Hijab and the objectification of women

Today, I tripped over a modern neo-traditionalist Muslim scholar’s discussion of reasons why hijab is a Good Thing when I was looking for something else.


Translation: Wearing hijab makes you pious, protected, dignified, noble… and unlike those slutty women who don’t wear it. Which is really the point.

According to him, there are three main benefits to wearing hijab. First, because women supposedly always dress with the idea of whether or not men will find them attractive (even when they are supposedly dressing in order to impress other women…), hijab protects women from being constantly concerned about the male sexual gaze. Second, because wearing hijab trains the wearer to behave in a chaste and self-disciplined way. And third, because it marks gender difference, allowing women to look like women while not also being sexually alluring to men.

This type of pro-hijab rhetoric was all too typical in the conservative community that I used to belong to. Back then, I used to say similar things when I was asked why I wore hijab. While the argument that it marks gender difference always made me uneasy—after all, if gender differences are so “natural,” why do they have to be highlighted through clothing?—I was very happy to go on about hijab as a shield against the male gaze. As a young woman who experienced street harassment (which had sometimes turned quite threatening…), the idea that I could wear what amounted to a magical harass-repellent suit was appealing. (Even though in my experience, hijab didn’t really repel harassment so much as change its tune—instead of receiving frankly sexual comments, I routinely got told to “go back to where you came from” and worse.)

No idea who the "MG" is on the bottom left hand corner, but it might well stand for "male gaze."

No idea who the “MG” is on the bottom left hand corner, but it might well stand for “male gaze.”

But anyway. Pro-hijab arguments claiming that hijab averts the male gaze functioned for me as a secular-white-feminist-repellent, because they sounded like an enlightened argument that any social progressive should be able to get behind….

Ok, that was me over two decades ago. Back before we had the internet, with its hijab memes. And looking at those memes, I shake my head and wonder how on earth anyone at all is still able to believe the argument that hijab protects women from the male gaze.

The ideas expressed in these hijab memes are all too familiar, unfortunately—though, when they were taught to us, they were often dressed up in flowery language about “respecting women” and so forth. But when they are so crudely expressed in these cartoonish ways, it becomes easier for me to see their internal contradictions.

It is commonly claimed that hijab is an expression of dignity and chastity. First of all, the idea that a woman’s “dignity” and “chastity” are linked in this way is highly problematic. Are we to understand that a woman is only dignified if she not only behaves “chastely” but wears her chastity on her sleeve? So, a woman who, say, dates is undignified (and therefore can’t complain if she is not treated with respect)?

Positive-sounding words such as “dignity” are being used here in order to conceal a sexual double standard. Women are constantly told to “be dignified” and “respect themselves”, but few people seriously argue that a man who isn’t perfectly chaste and modest is somehow “less dignified” or “not respecting himself”—or, that if he isn’t treated with respect, he has brought it upon himself. Why is it that men’s transgressions aren’t seen as permanent stains on their character, but women’s so often are?

As you get dressed, picture yourself from the perspective of your poor suffering Muslim brother. You wouldn't want to tempt him to lust with a few wisps of hair or the outline of a shoulder under your jilbab, would you?

As you get dressed, picture yourself from the perspective of your poor suffering Muslim brother. You wouldn’t want to tempt him to lust with a few wisps of hair or the outline of a shoulder under your jilbab, would you?

In the end, we believed that what “dignified behavior” is for a girl or woman is determined by the Sharia. But we never really pursued this belief to its logical conclusions. So, we never asked ourselves why it should be “dignified” for a woman to be married to a man who had decided to marry her because he wanted a halaal outlet for his sexual desires, while a woman who decided that she wanted to take her committed relationship with her boyfriend to the next level by moving in together was “not respecting herself.”

We were told that hijab would protect us from being viewed by men in a sexual manner—and that a woman who didn’t wear it had no one but herself to blame if men lusted after her. In fact, she was guilty of a sin because she was tempting them. At the same time, we were taught what amounted to a check-list of conditions that a woman’s attire must meet if it was to be considered “true hijab.”

We soon learned that some check-lists were more restrictive than others. We read (and heard) the arguments about whether a woman’s feet must be covered or not, or if wearing a jilbab is always necessary, or whether a woman should or must veil her face. We read about (and heard) different opinions as to how long a woman’s hemline must be, whether women can wear pants (and if they can wear pants, can they wear jeans…), and whether a woman’s wrists are or are not awra. We were preoccupied at the time with determining what the “right” opinion was on all these (and more) controversies, so that we could wear “proper hijab” and please God. We were also concerned about practicality to some extent. So for example, if a woman’s feet had to be covered when she was out in public even in the summer, how could this be done while remaining as cool as possible? Or perhaps it would be okay to not cover the feet even though we weren’t Hanafis, because following that opinion would make our lives a bit easier?


Lest you hijabi fashionistas get the idea that your interpretations of modesty count for anything, let us inform you what true hijab is. Because you don’t get to set the rules. Your body, your choice? Just LOL.

