hijab


So while people lost their minds over a woman in hijab singing America the Beautiful in a Coke-a-Cola commercial, and the Islamic Monthly laid out a fantastic smack-down on why the satirical Hijab4Men should make you uncomfortable (hint: because infantalizing ANYONE on the basis of faith or in the name of piety sucks), and while hijab tourism, appropriation and World Hijab Day came and went with a fabulous counter hashtag, #NoToHijabAppropriation — I made a hijab tutorial.

Yes, after many requests I’ve joined the Legion of YouTubers and vloggers who primp and fuss and fantastically show off their many talents in the art of scarf tying — by making a “modest” (haha) video on how to do a turban twist. It took about 15 minutes to pull together, and while I’d love to include more cut scenes, animated graphics and guest spots — I may not be cut out for the world of vlogging.

In fact, you might get more out of the link drop above.

Enjoy!

Last summer I spoke at a conference about some of the media stereotyping of Muslim women and the consequences that negative images and Islamophobia have on Muslim women and their families.

Over a series of posts I’ll be sharing some of my research looking at the various ways Muslim women and mothers are presented by media, how this effects women’s relationships to their families, religion and Selves, and how women are in turn, responding to these stereotypes online. Using authentic voices to create spaces where their work and empowerment are celebrated — helping counter the overwhelming negative construction of “the Muslim woman.”


A screen capture of a Google image search for "Muslim women."

A screen capture of a Google image search for “Muslim women.”

She’s wrapped in black from head to toe — and at this angle, it looks like she can barely see through the veil covering her face as she holds tightly to her child.

Media love the image of the anonymous Muslim woman.

Through stock photography that overwhelmingly includes images of women in black niqab, media often homogenizes Muslim women — otheringobjectifying, sexualizing, and promoting the stereotype that they are victims in need of saving or aren’t “modern” enough to accept western values.

A quick Internet image search of the terms “Muslim women” will return hundreds of examples of women shrouded in black, covered by face veils. Which is extremely problematic given that not only is the hijab worn differently throughout the world — with myriad styles, designs and colours — but many Muslim women don’t wear the headscarf, and a minority wear the face veil.

veilsRegardless of lived experience, the Muslim woman is framed as submitting to oppression — her own voice silenced, her actions and agency restrained by misogyny and a patriarchal religion. The camera focuses specifically on the veil — fixated by what she is wearing and not on the woman herself. In some images, she is literally trapped behind the bars of her niqab.

Over the last decade we’ve seen increasing amounts of media coverage on Muslims, partially in response to the war on terror and ongoing military actions in Muslim countries, France’s burqa ban, the Arab Spring, Canada’s citizenship oath niqab ban, anti-shari’ah law legislation, growing Islamophobia, and Quebec’s recent debate on overt religious symbols, and the Charter of Secularism

Often, these images are taken from countries where the headscarf and face veil are worn as a cultural norm — but are applied uniformly whenever Islam, Muslims, or topics vaguely relating to Muslims are mentioned. They usually include women who aren’t remotely connected to the news story, or are actors modelling religious dress — constructing an image of the “authentic” Muslim woman.

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Have you seen the movie “Gravity“?

Model Hajer Naili in "Somewhere in America."

Model Hajer Naili in “Somewhere in America.”

It took me a second to picture Sandra Bullock as an astronaut — terrified, frantic, staring out at the black void of space while drifting untethered, away from the Earth. I admitted that I hadn’t yet seen the film, but read wonderful things and it was now on my “must see” list of new movies.

Curious, I waited to hear what the terrors of space had to do with my hijab.

On the subway everyone was minding their own business — reading, playing with their mobiles, or zoned into their headphones. One woman pulled out some knitting and a toddler made intermittent squeals further down the car. It was rush hour, so I stood near one of the inactive doors, daydreaming while watching commuters as they got on and off.

A man stood next to me. After a couple of stops he leaned over, and in a friendly tone said, “I like how you tie your scarf.”

He then made wide, circular gestures with his finger at the top of his head — much like a helicopter, as if to make sure the compliment went to my head, and not to the knitted, winter mess around my neck.

I was wearing one of my favourite hijabs — an electric blue animal print scarf that often receives positive attention. So I said thank you, and then offered a little more information since he focused on the way it was tied and not on the fabulous colour:
“This turban wrap is from an urban fashion trend in my religious community — so I though I’d try it out.”

He asked which religious community and when I said “Muslim,” he smiled.

That’s what I love about Toronto. You get to meet all sorts of people. Diversity is wonderful. Have you seen the movie “Gravity”? There’s this one scene of the Earth. It looks so majestic and beautiful and it made me wonder why we cause so much war and suffering when the Earth itself is so peaceful and awe-inspiring.”

Over the past couple of weeks, you may have seen this video EVERYWHERE:

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*dusts off computer*

Amazing! It’s time for another edition of the Muslim roundup! For new readers, this is one of my favourite blog features where I scan the media for the ridiculous, the outrageous, the amazing and the most fabulous articles about Muslim women and Islam in general and throw a bunch of informal snark into the mix.

