Discover more from Adventures of Bad Hijabi
It’s a Hijabista Life—an essay series
Part 2—The Other Gender Ideology
Hello, welcome to part 2!
Hijabista is a term coined by sexist a 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?
Whilst western influencers give too much attention to the Dawah Crowd, they give no attention to 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. I feel quite frustrated to 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. It also frustrates me to still see only an interest in Coleman Barks Rumi, ie Rumi with all the Sufi + God removed from it—a continued and deliberate choice to ignore the beautiful mysticism of Islam which the Salafists + Wahhabists have banned.
Why? Why does the west continue to insist on choosing to ignore the very best of Islamic wisdom + whilst glamming onto distorted + poisonous interpretations? To preserve western hegemony?
If you need to catch up, here is Part 1.
And now, onto Part 2 of the series.
Safi Kaskas is a Lebanese-American Management Strategist and Qur’anic Scholar who has lived in Saudi Arabia + Egypt, and who calls America home. He has travelled the Islamic world and met Muslim leaders and heads of state globally and he considers himself a staunch American who values the melting pot concept of American societal culture. Safi is proud of his Lebanese culture and wants it to strengthen American culture. He loves America and sees many similarities between the American Constitution and Muhammad’s Medina Constitution and he has written and lectured on this topic.
Safi’s response to 9/11 was to translate the Qur’an into modern English and collaborate with a Christian Evangelical scholar to produce a Qur’an with cross references to the Bible. Safi has worked tirelessly to bring the true Qur’anic message of freedom + peace + compassion to the world and to build brides with other faith communities. He has made Facebook posts about stories of his journey with the Qur’an, and his struggles to find precisely the translation to convey the meaning. Safi has worked to understand AND to gain understanding of the Christian community around him.
Recently Safi posted a picture on Facebook of his wife Eman—an accomplished woman in her own right—giving an commencement address at a convocation. At least one commenter needed to point out to this native Arabic speaking man who has spent several years pouring over the meaning of every word of the Qur’an, who has founded a mosque + a university in America, and who has given numerous lectures about Qur’anic values—that his wife sinned by having her hair uncovered.
It’s so ridiculous I have to laugh. Like, this is Kids In The Hall skit material already. If you’re only comment about Eman Kaskas involves her hair being uncovered then I think you have issues dude.
Let me tell you how a real man treats + views women. Safi and Eman were guests of Brad Jersek via a zoom call and the topic was the Beatitudes. At one point in the discussion, Jersek read a passage or made a statement, then asked Safi to comment. Safi paused, looked to his wife, and asked her to give her thoughts before he gave his own. This is the actual Islamic way, to respect women and value their intellectual contribution. Muhammad consulted Khadijah on important matters. This is the way of Jesus too, actually—to value women.
Yes, the actual God-like way to regard women involves seeing us as human co-creators, because we purvey humanity—all human life enters the world through our bodies. In fact, in the Arabic language the words womb and mercy share the same trilateral root R-H-M. One of God’s 99 names in Islam is Ar-Raheem, The All Merciful. When you consider the pattern in mysticism, God consistently manifests His power most profoundly and movingly through mercy and not overbearing might. God = Compassionate Power. Male energy conceives. Female energy transforms. We require a balance of both to live and grow.
God is not a sexist d1ckbag, contrary to what the MRA pseudo-religious fck-boy club would have you think. Nah, the MRAs have chosen to wield God as a weapon to promote + enforce sexism + cultivate a culture of hyper-masculinity in human society. That ain’t God.
Recall that, according to the New Testament, the resurrected Jesus first appeared to the women, not the men. During a time when the testimony of female people counted for nothing, the risen Jesus appeared to a female person first. Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, the woman whom The Holy See sought to defame by casting as harlot. When I was a young Catholic girl the culture of Church teaching still erroneously conflated Mary of Bethany with Mary of Magdala. You will please note that Jesus DID NOT appear to Peter, the man whom The Holy See sought to elevate by casting as rock of God’s Church. Forgive me (or not—hahaha) and a few of my Catholics high school friends for being quite cheeky in loving Dan Brown’s yarn about the modern day descendant of Jesus when it first came out.
Jesus was a maverick of human rights for His time, as was Muhammad for His. Muhammad taught that the best of men strive to be good to their families and that heaven lays at the feet of mothers. At a time when families were burying their daughters alive, Muhammad taught that a father’s way to heaven was at his daughter’s feet.