And so on and on. What we didn’t notice was that regardless of whether we were measuring ourselves against a more or a less restrictive check-list determining “proper hijab,” we were nonetheless forever measuring ourselves in terms of an imagined male gaze, which we had internalized. We told ourselves that this had nothing to do with the male gaze, because what we were concerned with ultimately was obeying God. But coincidentally enough, the gaze that those check-lists had in mind was the male gaze. According to those check-lists, a woman has to always be aware if her clothing is “too” tight, “too” bright, “too” short, “too” fashionable, “too” eye-catching, “too” insufficiently Muslim… mainly, in the judgment of men—the generations of male scholars who had debated and determined these matters, and the male leaders of our community—and to a lesser extent, of a censorious and judgmental community generally.

We internalized that male gaze, and because we had internalized it, we honestly thought that this gaze was our own. Even though, at the same time, we would avoid wearing pretty colors because they were “too attractive”—knowing that the attractiveness was primarily in the imagined eye of men who would judge sisters who weren’t wearing “proper hijab.”

These memes—and there are definitely worse ones online—caricature female bodies, and dissect their attire in a dehumanizing manner. I am not sure how this is significantly different from teenage boys “rating” girls and women on a scale from one to ten. At least such teenage “ratings” don’t pretend to be voicing what God thinks of the women in question.

Hijab my choice

And here’s victim-blaming under the cover of “choice” rhetoric. You didn’t cover your lolly-pop? Don’t complain when men harass or assault you. (Fine print: Your lolly-pop was covered, and you got assaulted? Well then, you can’t have been covering it right.)

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  1. #1 by nmr on July 3, 2013 - 4:13 pm

    I would only add that hijab can also put you at risk for sectarian violence (well documented in Iraq conflict).

    • #2 by xcwn on July 3, 2013 - 9:23 pm

      nmr–Yes, good point. As well as racist harassment and violence in a number of places in the world.

  2. #3 by dimunitivediva on July 3, 2013 - 5:45 pm

    What a wonderful post! Thank you for your insight, it is much appreciated!

    • #4 by xcwn on July 3, 2013 - 10:31 pm

      Diminutivediva—You’re welcome!

  3. #5 by deeba on July 4, 2013 - 1:25 am

    I have seen that picture with the two lolly-pops many times. Beyond the blatant victim-blaming and the extremely offensive comparison of women to candy (so women were created for others’ consumption and enjoyment?!?) I was also appalled that men were in many cases the ones promoting this picture. Did they really not notice that the picture is equating them to flies??

    • #6 by xcwn on July 4, 2013 - 11:28 am

      deeba—Good point about insultingness of representing women as candy. As for why some men would promote it—hmmm. Maybe those men who promote it don’t find it insulting to be compared to flies. Sort of along the same lines as men who say things like “all men are dogs” as part of an argument as to why women can’t wear x or do y or otherwise need to be protected from themselves. Although it sounds as though they are insulting all men, it’s more along the lines of a claim to inside knowledge of “how men are” that only men supposedly have, so that women have to put up with men telling them what to do in order to (supposedly) be kept safe from male abuse.

  4. #7 by Umm Naadirah on July 5, 2013 - 5:45 am

    Regardless of incorrect interpretations, wearing hijab is a requirement.

    I don’t believe wearing hijab is to make things easier on brothers, as the command for hijab comes a verse AFTER men are told to lower their gaze (24:30 and 24:31).

    The Qur’an is from Allah ta’ala, so the order in which the commands are given is quite significant, and this is what I have noticed in my life as well. If brothers refuse to lower their gaze then my hijab doesn’t serve as a reminder to them and fitna (tests, not temptations) ensue.

    This is also why I don’t believe niqab is fard at all. All these arguments about “the face is the source of temptation so covering it is fard” are based on faulty qiyas (analogy) and it just goes to show how un-Islamic our thinking as an ummah has become. Plus it makes explaining this hadith rather difficult:

    “Narrated Abdullah bin Abbas: Al-Fadl bin Abbas rode behind the Prophet as his companion rider on the back portion of his she-camel on the Day of Nahr [on the Farewell Hajj], and Al-Fadl was a handsome man. The Prophet stopped to give people verdicts. In the meantime, a beautiful woman from the tribe of Khath’am came, asking the verdict of Allah’s Apostle. Al-Fadl started looking at her as her beauty attracted him. The Prophet looked back while Al-Fadl was looking at her; so the Prophet held out his hand backwards and caught the chin of Al-Fadl and turned his face to the other side in order that he should not gaze at her.” (The hadith continues but the rest does not concern my point. It’s from Sahih Bukhari.)

    Muhammad (saaws) did not shame this woman, or tell her that her clothing was insufficient, or tell her to cover her face because she was making fitna or anything a modern scholar would say to us.

    You seem to have started out engaging with Islam by what others thought instead of by what you thought, which I think is normal to a certain extent. I just don’t understand why your past influences are still consuming you so much. You’ve let that toxic part of your life go, haven’t you? Or are you still clinging onto it because you felt victimised, which means you’re still playing a victim now even though you’re pretty much free from those old ways?

    I also find a lot of your posts to be a bit on the insulting side, because they imply that those of us who do wear hijab are doing so because we’ve been brainwashed or made to feel guilty.

