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.
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.