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Is hijab ever really a free choice?

This again. In Sudan, a woman is threatened with flogging for refusing to wear hijab.

Can we please never again hear from anyone saying that wearing hijab is a choice?

Amira Osman Hamed faces a possible whipping if convicted at a trial which could come on September 19. Under Sudanese law, her hair – and that of all women – is supposed to be covered with a “hijab”, but Hamed refuses.

Ruby Hamad comments on the trend.

As mainstream Islam grows increasingly conservative, there is no doubt that the situation for many Muslim women, both in Sudan and elsewhere is deteriorating. Indonesia, for example, a once “moderate” country which has also been cracking down on women’s dress in recently years, is currently sparking international outrage for its plans to subject teenage schoolgirls to virginity tests.

And none of this is about choice. That’s the point. It’s about the violent refusal of choice.

Ahmed prefers to wear her hair in traditional Sudanese braids. But, judging by the policeman’s reaction, you’d think headscarves had been compulsory in Sudan for centuries and not just since the president Omar al-Bashir seized power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

All of which shows just how quickly conservatism can change the face of a nation. There is no doubt that there is a disturbing emphasis put on women’s dress and behaviour and that this is increasing.

Because that too is the point.

Why is modesty so highly prized and enforced in women but not in men when the Koran praises both “modest men” and “modest women”?

While modesty can as easily refer to humility as it can to dress and sexuality, the hijab requirement places women’s modesty front and centre at all times in a way men are exempt from.

Nothing has hindered women’s progress more than the cult of modesty. In the Muslim world it has sadly reached the point to where it is seen as the primary, if not only indicator, of a woman’s entire worth as a person.

It is the direct cause of phenomena such as honour killings, the restrictions on women’s’ freedom of movement and female genital mutilation; all cultural practices that predate the rise of Islam and which are designed to ensure women’s chastity prior to marriage.

This cultural preference for female virginity means women’s lives and their entire moral character are distilled to their modesty, reducing them to, in the words of Arab-American writer Mona Eltahawy, “their headscarves and hymens.”

In such a context is hijab ever really a free choice when women who refuse to cover their hair are derided as immodest and unashamed?

No, it is not.

Comments

  1. poolboy says

    Oh give me a break! It’s a piece of clothing, like anything else. What, are we going to stop wearing underwear because the Mormons are a crazy cult that force members to wear magical underwear?

    People wear neckties – goddamn nooses! The origin of the hijab are much older than the origin of medieval neckties.

    Wear what you WANT to wear. Stop blaming the “victims”. If people forced to wear or not wear something, then attack the people making it uncomfortable for those people that feel they have to conform to them.

    Telling people that they’re oppressed or idiots for wearing something is just as asinine as forcing people to wear something.

  2. says

    Stop blaming the “victims”. If people forced to wear or not wear something, then attack the people making it uncomfortable for those people that feel they have to conform to them.

    Erm…that’s what I did.

  3. notsont says

    Oh give me a break! It’s a piece of clothing, like anything else. What, are we going to stop wearing underwear because the Mormons are a crazy cult that force members to wear magical underwear?

    People wear neckties – goddamn nooses! The origin of the hijab are much older than the origin of medieval neckties.

    Wear what you WANT to wear. Stop blaming the “victims”. If people forced to wear or not wear something, then attack the people making it uncomfortable for those people that feel they have to conform to them.

    Telling people that they’re oppressed or idiots for wearing something is just as asinine as forcing people to wear something.

    I don’t see anyone doing what you are claiming here. But I do like the “wear what you want ot wear” part as if there were not laws preventing exactly that.

    Of course there is this mob trying to force this woman to wear one pic.twitter.com/hZFBe43C

  4. Happiestsadist, opener of the Crack of Doom says

    Of course, public employees in Quebec will be banned from wearing them. For freedom.

  5. Jean says

    Of course, public employees in Quebec will be banned from wearing them. For freedom.

    Yeah, because the state has to be neutral and secular. Except when it’s the crucifix in the parliament; then it’s cultural heritage…

  6. says

    @5: Yes, lets be sure to distinguish between Islamist societies, where only naive Western liberals could consider it a choice, and Western democracies where, well veiling may still be problematic, but passing laws in the other direction seems even more problematic. I have the impression that poolboy @1 was reacting to the latter, without reading the post.