    • #8 by xcwn on July 7, 2013 - 11:10 am

      Umm Naadirah—Sigh. Your comment is a good example of the sort of Muslim discourse that I spent too many years immersed in, and am still trying to recover from. This sort of discourse is very defensive, refuses to critically examine any aspects of Muslim practice that have been declared obligatory, refuses to separate discourse from practice, quotes hadiths out of context… and is condescending to anyone who doesn’t share this way of looking at the world.

      The purpose of this post was/is not to debate whether hijab is obligatory. Nor was/is it intended to promote or idealize its wearing. There are lots of other sites out there that do these things. The purpose is to examine discourses on hijab that I experienced, and why they were damaging to me, my friends, and my daughters.

      As for why I’m not yet “over” my experiences in very restrictive Muslim communities, one of which was a cult, newsflash—recovery from stuff like that generally takes time. That was over two decades of my life. And thanks to family ties, I can’t just forget about all of it either. Rather than getting offended by the reflections posted by one recovering Muslim on one very obscure blog, maybe you should ask yourself what you are doing to combat abuse in your Muslim community, and how such efforts can be more effective.

      • #9 by Umm Naadirah on July 23, 2013 - 4:50 pm

        Ah, I see.

        You were in a cult, and therefore anyone who holds any sort of belief remotely similar to your cult must also be in a cult.

        Right. Keep telling yourself that.

        For the record, I live amongst the Deoband and I do not follow their rulings nor am I active in their community. I find many of their interpretations of Islam to be misogynistic and insulting.

        Still, I must be brainwashed even though I reject the majority of Muslim culture/interpretation in my region of the world. You know me oh, so well after one tiny comment.

        Let me know in a few years how your victimisation is working out for you.

      • #10 by xcwn on July 23, 2013 - 10:33 pm

        Umm Naadirah—Dunno where all this defensiveness and anger are coming from. Or, why you seem to find the ideas expressed on this blog so offensive, yet keep coming back for more. There are a lot of Muslim sites that make for much more soothing reading, why not hang out on those?

        I’ve no idea whether you are involved in a cult, or “brainwashed,” or not. That is a decision that everyone has to make for themselves.

      • #11 by A on July 26, 2013 - 6:56 am

        I agree that using an argument from a scholar who was ok with and made rulings on a lot of stuff that I can’t imagine to be just, is odd. The reason I sometimes do it is because the person I’m debating/arguing with, WOULD accept that particular scholar’s viewpoint. Like I said, I know it’s odd. Thanks for calling me out on that. I’ll give this strange habit some more thought.

        With respect to the Arabic,
        I disagree that we can’t find better meanings from those that have been presented for the past 1300 years. The way the scholars interpreted the Arabic is through a particular lens. Culture and other biases all determine that lens. Throwing out the language argument by saying that we probably don’t know Arabic any better than scholars of yore is simplistic.

    • #12 by A on July 10, 2013 - 4:26 am

      There’s always one.

      There are many people who share the opinion that covering one’s head is not obligatory for women. Imam Shafi’i himself stated that there is no consensus as to its obligation. There have been PHD theses approved and endorsed by Al-azhar university that provide valid arguments that it is not fard for women to cover their hair. It’s time for you to get over your “wearing hijab is a requirement” OPINION foistering onto others. As someone who does not cover her hair (but who did for 8 years) due to having researched the issue and concluded for myself that it is not sinful to go about my life with my hair uncovered, I do not care for your foistering and policing. Those of us who don’t believe that a woman is required to cover her hair don’t foist our opinion on you or others. We don’t care what your opinion or view is, we care about OUR OWN relationship with God, but we still respect your opinion despite disagreeing with it. It is when you attempt to invalidate our view with your arrogance by assuming that we have not researched the issue that we get annoyed. Why does it insult you when our view differs from yours?

      Research what the word hijab means. (Hint: it does not mean head covering.)

      • #13 by Umm Naadirah on July 23, 2013 - 4:48 pm

        I’m well aware of what hijab means. In the Qur’an, it only refers to screening/veiling, what is commonly referred to as niqab. In that sense, using the Qur’anic meaning of the word hijab, it is not required.

        Wearing a khimaar/jilbab is required, and those are the words used to describe head coverings in the Qur’an. We don’t even have to go to the hadith.

        If you want to argue technicalities, then we can go there. Personally I don’t care if you cover your hair or not as that is your choice and not mine. You can unruffle your feathers now.

        BTW your insistence that as-Shafi’i stated that hijab (covering the head) is not fard is mistaken. As-Shafi’i used hijab in the Qur’anic sense – he was talking about the niqab. That is if you’re talking about his book Kitaab al Umm, which is the primary source most followers of the Shafi’i madhhab ignore when they claim niqab is fard.

      • #14 by xcwn on July 23, 2013 - 10:29 pm

        Sigh. First of all, the word “hijab” in the Qur’an doesn’t refer to clothing, it means a screen or curtain.

        Second, this debate (which has already gone on ad nauseam on who knows how many other sites…) is a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other. Both sides are being fundamentally dishonest—likely unknowingly, because they are following the examples of others (who know better) but who nonetheless make these arguments, because they think it will convince people.