In Judaism men = Chochmah + women = binah, and Talmud Niddah 45 states that God gave women greater binah than men. In the Kabbalistic structure of Jewish Mysticism, binah + chochmah sit at opposite sides, on par, beneath keter, divine unknowable will. Also in Judaic thought, the presence of God has feminine energy, shekhinah, and it dwells in God’s earthly/natural creation, which sustains human life.
So, we have solid evidence from the three Abrahamic Faith traditions that female people have equal rights and value as do male people, despite our differing natural + societal roles. Male people do not own us, we do not need their guardianship. We are fully equal partners in the game of human existence, created to work together with men and not at odds.
I lead into this second part of the series, about The Other Gender Ideology, with the story of Safi + Eman in order to provide readers the necessary baseline for understanding the level derangement of Islamist fundamentalism. Within the Muslim world we need to begin asking some hard questions and take responsibility for some stuff that we can change. Sure, it’s easy to sit here and whinge muh islamophobia, whenever challenged intellectually and ethically by an outsider or different-thinking person about sh1t we do or enable within our own sphere.
If you cannot explain what you are doing in plain enough language that others outside of your cultural milieu can understand, then you do not know enough. The failure of the student to learn = the failure of the teacher to teach, not the innate bigotry of the student. So, if many in the west have failed to see and grasp the message of the Qur’an, that’s because we as a community have failed to adequately teach it! So, let’s get on with it, shall we?
Level 5 Leaders take responsibility for what’s going on in their organisations. Muhammad left us with a lofty example of character and leadership and here we are, twisting in the wind, sycophanting a club of despots, The Arab Tyrants, behaving like we don’t have a massive intellectual heritage that is cool, dope + punk as fcuk and that includes all the things we need to embrace trauma informed care and regulating the nervous system. My aim with this series is to show you the picture I see through my lens + ask questions to stimulate thoughtful discussion, alongside pointing out the problematic areas.
Questions to ask—
How much do radical islamists weaponize hijab against women, to try to erase or shrink women from participating in public life?
What are the grave social consequences of women’s absence from public life?
What are the consequences of low literacy rates and of depriving people of quality education that promotes critical thinking?
What are the consequences of cultivating a society in which people do not have the intellectual resources or freedom to freely choose their path in life?
Does God really call us to repress and restrict and enslave and abuse each other to worship a man made empire of institutionalised immoral piety?
What are the grave social consequences of women’s absence from public life?
How often do we ever hear of any Muslim men called out for violating hijab, for dressing immodestly, for behaving in ways opposite to the Qur’anic directive lower your the gaze? The answer is never. Men account for the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of sexual and physical violence against women—not exactly modest behaviour. Men don’t rape women because of the way women are dressed, they rape women because they feel entitled to consume the female body to achieve lustful pleasure anytime they want. I often think modern men like to believe the female body exists to glorify men and maybe feel buoyed by the fact that Paul of Tarsus said so two thousand years ago.
It seems the problem is not getting women to cover up, but getting men to lower their gaze and relinquish their claim on women as extensions of themselves. Why aren’t men focussed on their hijab instead of projecting their perversions onto women and then calling that hijab and looking after women? Still, we hear crickets about this, we see no efforts to have a men’s hijab day.
Why is this, do you think? Why do men behave like perverts and assholes and project all their lustful thinking onto the female body and call that piety for women? Did you know the Qur’an calls men to hijab first? Did you know the Qur’an doesn’t instruct women to cover their hair or give them any dress code instructions?
NO THE QUR’AN DOES NOT COMMAND ALL WOMEN TO COVER THEIR HAIR. NO THE QUR’AN DOES NOT COMMAND ALL WOMEN TO DRESS IN A DRESS CODE.
Why don’t we have world hijab day for men, since they are the abusers, rapists, molesters, the human traffickers, the perpetrators of Bacha Bazi, the violent ones who start and wage wars, the ones who wage terrorist campaigns and tote guns, the ones whose brains porn turns to mush? Did you even know that Muslim men also have forbidden body parts? Likely not, because the word Arabic word, awra, has become synonymous with the female body, even her voice for some extremists. Did you know that it is the New Testament that mandates women to cover their hair? Yeah, I’m thinking Jesus would have challenged Paul of Tarsus, (who did not know Jesus during life), when it came to views on women.
We need to have serious conversations about the ignorance, hypocrisy and close-mindedness of the Muslim psyche (I’ll come back to this later). We need to talk about hijab for men. We need to talk about the fact that women are not responsible for the male gaze. The beauty of Islam lies in the fact that it cultivates a support system for males to be male and for females to be female, to enable each to have the capacity and strength and resilience to work with the other in human society.
