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Wearing the hijab doesn’t mean you’re no longer objectified

with 11 comments

Last week I had an article published about a video on the Guardian that went viral, in which a British woman named Hanna Yusuf describes her hijab as a “feminist statement”.

Since then Hanna decided to follow up with an article, which does not really address some of the points that I, or others, raised. I won’t repeat everything I wrote earlier – for that you can read my piece here and here.

Hanna begins the piece by writing:

It seems that the only time a hijabi’s voice is valued is when she gives a testimony describing her struggle for emancipation from Islam. Otherwise, she is either lying or in denial. I found this out the hard way in the past 10 days.

First of all, Hanna herself chose to make a video to talk about the hijab. She wasted an opportunity to make a video about any subject to show that women in hijabs do – shock horror – have opinions about other things.

And I’m sorry but I have very little patience with this, oh woe is me attitude, when there are two women in Morocco who are being prosecuted for indecency for wearing summer dresses in a souq. As far as I am aware, no one is arresting Hanna for wearing her hijab nor is she being forced to remove it.

By implying that women who don’t wear the hijab are slaves to glossy magazines and consumer pressures, Hanna makes the same patronising generalisations that she claims people make about hijabi women.

You cannot criticise or shame a woman for her decision to wear a mini-skirt, bikini or any dress deemed as “sexually alluring”, but play the victim card when questioned on your decision to wear a hijab. The respect and acceptance of the other’s choice goes both ways.

She says she is standing against sexual exploitation, but why must women make up for the shortcomings of others? Is she implying that women are responsible for their exploitation and abuse?

“The control hijabi women have over their bodies,” Hanna continues, “Challenges existing structures”.

Where do I begin with this? Firstly, this idea that hijabi women have control over their bodies is not only simplistic but also ludicrous. Women are told to cover so that they do not provoke men’s desires – where is the control in that? If anything, the hijab maintains existing patriarchal structures.

As for this idea that wearing hijab means you’re no longer objectified and no longer focusing on your appearance is nonsense. We’re humans at the end of the day and always concerned with our appearance. Women in headscarves are no exceptions to this.

Many women who wear hijabs embrace the Western, fashion industry, matching their hijab with the latest trends. It is hypocritical of Hanna to denigrate other women as somehow being sexually exploited because they choose not to wear a hijab, when she herself is wearing full make-up and stylish clothes that are bang on trend.

If capitalism controls our bodies, as she claims then so, too, do religions. From the way we walk, talk, behave and dress, religious clerics still continue to police and regulate our bodies and minds.

If it were just about covering the hair then there would be little issue. But the concept of the hijab is much more than just about covering the hair and Hanna knows it. As other Muslims wrote under my initial piece, it is an entire way of dressing, behaving and believing. Hence why she needed to research for three years before she decided to wear it, because once you put it on there is no going back. Women are free to wear one, just not free to remove it. And as soon as you wear the headscarf you are judged more harshly for your actions because of your perceived piety. If women without hijabs are “exploited” and “objectified”, then so too are those with hijabs, being upheld as models of good Muslim women.

The strange thing in both Hanna’s video and article is that there is very little mention of Islam and the Qur’an. All the traditional schools of Islamic thought agree that women should cover everything but their face and hands so that they are not harassed by men – which, by the way, is insulting to both men and women. Some progressive and liberal Muslims do not believe there is a requirement for women to cover the hair, but unfortunately they are a vilified minority.

Why the omission of this fact on Hanna’s part? I suspect it is too embarrassing for women to simply say that God commands us to cover our hair, so the goalposts are shifted in order to justify its requirement.  At the end of the day, isn’t covering your body from head to toe an admission that you are a sexual being that needs to be covered?

I am glad that Hanna can make a free choice, and is able to have her free choice accepted by a tolerant society – despite insisting that is she faced by a wave of hostility. It is a pity that some of the societies where the headscarf is either compulsory or desired are not so tolerant.

