An entire way of dressing, behaving and believing

Iram Ramzan retorts to Hanna Yusuf’s article expanding on her “yay for the hijab” video.

I’m sorry but I have very little patience with this, oh woe is me attitude, when there are two women in Morocco who are being prosecuted for indecency for wearing summer dresses in a souq. As far as I am aware, no one is arresting Hanna for wearing her hijab nor is she being forced to remove it.

By implying that women who don’t wear the hijab are slaves to glossy magazines and consumer pressures, Hanna makes the same patronising generalisations that she claims others people make about hijabi women.

Even people who are in thrall to glossy magazines and consumer pressures can easily decide not to be. It’s not so easy for people who believe they are required to obey the rules of their religion to decide to disobey those rules. It’s no great wrench to decide that glossy magazines are just glossy magazines, but it’s a pretty big wrench to realize that some of the rules of your religion are bad rules. I suspect that’s why Hanna Yusuf imputes these crass motivations to people who aren’t like her.

“The control hijabi women have over their bodies,” Hannah continues, “Challenges existing structures”.

Where do I begin with this? Firstly, this idea that hijabi women have control over their bodies is not only simplistic but also ludicrous. Women are told to cover so that they do not provoke men’s desires – where is the control in that?

As for this idea that wearing hijab means you’re no longer objectified and no longer focusing on your appearance is nonsense. We’re humans at the end of the day and always concerned with our appearance. Women in headscarves are no exceptions to this.

It is true that the hijab makes women look duller and dowdier than they would without it. That’s the point of it, after all. But does that mean that their appearance just becomes a non-issue? Like Iram, I doubt it.

If it were just about covering the hair then there would be little issue. But the concept of the hijab is much more than just about covering the hair and Hanna knows it. As some Muslims wrote under my initial piece, it is an entire way of dressing, behaving and believing. Hence why she needed to research for three years before she decided to wear it, because once you put it on there is no going back. Women are free to wear one, just not free to remove it. And as soon as you wear the headscarf you are judged more harshly for your actions because of your perceived piety. If women without hijabs are “exploited” and “objectified”, then so too are those with hijabs, being upheld as models of good Muslim women.

I am glad that Hanna can make a free choice, and is able to have her free choice accepted by a tolerant society – despite insisting that is she faced by a wave of hostility. It is a pity that some of the societies where the headscarf is either compulsory or desired are not so tolerant.

The intolerance of those societies is much of the reason for hostility to the hijab, ironically enough.



  1. iknklast says

    I do not wear a hijab, and I am not a slave to glossy magazines. As you implied, those are not the only two choices. Do I freely make my dress choices? Well, as freely as anyone, I guess, since we are absolutely somewhat cultured toward the norm in our society. But my t-shirts and shorts (in summer; sweats in winter) are geared more toward comfort than toward glossy magazines. And if the fact that my thighs and ankles are showing make some man go wild with desire (which I doubt), that is their problem. It is not up to me to police their internal longings. It is up to them to police their external behavior.

    And if my hair makes some man go mad with passion, well, he has a hair fetish and might need professional help. However, if his hair fetish is controllable, and he is able to behave appropriately and function in his daily life, then his fetish is not bothering anyone. It is his right to drool over hair, as long as he leaves the person wearing the hair alone.

  2. jedibear says

    I wonder if I could apply a similar technique to feel superior to people who wear anything other than jeans, t-shirts, and comfortable shoes…

  3. anon1152 says

    It is true that the hijab makes women look duller and dowdier than they would without it.

    This isn’t always true. Not wanting to base my conclusion based on the few hijabi women I see around town, I decided to look for hijab on sale:

    Some look quite “stylish”. Many are certainly less “dowdy” than my own hair…

  4. moarscienceplz says

    I have never been a fan of uniforms of any kind. (OK, when I was eight, I really dug my Cub Scouts uniform, but I’ve outgrown that attitude). And choosing to wear any uniform voluntarily, to my mind is sorta saying, “I am turning off my brain and submitting to the collective.”
    Not very attractive, IMO.

  5. anon1152 says

    1. How legitimate is it to dismiss someone’s complaint about how she’s been treated because other people in other places are being treated in more-horrible ways?

    2. How legitimate is it to criticize someone for choosing to do something because other people are forced to do that same thing? For example: the institution of marriage has a very problematic past (and a slightly-less-than-problematic present). Would you tell me that I shouldn’t choose to marry because other people in other times/places are forced to marry?

    Those aren’t entirely rhetorical questions, and I know that things should be judged on a case-by-case basis. But, as I’ve suggested before, I think we should keep these questions in mind.

    I’m very uncomfortable with many of the arguments I’m seeing about Hannah Yusef’s video/article.

  6. rjw1 says

    Yusuf is really explaining that as a Muslim, she’s morally superior to the Kuffars and by wearing a hijab she’s letting everyone know. Of course she’s peppered her argument with feminist terminology but the message is still Orwellian–”misogyny is emancipation”.

  7. anon1152 says

    Perhaps. For some reason (perhaps growing up in Canada?) I don’t think of non-exposure-of-skin as a weird thing. At least in winter (one of my favourite seasons).