        Picking and choosing ideas from people like al-Shafi’i (whether they actually come from him or not) when they seem to fit what we think is fair, and ignoring the wider context of his views (while not acknowledging that this is what is happening) isn’t honest. Al-Shafi’i saw nothing wrong with slavery, including slave concubinage. Are we also in favor of that? If not, why not?

        And speaking of female slaves, pre-modern tafsir books routinely interpret the verses referring to women’s covering as directed to free women only. So, claiming that the Qur’an lays down a dress code for Muslim women in general goes against 1300 years of scholars’ interpretations. Again, anyone who wants to read it in this way needs to acknowledge that this is what they are doing, and explain why. Do we know Arabic better than they did?

        But if the problem is really ethical—that commanding free women to dress differently than slaves poses a number of pretty obvious ethical quandries, then why not admit it? Because then the whole structure comes into question??

    • #15 by A on July 26, 2013 - 6:39 am

      Umm Naadirah – Jilbaab translates to outer garment. Khimaar translates to cloth. Neither translate to head covering. The only reason I told you to check what hijab means is because you used it in your statement to equate it with head covering.

      My point to you is that there are differences of opinion with respect to head covering. You and I are clear cases. It doesn’t bother me that you have a different view from mine. It’s when you try to tell me or others that your view is THE ONLY acceptable view, when your OPINION is unsolicited, that I take issue. My issue is with your arrogant behaviour and condescension.

  5. #16 by Vicky on July 5, 2013 - 1:35 pm

    I’ve lived a big part of my life in the Middle East. Now I live in Palestine. While it is much better here than in some of the other countries I’ve been in, comparatively speaking, lately I’ve been noticing that sexual harassment in the street seems to be on the rise. I asked two friends if they had seen it too, and they both agreed. One is a secular woman of Muslim background who does not wear hijab. The other is a hijabi Muslim. All three of us have been experiencing the same types of harassment – but when we have complained about it, all three of us have received vastly different responses. Wala’ has only herself to blame (for all the reasons given in your post). Dalia is not at fault, it is just that some men are very bad, and to protect herself from them she should stay at home more – and if she insists on going out as much as she does, people will get bad ideas about her, and she needs to take responsibility. I am to blame because I go out alone, which apparently no self-respecting woman does; and because I am white and Western, and on TV men learn that Western women are like whores (!).

    No matter how you dress, no matter how you act, there will always be men who find a way to blame you for it. Always. It’s incredibly frustrating.

    • #17 by xcwn on July 7, 2013 - 11:14 am

      Vicky—Yes, too true. No matter what women wear, someone has something critical to say about it, and some man will find a way to argue that the way they choose to treat us is our fault.

  6. #18 by pengantinpelik on July 6, 2013 - 12:09 am

    Reblogged this on pengantin pelik and commented:
    Even though I wear a form of hijab myself (more compelled by my parents since I was 10, than anything, and I have yet to decide what my belief is on it since I have yet to research the Quran for myself), I find such memes as described in this post to be offensive. Why is it always about women? Have we ever seen a meme telling men how to dress? It’s not that I am saying we should do to Muslim men what is being done to Muslim women; I am saying that why is the focus on how one dresses? If it is indeed something that God commanded, it should be between God and the individual, and everybody else should just mind their own business and focus on their own relationship with God. And while I have yet to decide on my belief about hijab, there is one thing I definitely believe in: Modesty in thought and actions, intelligence, humility before God, acquiring of knowledge and spirituality, is possible WITHOUT it.

    • #19 by Shereen on July 17, 2013 - 11:51 am

      ” It’s not that I am saying we should do to Muslim men what is being done to Muslim women; I am saying that why is the focus on how one dresses? If it is indeed something that God commanded, it should be between God and the individual, and everybody else should just mind their own business and focus on their own relationship with God. And while I have yet to decide on my belief about hijab, there is one thing I definitely believe in: Modesty in thought and actions, intelligence, humility before God, acquiring of knowledge and spirituality, is possible WITHOUT it.”

      –Very true sister!

  7. #20 by Stranger on July 19, 2013 - 5:22 pm

    Interesting post. It articulates a lot of my own feelings towards hijab, which I wear under protest as it is the only way to remain married — I don’t want to divorce my husband, but I absolutely hate the hijab. The status of women in Islam is deplorable, and it is difficult to find a middle ground between the apologists (who find ways to excuse and “rationally” explain away the problems) and the haters (who use the problems in order to label Muslims as “bad” when they aren’t). My hijab is, according to the hijab meme-ists, very bad. Jeans, cute shoes, 3/4 sleeves, and shirts that barely cover my ass. You can be sure I hear about it from my husband, but for the most part he leaves me alone as I’ve warned him to let me interpret hijab according to my own lights or I’ll simply stop wearing it altogether. I simply don’t give a f*ck about how I am perceived by other Muslims, which is a very radical concept among Muslims, as I’m sure you know.

