If you’re tapped into Muslim social media, you may have noticed a new trend spreading across some accounts: removing the headscarf. A recent wave of highly visible hijabi influencers have been taking off the scarf, provoking shock amongst their followers and Muslim social media users alike. Just as prevalent has been the sweeping condemnation that immediately follows each woman, with an onslaught of hate, attacks, and abuse. Their treatment has been symptomatic of a larger problem facing our online community.
Let’s call attacking Muslim women for their hijab what it is: sexual harassment.
The online conversation may have hit a fever pitch when U.K.-based modest fashion blogger and author of “Modestly,” Dina Tokio, posted a photo revealing her hair to her 1.3 million Instagram followers. The collective response was swift: social media followers completely crucified her, burying her under thousands of horrific comments calling her a whore, wishing for her to be raped and her family to be murdered. Yeah, from fellow Muslims.
Maybe a good place to start is that Islam bestows upon us the right to privacy for our worship as well as our sins. It’s not fair that one of the ways Muslim women commonly practice hijab also creates a false visual litmus test by which Muslims feel entitled to wrongly judge our religiosity. For example, we’re already unfairly lenient towards male hijab and sunnah beards; if only there was some physical male indicator by which we can collectively judge a Muslim man’s religiosity constantly, like a counter hovering over his shoulder of how many women he catcalled that day.
The fact that we simply don’t, and often can’t, police Muslim men’s religiosity publicly is what makes hijab policing an inherently gender-based double standard. The fact that we continue to do so against the Muslim woman’s will and without her invitation is what makes it harassment. And, the fact that we use Islam to justify it is what makes it absolutely freaking haram.
The suffocating social media atmosphere that Muslims have created for public hijabis has rivaled that of the Trump-ian Era. It has had a heartbreaking impact on some of the young women and girls watching from a distance, many of whom message us about their interest in the headscarf, but express their hesitation to don it for fear of judgement from our community. Personally, I know of at least one famous Instagram hijabi that privately wants to remove her headscarf but feels unable to do so because of how her millions of followers would react.
Muslims are making Islamic worship even more intolerable for women, especially during a hostile day and age in which they are already tremendously suffering, behind the scenes, for holding onto their faith. The lack of community support in addition to the collective emphasis on the way they dress over their humanity has turned many away from representing themselves as Muslim women altogether.
To put it simply, in our ego-crazed social media world, we want public hijabis to care more about our acceptance than Allah’s. Who’s being blasphemous here?
Some Muslims perceive the headscarf as symbolizing our faith community’s collective claim over the woman wearing it, especially when that woman has visibility. First of all, we shoot ourselves in the foot by doing this, by playing into the tokenization of a few Muslims to homogeneously represent all 1.8 billion of us. But, more importantly, this asserts an attitude of ownership and control over Muslim women and their religious choices. It’s tribal guardianship on a macro-level over women to whom the majority of followers are complete and total strangers. How are we supposed to dismantle global stereotypes of Islam oppressing Muslim women when this is the example that Muslims show to the whole Internet?
For public hijabis that remove the scarf, many followers justify their disagreement by arguing that their personal decision is a public one given their platform and, often, the nature of their careers. It’s a valid perspective in the social media age, when brands are based so much on personalities, and the rise of public hijabis has inevitably tied faith to public image. However, our consumer choice to stop following a brand inevitably comes with our vitriolic sexual harassment and online abuse when it’s a Muslim woman. Nothing can justify it: we can simply choose not to follow, or support.
Muslims often justify hijab policing by using the beautiful hadith in which Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, says, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart.” While it’s sad enough that some Muslims reduce “seeing evil” to women’s attire, it’s impossible to ignore how revealing this is of our priorities.
Before we hit submit on the 1,263rd comment on a public hijabi’s profile “advising” her hijab, we should ask ourselves if we did our part today to combat the even more prescient evils facing the Muslim community, like anti-black racism, illiteracy, or economic inequality. On an even more individual level, did you make all your prayers today? Are you caught up on your Ramadan fasts and charitable obligations? Did you text your Mom?
By accepting and allowing the violent social media climate against Muslim women to flourish, we are doing irreparable harm to the integrity of our faith. It’s a travesty to continue to ignore our pleas and justify hurting and humiliating us with Islam. It is our religious and moral obligation to no longer tolerate the widely-accepted online sexual harassment of Muslim women.