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A year of pressure on hijabis

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2020 was full of surprises. The severity of the stress we experienced mounted through the year. From the beginning, we witnessed tragic and unsettling events worldwide. The constant pressure has affected everyone on many levels. The level of uncertainty is beyond comprehension. However, another sort of pressure and debate is being reborn, impacting hijabi women, especially those living in Western societies.

I have noticed increased attacks on hijabi women on social media this year. I’m seriously sick of it. Muslim women who wear hijab are being subjected to a barrage of questions: why are they wearing hijab? How long have they been wearing it? Will they take it off? Many hijabi women, particularly influencers on social media have shared similar experiences around their choices to wear a head-covering or swim in a burkini.

There’s a notion that you should dress in a certain way while you are wearing a headscarf, and that if you don’t follow this code you should take it off. This forces us to justify wearing it, when it is really no one’s business but our own. Wearing hijab should only ever be a personal choice. I understand that this is not the case for many women, especially in societies in the Middle East and North Africa region. Many women in my country – Libya – wear hijab without having any choice in the matter. This is a reality that cannot be denied. It should be fine to go without a hijab. It should be fine to believe what you wish about hijab. Nobody should interfere in women’s personal choices or beliefs.

Hijabi women dress in different ways and styles, and no one has the right to judge them or to question their reasons. There has seemingly been a positive shift in the narrative on hijabi women in the fashion industry. Many fashion influencers on social media are modelling modest wear showing how it can be fashionable and beautiful. There are many accounts suggesting ideas on how to be trendy and stylish and still wear hijab. It feels empowering and creative, like a community.

Halima Aden, the famous hijabi model, decided recently to quit the industry. She exposed the way it forces hijabi women to compromise their values. She showed the hypocrisy of a profit-driven industry trying to show that it was inclusive without taking into account the beliefs and values of the women whose identities it had co-opted. They wanted to show they were ‘open’ and ‘accepting’ but they were still demanding that women play their game and follow their rules.

We are also seeing how some western countries have been considering laws against women wearing hijab in public institutions. Even in countries that consider themselves to be on the vanguard of liberty, women are not completely free; rules are imposed on them in order to enforce that country’s identity. Even though these beliefs and practices are completely harmless women have choices taken from them. Nobody should interfere in women’s personal choices or beliefs.

I’ve also noticed that people give themselves greater leeway to criticize the personal style of women who wear hijab, while women who don’t are exempted from this criticism. This double standard is shown through unwanted advice that they’d be better off keeping to themselves. If we respect women’s choices, we must respect the choice to wear hijab too, so we can wear it however we want.

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