Tell me I’m Wrong About the Hijab by Maniza Naqvi

One of the biggest mistakes people make when talking about Muslim women, rather than talking to Muslim women, is to assume that Muslim women are all the same, think the same, to ignore the diversity of thought, experience, opinion. Don’t condescend to the women, call them oppressed or slaves. Understand their mindset. So many of them are fiercely intelligent. One of my best students a young woman who covered her face. I struggled all semester but her intelligence still shone through. As for the idea that their voices are missing from public debate, this isn’t true either. They speak, but nobody listens to them. Search out their voices. They are there. Start here:

I found this essay by the Pakistani writer Maniza Naqvi on the hijab very passionately argued and provocative. I’m reproducing it here as a guest post.

I invite you to tell me why I am wrong. I wrote similar post on Facebook and now want to engage you here in this debate. So tell me am I wrong and why.

The issue about the hijab, burka and now burkini is not simply about its presence on the beach or in public institutions and spaces including schools, or about the presence of Islam in public spaces in Europe or about freedom of choice there. The issue is about the hijab, burka and burkini becoming the symbol of Islam and all that there is about Islam. A garment now defines Islam. A cloth, has become Islam. The issue is that modesty and virtue have been reduced to the abundance or lack of abundance of a garment. And that indeed is a shame.

It isn’t that the space for hijabs and niqabs is threated to be reduced. It is Islam that is being reduced. Reduced to a piece of cloth. And who is responsible for this?

Those responsible for doing so are Muslim women who wear it. Indeed it is about misogyny and patriarchy. Those who promote it are women. And they are predominantly articulating themselves to the West. They are reducing themselves, reducing the air around them, the light, the conversation, and they are reducing the faith that they profess to belong to by this reductionist action.

They have reduced Islam to a piece of cloth. There were two American Muslim women who participated in the Olympics and won medals. NBC and the media only played up and focused on one. Yup, the one wearing the hijab. Regularly, those women invited to speak about Muslims or Islam or represent Muslims are wearing hijabs. Those appointed and recruited to police and surveil and provide security duties are in hijab. Why?

Modesty, virtue and religion now symbolized by hijabs, pre-Islamic tribal garb for men and women. So are the women who are Muslim who do not wear this garb, not Muslim? Not modest? Not virtuous?

Is the hijab, burka, niqab, abaya and now the burkini a symbol of Islam and of religion?

Or is it a prop for communicating modesty and religiosity. The women that I know who wear hijabs wear them because they think it’s conveys religion and modesty. All of them are new to wearing the hijab. Most of them have something to hide or to not deal with intellectually. They are hiding, their sense of ugliness, they are hiding aging, they think it’s a way to instantly communicate that they are not only Muslim but also good Muslims, it allows them an easy pass through their neighborhood streets that are controlled by thugs and bullies, they are transmitting a demand or a plea to be treated better or differently than everyone else, they are hiding past bad behavior and keeping that tendency under check. It hides the shame of old clothes and not being able to keep up with the Jones. It helps women emerge from deeply patriarchal and authoritarian relationships and families. Whatever. It hides. There are a myriad of reasons for wearing the hijab. And all of them are deeply lazy and narcissistic.

The niqab deceives. It deceives foremost its wearer. The hijab and the niqab do not relay modesty or humility, they relay the opposite. It is a deeply narcissistic act that screams look at me! Look how different I am. Look how virtuous! I don’t need to do anything else to prove how good and moral I am. It allows a woman to hide her own idol, herself, inside her cover.

So a good Muslim woman wears a hijab or a niqab? Ask these women and push comes to shove they’ll say yes. They will indeed sit in judgement of other Muslim women, who don’t.

The police on the beach gave the woman a ticket and fined her for ‘not respecting good morals and secularism.” Poor putz of a policeman simply carrying out the decree of the Mayor, ends up scribbling and mixing up good morals with secularism. One a religious concept and the other supposedly not. So in doing so the police on the beach in Nice becomes the morality police—which has very little to do with secularism unless secularism in France means being naked. Not everyone being naked. Just women. Preferably only the good bits. Bare breasted women. That’s secularism?