  8. moarscienceplz says

    anon1152 #5:
    Symbols have to be taken in context, you cannot just blindly equate one symbol with another.
    In nearly every human society, the face is expected to be uncovered, except for protection, such as from the weather or disease. This is because so much emotional content is conveyed via the face. Think back to the movie ET and how terrifying those men in hazmat suits seemed. Even Catholic nuns habits, designed to be as non-sexual as possible, still kept the face exposed.
    Keeping the face covered, when it is not absolutely necessary, is saying, “This is not a person on the same level as you. This person is an ‘other’.”

  9. anon1152 says


    Are we talking about the same thing? Everything I’ve written about the Hijab has been written under the assumption that it does not cover the face…

  10. moarscienceplz says

    My apologies.
    There was a post a couple of days ago with a video of a British woman wearing a veil in addition to the head scarf. I thought this was a continuation of that conversation.
    (The definition of hijab is far too vague in my opinion).

  11. anon1152 says


    Thanks for responding.

    I’d say “apology accepted” if I thought that I could accept apologies or if I thought that any apologies were needed. I have been accused of getting distracted by “semantics.” That is probably true, but I still think that the specific meanings of words are important…

    The hijab/niqab/burqa/etc are often confused… and not without reason.

    There are many things about these articles of clothing (and their meanings) that Hannah Yusef does not really address. But I get the impression that she knows a lot about these issues. What bothers me about the responses to her that I see here is not that they disagree with her decision(s), but that they refuse to acknowledge and engage with her reasons.


    Oh… I should add that I share your discomfort with uniforms. One of my siblings has chosen a uniform (so to speak) and I am not entirely comfortable with their choice. But… I once wore a cub uniform. And I went to a high school that required a uniform. I did not rebel against or complain about that, nor would I advise my past self to rebel or complain. These days, I am not required to wear a uniform. But I do. Sort of. Every day, I wear more-or-less the same clothes/colours.

  12. Saad says

    I wonder how many progressive never-Muslims find this convincing and are tricked into thinking the hijab (and other such Islamic coverings) are some neutral thing that are only bad when the Taliban or ISIL enforces them. This is what my issue with people like Yusuf is. They’re doing a disservice by calling the concept and practice of hijab a way to avoid sexual exploitation or some sort of statement on behalf of women.

    Also, let’s be very clear here that advocating for the right of hijabi women to feel safe in non-Muslim societies is not the same as defending the notion of hijab. She does not need to defend the hijab in general in order to defend women wearing hijab.

    This is the stupidest thing I’ve read in quite a while:

    Last week, I made a video for The Guardian newspaper’s website. In it, I explained how I see the hijab as a feminist statement. As far as I’m concerned this is a straightforward statement; it follows directly from my experience of the world.

    This is pure bullshit. It does not follow from experiencing the world. How can a headdress which is required (or very sternly expected) of you by the male-dominated society around you be a feminist statement? And that is what the hijab is for very large parts of the Muslim world. It is a requirement and you face punishment of varying degree for not following it: mistreatment by family, harassment by community, fines by your government, or even corporal punishment.

    Second, the issue of what the hijab is is quite simple. It is a disgusting tool used by a very patriarchal system to treat women like objects whose sexuality is used to bring honor or shame to their guardians and their community at large. That is all it is. I’m sorry, but the hijab hasn’t gotten to the point where it can be used by the targets themselves like some racial slurs can be used. Most of the Muslim world isn’t there yet.

    An analogy I like to use about this is that there are arranged marriages that work out for the husband and wife. I know of several in my family alone. Just as you can be assigned a random roommate and end up becoming great friends, you can be arrange married to a stranger and end up being a good match. This says absolutely nothing in defense of the coercive and anti-choice practice of arranged marriage. Just because some women feel that living with the requirement that your head must be wrapped in a cloth even in very hot weather is a good thing for them does not do a damn thing to paint the actual practice of hijab as it exists in large parts of Muslim societies in a good light.

    The hijab is antithetical to feminism.

  13. Saad says

    Forgot to add:

    It’s all about choice. The question is: how many Muslim women who wear hijab around the world do it out of 100% personal choice and stand to face absolutely no criticism or violence for removing it whenever and wherever they choose? When the practice of hijab becomes nothing more than a personal choice, only then may it be considered a feminist statement. In other words, when a Muslim woman in a Muslim family and Muslim community can wear a hijab on Monday and then not wear it on a Tuesday (without receiving so much as a mean glance from her family and community), then we’ll talk about the hijab being a neutral or good thing.

  14. rjw1 says

    @ 14 Saad,

    “It’s all about choice. The question is: how many Muslim women who wear hijab around the world do it out of 100% personal choice and stand to face absolutely no criticism or violence for removing it whenever and wherever they choose?”

    Or the burka? Given the authoritarian nature of Islamic culture how are we ever going to be able to answer that question? Some years ago I heard a presenter on my local public radio station recall an incident that occurred while he and his wife were in an airport lounge in one of the Gulf states. Three Muslim women entered the lounge each wearing the all-engulfing burka, the did a quick survey of the lounge and apparently decided that there no locals in the area, only Westerners. They removed their burkas to reveal that they were wearing the latest fashions underneath, then they settled down to a relaxed conversation. One of my nephews, who lived in Israel in the 90s said that he noticed that Muslim women often wear high heels under their burkas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *