LONDON - As a female Muslim journalist and modest fashion enthusiast, most of the stories that I write about hijab for news outlets in the West have a distinctively defensive stance, and explicit motivation to dispel Islamophobic myths about veils being a symbol of oppression, writes Hafsa Lodi in the Independent on Wednesday.
Some days, I condemn European nations that enforce bans on burkas, burkinis and hijabs; on others, I try to shed light on the female Muslim entrepreneurs, designers, models and bloggers proving that when followed by choice, a lifestyle of covering up one’s body can be incredibly empowering. There are times, however, when current events involving the hijab fall squarely into the realm of oppression. The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini is a prime example.
And while this all might be done under the guise of religion – the country calls itself the “Islamic Republic”, after all – there’s nothing Islamic about the morality police’s approach to bullying women into covering their hair.
In Iran, hijab has been enforced since the 1979 “Islamic Revolution” – prior to which veiling was in fact banned under the rule of Reza Shah Pahlavi. After Pahlavi’s 1935 nationwide hijab ban, soldiers were known to forcibly remove the headscarves of women who wore them in public.
Veiled women were not allowed to work in professional capacities, and weren’t permitted entry into restaurants or theaters. Only a few decades later were these policies completely reversed, and Iran became – and remains — the only country in the world (besides the Taliban’s new Afghanistan) where women must legally cover their hair.
Frankly, this fickleness when it comes to approaches towards hijab goes to show that Muslim women are often the first casualty in a war of politics that aim to promote some sort of dogma – whether it’s Western-inspired liberalism or extremist, religious bigotry. Be it in the East or the West, state-sanctioned patriarchy takes many forms. Sometimes, it looks like the American Supreme Court curbing women’s constitutional rights to seek abortions.
Other times, it looks like the systemic oppression of Muslim women through enforced dress codes masked as markers of piety. In fact, most rulings on Muslim women’s attire – be it burkini bans in France or mandatory hair-covering in Iran – have little to do with Muslim women themselves, and are instead a means of cementing patriarchal control over women.
In the West, men may want women to shed their clothing to depict a more sexualized image that they prefer to see. In the East, conversely, men often want women to cover their bodies, lest they “tempt” fellow men to perform illicit sexual activity.