The problem has become the devolution into a parodical extreme that resembles medieval times. And we cannot bring ourselves to seriously and compassionately discuss how to navigate modern western society and honour actual Muslim values. What are Muslim values, even? Do we know? So much energy devoted to will I break my fast if I swallow my toothpaste that we don’t have time to consider the deeper universal values Muslims have been called to live and defend.
Hijabis need to get real with themselves about why they are doing hijab. Someone told me to doesn’t cut it. Because, yes, if you, as a hijabi, indeed do believe that female people have no agency in how they dress, westerners have a point in their hostility toward hijab. Yeah, western critics have a point when they say that Muslim women are oppressed by hijab—when a woman’s answer to why do you wear hijab is because God commands me, then we do indeed have a problem.
I will be that problematic one who goes further and puts the following fly in the ointment. In particular, I do feel strongly that Quebecers have every right to their hostility toward hijab as it plays out overall, considering their history with Duplessis and the Catholic Church. The Duplessis Orphans are still waiting for their day of accountability for abuses done to them decades ago by religious political leaders. They seem to lack the identity required to gain any media sympathy currently so their stories go unheard by the masses. Every time I go down that rabbit hole for even just a few minutes, and read one story about one family, my rage rises.
We must acknowledge the reality of spiritual abuse, as people who believe in God. We must acknowledge the terrible suffering committed in the name of God and religion. To simply refuse to leave your comfort zone feels lazy when we are talking about spirituality. Reflexively labelling as bigotry or islamophobia the kind of challenge embodied in Bill 21 feels shallow and lazy to me. I have believed in God my entire life and know the path to Him is not the easy one. In other words—Bill 21 is a response. Look at the footage coming out of Iran and tell me Bill 21 is not an expected response? What will Muslims do about it? What would Muhammad do?
Now let’s talk about the God commanded me response. The women of Saudi Arabia are commanded by an murderous + despotic absolute monarch claiming to have the power to enforce God. The women of Iran are commanded by a murderous + despotic Supreme Ruler Ayatollah claiming to have the power to enforce God. The women of the United States are commanded by a warmongering legislating class claiming to have the power to enforce the rules of the Christian God. Can you see how it could weird people out to hear your answer God commands me to wear this scarf on my head and to cover my body save for my face, hands, and feet? Are you even trying to understand?? In modernity rules have an ethical purpose, not a tyrannical one. God commands me not to kill or steal or lie—these are ethical limits critical to the survival of human society. God does not command me to cover my hair or wear long sleeves—that is trying to colonise + control female people using gender ideology.
I practise hijab, so I cover my hair and I avoid sleeveless tops and pants shortened to above the knee. I will tell anyone it’s a choice, I have always had a modest relationship with my body—that just felt right to me. No one told me, certainly my mother never forced me, given her own history growing up in an era when women were arrested for wearing pants. That’s my most important message, here. I want you all to know that my mother suffered lasting effects from having the upbringing which forced her into a gender role + made her wear a dress and be a particularly feminine way contrary to what she wanted. It was part of a larger + subtle spiritual abuse that happens in orthodox religious communities and that creates a chain of matriarchal intergenerational abuse that I can say, in my case, ends with mum.
Catholic gender ideology affected my mother’s relationship with her body and how she saw herself. It coloured the relationship she could have with her mother, who would have given anything to have Virginia Wolf’s room of her own and a job in Eaton’s fine Chinaware department instead of the life given her. Mum told me her mother didn’t love her, and projected her feelings of misery about motherhood onto her. At the age of 18 my mother accepted the marriage proposal of a man whom she didn’t love + who did not love her, in order to escape the repressive environment at home. How much has spiritual abuse contributed to the unwise decisions women make about their futures?
I continue to hear stories from young Muslim women about feeling strong-armed into marriages that ended up being toxic or abusive. So, why is any modern muslim woman choosing to be complicit with this command approach to an MRA God who peddles religious gender ideology?
If you’re commanded then you have not chosen. Abd the Arabic word has two different phonetic sounds, and each of these sounds has a meaning. Abd, slave. Abd, worshipper. Fundamentalists obviously love the first meaning of Abd—they would love to make the world of humans their slaves and use God as the tool to make this happen. Reason tells me that a God who has given me the intellect to freely choose or not choose Him intends me to embrace the second meaning of Abd, worshipper, which, even to my non-arabic ear, sounded slightly different, BTW, when I asked Safi to demonstrate the difference one day. So, no, God does not command anyone, that’s a cop out. We are all here to choose. And my choice need not entail browbeating and manipulating anyone to make their choice in a way I want them to do. A compulsion not equal a choice—by definition.
