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Hijab, Criticism, and the Burden of Public Expectations

Hijab, Criticism, and the Burden of Public Expectations

There is an unfair gender distribution within the American Muslim community. The burden of representing the entire American Muslim community has been hoisted on hijabis, or women who chose to wear hijab, the Islamic head covering. While we as covered Muslim women fight to convince the American public that the hijab is our choice, the expectations that come along with it from the Muslim community are not. However, with this choice comes a forced symbolism — not of an oppressed Muslim woman as seen by the American society, but rather as an American woman too liberal to be accepted by the Muslim community.

When Winnie Detwa, a well-known Muslim fashion blogger, made the autonomous decision to take off the hijab, she was greeted with a multitude of criticism and attacks from fans that did not agree with her choice to take the hijab off. The same thing happened with the release of the Mipsterz video earlier this month. Critics tore apart the women who chose to participate in this piece, simply for the fact that how these women covered was not the way they “should” be covered. In both cases, a wide range of negative responses burst from the ever-critical Muslim community, arguing that public Muslim women figures should not represent anything contrary to their role as righteous Muslim ambassadors to the world.

As Muslims, we must become more sensitive to the expectations we hold for the hijabi population. How can the Muslim community expect so much from women who are struggling as it is to be accepted within American society as marked women, if these women still have to struggle to be recognized as autonomous individuals by the Muslim community?

Our agency as Muslim American women has been stripped from us. No longer are we our own beings, replete with our own struggles of faith, love, and life. We are expected to be visible representatives of Islam by the Muslim community. We are marked women: every action observed, every mistake under a microscope magnified into something more than an individual flaw — but, rather, seen as an error of an entire faith. The judgment stems from within the Muslim community, creating a split within the community between conservative thinkers and Muslim women who do not necessarily conform to a static understanding of hijab.

Women choose to cover their hair for a multitude of reasons — whether because they feel better able to express themselves, exercise their modesty, or simply because of a belief that hijab is a commandment of God, a representation of faith. However, there is no space for an understanding of the hijab that comes with the expression of autonomy. Hijab is much more than just a way of dress; symbolically, it is the idea of modesty, of autonomy over oneself. Never was it meant to just be enforced on women. There is hijab for Muslim men, a certain way of behaving and dressing that is so often overlooked. Instead, women are the only ones to face the scrutiny.

With the hyper-observance and constant criticism of hijabis, the Muslim community risks ruining the faith-based pride that American Muslim women feel, whether they cover or not. The Muslim part of the identity is marred, creating a sense of shame rather than a swell of belonging when around the Muslim community that is so systematically pushing them out.

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Maybe it is time we refocus our efforts away from tearing each other apart and instead work on building our community through positive reinforcement, creating space for the diversity that is the American Muslim community. We need to accept the myriad of approaches to hijab and begin to applaud American Muslim women for representing the Muslim community in their own individualistic ways. Is that not the spirit of Islam, after all?

By Huda Alawa

View Comments (9)
    • Assalamu Alaykum Sabrina 🙂 It’s not a focus applied to muslim women, it’s what Allah asks us to do; to hide our body and hair, to dress with modesty. Yes the society is becoming harder to satisfy, and if we follow the trends and how media represent us we ll be tired trying to make them satisfied. So instead of wasting our energy in that, it’s better to satisfy the One and the only : Allah. He knows better how a woman is and what is better for her. And difficulties? let’s deal with it, and let’s face it with courage and constance. Our Islam makes us stronger inside even if the whole world see us weak or opressed 🙂

  • This is a fantastic piece and your thoughts are very eloquently articulated. As a Muslim woman constantly fighting the Western world’s scrutiny of hijab women, I’m often left fighting the Muslim community on the flip side for the very same reasons. God bless you sister.

  • I strongly disagree sister, We have a duty as fellow muslims to guide and ADVISE one another. And remind one another. Just as if one sister decided to smoke I am not going to give her a pat on the back. From the True Islamic stance we are one ummah, when one part of the body aches the whole body feels it. So when a sister chooses to disobey Allah we all get affected by it to the point that yes it is my business and I will do what was commanded of me to give Dawah. That is Islam, And I wont apologies and I am annoyed how these “modern” muslims are hijacking Islam. Don’t play games with Islam, it is not a joke. This is not Christianity or Judaism. Imam Ahmed said one muslim is like a Mirror to another, when you look in the mirror you make sure there is no faults everything is in good order. And that is how you should be to other muslims. Just as you would correct yourself… So are you saying you are better and know Islam better then Imam Ahmed? Or Prophet SAW or Allah? ….. If so then that is dangerous territory and not something I would like to have when I meet Allah. That mentality is not how a Muslim should feel. In matters of deen we should love to practice not always finding ways to be disobedient… How can I disobey Allah and keep everyone off my back? That Is not islam at all. And No islam is not personal to everyone. Islam is set in guidelines The QURAN and Hadith Saheeh Sunnah. Khalas. If you start adding or taken away as the prophet SAW said then you are not from his ummah, you are not a muslim. So stick to it or stop sabotaging Islam.
    Even the non muslims are confused… Hijab is outlined in detail in the Quran and sunnah and non muslims are confused on what is the real one because there is lack of consistency and any girl that tries to correct and rectify it is shot down. Sorry this is totally wrong. We speak up and remind people of the correct way of practicing every aspect of islam, and that does not mean sit down and shut up… the attitude you and other “bloggers” are encouraging. Sorry if the prophet SAW had that attitude where would Islam be now? Non existent. So excuse me If I do not abandon the sunnah and Quran and my deen. You carry on down your road of negligence but don’t drag others along with you. This post is only creating MORE fitna… like we don’t have enough from non muslims. Now the “Muslims” are adding to it.

    • why do you have to say,, “This isn’t Christianity or Judaism”? What right do you have to speak ill of any religion? That’s rude.

      • Hi. It could be rude but it’s kind of the truth. I used to try to believe in the cross but I failed n left. There’s much relaxation and “done away with rules” all in the name of the CROSS. While Jesus the Messiah himself said Matthew 5:17 “I didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it”. What does that mean ? What authority does the christian church have before the Almighty to do away with the laws ?

        I am reading the bible on my own and doing my research by my own self.
        Pork is mentioned as one of those animals that shouldn’t be eaten amongst a lot others such as sea foods. Leviticus 11 (the whole chapter). But yet the christian church won’t bother teach you those commandments cause they are imposing to u they own beliefs. Everybody thinks it is a Muslim thing while its not, you simply have to know how to read when you pick up a bible.
        The sabbath, “the seventh day” aka Saturday is the day that the MOST HIGH himself blessed and chose as a day no man shall perfom work but shall worship and chill. Exodus 20:8-11. But what day does the christian church choose to make you worship ? We know the answer.
        The MOST HIGH commanded women to dress with modesty and no added extravagance 1 Timothy 2:9. What does that mean ?
        This is not to say Islam is the perfect religion cause I’ve also got my argument abt it but a lot of credits can be granted.

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