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The Dehijabization Phenomenon

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The dehijabization phenomenon

After a brief, identity-driven swell in the number of hijab wearers, there now appears to be a decline. Why did women who spent years, or decades, in hijab decide to dehijabize? What is it that women feel must be fulfilled in life without the hijab that is apparently missing while wearing it?

 

By Darah Rateb, March 30, 2009

 

The headscarf was once viewed as a sign of rebellion. Western women fought for their liberation by removing confining corsets and diminishing the amount of cloth clad to their bodies in public: in short, declaring their sexuality to the masses, and inviting their approval. In clear contradistinction to the excessive glitz women are subjected to by the modern fashion, make-up and nip/tuck industry, the modern Muslim woman concealed her sexuality in public, and allowed it to flourish in private. Now, it seems a new rebellion is taking place.

 

Aqsa Parvez was a young, Asian-Canadian teenager was brutally murdered by her family in late 2007 for removing her headscarf (hijab). Her death remains shocking as honour killings were previously unrelated to the headscarf, but also because it was yet more evidence to show a serious desire held by hundreds of women around the world to remove their headscarves.

 

I moved to Egypt in 2000, as the country was going through an ‘Islamic awakening’. Left, right and centre, I saw women donning headscarves seemingly overnight - usually after listening to a lesson by Amr Khaled - the now world famous Muslim televangelist - or someone similar. Others went much further. I remember my shock when someone I knew revolutionized her wardrobe within 24 hours; gone were the low-cut tops, the glitter-clad tight-fitting hipster jeans, and knee high red suede boots. In their place: long flowing black cloaks or abayas.

 

For the following nine years, I lived, worked and traveled in Africa, South-East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America. In the midst of my travels, I noticed a startling phenomenon in the past 3 years: the removal of the cloth, once so adorningly clung to by Muslim women world wide - what I like to call “dehijabization”.

 

A small piece of evidence; Facebook profile pictures of girls in hijab are increasingly replaced; sometimes, the replacement picture is as simple as a woman in loose clothes with her long, flowing hair showing, while at other times it is women posing in bikinis or mini-skirts. Women all over the world are casting off the hijab.

 

The question remains: Why? Why did women who spent years, or decades, in hijab decide to dehijabize? What is it that women feel must be fulfilled in life without the hijab that is apparently missing while wearing it?

 

I decided to ask around. Some women had originally decided to wear the hijab to counteract serious sins they had committed in the past. Ironically, some women also removed the hijab because they felt that they were sinners, and were therefore unable to live up to what they felt should symbolize a woman in a hijab. A huge number of women noted that even the most religious of Muslim men were proposing to women who were not in hijab, leaving the women in hijab feeling rather inadequate; if a religious man is uninterested in a woman in a headscarf, who will be?

 

Many others grew exhausted of the ‘out-of-place’ feeling they had- either because they were in a majority non-Muslim country, where the hijab was viewed as dehumanizing, or because they were in a Muslim majority country which, as a consequence of Westernisation, increasingly viewed the hijab as ‘unsophisticated’ or a sign of poor education.

 

Yale University anthropologist Carolyn Rouse noted the hijabization phenomenon in 2004 in her book “Engaged Surrender” as one that was about identity, rather than spirituality. Post 9-11, many women felt the need to show their solidarity and oneness with the Muslim ummah. Donning of the hijab - formerly a spiritual act - achieved that political end.

 

With that kind of ‘Muslim uniform’ in the 21st century comes a sad if unintentional reality - the individual Muslim woman is simply aggregated into one big, undifferentiated lump, leaving her just as objectified as the “sexually liberated” non-Muslim Western woman. Many, whether in the West or in the Muslim world, choose to give her uneasy glares and glances, while boxing her as an “oppressed woman”, who has the inability to do anything unless it is explicitly related to Islam.

 

The flip side of the coin is that because of the same obsession with the cloth and not its meaning, Muslims in general will demand that any Muslim woman in a hijab not simply be Muslim, but morph into an infallible angel. In this regard, the blame falls much more on the Muslim than the non-Muslim, for the Muslim should know that nowhere in the Islamic tradition is the hijab a sign of perfect character. Rather, it is the fulfillment of an Islamic duty – just like many others.

 

In truth, it is these Muslims who I suspect bear much of blame for the dehijabization phenomenon. There is much fear mongering instilled by many present day Muslim preachers, who have somehow made the hijab tantamount with faith itself and told to prepare for an eternity in hell if living without it. Yet, where in any of the books written by of the learned scholars of this religion is there any mentioning of the hijab as one of the kaba’ir, or major sins? A sin it may be, to be sure – but is it so dire? Perhaps it is, but the Prophets, the Messengers and the scholars of this religion emphasized it much less than other duties and responsibilities. Yet, modern day preachers will emphasize it more than they will anything else.

