In the past couple of weeks, a campaign in Egypt was initiated calling women to take off Hijab. This call was faced by a ferocious campaign by the pro-Hijab community in MENA. Though I don’t wear Hijab myself, but I did not support the call to take off Hijab because women must practice their choices and control over there, and because the call itself was casted out by a man, which is fine, but I believe in the matter of women’s bodies women should discuss this, especially in MENA.
When the uprising started in Arab countries in 2011, there was a refreshing sentiment of women regaining themselves, like a young lady called Dana Bakdounis, who posted a picture of her on Facebook without Hijab with a note explaining that she is with Women’s uprising in the Arab World because for 20 years air did not touch her hair. After five years from this, women lost themselves again and returned to hide under the glass ceiling.
Personally, I went through an ordeal with this issue in my life. My family, which is reserve like many families in Middle East, wanted me to put on Hijab, and I always hated it no matter what style I chose to wear: French esharb, an Egyptian helmet, a scarf full of floral prints and shiny colors, fixing it with colored pins or nice brooches, or following latest Hijab fashion trends, I didn’t care, I just felt choking every time I wore it, and my family felt embarrassed every time I didn’t follow the dress code rules as a member of a traditional society. I have to say that in the end I won, I took it off eventually, but this came with a cost: society resentment and avoiding my extended family to avoid scrutiny. For me, refusing to wear this piece of cloth was an ultimate action against society’s attempts to control my body and thought.
I understand that in some strict societies and areas, women just can’t go out without it. In some countries, there are laws regarding women’s dress code. However, many communities in MENA consider women wearing Hijab are more virtuous than those who don’t, though this don’t prevent men and boys from sexually harassing women wearing Hijab in the street. Calling for laws to protect women’s rights is more important than calling women to defy society on their own toll. How can we call average women in traditional societies to revolt against their suppressors and restrictions when laws are actually against them? In some countries like Syria before 2011, the killer in an honor crime case will walk free after spending one year in prison after finishing the life of his sister, wife, or daughter. In Egypt, Hijab didn’t prevent police and authorities from carrying out virginity checks on a number of women activists. Humiliating the feminine body is one way to break women’s, and men’s, defiance. Under all these violations of women’s dignities, if Hijab can make women feel somewhat secure and can preserve some sense of dignity (even if it was a delusion because the society itself is oppressed), then let it be Hijab for her.
Muslim women wearing Hijab do not live differently than women without it. They tattoo their eyebrows (though tattooing is haram in Islam), many of them do plastic surgeries, their outfits are the same of women without Hijab except for the head scarf and mantu or abaya, they have the same aspirations and dreams, they live under the same laws. It is nonsense to make women the carrier of virtue while men can enjoy some mistakes and be forgiven.
The tradition of Hijab also represents the class that women belongs to and their religious backgrounds. Women farmers in rural areas wear Hijab differently from women employees in the city, and rich women wear Hijab differently from the poor. In Syria, a religious group called Al-Qubaysiat, were led and instructed by Damascene Sunni bourgeois women, and we used to identify them by their method of wearing Hijab. Hijab is also different from one Muslim country to another, women in Mauritania wear different Hijab shape and color than women in Pakistan or Iran. Hijab represents an identity. Mothers in our region are imagined with a light white hijab, even women from other religions, many women wear Hijab even those who do not wear it, but they do usually in funerals as a sign of respect to the deceased
Women who choose to wear Hijab should be free to do so with no questions of whatsoever, as long as this comes from a genuine decision. There is a difference between Muslim women living inside reserved societies in MENA and Muslim women living in USA for example. A while ago I saw a video about Muslim women in Hijab skating in high heels and modeling, the message was that Muslim women wearing Hijab are not different from the society they live in, in this case, Western society. Again, Hijab here is a representation of an identity, the question is: how authentic? I agree with an opinion saying that this is insecure and somewhat deluding, as the majority of Muslim women (especially in MENA) are not allowed to skate. Hijab does not come alone, it brings with it an entire set of beliefs and pre-designed ideas. If a woman choses to represent a certain identity by wearing Hijab, then she is free as long as she wasn’t convinced by society that this will make her more respected and virtuous; moreover, there is a huge propaganda in the region regarding wearing Hijab claiming that this will make a woman righteous, more acceptable and fit in the society that is under severe pressure to be one dimensional.
Why women must carry the burden of identity representation in what is related to dress code more than men? Every human must have the free will to choose and establish her/his own identity, regardless of external propaganda and stereotypes.