Dina Torkia has been dubbed as the “most high profile hijabi blogger in the UK.” And it’s understandable why — she has tens of thousands of YouTube subscribers, has been the subject of a BBC 3 documentary, and is the founder of a successful clothing line.
These achievements are commendable in themselves. However, conversations about Dina Torkia’s achievements usually centre on her hijab and her status as a “hijabi fashion blogger.” This is understandable to an extent since her career started off with fashion blogging and she does, among other things, teach “hijabis” how to wrap their scarves in new and interesting ways.
But this preoccupation with her status as specifically a “hijabi” blogger, rather than simply a fashion blogger or as a designer and a businesswoman is symptomatic of a culture wherein the successes enjoyed by Muslim women — especially Muslim women who wear headscarves — cannot be celebrated without commentary on their religious practices and all other aspects of their lives. Success is considered secondary to what’s on their heads.*
Something else that’s interesting about the label “hijabi fashion blogger” is that this label is one that distinguishes “hijabi” bloggers as a sub-group within the larger group of fashion bloggers. It is the kind of label that is usually reserved for sub-groups that are seen as a cultural Other. “Hijabis” are otherized in fashion blogging circles, and therefore their appeal is considered to extend to other “hijabis” only, and their success is considered dependent on their status as “hijabis”.
In this case, within the world of fashion bloggers, bloggers such as Dina Torkia are seen as an entirely separate group to bloggers who don’t wear headscarves, which serves to limit their appeal to “hijabi” viewers. Dina Torkia has, herself, made it clear that she aims to reach as wide an audience as possible with her work. What is interesting, although unsurprising, is that white bloggers are not expected to make a conscious effort to appeal to non-white audiences. Their make-up, hair, and fashion advice is considered to be universally applicable.
This preoccupation with headscarves and the distinction that is made between women who wear headscarves and women who don’t, a distinction that often dictates how each group is treated, is not limited to the discussion of women in blogging circles and this line of thinking is not limited to non-Muslims.
If I had a penny for every comment on the personal choices of “hijabi” women from Muslims who have no business having an opinion on such matters, I’d have a lot of pennies.
The frequency with which I witness people pontificating about the “point” of wearing a headscarf if a woman sins, the frequency with which the term “hoejabi” is thrown around, the frequency with which the behavior of those who wear headscarves is policed under the guise of making us better “representatives” of Islam, is all too high.
Both the otherisation of “hijabi” bloggers within the world of fashion bloggers and the undue interest taken in the personal lives of Muslim women who wear headscarves is largely due to the fact that many Muslims and non-Muslims alike have preconceived ideas of how Muslim women who wear headscarves should behave. One group is awe-struck when a Muslim woman does anything remotely interesting and the other is scandalized every time a Muslim woman steps out of line.
What is necessary is a deeper understanding of what “hijab” means (and it wouldn’t hurt for Muslims to realize that it includes lowering your gaze and minding your own business). It should be understood that women who wear headscarves aren’t mythological creatures whose experiences are only relevant to each other, and it should be understood that our scarves are not an open invitation for others to opine on our life choices.
* I have consciously specified the preoccupation with what’s on a “hijabi’s” head and consciously used the term “headscarf” throughout this article rather than “hijab,” because “hijab” is an entire concept and it is not synonymous with a headscarf. Hijab is a concept that includes multiple elements and is applicable in different ways to all Muslims, whereas the interest in “hijabi” women and their lives is due to the fact that they wear headscarves. A similar preoccupation can be seen with other forms of “hijab,” such as the niqab.
Not only this, but hijab is often reduced to a headscarf and I am interested in highlighting the reductive nature of such discussion by refusing to call a headscarf “hijab”.