 

But this brings me to the most important point of dehijabization. Women who remove the headscarf because they choose to interpret the Islamic tradition in their own way without training; they are just as problematic as these preachers. Perhaps this is the most alarming and now widespread reason for dehijabization - women who claim that the hijab is not fard (obligatory). This was cited as the most common reason used by the majority of women I have come across who have dehijabized.

 

Islamic law comes down to 4 things: The Qura’n, the sunna, ijma’a (consensus), and qiyas (logical judgement). Islamic law crystallized around the interpretations of experts over many centuries: those that are now extant and most common are the 4 Sunni schools of law. For centuries, scholars have learnt Islamic law through those interpretative deductions; all these 4 schools came directly from Prophetic teachings and are upheld with their own particular interpretations all over the world. People in Egypt may not realize, but they pray in accordance to the Shafi’i madhab, while those in India follow the Hanafi interpretation of prayer.

 

For someone who has not dedicated their life to the study of Islam to declare that they have the same ability to interpret the Qur’an as the erstwhile amateur, comes across to me as incredibly arrogant, even while they may not realize their obvious arrogance.

 

Yes, there are several different interpretations, but they all must come from the basis of Islamic law. But on the hijab, there is no difference of opinion. The 31st verse of the 24th chapter of the Qur’an mentions the word khimar, which unequivocally means a veil covering the head, according to the agreed upon definition by the majority of classical commentators. The commentators (mufasiroon) further comment by stating that the noun khimar (the singular of khumur) was a loosely worn veil which was worn long before the advent of Islam and long after.

 

However, during the period of the revelation, it was customary that women bared their breasts while covering their hair. In fact, as Arab men went off to battle, women used to bear their breasts to encourage them to be brave; in some cases, they would show their breasts during warfare. With the advent of Islam, until now, Muslim women have been showing only their hands and faces, in accordance with the prescriptions of the Prophet, and the passing of his prescriptions from that time until this day. That methodology is followed not just in terms of the hijab, an admittedly small piece of cloth, but in the whole of this religion.

 

It’s irrelevant what I, as an author, do or not do vis-à-vis the issue I write about. But on a personal note, I do happen to wear a hijab, in awareness of my duty. Like most women, I often think to myself that men should learn to control themselves, and how perhaps if they did, women would not be obliged to conceal their sexuality in public, and dress any way we would like. But in the final analysis, God has a hikma or a wisdom as to why He created men this way, and why He asked women to cover themselves - He Knows best and He is All-Knowing.

 

Darah M. Rateb is the Managing Consultant of the Visionary Consultants Group, a Muslim world – West relations research consultancy with bases in the UK, Egypt and Malaysia

 

http://www.altmuslim.com/a/a/a/2999/

 

*discuss*

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I grew up in a small town, no one in my family wore a hijab.

 

When i began highschool at 11 no one i saw wore a hijab, by the time i left at 18 there was a considerable amount of girls who wore it. When i got to uni its like...literally an insane amount of girls wear it. you actually cant go a day in the uni's town (let alone the uni) seeing at least one girl in hijab.

 

I know its not representative of the ummah but if anything the more time passes the more and more i see girls wear it.

 

I have a large amount of shiaa's at my uni, so i dont know if that plays a role in this or what.

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Assuming that this trend is actually occurring, and the author is correct, I suppose as swiftly as dehijabisation swept the world, it can just as swiftly be replaced by 'hijabisation'.

 

I think it's hard to establish one collective context for the hijab today because as we have seen in this thread itself, everyone has noticed different trends with the hijab.

Also, as being wearing the scarf myself it is still a constant journey and learning experience in regards to what is appropriate to wear, what it the correct way to act and how one should perceive themselves as a Muslim woman.

I personally think the actual scarf is really just scratching the surface when it comes to Islamic revivalism.

 

 

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^ Yes, there is. This phenomena takes place among my friends and usually the actresses in my country. They get married, they put on the hijab but once they get divorced, they reveal themselves like they used to. I think its because these actresses could not find much jobs having to cover themselves up and since they have no breadwinner anymore, its what they need to do to bring food on the table. And this friend of mine, she was a non hijabi, came to school the next day with hijab on. She claimed to have gone through a 'dream' and even though her mum didn't allow her to put the hijab on she still went on with her instincts. For the next 2 years, she had it on. But now, I don't see her with it anymore. I felt like asking but then I felt as if it was too personal and it really was none of my business whether she has it on or not.