An amended version of this article was published on The Nation


Written by Iram Ramzan

July 10, 2015 at 10:49 pm

Posted in feminism, islam, Muslims, women

Tagged with , , ,

11 Responses

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  1. Thank you for this article! When I became Muslim, it was as if the hijab were the only thing I needed to worry about, and all that “thinking” people wanted me to do was supposed to stop when it came to wearing hijab. I respect the decision to wear it, but I find the idea that it stops any mistreatment or objectification worrisome. I recently visited the FB page of a famous hijabi who sells her designs, and her page now shows her “hauls” that consist of probably $500 worth of clothes and accessories in one shopping trip. If that is not feeding into the Capitalist idea of worth being tied to possessions and appearance, I don’t know what is!


    July 11, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    • thank you for your comment
      I’d like to know more if possible, are you still a Muslim? And when did you convert to Islam?

      Iram Ramzan

      July 11, 2015 at 11:08 pm

  2. Reblogged this on New Day Starts.


    July 12, 2015 at 12:18 am

  3. Reblogged this on Dreamerso and commented:
    This is something I was searching for. 🙂

    Suhana Aabirah Khan

    July 12, 2015 at 7:53 am

  4. This really helped me with my confusion. Thanks. 🙂

    Suhana Aabirah Khan

    July 12, 2015 at 8:15 am

  5. I’m participating in an inter-religious student group and we have that topic every once in a while. I asked a fellow student of mine who is muslim: “What’s the difference between you and a hijab-wearing woman?” She said: “The hijab.” I find that statement a good reminder. Because, if (as in the video) some people claim: “It’s just a piece of cloth.” Well, then this argument might just work the other way around as well, doesn’t it? (I say that with the at-most respect for any personal decision (or belief) on that matter… anyone should do as they please–but it’s no more a statement of feminism or freedom as any other randomly picked personal item. It might become one though, if many people define it as such, don’t you think? Nonetheless… For me, i.e. having a cat is a symbol of freedom. Because they are independent and cute. I’ll be the next president of the “Federation of radical Cat Owners” then, propagating freedom for mankind from the example of the feline…. 😉


    July 12, 2015 at 1:26 pm

  6. people are free to take decision about what they wear or what they not. Its their believe or thinking. The society or any other person cannot rule or judge other’s thinking. If we have to do what other suggest then we are not free at all. We are same as like slaves. The society always fear which is different from them. People always categorize or downgrade others who re different.


    July 18, 2015 at 7:02 am

  7. You make an articulate and sensible argument going well beyond systematically rebutting the arguments that have received more than enough typed space. I happen to agree with each and everyone of your sentiments. As a first generation white Canadian of Christian faith I consider myself more Spiritual than religious. What I know of the Koran is beautiful and Peace Pursuant at its Core in the same way as the writings of Christianity, Boudism and Judaism.
    I strongly feel that if a Muslim woman for some reason, that is a reason outside of my frame of reference, feels comfortable wearing the Hijab then it is not my place to comment. Further more she is MY SISTER and I will defend her right to do so in peace as it is not my place to understand her choices only to stand in solidarity with her. If she is being coerced into wearing the garment then as a 3rd wave Feminist I will Peacefully Protest her Oppression with the LAST breath in my body! I have always done so and will continue to do so, as my Suffragette Great Grandmothers Did, because…she is MY SISTER. We are stronger in mass.


    July 28, 2015 at 6:41 pm

  8. Good points made and I agree . But what worries me about all these debates is we tend to feed into a Them against us narrative … when we women ned to put our weapons down and realise we are all on the same side


    August 31, 2015 at 8:56 pm

  9. […] the litany of body shaming tropes that lie behind mainstream defences of veiling. In some of the popular memes Ramzan traces, ‘those who don’t wear a headscarf are likened to uncovered lollipops which have flies buzzing […]

  10. […] the litany of body shaming tropes that lie behind mainstream defences of veiling. In some of the popular memes Ramzan traces, ‘those who don’t wear a headscarf are likened to uncovered lollipops which have flies buzzing […]

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