My Hijab Is Not About Managing Patriarchy

Written by Muslim Girl Staff Writer, Minifre Harak

“Sister, that isn’t hijab.”

“Sister, why is your neck exposed?”

“You might as well just take it off!”

Comments like the ones above riddle the pages of any-and-all hijabi vloggers across the exponentially growing Muslimah tutorial/fashion virtualsphere. And don’t be fooled – the respectability police come in all shapes and forms: Other hijabis themselves; opinionated bystanders that make sure to preface their comments with “I’m not Muslim, BUT…”; and, of course those random “brothers” that seem to follow every hijabista out-there, unleashing their misogynistic nasiha wherever their e-footsteps take them.

In this day and age where Islamophobia is an entire industry and field of operation, I find myself especially vigilant about the manner in which I am in relationship with my Muslimhood

I, for one, feel a sense of pride and hold a fist up when a Muslimah does her thang . This world ain’t easy for us, and so all power to you! And as someone who acknowledges the  hijab-to-outfit coordination has been an uphill battle (to say the least), those everyday turban tutorials and 5-minute wrap-and-go looks have given me Life – and I ain’t exaggerating!

I must admit however, I am feeling more and more uneasy about the increasing fixation on the body as the site of Muslimness, both by the fashion-superstars and haram-police. In this day and age where Islamophobia is an entire industry and field of operation, I find myself especially vigilant about the manner in which I am in relationship with my Muslimhood.

What the “let me add another hijab to my overflowing scarf collection because a vlogger told me so”  folks have in common with the “why is your baby-hair showing” police is an obsession with the way the body is presented. Of course, the hijab sits on the body, and thus it is to a certain extent about the body; but reducing it to the “covering” of the body is like reducing prayer to low-intensity pilates.

Yes, prayer involves an ordered movement of the body organized around specific speech acts; but this movement itself does not carry meaning. Rather, the meaning it holds comes by virtue of a connection to a “greater reality” functioning as a type of key to the vertical dimension. And I think for most of us, this makes intuitive sense. Salah is not simply about moving your limbs up and down. However, it comes to women, we somehow are unable to move beyond the body, the corporeal.

What I learned early on in my hijab journey is that the hijab functions as a mindful ordering act – like salah or wudu – where the vertical dimension (relationship to Greater Reality) is tied to the horizontal (the material/social dimension,) but is NOT reducible to it.

I am thankful that the story of “managing patriarchy” was not my story of hijab, because if it were, it probably would have led me out-of-hijab.

Unfortunately, what I have found repeatedly emphasized instead is a frame of hijab that reduces the hijab-making act as a tool of simply managing social relations, especially gendered social relations – and often that is the beginning, middle and end of the conversation with very little nuance. BUT we know surviving patriarchy and misogynistic arrangements requires a lot more than extra fabric on women’s bodies.

I am thankful that the story of “managing patriarchy” was not my story of hijab, because if it were, it probably would have led me out-of-hijab. Instead my hijab journey has been about stepping out into the world with a daily affirmation of “I am part of this world but not of this world”, “I am in my body but not my body.” My hijab reminds me that my “I” is located away from the materiality of my body, from the chaos of this world, while being in intimate relationship with the world. This is not to say that my corporeal self is irrelevant or unimportant. I know my body opens up epistemic possibilities, i.e. ways of knowing Reality, ways of being in communion with Truth through moving and engaging in the world. As we are told:

“We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is truth” [41:53].

“And in the earth are signs for those who are certain. And in yourselves. Then will you not see?” [51:20-21].

And through mindfully seeing, engaging and living in this world we all hope our eventuality is with Truth. However, in this transient realm all we have is a veiled, layered, buried access to The Real. Considering our ‘I’ is not of this world, and functions as a compass meant to orient us to The Real, for me then the logic extends that – as the viceregent of this compass – my “I,” my spirit, requires my attentive guardianship.

And the hijab has been that act of “metaphysical guardianship” for me; meant to preserve the clarity, the noor (light) of my “I.” A means of protecting that thing meant to orient me to the ultimate place of home. And so, I have always preferred a translation of hijab that roughly equates it to “barrier” or “divide”, over “covering.”

The hijab then has been a means of maintaining distance in a world that fights to swallow me whole, maintaining distance from patriarchal-racist structures that place particular reductive currency on the bodies of women, on the bodies of racialized women.

My hijab actively refuses the reduction of my “I” to my skin color, ancestry or reproductive capacity. So, what I am shielding, protecting, distancing from the “world,” “the social,” “the public sphere,” it is not my baby-hairs, earlobes or legs, but my “I.”

My hijab is my mobile Mount Hira, taking it with me wherever I go, a place for my “I” to find regular recluse.

By engaging in a purposeful act of dawning myself with fabric that extends across most of my body, I am engaging in a conscious act of distancing my body from the social, and thus my “I” from the world.

Most of us grew up hearing about our Prophet’s relationship with Mount Hira, the cave where revelations were received and functioned as a site of meditation. Although meditating in the cave of Mount Hira meant a physical covering or removal from “the world,” obviously the distancing act wasn’t simply about the removal of his body from the social, but rather both a physical and meditative distancing of the “I” from this world.

My hijab is my mobile Mount Hira, taking it with me wherever I go – a place for my “I” to find regular recluse.