God commands me doesn’t answer the question—why do women wear hijab? What purpose does it serve the wearer? What human need does it meet for you to wear hijab? Why don’t hijabis want to level up and give the straight goods on why they bother with hijab? Who is practising hijab vs Who is using God via hijab to feed ego? Who is worst—the one who does not cover her hair or the one who covers and uses that as a way to feed ego + draw attention to herself? If a woman who covers her hair uses her hijab to engage in attention-seeking behaviour, is she really better than the woman who does not cover her hair, who preens and makes herself into a hood ornament, at the behest of a particular societal culture? Aren’t these really the same behaviour when we strip away the rhetoric? Aren’t both of these behaviours using our body to get external validation? My upbringing taught me something different about modesty. Mum’s modesty was not rule-bounded, but rather values-driven.
“there can be no compulsion in religion” [Qur’an 2: 256]
As an outsider Muslim I see a very strong pressure to cover. Young Muslim women who grew up in the Levant +/or the Gulf Region have told me stories about this pressure. A young Christian Jordanian I knew told me the following about headscarves, in the context of the region of his birth: no one does that by choice. As an outsider, I see hijab has become for many in the Muslim community an identity symbol, a way to belong to something larger than oneself, a way to say hey look at me I’m a Muslim, so other Muslims can see you. Hijab has become a way to stand out, a post colonial rebellion in the west.
This sits uncomfortably with me—using hijab to be seen. I disagree that we ought to so facilely use our worship of God as a tool to gain ego pleasure. The struggle with ego always exists in any spiritual terrain with oneself. At a primal level each of us struggles to be seen. On a higher level worship requires that we transcend the id and seek inward for a sense of belonging and comfort. Our strength lies in our ability to turn to God at our lowest points of despair, rather than in getting everyone around us to agree on our vision of God.
Belief in God is about your relationship with yourself. Belief in God IS NOT about demanding acceptance from the world around you. I look around and I see so many Muslims with scales on their eyes + hearts. I watch the prevalent Muslim mindset that cranks up the machine of ingratitude— viewing through a Lens of Lack every single blessing that He has given us, and cleaving to blame rather than hope. Why do we need to see people who disagree with our way of spiritual life as the enemy?
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Hijab frees me because it reminds me that I do not need to care about the version of me other people have in their heads. Hijab reminds me I’m here for the Big Guy in the unseen realm—God. Hijab challenges me by asking—are you okay with being misunderstood, even if deliberately? It asks me this daily and y’all, I frequently fail that test of modesty and hey, I also frequently catch myself and decide not to fall into the hole and instead remember who I am. Hijab has nothing to do with my hair, or very very little.
Dina is right, it’s become a cult. It’s sometimes a sensitive topic. Hijabis get bored of being reduced by western culture to a piece of cloth. Yet in many ways the culture of hijab has done just that, hasn’t it? When I say the words Muslim woman, the average western mind creates a picture of a mousy woman wearing a headscarf and not the fierce + bold the Arab or Levantine or Iranian Mama that many Muslims conjure in our heads. Has hijab reduced Muslim women to a trope?
One of my favourite things to do is to go into public wearing a beanie instead of a traditional looking hijab and observe how visible Muslims smile at me etc when they see me wearing a traditional hijab versus when don’t see me those times I wear a beanie. This is a favourite practise—when I wear my hijab in the traditional style I make a note of how people receive me, especially other hijabis. It feels like an exclusive club, or like a wannabe.
When I wear a regular beanie, I am just another racially ambiguous westerner to visible Muslims. How do I feel about this? Well, I welcome these opportunities which give me pause to think about why I am doing the thing and how I should conduct myself around other humans. I don’t really care how my hair gets covered, a beanie, a scarf, a turban cap, a scrunched + hoodie—it doesn’t matter to me what kind + style of fabric I use.
What is the payoff for worshipping God? Should believing in God really be an identity? Isn’t God really a blueprint for how to live an internally cohesive + coherent existence? Doesn’t that begin with self-restraint? Doesn’t identity = ego? Isn’t evangelising a kind of demanding external validation for your religious identity? Could we lead with love, and could we begin with the love of self-compassion? You know, what actual Rumi says: remove all obstacles to love that exist with you? Ego = obstacle to love, FYI. Love requires self-restraint.