    My problem with hijab and the view of women in Islam is the systemic and institutionalized misogyny that is based on generations of scholars (who have always been and remain predominantly men from misogynistic cultures) who have made it very difficult for the religion itself to grow and evolve past these issues without utterly destroying Islam. How often have we all read a fatwa which should not have anything to do with women at all but which concludes with yet another way women are restricted? Women are infantilized and are therefore “coddled” (for values of “coddle” that include a long and complicated list of things one is not allowed to do, say, or think), and the biggest shame of all is how many women buy into the idea that we are somehow half the value of a man despite the realities on the ground — who must continue to manage the household and the children regardless of what else she may be doing or facing? How can women be in charge of raising the next generation if we can’t even be trusted to make our own decisions? The contradictions are enormous and mind-boggling and don’t even take that much reflection to realize. What is so modest about hijab in a place where all it does is draw attention to, first, the individual, and secondly to those attributes the individual is trying to hide or obscure? That’s a very false sort of modesty, right there.

    The thing with hijab is not the layers of clothes it forces one to wear (no matter what anyone says or how loose your clothing is, it is hot and miserable), but how it is used as a stand-in for all the ways a woman must be controlled. Her appearance, her voice, her actions, her thoughts: personal agency for women in Islam is a laughable concept. No truly merciful God would ever create an individual with the power to decide these things for herself and then decree that she mustn’t be allowed to ever do so. God may be merciful, but the men in charge of religion are not.

    • #21 by xcwn on July 20, 2013 - 11:58 pm

      Stranger—First of all, I’m very sorry that you are in the position that you have to wear hijab or your marriage will break up. I was put in that position near the end of my marriage—I was being forced to wear it.

      Let me be plain: that’s abuse. I know that my ex (and his friends, and most conservative Muslims that he and I dealt with) wouldn’t have agreed that it is abuse for a man to force his wife (and daughters, or other female relatives, or employees if possible) to wear hijab is abusive, because they took it for granted that God has placed men in power over women, and charged men with the responsibility of teaching and guiding women in their families to the “correct” interpretation and practice of Islam. Therefore, they thought that a man who forces hijab on his wife is doing his divinely given duty.

      But it is abuse. This whole way of seeing adult women is abusive, because it is infantilizing and denies women their own spirituality and religious subjectivity, as well as the ability to make their own choices. It also compels women to limit their lives in so many ways—as you point out, “proper hijab” as understood by conservative Muslims usually involves putting limits on women’s movements in public spaces, their voices, the types of jobs or recreational activities that they can pursue, etc.

      This issue requires another post.

      • #22 by Stranger on July 21, 2013 - 8:49 pm

        I worry that you read the first paragraph of my comment and did not pay too much attention to the rest, incensed against my husband as you are. 🙂

        I agree with you, in principle, that it can be a form of abuse. However, I would disagree with you in that in my case, given my own personal particulars, that it remains an abuse of male religious power. First of all, it is a choice that I have made. Let me make that crystal clear, because I firmly believe that we are all in charge of the individual choices we make in every situation. I have made this choice because I, in fact, love my husband and want to remain married to him. I do not have to; divorce would be painful and difficult, but I have supportive family and friends who would help me. Despite his insistence on hijab, he is a decent human being, kind and generous. He may even have the ability to forgive me for not wearing the hijab. I have simply never tested those waters beyond a series of contentious arguments. He is not an abusive monster intent on keeping me under his control — he doesn’t even try to do that. I have considerable autonomy in our marriage, the same that exists in most every healthy relationship. It is true that if I were not married, I would not wear it. It is also true that I may, in fact, one day decide that I’ve had enough of this and choose to take it off, and when and/or if that day arrives, I’ll be quite ready to accept the consequences of that decision.

        Trust me when I say that I have pulled at this thing from every direction, examining all the parts of my decision, his choices, and the results both immediate and long-term. I do not sally forth blind to the repercussions or with an assumption that I am necessarily doing what’s best. Every day is a constant reexamination and renewal of that choice. I take nothing for granted.

  8. #23 by ki sarita on July 23, 2013 - 6:33 am

    dear stranger, it is great that you love your husband; is this love mutual? What unpleasant behavior has he taken on for the sole purpose that you shouldn’t divorce him?

    • #24 by Stranger on July 28, 2013 - 3:21 am

      Seriously. What? Why are you asking for details about my marriage? Absolutely, positively NOT relevant to the topic at hand, which in my opinion deals not with my private life but with the status of women in Islam as expressed via the medium of the hijab. I defended my choice *only* because I do not want to be seen as a victim of abuse. The entire thrust of my original comment has been buried (not by my choice) by this idea that I have somehow made a deal with the Devil himself to his gain and my detriment. When I said we have a healthy relationship, I meant it. I compromise — and yes, he makes his own compromises. I see no need to detail them in any form whatsoever (although the discerning reader should be able to pick up at least a partial answer in my original comment).

      I’ll reiterate my thesis. Women in Islam are marginalized, infantilized, and repressed. Finding a solution that works within Islam is difficult, because centuries of misogynistic scholars who hate and fear women have woven their lesser status directly into the very lifeblood of Islam. Hijab is just one expression, among many, of this marginalization.

  9. #25 by Mars on July 25, 2013 - 6:57 am

    This hit me at a personal spot, I relate so much so

  10. #26 by Anonymous// on July 26, 2013 - 3:37 pm

    “But if the problem is really ethical—that commanding free women to dress differently than slaves poses a number of pretty obvious ethical quandries, then why not admit it?”