Or did the policeman by writing ‘Not respecting of good morals’ actually inadvertently point to something very basic—a piece of garment is not the symbol of faith nor of goodness. It is in fact the symbol that you are weak of faith and goodness and must cloak yourself.

Nakedness. Nothing to hide. Open societies, bodies and minds. That’s a pretty good definition of morality and secularism isn’t it? Indeed the policeman shames the fully clothed woman, forcing her to take off her covering. Shames her in the name of good morality and secularism and does while being heavily clothed with body armor and had weapons. Did he reach deep inside his intellect and calling upon the entire Western Canon? Canon by the way, I have just learned, comes from the Arabic word, caanoon. Meaning, law. Come to think of it—modesty and morality for the French State is therefore the definition of what the Abrahamic God intended it to be—one where nakedness is the perfect state—and the unease with it—Shame, a crime.

Or does secularism in France mean ‘not Muslim’ Europe is being goaded to turn on itself, divide itself along religious lines. But this is not a fight within Europe. It is a conflict between women and their judgements of each other.

Wear what you want to but don’t tell me you do so in the name of ‘modesty’. Who decides what modesty is and what is virtue? Someone dressed in a burkini, hijab, burqa, or niqab? I say no. Do not argue the case of wearing a burkini or anything else in the name of modesty. If you do this then you are providing a judgement on what constitutes modesty and virtue and that those who do not don this garb are immodest.

It can be argued that a hijab, a niqab, a burka and abaya is a heightened and elevated sense of immodesty and titillation, bordering on pornography. It is a prop that constantly introduces sex and the danger of being raped into the public sphere when no such idea is even present. It suggests in a public sphere that a woman is covered because she is in danger of being molested or that if she were uncovered she would incite a molestation of her. Covered in the public sphere as these women who are wearing niqabs and burkas in Europe and the US where there is no social or cultural history for its presence these women are introducing the concept of being constantly stalked or in sexual danger or being the cause of it if they were uncovered. It is if not ridiculous, psychologically unstable. To cover herself is to suggest a constant pre-occupation with sex.

OH MY GOD! Oh my God what am I saying? How insulting of me! Is it? I am only repeat what we know from the Old Testament, the Bible and the Koran–what God said to Adam and Eve when God deported them, exiled them to earth, threw them out of Paradise–for their transgression, their loss of innocence–meaning their loss of equality, their loss of a sense of unawareness of any difference between them–a loss of their sense of freedom, their loss of an ultimate superiority which today we refer to as feminism. The acceptance of the burka and niqab is an acceptance of a loss of freedom, not its expansion.

If at a society’s level it is accepted that the covering from head to toe of a woman is her freedom of choice—to separate herself out and not interact with others, see them, but not be seen, create an unfair and unjust environment, a conversation that is only and only a perversion of sexuality, then why does she chose this? Does she make a moral judgement? The answer will be yes. Women who wear this, point falsely to religion for reason. They make a false claim to religion as well as to morality. Our ethics demand that she not impose her morality or the lack of it in our public spaces on us.

For to allow a woman in a full cover, the niqab and burka, to do so, makes her exception, the rule, her judgement valid and makes us all immoral, non-secular and unethical.

20 thoughts on “Tell me I’m Wrong About the Hijab by Maniza Naqvi”

  1. Oh my word! Someone making so many judgements about the intelligence and physical ugliness of women who wear hijab/niqab saying that women in hijab/niqab spend all their time judging others!

    The hypocrisy is palpable.


  2. I invite you to tell me why I am wrong. Use your reasoning. Sentence by sentence. If you want to strengthen your mind and your conviction then you must be able to think and reason and have the knowledge to back it up. So here on the comment line tell me why I am wrong.