Those who love a cause are those who love the life which has to be led in order to serve it.
Still, I know many women who have chosen to cover, and still others who have had a very complex and volatile relationship with their hijab practise. The west, which promotes nakedness as empowerment for women, does not understand hijab and that’s why the question keeps getting asked and has become a bit of a fetishistic obsession.
Maybe some women don’t want to talk about hijab because they don’t know, beyond belonging, why they do it?
The divine command vision of religious practise really resembles an addiction to me—a compulsion one does to escape oneself. I feel sad about this because I find real value and meaning in the practise of hijab, the current weaponising hijab as we currently do has blinded us from these, and to me it represents an abuse of God for egocentric ends.
Adventures with Bad Hijabi is a reader-supported publication. To support my work, consider becoming a paid subscriber.
Dina’s very dramatic exit from hijab life many women find relatable—the sad fact for many women is the so-called freedom to wear hijab is not a freedom at all because freedom means freedom from a choice in addition to freedom to a choice and freedom from doesn’t feature prominently in the hijab conversation for the Muslim world right now. It’s wild how hijabis whinge about the western critics who scream hijab is oppressive and sexist removing the agency of Muslim women by assuming we are forced, because they often don’t afford other hijabis agency when they decide their heart isn’t into hijab and they don’t know why they are doing it.
It’s wild how, in the west, hijabis rarely give a second thought to the torment of our sisters living under Islamic Regimes—being jailed, flogged, beaten for refusing to cover their hair. The FreeInHijab hashtag seems like a sick joke when you Google the names Masih Alinejad and Nasrin Sotoudeh and read their stories and when you watch Iran unravelling right now. Hijab is not a freedom for all women who wear it and so, western women who wear hijab are not free because not all women who wear hijab do so freely—the words of Audre Lorde ring loudly in my head as I write these words.
This all seems so patently obvious to any outsider, however that’s how cults work—those outsiders don’t understand the draw and cult leaders vilify them for it. Self-examination and critical thinking never enter the picture in cult settings—control above all else.
So, is hijab sexist and are women who choose to wear hijab oppressing others who are forced to? Masih Alinejad would say yes. I disagree—I refuse to accept that women are responsible for the sexist manipulations and machinations of men and the women who capitulate to their sexist narrative. I cannot deny the way modesty has become a stick to beat women and shrink them from having a voice. I will not accept responsibility for that abuse, it’s sexist to project that narrative onto women who choose hijab.
The conversation around hijab consists entirely of obsessing over how much skin and hair shows, and not about character. This seems strange—considering modest means unassuming, and comes from the French word meaning keeping due measure. You are not keeping due measure or behaving in an unassuming manner when you dehumanise and vilify women for not adopting the sartorial style you would like them to do. I quickly noticed how some hijabis seemed coy about their hijab—you have to marry me to see my hair, dude. Um, that’s flirting huny—not modesty—but you do you boo.
I am not convinced every woman who wears hijab really wants to relinquish the strange and unwanted control we each seem to have over the minds of men. The feminists just rolled their eyes—yes I said that because it’s true, we do wield something over men, intentional or not. You self-appointed feminists with your duck lip social media selfies I’m looking at you, haha. Again, do you boo, just don’t pretend to have to moral authority on women’s rights cuz we all suck when it comes down to it—we are humans.
I have noticed how the most fanatical Muslim men will not even look a woman in the eye. He will look down or away, and he certainly will not touch her. I am not convinced this is respect as much as it is ownership of women and a kind of self-own of weak character and a fundamentalist fear of evil—woman being the embodiment of evil to such a man. On reflection it feels like contempt for any bloke to not want to shake a woman’s hand. Are we simply Eve to all such men? Remember Adam made a choice, Eve didn’t force him! Do women all exist to pay Eve’s debt—didn’t Mary, mother of Jesus, already pay this one off, according to the religious legends?
Are women really just society’s property—filters that must be guarded and purified? Do you all blame us because you entered this world through our bodies? Or perhaps women are the most powerful weapons who must be kept down, like Vonya in The Umbrella Academy? I think the answer is Yes and Yes. So, why do hijabis wear their headscarves? What purpose does it serve? Should we really be using our belief in God purely to serve our own self-interest? How do we know the difference between serving God and self-interest? Sometimes you have to first touch the darkness.
Next Up: Part 3–Divine Command + The Closed Muslim Mind
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