    Ibn Hazm forcefully rejects the distinction made by most pre-modern jurists between slaves and free women with regard to veiling, on the grounds that God would not protect free believing women from harassment while allowing believing slave women to be subject to the same (this is mentioned in ‘And God Knows the Soldiers’). Not that I agree with it at all (I don’t), just that it’s worth pointing out that the pre-modern ‘Tradition’ is often more diverse than we expect it to be.

    And who says the ethical dilemmas are ‘obvious’? I find it funny that you spend so much time railing against the normalisations and ‘naturalisations’ of patriarchy while being blind to those of liberalism. You should know better.

  11. #27 by Maha S Yahya on July 27, 2013 - 8:23 pm

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    Well composed analysis on the hottest topic on Earth. haha
    I too was once an avid believer and (unfortunately) encourager of this this rhetoric; “Wear hijab to raised in your honour and thus ward off the lustful gaze of a man” – I’ve experienced both sides of this. I’ve had males conveniently making advances towards me when I wore hijab and when I didn’t, the only difference was the manner & type of men that approached me. Someone told me when a woman wears colourful hijabs and looks attractive,she’s seen as approachable and inviting; Ahh, that’s why I thought! My subtle makeup and colourful scarf were serenading to the men. I dropped the simple eyeliner and mascara and donned nothing but a plain black jilbab and scarf. It still didn’t end; it got a tad bit crazier actually. To top that, wearing hijab meant I was held to an unbelievable high standard of piety and any minute mistake of mine was exaggerated and condemned, often in the form of slander.
    This sort of rhetoric as the writer mentioned, justifies abuse,vilification and control of women, regardless of their faith! I understand baring it all is going too far and putting men in a bit of a tough position but not all men are animals, although plenty behave like them; Colours do not attract and hypnotise all of them like bees.
    Many prostitutes in Dubai wear black abayas and headscarves but they are easily spotted because of their aura and behaviour. Modesty is a mindset, not an outfit. The renowned Queen Zummurud bint Jawlee said “Dignity is the mark of a true royal upbringing” – not a crown or clothing!

  12. #28 by Ibrahim Musa on July 28, 2013 - 6:10 am

    I agree with what you are saying, hijab is not mandated in the Quran or unreliable hadiths. Google “muslimbrothah hijab” or read here:


  13. #29 by charmed seeker on August 5, 2013 - 5:30 am

    [My comments are in square brackets, inline—xcwn]


    I certainly have my qualms with how many Muslims treat women, especially those abhorrent rulings (and hadiths) which demolish any real sexual, professional, and social autonomy for women.

    I have to say though that the more I read complaints about hijab and the “objectification” of women, the more I wonder whether liberal Muslims are just becoming anti-modesty (and seriously anti-hijab). Our liberal sentiments have made us perceive almost all forms of conservatism as bad, and certainly all forms of speech aimed at encouraging conservative behavior as necessarily anti-woman and bad.

    [Errr… first of all, this common practice of labeling people as “liberal” and “anti-modesty” is just a way of dismissing ideas rather than engaging with them. The Tea Party does it, and conservative Muslims do it, and lots of other groups/people do it, sure. But it should be recognized as a thought-stopping tactic, that is intended to promote black-and-white thinking. Either you’re a (pathetic, wool-for-brains, left-over hippy) liberal, or you’re a conservative like us. Either you agree with how we define modesty, or you’re anti-modesty (and therefore immoral or at least ridiculously naive). This way of talking ignores the possibility of other, less polarized perspectives. And that’s why certain conservative Muslim leaders love to talk this way, because they regard people exploring less polarized perspectives as a threat to their authority. We don’t need to imitate them. It would be much better if we didn’t.]

    We can’t deny that modesty is at the core of Islam.

    [What do you mean by “modesty” here? Behaving respectfully and being humble (as opposed to being proud and pompous and full of oneself? In that case, sure, I’d agree that that type of modesty is a core value of Islam. See Sura Luqman for details. But since you’re discussing hijab here, I suspect that what you mean is sexual modesty—aka people (but in reality, basically women) being obligated to cover certain body parts and behave in ways that supposedly help others to forget that they have said body parts… no, not really.

    The Qur’an says an awful lot more about treating orphans with kindness, giving in charity and being just than it does about what clothing women should wear.

    Even the hadith don’t give all that much detail about women’s clothing. The hadith have much more to say about the seclusion of free adult females than about what such women should wear when they go out / are in the presence of ghayr mahram men. This concern for female seclusion was primarily about social hierarchies and men’s rights over women, rather than “modesty” as some sort of moral value. Basically, they wanted to ensure that free female were virgins when they married, and once married didn’t become sexually unfaithful or the targets of gossip. The ability to seclude one’s womenfolk was a status symbol—and slave women were denied the “dignity” of veiling and seclusion in the view of most medieval scholars.

    But nowadays, hijab has become something very different. It’s now primarily clothing rather than seclusion. It’s now a political football, an identity marker, a cause celebre, a way that some women express themselves, and… for some people, it is a business. Just thinking about all the time, effort, political point-scoring, money being made… connected in one way or another with hijab in late twentieth century and continuing on into the twenty-first makes my head spin.

