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Is the Hijab Oppressive? Dalia Mogahed Responds

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Posted on Jan 17, 2019
Dilshad Ali

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Editorial Note - The “Isn’t your hijab oppressive?” debate is one so many of us have faced in our lives or seen played out over and over again in traditional, nontraditional and social media. Often we ask ourselves - why are we still talking about this?

While there are many interesting discussions to be had and stories to share regarding the intersection of hijab, modest dressing and so many areas of our lives, repeatedly having to address the debate about hijab and oppression can get wearisome. At Haute Hijab, we are committed to empowering Muslim women as well as building community. We sell hijabs, yes - that is our business. But, our literal mission is to “create a world where every woman feels comfortable and confident.”

Dalia Mogahed

Of course we don’t buy into the “hijab is oppressive” line and support a woman’s right to freely wear it (or not). Recently we came across this status update on Facebook from Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington, D.C., in which she took on the debate about hijab and oppression. We just had to share it (with her permission) with you.

Without further ado, here is what Dalia had to say in full:

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"On the tiresome and never ending "hijab is oppression" so-called debate I unapologetically wear hijab as a spiritual act, sometimes risking ridicule, and even assault. Roughly half of my Muslim girl friends don't wear it. My best friend's views on Islam and reform would make irreverent rebels sound like conservatives. My friend and I are like sisters. I trust her with my car and my home. We spend Eid together. We don't demonize or shame each other for our choices. It's called intellectual maturity.

What I find so strange about this whole discussion is how utterly unnecessary and irrelevant it is. For the rest of the American Muslim community, it's simply a non-issue. Some wear it. Some don't. It's not debated because debating it is not a priority.

That, until these fake debates are forced down our throats by a narrative that demeans and politicizes a personal spiritual decision at a time of unparalleled anti-Muslim hysteria. We must then "respond" to these arguments, which pander to populous prejudice, as a matter of survival. To be clear, all of us have responded -- those who wear and don't wear hijab alike, because this isn't about hijab at all. It is about being a community, not a cult.

A cult demands conformity, or members risk ridicule, shaming and worse. A community makes it safe to disagree. I'm proud of how far we've come as an American Muslim community. For the most part now only extremists and Islamophobes are obsessed with what a woman has or doesn't have on her head.

Are some women forced to wear the hijab? Yes. And this is not right. As an act of spiritual devotion it must be chosen or it becomes meaningless. Do some women face violence for not wearing it? Again yes, and this is outrageous.

That said, according to global surveys the majority of women who wear hijab do so willingly as an act of spiritual devotion. Does the undeniable fact that it is at times forced and sometimes politicized render it inherently oppressive, even when freely chosen?

Let's take something else often forced on women and apply the same logic: sex. Sex is forced on women far more often than is a head scarf. One in three women are sexually assaulted on campuses in the U.S. There is an international cartel of sex traffickers of millions of women and girls. Sex is not only politicized, but it is *weaponized* as a strategic tactic of war.

So according to the same logic that says hijab is a symbol of oppression, because sex is sometimes a non-choice and is sometimes politicized (and even weaponized), it is inherently oppressive to women. Even when women freely choose it, it is degrading to them and must be denounced. Women should be shamed for choosing it, cast as brainwashed slaves to men, in need of liberation.

Is this line of thinking enlightened or draconian?"

(Photo by TED) 


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