 

I wonder what's worse, those who falter to temptations half way or those who well, know they just can't submit to it and don't bother wearing it all all?

 

As for me, well...wearing the hijab brings a bigger meaning to me. I'd have to change everything in life, and unfortunately, I don't have that strength in me to do so. It's so much bigger than just changing your wardrobe. Basically, in my opinion, wearing the hijab means you're held more accountable on your actions, what you do, what you say, who do you hang out with and where do you hang out at. It also means people have the right to have this image of you being this perfect muslim woman when in reality you're not. And that's just too much of a responsibility for me to bear at this age.

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Compare the 70's version of a few countries with todays and you'll see the difference:

 

Turkey- Millions of women protest the school bans on hijab while in the 70's mostly only women from rural towns wore it.

Egypt- Looked like any western city or town, but go today and the markets are full of colorful headscarves on women.

Britain- Huge community of muslims were in britain but why was there literally NO women who wore headscarves? as i mentioned before, today the headscarf is commonplace on the streets of London.

 

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^ Yes, there is. This phenomena takes place among my friends and usually the actresses in my country. They get married, they put on the hijab but once they get divorced, they reveal themselves like they used to. I think its because these actresses could not find much jobs having to cover themselves up and since they have no breadwinner anymore, its what they need to do to bring food on the table. And this friend of mine, she was a non hijabi, came to school the next day with hijab on. She claimed to have gone through a 'dream' and even though her mum didn't allow her to put the hijab on she still went on with her instincts. For the next 2 years, she had it on. But now, I don't see her with it anymore. I felt like asking but then I felt as if it was too personal and it really was none of my business whether she has it on or not.

 

I wonder what's worse, those who falter to temptations half way or those who well, know they just can't submit to it and don't bother wearing it all all?

 

As for me, well...wearing the hijab brings a bigger meaning to me. I'd have to change everything in life, and unfortunately, I don't have that strength in me to do so. It's so much bigger than just changing your wardrobe. Basically, in my opinion, wearing the hijab means you're held more accountable on your actions, what you do, what you say, who do you hang out with and where do you hang out at. It also means people have the right to have this image of you being this perfect muslim woman when in reality you're not. And that's just too much of a responsibility for me to bear at this age.

 

 

You are malaysian...Malaysia has one of the highest mosque attendance rates and is just generally an awesome place mashallah. I think you notice more "dehijabisation" because you see so many muslim women wearing it that when one takes it off it is very different.

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As for me, well...wearing the hijab brings a bigger meaning to me. I'd have to change everything in life, and unfortunately, I don't have that strength in me to do so. It's so much bigger than just changing your wardrobe. Basically, in my opinion, wearing the hijab means you're held more accountable on your actions, what you do, what you say, who do you hang out with and where do you hang out at. It also means people have the right to have this image of you being this perfect muslim woman when in reality you're not. And that's just too much of a responsibility for me to bear at this age.

 

Salaam

 

wether or not you wear hijaab at the end of the day you are still held accountable on your actions by the lord. What you should be worried about is not what people are going to hold against you but what you will say to Allah (swt) on the day of judgement.

 

Sure your right wearing hijaab does make you an ambassador for your religion, and yes when people see you they will see you as a young muslim woman, but i dont see that as something bad I see that as something to be proud of.

 

You say that you will have to hang out at different locations and with different people, but not really because even though your not wearing a hijaab you are still a muslim woman who shouldnt be hanging out at places that you suddenly 'need to stop' in the first place. Wouldn't change be welcome then?

 

Hijaab is a symbol of our religion it doesnt define how strong our faith or deen is so that shouldn't be used as a reason not to wear it.

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Mash'Allah thats a good point DI but then again you have to ask yourself, if you were to die today, at this moment how would you feel standing in front of Allah. Would you regret not "being ready" to make that transition? Would you regret not trying harder?

 

You know noboby knows how long they are on this earth for and when it will be 'too late'. Everyone has a large fear and their own obstacles to overcome but the way to overcome this fear is just to take the large step, as scary and as hard as it is into the deen and you will find the love of Allah (swt) supporting you.

 

Everyone has a time where they begin to start losing hope or faith, yes including hijaabi's, but then as muslims we should all support eachother and help them back on the path that we begin to fall off.