  3. Hi Maniza. I agree with your assessment that the current assessment that the social emphasis on Hijab/Niqab in Muslim communities and majority Muslim societies reduces the religious beliefs of people to their clothing. However, I think that a number of your assertions about the Hijab/Niqab, unveiling and secularism are unfounded. I am an ex-Hijabi (wore it for 16 years) so I have physically existed on both sides of this debate in both Muslim and non-Muslim majority societies. My comments are listed below:

    1) In an effort to criticize patriarchy and misogyny that underpins the modesty culture prevalent in current interpretations of Islam and Muslim majority societies, you conflate the various reasons women wear Hijab to just one, wearing it to elevate one’s social status. From my personal experience as a Hijabi and interactions with other Hijabis/Niqabis across various Muslim communities in both Muslim majority societies and non-Muslim majority societies, Muslim women veil for many reasons. These reasons include elevating one’s social status through embracing modesty culture, emphasizing the Muslim identity over others (esp in Western societies), social/familial coercion, sincere belief that religion mandates Hijab/Niqab and convenience/personal expediency (i.e. covering leads to more financial and social opportunities than not covering). Given these diverse reasons, it is irresponsible to judge women that “choose” to wear Hijab as lazy/narcissist/judgemental/religious. I wore the Hijab even though I did not pray regularly or was particularly religious in other aspects of my life. For me it was an assertion of my identity as a Muslim woman in an overwhelmingly white male field (I’m a STEM scientist) where negative stereotypes about Muslims and Muslim women in particular exist and I wanted to combat them to make it easier for other brown Muslim women to exist in these spaces (I have since decided that this reasoning is flawed) . Additionally, there is a large number of women who wear Hijab/Niqab due to social/familial coercion or personal expediency. These women do not deserve to be condemned and judged because they are choosing the least bad option among all the misogynistic options available to them in an overwhelmingly patriarchal societies and communities. As for the judgemental stereotype, while the Hijabi women that you know consider themselves superior to non-Hijabis because they veil, you are also quite judgemental in your assessment of all Hijabi women. From your post, I am going to assume that you don’t wear the Hijab/Niqab at all, so what is your excuse for broadly stereotyping and perceiving yourself to be morally superior to all veiled women?

    2)You are absolutely correct that veiling/covering and modesty are not neutral choices in patriarchal societies. However, you wrongly assert “that modesty and morality for the French State is therefore the definition of what the Abrahamic God intended it to be—one where nakedness is the perfect state—and the unease with it—Shame, a crime.” Only certain forms of nakedness are socially accepted in Western societies including France (you really need to look up fat-shaming and the treatment of women considered physically unattractive in these societies). The majority of women whose bodies do not fall within these accepted forms of nakedness starve and physically reshape (or mutilate) themselves so that their naked bodies can become socially acceptable. Furthermore, in Western societies the female body does not exist on its own terms but on terms dictated by heterosexual male desire. In this context, it is deeply intellectually lazy to believe that nakedness/uncovering/unveiling are neutral and not tools that are used to empower misogyny and patriarchy in these societies.

    3)As I pointed out earlier, Muslim women (myself included) wear (wore) the Hijab for many reasons. Some of these reasons are deeply lazy and narcissistic. But many are also using the Hijab/Niqab/Burka to achieve social and financial independence to empower themselves and their families in communities and societies where they would be denied opportunities if they do not cover, something that is hardly lazy or narcissist. Muslim women who do not cover also do so for a variety of reasons, many of which are also deeply lazy and narcissistic (looking attractive and pandering to heterosexual male desire, cementing their social status, vanity etc). People should be allowed to wear (or not wear) what they want for any reason, including lazy and narcissistic ones.

    4) Finally, as an ex-Hijabi, I sincerely believe that modesty culture in Muslim communities and Muslim majority societies must be dismantled so that women are freely able to choose their clothing without social/familial coercion or strengthening misogyny and patriarchy. In order to achieve this, we have to criticize the Hijab/Niqab/Burka without judging/condemning the women that wear them. Dismantling modesty culture will benefit all of Muslim women regardless of what they wear. There are many women who veil/cover and choose modest clothing for themselves while opposing the oppression of modesty culture from within. We need to build bridges with these women rather than condemning them for their clothing.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Roti fan, thank you very much for your thoughtful response. It is exactly in the spirit I had hoped to illicit. Some of what you are referring to as my assertions were in a question form in my piece. Agree with your conclusion.


