allah n obey his orders do it while ull still have a chance remember u born alone u die alone n ull be judged alone.

  67. Sama says

    You are honestly doing a great job. I am also working and studying in the medical field while being a Hijabi. Its hard! I look like I am a hardcore religious person but I am not. I feel like I am not even wearing it to please God nor myself…. I feel like it is an obligation by my society. I turn 24 this June and I have made the decision to take it off. Like you though I am wondering how it will be. Will my mother who is the most imortant person in my life be okay with it or will I lose her? I have so much. But I have made my mind and will not allow the hijab to define me.

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