Writer: Itumeleng Sibiya
Editor: Renata Daou
Graphic Designer: Marcella Tehubijuluw
The hijab is deeply rooted in the Islamic fundamentals of modesty and privacy. It is simply known as a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women. On the 1st of February of each year, the world celebrates Hijab Day. It celebrates and recognises the many Muslim women who wear the head covering, but it also invites women from other religions to do the same and view the world from the lens of a Muslim woman. At the core of such a beautiful celebration, there lie some deep double standards when coming to the hijab and they yearn to be explored.
Muslim women are faced with blatant double standards projected by Western society and their community. There is a common asserted belief that Muslim women who wear a hijab are less approachable (they can come across as hateful), they totally reject Western values and principles, and are narrow-minded. If a woman who wears a hijab even dares the slightest bit to assertively talk about sensitive issues like women's rights, sexual harassment, domestic violence, femicide, etc they are greeted with puzzled and confused stares because they are confined in a stereotype that for some odd reason they are oppressed and utterly incapable of speaking up for themselves, let alone other women. On the other side of the spectrum, the non-hijabi women are deemed as free. There is an assumption they are modern, polished, and liberated.
Now in the circumference of the Muslim community, the hijabi is perceived as the "perfect Muslim woman", as linked to popular belief that the hijabi has somehow made her entirely innocent, graceful, and pure. In an attempt to fit in this image they must dress, speak and behave a certain way, like appearing to be meek and composed, being a homebody, not engaging in taboo topics, etc. If you don't shape up, you get shipped out, meaning expect to be ostracised or constantly reminded that no man is going to marry you. On the other hand, the woman that doesn't wear a hijab is held to her own set of double standards as well. This looks like she is seen as a bold sinner, self-hater, and a hypocrite, she is seen as probably " loose," and that she must be "boy crazy" because obviously, it is her fault if men cannot control themselves right? She is expected to be outspoken. She is more than free to tackle and discuss controversial issues such as sexuality or abortion, she can say she's a feminist and not be seen as a hypocrite.
In Muslim communities, women who wear a hijab are seen as fit for marriage but not for a job ( as in getting hired ). In western communities, Muslim women who wear the hijab voiced their complaints about how the hijab is not given a fair share in the workforce and are often discriminated against during job interviews.
"When you are no longer convenient to the narrative being told you go back to being discarded and invisible", commented MSN reporter Noor Tagoiri. Freedom of expression and belief is only true when it's done in a fashionable manner. This insinuates that when regular Muslim women want to wear their headscarves with stride and confidence as the models on many runways, they are met with disapproval and resistance. This suits the stance made by the France government which shouts a more apparent double standard, where hijab is more than allowed to be worn by models on the runway but it is banned on the streets. While fashion has taken a keen interest in head coverings, be it through balaclavas or simple headscarves, the implications for Muslim women sporting the same attire are vastly different. This surfaces after the legislation in France that prohibits citizens from wearing religious symbols in public, originates from the 2017 ruling which banned the headscarf within workplaces. No, the debate on headscarves' right to exist certainly isn't unheard of. What is, however, questionable is how European runways and fashion houses have leveraged the Muslim headscarves and Islamic motifs to suit their ever "fierce and up to the minute" fashion and how the French government appears to have no issue with that. France's enmity and adamant admonishing of Islamic symbols are unfortunate at best, and institutionally racist at worst. And all this is cited as a foundation of "secularism" in their disproportionate discriminating bills. Muslim headscarf is a diabolised exception to Europe's outward neutrality - Now to cover it all up they turn to tokenism or the superficial inclusion of a culture-tokenisation isn't the answer, unfortunately, but it's still the most common entry point.
Vogue France took to their Instagram to post a photo of Julia Foxx wearing a headscarf captioned, "Yes to the headscarf." Vogue's tone-deaf caption demonstrates a willful ignorance of the French government about the hijab ban. This hypocrisy was noticed by many on social media platforms, where they went over to express their disapproval of this pervasive double standard that when Muslim women sport the hijab they are expected to feel ashamed, while when a white woman does the same she is applauded and perceived as a fashion icon for her forward-thinking styling. This can also be seen when Kim Kardashian chose to hit the Met Gala carpets with a rather exaggerated reconstruction of the Burka. Europe has taken three steps back with legalisation and a single meek and hypocritical step forward with its Islam- inducive fashion.
It is rather apparent that France and other parts of Europe aim to bring down the headscarf and in another, it commodifies it. In some cases, this toes a fine line between what is progressive, and what is done for quick cash grabs. It sets a precedent and blurs the line between culture and commodity; headscarves, it seems, are only valid when they're shoehorned into the Western, largely patriarchal definition of freedom. Headscarves in fashion wouldn't be a contested topic if the women on the streets who hold their Islamic values and share unique views of modesty were eligible to sport their headscarves with the same stride and boldness on the runway affords its models. Everyone deserves to exercise their right to clothing expression, whether it derives from religious undertaking or stylistic choice. Policy infringing on the rights of people to do so shouldn't be accepted as "Secularism."
On a concluding note, "perhaps it is time to re-examine the fault lines of privilege, neutrality and how some fall unseen into the crevices between", as stated in Queens' Journal