Discover more from Adventures of Bad Hijabi
It’s a Hijabista Life—an essay series
Part 1–Dina Torkio + the Hijabi Cult
I have been working on a larger work regarding the problems within the Muslim world for a while now, from my perspective as a person who was born into and raised a Catholic and became a Muslim in adulthood. I’ve decided to release this in parts, because the entire piece has quite a length to it. What follows is part one of about 7 parts.
Hijabista is a term coined by sexist Muslim bloke to describe young Muslimah activists leading prayer at a local Vancouver protest. I loved it and so I decided to use it because Sandinistas were cool people, rebelling against a repressive ruling force. Also The Clash named an album after the Sandanistas so I figure my young Muslimah sisters are in fabulous company. Also what does that say about this bloke’s own self perception and perception of his own faith culture, that he describes these young Muslimahs as Hijabista? Maybe they need to be?
I think we need to address fundamentalism from within the community that’s what motivates me to write this—to honour also the thinker who wrote the very first book on Islam I ever read (20 years or so ago)—Irshad Manji. Since the early days following 9/11 a contingent of Muslim-American contingent has sought to re-open the Muslim mind.
Still, I see the western influencers give too much attention to the Dawah Crowd, which seems more glamourous to westerners than the genuine work of Interfaith Scholars and cutting edge Qur’anic scholars working to share a modern translation of the Qur’an and a more genuine and values based exegesis. And still I see western culture and media glam onto the fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, and indulge the egocentric/narcissistic victimhood identity mindset so viral within the community. Why? To preserve western hegemony?
Whilst the Drag Race Prime Minister of Canada dismantles sex-based rights and violates the Geneva Convention by housing male and female prisoners together, Muslim groups across the country have chosen to entirely ignore the threat to sex-based constitutional rights of women, and society really, and focus on demonising and deliberately misunderstanding PQ. The unhealthy fixation with women covering their hair has eclipsed the material reality that female people are losing the right to gather on their own as a reproductive class. Well, this is the same community who thinks female people should pray in the mosque closet or not at the mosque at all, so maybe they really actually do not care about women’s rights? Maybe the obsession with women is a tell?
Anyway, here’s part 1.
Dina Torkio had just dramatically announced removal of her headscarf in a YouTube video when I decided to begin wearing mine. After quietly contemplating and learning about Muhammad, Islam, and hijab over more than a decade in the post 9/11 era, I began hijab practise. Eagerly I drank in any information about the hijabi community. In looking back, I threw a bunch of stuff at the wall and hoped something would stick, had no idea really what I sought. This methodology characterised my seeking journey.
One of the first things in the hijabi world that caught this newcomer’s attention? Dina Torkio getting dog piled online for making a choice. I watched in puzzlement and awe as the hijabi mob grew fierce, accusing Dina of misleading their daughters and other young women. A mob of women who have built an identity around being modest ganged up on one of their own when that one decided to think for herself and do something different. Forgetting Dina’s important contribution to hijab—she created the turban style so many of us love—the modesty cult locked onto their target in pack form, reminiscent of a scene from the Jurassic Park movie my now grown son obsessed over as a boy. All of this drama in response to a hijabi influencer deciding she wasn’t into covering her hair anymore. Oh, but it’s a choice. Cue the eye rolls.
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I grew up in French Saint Boniface, a French Canadian Catholic enclave in Winnipeg, and I was surrounded by religious—people who devoted their lives to poverty, celibacy, and serving others. My mother’s only sister had post TB sequelae that prevented her from entering the convent so she led her own life of personal devotion, simplicity, service, and modesty. She weighed 90 pounds and walked the 30 minutes from her home to the Taché Centre nearly daily for many years to feed the residents, she made that trip even on the coldest winter days, such was her devotion. She refused a taxi because she thought that was frivolous. This was my jam as a kid—poverty/modesty and discipline/devotion.
The faith community I joined in adulthood didn’t seem to mirror these behaviours or values of my origin. The fanaticism overshadows everything, it sucks all the humility and joy from most anything. I have recently been reminded of Simone Weil and her catholic mysticism—she did not join the church and yet she felt a connection to Christianity as a set of values and a path to living. She rejected the power-mongering and it’s said she inspired Vatican II. I feel similarly about being a Muslim, I observe from afar. I still ask myself how a woman practising modesty could think herself superior to others and how she could ignore an ugly reality in plain sight. The way many western hijabis easily ignore the utterly horrific things done to muslim women in the name of God in countries ruled by Islamic regimes always floors me.