 

We should help each other to WANT to take these steps

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i think that donning the hijab is the best choice for a woman to do. i mean that's one of the easiest thing she can do to lessen her sins even if she's still doing some 'questionable' things. it can be one of the first few steps to geting hold on to your deen... getting closer to Allah... better than nothing i guess. but if you wanna wear one, do understand why do you wanna wear it. is it because other people are wearing it too? or is it because you're doing because of Allah as Allah said so in the Qur'an? if you choose to wear it because of the latter reason, insya'Allah there will be no dehijabization anymore.

 

 

You are malaysian...Malaysia has one of the highest mosque attendance rates and is just generally an awesome place mashallah. I think you notice more "dehijabisation" because you see so many muslim women wearing it that when one takes it off it is very different.

 

i'm a malaysian and i think due to sooo many muslim women wearing hijab in malaysia, people see it as a part of the culture. muslim schoolgirls wear it as a part of their school uniform. they don't understand why they should wear it in the first place anyway. i got friends who started to take them off once they're in uni... because they just don't see the need to wear them anymore. so, wear the hijab because of Allah... lillahi ta'ala.

 

anyway just so you know about the many type of hijabis in malaysia, here's a video about that:

Youtube Video ->Original Video

 

and my view for wearing the hijab is the same as the girl in blue hijab in the vid. :)

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one sin doesn't justify another. If you think that you're committing major sins, then it does not make it any more acceptable to dismiss the act of wearing the hijab.

 

One of the things that stuck to me the most from AlMaghrib's tazkiyah class is that Allah ta'Ala doesn't tell you not to follow shaytaan. Allah ta'Ala tells you not to follow the footsteps of shaytaan. Thinking that you're not ready for the hijab because you are doing many other things that are considered inappropriate for the one who wears hijab is, in my opionion, a trick of shaytaan.

 

Lilmonsta, you said it well.

At the end of the day, it's not about what you should or should not do as a mahajjaba, rather it's about what you should or should not do as a Muslima.

 

I really believe that when you take that step closer to Allah, Allah will come closer to you and make your path easier. Of course with it comes responsiblity...but life is always full of responsiblities and there's no way to run away from that.

And Allah knows best

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Compare the 70's version of a few countries with todays and you'll see the difference:

 

Turkey- Millions of women protest the school bans on hijab while in the 70's mostly only women from rural towns wore it.

Egypt- Looked like any western city or town, but go today and the markets are full of colorful headscarves on women.

Britain- Huge community of muslims were in britain but why was there literally NO women who wore headscarves? as i mentioned before, today the headscarf is commonplace on the streets of London.

 

Erm, wow what gross generalizations.

 

Turkey has been ruled by people who are opposed to Islam(not the religion per se but the legalistic aspect of it). Also the Balkans and Turkey have a particular undercurrents that run through it, which are hard to spot unless you live there. Also you should visit Istanbul, apparently large % of the middle class practice the islamic injunctions.

Egypt has high hijab rate but it also has a bunch of adds that suggest that you should put it on to avoid sexual harassment, which isn't really the right intent.

 

I kinda agree with DI, except that instead of not putting it on i think that we should stop putting so much pressure on sisters who wear hijab to be saints.

 

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You are malaysian...Malaysia has one of the highest mosque attendance rates and is just generally an awesome place mashallah. I think you notice more "dehijabisation" because you see so many muslim women wearing it that when one takes it off it is very different.

 

I have to disagree :ph34r:

 

Btw, I don't hang out around many hijabis,it gets to my attention more if someone decides to put a veil on, so yeah. I can tell you that Malaysia has the highest no of hypocrites when it comes to religion right to our politicians even though we say we practice the Shariah system bla bla bla just like how Saudi Arabia's gay community is thriving, not everything appears on how it appears to be. I can tell you that.

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I know some girls who want to wear hijab but they don't because their parents don't want them to. A lot of parents ahve the mentality that if their daughter is beautiful, they should show it. One of my friends wanted to wear the hijab, but her mom didn't want her to. After some encouragement from myself and other hijabis at school, she started to wear it. But because her mom was opposed to it, she would only wear it to school, and nowhere else. In the end, she felt like a hypocrite and stopped wearing it alltogether. It really doesn't make sense though, because her parents are supposedly very religious, but they don't want her to wear hijab...

 

I also think its totally unfair how hijabis are judged so much more than non-hijabis. Any sin a hijabi commits is deemed to be 10 times worse than if someone not wearing a hijab was to do it. :(

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I also think its totally unfair how hijabis are judged so much more than non-hijabis. Any sin a hijabi commits is deemed to be 10 times worse than if someone not wearing a hijab was to do it. :(

 

 

True. And I'm not strong enough to do so.

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