Just over a week ago, in an interview with France’s Libération newspaper, the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls voiced his support for banning the hijab at universities.
Though he admitted that “…there are rules in the constitution that would make such a ban difficult,” he still said that the ban should happen.
Since 2004, France’s laws ban the hijab, along with crosses and other religious symbols, from state primary and secondary schools. Public sector employees, who are required to maintain an appearance of impartiality, are also not allowed to wear clothing or accessories that express their religious beliefs or affiliations.
In 2011, full-face coverings such as the niqab and burqa were banned in public, which means they were basically banned altogether. Really, they might as well have just banned them outright at that point, because seriously, who wants or needs to cover their face when they’re in the privacy of their own home?
Last month, France’s minister for women’s rights, Laurence Rossignol, faced harsh (and well-deserved) criticism after she compared women who wear the hijab to “Negroes who support slavery.”
“Of course there are women who choose it,” Rossignol said. “There were American negroes who were in favor of slavery.”
The narrative she’s running with is that the niqab and hijab, like slavery, are forms of oppression. Valls called it just that earlier this month when he said the hijab was a symbol of the “enslavement of women.”
The truth is, it’s not the niqab or the hijab itself that is a form of oppression. It’s when the niqab or hijab is forced to be worn–or removed–that oppression happens.
As women, shouldn’t we have a right to wear as much–or as little–as we want? It’s my body–shouldn’t I be able to choose who sees what parts of it? Isn’t that my right? What gives her–or Manuel Valls, or anyone else–the rights to take away mine?
There’s a name for that. It’s called oppression.
Then there are the people who say that the hijab is a form of “passive terrorism,” and that it inspires extremism.
Let’s talk about extremism.
Extremism is extremism: Forcing women to wear the hijab is at one end of the spectrum, and at the opposite end of the spectrum is forcing women not to. They’re two sides of the same coin.
In France, it seems that secular extremism is A-OK. Apparently, extremism is only frowned upon when it’s “Islamic extremism.”
Which, by the way, the term “Islamic extremism” is actually an oxymoron, because the Qur’an itself prohibits extremism, saying “We made you to be a community of the middle way, so that (with the example of your lives) you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind.” (Qur’an, 2:143)
So as I was saying–thanks, but no thanks. You aren’t saving me from anything. What had happened was that you believed something was being imposed on me against my will, so you removed that imposition and replaced it with your own…thus still imposing someone else’s values on me.
In the words of my dude Jay Z, can I live?!
Meanwhile, my wearing the hijab isn’t forcing you to wear or remove anything, except maybe your savior complex. Honestly, I don’t even want to strip you of your savior complex, because that’s your business–I just want you to stop forcing it on people who don’t want it.
Moreover, “hijab” isn’t just the scarf on my head. “Hijab” is a code of conduct. It is a multi-faceted concept that is ultimately a state of being, and yes, there’s hijab for men, too. The purpose of hijab is to guard hayaa–which has many meanings, but in this case, let’s go with modesty–and dress is just a singular aspect of hijab. Hijab is also displayed through manners and behavior.
The one-dimensional view that heralds the hijab as a piece of cloth wielded as weapon against women is really, in essence, about the government (or whoever) telling women what to wear: “Hey girl, we’re gonna save you. We don’t want Islam to tell you what to wear, so we’re going to tell you what to wear instead.”
Stop being so worried about what women are wearing, and instead worry about our quality of life–do we have equal pay? Affordable housing? Equal opportunities for education and employment? Can we live our lives free from violence?
Given this–that the hijab is more than what I’m wearing–the fact that anyone thinks they can truly ban the hijab shows how little they understand the concept, its role in Islam, or in a Muslim woman’s life.
You can ban my headscarf all you want, but you can never ban my hijab.
P.S.–Muslims basically invented universities, by the way.