I find state enforced religion ghastly and repugnant. The distorted fanatical exegesis of the Qur’an annoys me. The silence on the extremism and deplorable human rights abuses of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, keeper of Islam’s two holiest sites, enrages me. Watching western nations play into the Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict with their wildly differing responses to Iran and Saudi Arabia leaves me cynical at best. I’m frustrated by selective awareness of sociopolitical issues within the Muslim community. The inflexible, tribalist mindset resembles an orobouros. The culturally-driven sexism that has infiltrated the community frustrates me. The silence in the face of said culturally-driven sexism frustrates me.
This all reminds me of some of the catholics who surrounded me as I grew up, parroting all the righteous thing + doing all the good deeds when people were listening and watching, and not seeing the signs of abuse hiding in plain sight in the victims they knew and loved because of their detachment from humanity. For many religious people, their religion is their identity. Identity = Ego. When you are so married to your belief that your ego depends on it, to the extreme that you become melded with the belief, it’s surprising what you will ignore or deep throat to keep that marriage alive. At this point it’s devolved into self-worship, because a fanatic confuses her vision of God with God Himself.
Those of us who have experienced abusive marriages and partnerships know about this all too well—marriage must nurture the higher self, the ruh, and not drown it with lower self nafs noise and chaos. This is what alienates people from theism and religion, that tendency of humans to conflate worshipping a deity with self worship—we so easily confuse our vision of God with worship of Him. In the above example, Islam is perfect really translates to my vision of Islam is perfect, as in I’m right and you’re an idiot.
A thing intended to nurture the higher self ends up poisoning it. Freedom to believe means freedom to disbelieve, if that latter freedom does not exist then belief/religion is compelled, a cult—abuse committed in God’s name. Compulsion and fear never succeed in winning people over—forcing compliance is not winning people’s heart’s and minds. Cults destroy human connection by forcing compliance to a designated dogmatic mindset and vision, eroding trust and vilifying anyone who questions the dogma and tries thinking for herself or tries to withdraw.
Dina used the word cult when referring to the mob of hijabis that descended upon her, and rightly so—that’s what happens when people take an identity and make it into a deity (or vice versa) we all must worship without question. This is why Bill 21 exists in Québec, precisely this cultish arrogance and religious mindset it seeks to eliminate from the realm of public service delivery—Québec’s history of the entwinement of religion and state reveals the reason for such an obsession with laïcité.
Whether I agree or not, I do understand the reasons for laïcité. Having observed the Dina Torkio saga, having felt it in my bone marrow and also felt a tiny taste of the fear such cult mobs intend to strike into the hearts of their targets, and having witnessed examples of cultural patriarchy that has seeped into Islam, I also understand the concerns about the weaponization of hijab by families and the Muslim community against Muslim women. I disagree with many Muslims who see laïcité in Québec as racist or anti-Muslim—I see it as a reactive and unfortunate response to the ugly version of Islam currently being played out and promoted by Muslim identitarians and fundamentalists.
Needless to say, I entered my hijab practise feeling more than a wee bit intimidated and ambivalent. I worried that I might have to comb through all my social media photos and posts to remove any where my hair and other forbidden body parts show. Then I thought about how it felt tantamount to erasure to eliminate all traces of my former self from pubic life. Did that version of my self no longer matter, was she no longer welcomed? Did entering into one’s spiritual self really necessitate such erasure? Dude, I didn’t join the cloister, I took the shahada, so chill out. And nah, embracing my spiritual self does not require me to embrace the sexist and tribalist lie. This is where religion tries to control people rather than empower them, that’s the epitome of radical.
I’m almost inclined to remove my hijab because of how the community is turning it into a commodity to consume. However that in itself would not serve God, it would serve ego, and I really don’t want to indulge the western women are hood ornaments movement either. Seeing an instagram post express hands off my hijab in response to the women of Iran burning their hijabs felt like a sharp slap in the face. How sad, this reaction, and the mindset that produced it. Hijab has become a weapon with which to abuse women, when it was meant as another way for women to have a relationship WITH THEMSELVES + THEIR BODIES.
Next Up—Part 2: The Other Gender Ideology
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