This week we look at fashion, fierce fitness, hijab appropriation, and as always, some truly badass muslimahs.

Enjoy!

1) Be fashion forward, shocking, and controversial — shine bright like a diamond while wearing Islamic attire!

Singer Rihanna sporting a pseudo-abaya and black hijab.

Singer Rihanna sporting a pseudo-abaya and black hijab.

This week, R&B pop artist Rihanna caused a bit of a stir when she joined the burqa-swag-exploitation ranks of Madonna and Lady Gaga by engaging in a little Muslim appropriation. Authorities at Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque asked Rihanna and her staff to leave the premises after an impromtu photo-shoot on the mosque grounds.

Like most places of worship, the Grand Mosque has protocols in place to maintain sanctity, order, and the privacy of worshipers. Allegedly, Ri-Ri ignored these protocols by entering through an area restricted to visitors, not identifying herself to mosque officials for a private tour, and not obtaining a permit for a photo shoot that had her in various non-mosque-appropriate-poses. After the photos were uploaded to Instagram, the mosque released a level-headed and general statement explaining the incident, saying that “a singer” who was taking pictures “that do not conform with the conditions and regulations put in place by management,” left after being asked to do so. Seems pretty innocuous, right?

Naturally, the media buzz is generating SHOCK and AWE about what she wore — an “Islama-chic” black jumpsuit, hoodie, and burn my hijab, MAKEUP!! *gasp*

From the Globe and Mail:

[In the photos] Rihanna is also wearing eye makeup along with bright-red lipstick and nails – modern fashion accessories spurned in the bustling Islamic city.

Really. Really? Globe and Mail? Obviously the Globe and Mail has never, ever spoken with an actual Muslim woman living in the Gulf region. The literal birthplace of red lipstick.

Look, you want to wear hijab out of respect and take the 100 fils mosque guided tour, go for it. But Rhianna’s instagram betrays just how little she actually thinks of Muslim women and the hijab:

"Bitch stole my look" reads the caption as Rihanna give some cut-eye to some passing women.

“Bitch stole my look” reads the caption as Rihanna gives some cut-eye to passing women on their way to pray.

Nice. Just stay under your umbrella the next time you want to fetishize and sexualize Muslim women’s clothing for your personal fashion shoot Ri-Ri.

"Memories of Childhood" by Selina Roman.

“Memories of Childhood” by Selina Roman.

2) Also cashing in on the grand “burqa swag” narrative is The Burqa Project — recently covered (HAHA) by online art magazine Beautiful/Decay.

In 2009 Selina Roman started documenting the burqa in various poses. Yes, you read that right. She’s not documenting Muslim women — but the burqa.

According to the article, Roman, a former reporter-turned fashion photographer, hopes to offer her audience a different view point, a new way of seeing:

Although the Burqa is shrouded in religious significance, I take it out of this context in an attempt to explore these other attributes. Instead of showcasing it as an oppressive garment, I place the Burqa in idyllic Florida landscapes to let it float and billow. In turn, it becomes an ephemeral and weightless object removed from its politicized context.

I guess there are no idyllic Afghani landscapes to let the burqa float and billow? Oh wait, here’s one. The burqa is an inherently oppressive garment? Here are some Afghan women who might argue that the source of oppression lies in patriarchy, gender discrimination, and religiously-justified misogyny — not in clothing.

Is it art? Is it life? Is it objectifying the already objectified? How meta.

3) Move over spray tanned, bikini-clad celebrity bodies — here come some seriously fit and fierce hijabi fitness instructors.

Zaineb and

The fierce and fantastic Zainab and Nadine.

I never thought I’d say this, but the Daily Mail has a really great article on the first “Islamic” fitness DVD. Meet Nadine Abu Jubara, a personal trainer, and instructor Zainab Ismail (THE hijabi drill sergeant). Together they make up the team behind Nadoona — a fitness and health support website geared primarily toward women concerned with modesty.

The motivation behind the website and soon to be released fitness video came when Nadine lost over 50 pounds after changing her dieting and fitness lifestyle. Finding there were few Islamic resources in this arena to support her, she decided to create her own.

Women, not just Muslim women, tend to use modesty as an excuse to neglect their bodies. Long sleeves and flowing tops shouldn’t mean flabby arms and love handles. And, a strenuous workout doesn’t require machines and a crowded gym full of spectators.

The Nadoona website reads like a regular fitness resource. Upon first glance, you probably wouldn’t notice anything particularly “Islamic” about it — except for maybe saying “bismillah” before starting on your fitness journey, and the YUMMY “Fit for Allah” smoothie. They have a 30 day challenge, hijabista events, and even workout instructions for men. And the hard work and intention to regain health seems to work, according to the testimonials.

I’m totally in love with these women! They are my heroes for the week. They are fierce. FIERCE!! TIGHT!! Makes me want to workout for Allah for a living!