  7. says

    I wearing a miniskirt ever a free choice? *
    Is wearing make-up and high heels ever a free choice when women risk being fired when they refuse?
    It’s asking the wrong question.
    The choice is as free as the society and community is in which the choice is being made. What happens if you do, what happens if you don’t ?

    *That’s one of the images the neo-fascist NPD is using for the election at the moment. Another one says “Maria instead of Sharia, showing a blonde, blue-eyed woman and a one wearing a hijab

  8. kitty says

    For a second, I thought Poolboy @ #1 was going for a parody. But no, xe just kept on going. And going. And going.

  9. nich says

    Some asshole further up said: “Oh give me a break! It’s a piece of clothing, like anything else. What, are we going to stop wearing underwear because the Mormons are a crazy cult that force members to wear magical underwear?”

    No fucking Mormon that I know of had acid thrown in his fucking face for not wearing his special underwear. Fuck off, fuckface.

  10. nich says

    Telling people that they’re oppressed or idiots for wearing something is just as asinine as forcing people to wear something.

    I’m pretty sure she’d rather the former THAN A GODDAMN FUCKING FLOGGING YOU FUCKING FUCK!!!!

  11. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Jean, #7:

    Fortunately or unfortunately, as you prefer, certain religious rights were codified in Canada literally 250 years ago. These have not been repealed. I’m not saying that it should be that way, but at least they aren’t being inconsistent. In the US there is supposedly absolute neutrality – which is violated all the time. In Canada the neutrality is not absolute. In fact, the government is required to prefer Catholicism and Anglicanism (though not at the same time in the same place), according to the country’s foundational documents. For reasons that are complex, there is actually a very good argument that we would have to get the permission of France to change this. While I doubt that France would object too strenuously, the failure to go carefully through a Quebecois political process that then includes a symbolic request to France (who would be expected to validate the Quebecois decision), would dramatically exacerbate federalism tensions and possibly even increase secession talk.

    Unlike the US where this is clearly against the law, but has been a traditional breach of law for 145 years, in Canada it is clearly *obeying* the law, and has been obeying the law as codified specifically for a united Canada for 250 years…and it was the monarchic law for long before that.

    I would like the government to be neutral & secular, but it isn’t, and it isn’t by design. The Charter only came into effect in 1982, and the 80s were a time of tremendous tension around secession. There were guarantees made to Quebec that secularist constitutionalism as embodied by the charter would not require a dismantling of religious rites of state – like crosses in the Parliamentary legislative assembly.

    The courts have been willing to interpret the Charter that way, and until Sankey’s ghost kicks them in the butt – which should happen about 50 years after the last of the Charter authors dies – you won’t see anyone saying in a court decision that the guarantee of individual liberty in s2 means banning Christian symbols from government.

    You will see a bunch of people arguing that you can’t ban other symbols, when worn by individuals, and that discussion is ongoing, but the group religious rights of the Royal Proclamation 1763 are held to be different in nature from the individual rights guaranteed by both RP 1763 and the Charter, s2.

    This is probably way too wordy, but the takeaway is:

    It’s not as hypocritical or as illegal as you think. It is as unjust as you think, but that’s not the same as illegal.

  12. poolboy says

    Disappointed with some of the replies. Knee jerk and irrational. The proper conclusion to the question “Is hijab ever really a free choice?” The answer is YES. Is it ever not a free choice? The answer is also YES.

    Don’t attack the piece of clothing, attack the people making totalitarian and brutal decisions. I refer you back to my first comment.

    You are free to wear what you want or don’t want. “But people will think that I’m oppressed or in danger if I do wear something?” That’s also the type of bull that’s not acceptable. No person from either spectrum can tell you what to wear on not to wear.

  13. zackoz says

    On the Indonesian aspect of it, please check the Guardian article – its headline is misleading.

    The person involved is not “Indonesia’s education chief”.

    He is the head of education in Prabumulih, a small town in Indonesia’s strongly Islamic region of West Sumatra.

    Occasionally local bigots make stupid proposals, but that doesn’t mean they apply to the entire country.

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