    When hijab becomes this huge social, political and (increasingly) economic affair, it is not surprising that some Muslims want to dissect it and critically examine it.]

    (That doesn’t mean hijab is the only way on earth to be modest. It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t many other Muslim behaviors/mindsets which are disrespectful toward women or objectify them.) Modesty has a philosophy behind it, and certainly from the language of the Qur’an it is clear that one of the concerns is protection. Protection from what? From molestation and gaze. So if we don’t agree with this sentiment, what are we doing with the Quran and Islam except to just break its bones?

    [I’ve blogged about these notions before. Briefly, this kind of interpretation of the Qur’an involves the assumption that an incident that took place of the Prophet’s community in Madina is somehow at eternal and universally true commentary on human beings in general. That if in Madina, men who sexually harassed Muslim women in order to insult the Muslims (aka these women’s menfolk) could be deterred by the women putting on veils, then harassing men everywhere will also be deterred.

    This is simply not true—and it’s a dangerous, victim-blaming myth. Women are sexually harassed and sexually assaulted in societies where all women veil. Women are sexually assaulted at the Kaaba, for goodness’ sake, where all the women are covered from head to toe and religious police are standing guard, monitoring people’s behavior! And it is not “liberal” or “progressive” Muslims who have brought about this state of affairs, either—this is what is happening under the watch of one of the most socially conservative Muslim governments in the world today.

    Sexual assault is a power thing. It’s about people with power (most often men) who know that they can humiliate someone else, and get away with it. It’s not about what the victim was or wasn’t wearing. If pointing that out “breaks the bones” of the Qur’an and Islam, then what does that say about the Qur’an and Islam? That in order to follow them, we have to ignore human experience (including our own experiences…)? That human knowledge can’t advance beyond the seventh century? ]

    Anyway, I don’t agree that modest clothing like loose, full hijab doesn’t avert male gaze. If being nearly naked attracts a certain male gaze, then wearing the opposite will instead not attract that male gaze. What and how a person dresses makes a difference in how others view them and often in how others interact with them, just like a person’s behavior also makes a difference. This should be obvious; it’s not breaking news. Different types of clothes send different types of messages. And why shouldn’t a woman, or a man, be concerned with whether they are being viewed disrespectfully and lustfully? Why shouldn’t wanting to avert such gazes and subsequent behavior be dignifying?

    [There is such a thing as context. Wearing a headscarf and jilbab at the beach WILL likely draw way more attention than wearing a typical, not-particularly-flashy bathing suit. (Speaking from experience here.) But a bathing suit isn’t appropriate work attire (unless you are a life-guard…), and that has nothing to do with sexual modesty or preventing people from lusting after you… and everything to do with demonstrating that you have basic common sense.

    You can’t control people’s thoughts and opinions. And the idea that women should try is yet more victim-blaming.]

    When I consistently leave my home more covered and simple than those around me and am consistently somewhat more socially conservative, that sends a message about who I am. It sends a message about what type of behavior I respect and want to attract. I am presenting myself in a manner that speaks for mind and character over body and sex. It stands for something deeper than appearance but it doesn’t deny that appearance matters. Yes, modesty is partly about the other party’s gaze and behavior. So what? That doesn’t make it any less about self-respect…

    [Thing is, this can be done in any number of ways. A woman who puts on loose sweat pants, a simple t-shirt and ties her hair back in a scrunchie and heads out to buy groceries looks like… a woman running errands. A woman who puts on jogging shorts and a tank top and runners and heads out to the park and jogs looks like… a woman who is getting exercise. And so on. It’s about context, and behavior.

    If some man thinks that by not covering her head or arms or legs that she is inviting him to oogle or harass her, he’s an idiot who needs to learn that women don’t exist for his personal entertainment and use.]

    Nor does it make it less about God. If working to provide for your children is an obligation under God, the act of working is not made any less about God just because children are involved and the work is an obligation. For those who truly believe and provide their own evidences for hijab being mandatory, what’s wrong with them promoting that by talking about exactly which parts and how the body should be covered? This is how religious law (and any type of law) always works. You discuss the details and necessities and implications and you also discuss how to correct the wrongdoings. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself.

    [As far as I’m concerned, people can wear what they want. If some women want to wear hijab, then fine—it’s their choice. But the thing about the typical hijab discourse is that it really isn’t about what some people honestly believe is mandatory, so much as it is about judging and shaming others who don’t agree with them.

    The experience of wearing hijab when you yourself choose to do so is one thing. Wearing it because you are forced to do it is quite another. I have experienced both.]

    Of course every person is dignified. Each individual is valuable and deserves to be respected and not violated. A woman wearing a tight mini-skirt with a tight tank top is just as much of a human and person as someone wearing hijab. Her worth as a human is not defined by how long or short her pants are. And neither woman is a rotting candy attracting flies! But why can’t being modest be considered more dignified behavior than being immodest? Why can’t there be different levels of respectful behavior such that one type of social interaction and clothing is superior to another type?

    [And why can’t I have my cake and eat it too?

    Thing is, this type of rhetoric about what is “more respectful” or “more dignified” is pretty judg-y. The judgmental message does often annoy people, unsurprisingly. And in the real world, such attitudes can have pretty unpleasant consequences for real people.]