  4. I cannot forget an image. I was in Saudi Arabia a decade or so ago, sitting in a hotel lobby. I six-seven years old girl wearing a burkah, ran in followed by her parents. I can still see the white shoes & the black burkah. The girl was laughing and while running in from the door, she threw off the burkah, her exuberance something to celebrate! I remember stopping reading & smiling at the scene. Her father spoke harshly and her mother then caught her by her jacket, slapped her and dressed her with the burkah again, all the while scolding her. I had never had any opinion on the burkah till then. It was just how women in some societies dressed themselves. I have been anti-burkah since then. It was the killer of that child’s exuberance and my smile at the sheer beauty of it.


  5. I can with reason tell you that you are wrong but my reasoning won’t be any more reasonable to you than your reasoning is to me. Therefore, point by point argument is futile. Let me just share with you my understanding of the issue and I will let you reason it yourself.
    Hijabi women now in addition to the bearded men, both, today are facing very similar criticism of being the symbol of Islam. Who is doing the honoring of them or dishonoring (as shameful) of them? Certainly neither the hijabi women nor bearded men.
    As a bearded Muslim with hijabi daughters and daughter in laws never have I or my daughters or my wife or anyone that I know of had ever looked down upon an unbearded man or non-hijabi woman as amoral or immodest or bad Muslim. In fact my beard and hijab of my daughters is looked upon by unbearded Muslims and non-hijabi muslim women —far more the non Muslim men or women— as something bad, unmannerly, old fashion, unacceptable, immodest and immoral by secular standards of modesty. It is the non-bearded Muslim men and women within my own family and outside who look down upon the bearded men as mullah and hajabi women as mullanee, in other words as stupid. It is Muslim like yourself more so than non-Muslim westerners who feel intimidated by my beard and hijab of my daughters without any word or act of intimidation on our part. Yet, everyone like yourself blames me and my daughters of trying to intimidate them by claiming superiority or piety or modesty over them. How ironic??
    I shall close it with story from the books if Hadith-e-Rasool-Ullah رسُولُ اللَّہ صلی اللَّہُ علیہِ وسلّم to make my reasoning perhaps more understandable. A Muslim man while sitting in the company of Rasool-Ullah رسُولُ اللَّہ صلی اللَّہُ علیہِ وسلّم praised one of his fellow Muslim brethren of his piety and goodness while he wasn’t present. When he was finished, Rasool-Ullah رسُولُ اللَّہ صلی اللَّہُ علیہِ وسلّم asked him, have you ever been on a journey with him?
    The man said no, never.
    Rasool-Ullah رسُولُ اللَّہ صلی اللَّہُ علیہِ وسلّم asked, have you spent a night with him away from home?
    The man said no, never.
    Rasool-Ullah رسُولُ اللَّہ صلی اللَّہُ علیہِ وسلّم asked him have you ever been his business partner?
    The man said no, never.
    Then Rasool-Ullah رسُولُ اللَّہ صلی اللَّہُ علیہِ وسلّم said you must have witnessed him going in and out of masjid for salaat?
    The man said yes, five times a day I see him going in and out of masjid after salaat.
    I’m sure you are intelligent enough to capture what indeed defines Islam and Muslim; the picture صورت of a Muslim or the character سیرت of a Muslim. Does that mean picture صورت is outdated today?
    Not to my knowledge. Unfortunately I’m guilty of not having the character سیرت that some Muslims see in my picture صورت. It motivates me to improve myself on a daily basis and I constantly struggle with myself. It compels me to shed any hypocrisy within my character that is not worthy of my picture صورت. Same is true to the best of my experience and knowledge with everyone of the hijabi women.

    Liked by 1 person

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