  14. #30 by ki sarita on August 31, 2013 - 5:12 pm

  15. #31 by Disagree on March 5, 2014 - 2:54 pm

    I totally disagree that men don’t give me “sensual” looks or comments. I wear a hijab and full on abayas, but my face is naturally pretty. Even though I’m underage, men have whispered in my ear saying, “your eyes are beautiful” they have leered at me and made disgusting comments, even when walking with my parents. It attracts worse attention because literally EVERYONE looks at you when you go somewhere, and many guys have ideas that women with hijab are subserviant and will take anything. I’m so sick and tired of this BS. It’s like I’m punished for being BORN a woman.

  16. #32 by hqas on March 16, 2014 - 10:18 pm

    Since Muslim men are having so many problems with women, why don’t they all start wearing the hijab and get on with it. I know and have reported countless stories from Afghanistan, Pakistan where hijab wearing women were violently assaulted and worse off even raped. Muslim men need to be shipped into a titanic and sent to the far end of the black hole in universe.

  17. #33 by rosalindawijks on April 19, 2014 - 1:57 pm

    • #35 by xcwn on April 20, 2014 - 6:09 pm

      Thanks for drawing our attention to these articles!

  18. #36 by rosalindawijks on April 19, 2014 - 3:38 pm

    And this also is a good one: http://www.altmuslimah.com/b/mca/4922

    • #37 by xcwn on April 20, 2014 - 6:13 pm

      Yes, that’s a good article.
      The comparisons of covered women to pearls, etc. are really tired. And very objectifying.

      • #38 by Samsiah Sirnin on April 22, 2014 - 2:37 am

        Alhamdulilah and Thanks you

  19. #39 by rosalindawijks on April 22, 2014 - 11:31 am

    By the way, I just found an excellent hiphop song from the earlt nineties by Salt n Pepa that sums the whole female sexuality issue up quite nicely: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Q96-e042bk

  20. #40 by rosalindawijks on April 22, 2014 - 11:34 am

    Some of the lyrics:

    “If I wanna take a guy home with me tonight
    It’s none of your business


    Now you shouldn’t even get into who I’m givin’ skins to
    It’s none of your business


    I treat a man like he treats me
    The difference between a hooker and a ho ain’t nothin’ but a fee
    So hold your tongue tightly, wish you could be like me

    How many rules am I to break before you understand
    That your double-standards don’t mean shit to me?

    So the moral of this story is: Who are you to judge?
    There’s only one true judge, and that’s God
    So chill, and let my Father do His job.”

    This song should be compulsory to listen to at least once by every patriarch or patriarchy apologist. 🙂

  21. #41 by rosalindawijks on April 22, 2014 - 11:45 am

    Especially the “none of your business” and “there’s only one true judge and that’s God” should be compulsory in every Muslim man’s upbringing. Period.

  22. #42 by rosalindawijks on April 22, 2014 - 12:36 pm

    Or, as Mona Eltahawy puts it graphically but correctly: “Stay out of my vagina unless I want you in there.”

  23. #43 by rosalindawijks on April 22, 2014 - 3:20 pm

    I’m an Islamic Feminist and a proponent of chaste behaviour and conservative clothes in many situations – for myself. I used to be quite judgmental about promiscous women, but am in sort of a transition phase now…..

  24. #44 by rosalindawijks on May 24, 2014 - 2:23 pm

    An article with hijab propaganda at it’s very worst, but interesting to analyze nontheless. Warning: This can be VERY triggering. (It even goes so far as to doubt the faith of a Muslima who doesn’t believe in the obligation of hijab)


  25. #45 by rosalindawijks on May 24, 2014 - 2:24 pm

    The site is Dutch, but this article is in English. The name of the site, “uw keuze”, means “your choice”…………and is full of salafi propaganda.

  26. #46 by Katiba on December 3, 2014 - 5:46 pm

    interesting. I enjoyed Anse Tamara Gray’s lampooning of the food analogies and hijab here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QB7yaPM6xWo

  27. #47 by rosalindawijks on March 20, 2015 - 3:30 pm

    But a point which I DO like is that he tells the brothers to try and walk around in turban and gallabiyas and clearly be identified as Muslims and to see what it’s like.

    Since many brothers could easily “pass” as Christians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists etc. but a Muslimah wearing hijab can’t – and will more likely become a victim of Islamophobic harrassment.

  28. #48 by rosalindawijks on March 20, 2015 - 3:36 pm

    But then, he claims that Muslim women are more “innocent” then non-Muslim women, since they grew up in a “cleaner” environment. *Deep, long, sigh*. This whole talk seems to be a bizarre mixture of good and nice ideas, apologetic nonsense……….and some very troubling notions about non-Muslim women and men’s “responsibility”.

    I don’t know what to make of it just yet……….and I’m very interested in your opinion xcwn. Is this what you mean with neo-traditionalist approaches and does Yusufs approach comes close to that of the leaders in The Cult?

  1. Little Hijabis: To Wear or Not to Wear?
  2. Queer eye for interfaith dialogue: Meet “Steve” and “John” (I) | A Sober Second Look
  3. The Inequality of Modesty | Ex Hijabi

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