Check out the body-pumping DVD teaser here:

4) Finally, I did a thing.

Langston Hues is an amazing Muslim visual artist and photographer, and he’s working on a book commemorating the emerging faith-driven culture of modest street style being seen in magazines, runways and on streets worldwide. The write-up on his website explains:

It is the first book to visually document this ever growing international trend that has exploded from the streets of Kuala Lumpur to the alleys of New York City. Profiling some of the top ‘hijabistas’ this is a must-have inside look into a twenty-first-century genesis of a faith driven style.

Now, I wouldn’t call myself a top hijabista — just an urban chic mom trying to hide spilled yogurt with animal prints and looking fabulous while babywearing.

Langston was amazing to work with. He’s incredibly humble, funny and talented — and I’m so honoured and thrilled to be a part of this project.

Check it out, and try to guess which one is me:

This article is a must read.

Fabulady Humera Jabir takes a personal, passionate and rational look at Quebec’s Charter of Values:

My mother is the reason I began to wear the hijab. She is the strongest woman I know; intelligent, she stressed the importance of education, and most of all, faith in God. She prepped me for school speeches never accepting shyness as an excuse, insisting that her daughters speak for themselves and stand on their own. My mother wears the hijab as a fundamental part of her faith; for her it is way to carry out the Quran’s requirement of modesty and to live in accordance with the prophetic example…

I politicized the hijab and that is why ten years after I first began wearing it, I decided to stop. The hijab is not my tool; it is not a banner to be flown in the face of Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia. I used the hijab as an object; a loudspeaker to say here I am, a strong Muslim woman in your midst. But though I changed people’s minds, I began to feel hollow wearing it. I was living only for other people’s eyes while totally neglecting the hijab as an element of my faith…

And yet, as Quebecers now grapple with the Charter of Values, the hijab is front and center, a tool used by the Parti Québécois to shore up political support… Louise Beaudoin and other outspoken “feminist” supporters of the Charter argue that it poses no barrier to Muslim women’s employment; they will simply take the hijab off on their way to work and carry on. But to turn the hijab into an object comparable to a hat or scarf that can be left at the door in the morning with no impact on its wearer denies the fundamental, non-political, reality of what the hijab is: an act of worship that has great meaning in people’s lives.

Humera’s story about her mother and the idea that the hijab is used as a political tool resonates with me — not only because this is a fabulous piece, but because I’ve been researching, hijab-deep in stereotypes surrounding Muslim women and mothers for the past couple of weeks.

On Friday I’ll be giving a talk for the Motherhood Initiative about the demonization of Muslim mothers in the media — which includes politicizing the hijab as a tool to identify Muslim women as the “creators of terror.” Because nothing says “bad mothering” more than insinuating that the cause of Islamic terrorism is literally “home grown” within a mother’s womb.

I’ll be sharing this talk with you all, and my other recent talk on Mothering during an era of Islamophobia in a new blog series that will also look at how Muslim women are addressing these stereotypes online. How, like Humera’s article, Muslim women are challenging negative portrayals, storytelling with authentic voices and creating spaces to encourage positive narratives about hijab, about motherhood, and about the lived experience of Muslim women that go lightyears beyond media stereotypes.

Stay tuned!

scarfThis story absolutely breaks my heart.

Breaks. My. Heart.

Last week a Muslim woman in France suffered a miscarriage after being violently attacked in an apparent anti-Muslim motivated assault. Two men harassed her with anti-Islamic slurs, ripped the headscarf off her head, cut her hair, and repeatedly kicked her in the stomach — even after she allegedly told them of her pregnancy and begged them to stop.

Some media refer to this as “burqa rage” or “veil attack” — when one becomes so angry, upset and offended by the sight of a Muslim woman’s head covering, that they react with violence and lash out at the woman wearing it.

But it’s really just a catchy media phrase for Gendered Islamophobia.

Women in headscarves are immediately identifiable as representing Islam and due to the media reliance on negatively stereotyping Muslim women and the current anti-Muslim climate — women may experience deliberate gender-based violence, harassment or prejudice.

Muslim women then become the conduit by which others can exert their fear, prejudice and ignorance. In that moment women become voiceless, actionless objects, representing everything “we need to fear from the terrorists.” In this context, Muslim women are completely dehumanized.

Even the terms “burqa rage” and “veil attack” do Muslim women a disservice by reducing the experience of violence to the headscarf. As if it were only a piece of cloth that was left lying in the street. As if this attack has no impact on this young woman’s memory of motherhood. They didn’t attack a veil. They attacked a person.

On Monday I’ll be speaking about media stereotypes of Muslim women and the consequences that negative images and Islamophobia have on Muslim women and their families. My talk is part of a “Mega Conference” on motherhood held by the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) — a feminist scholarly and activist organization on mothering run through York University. And I’ve been hijab-deep in research for weeks in preparation.

I’ve been looking at how Muslim women and mothers are responding to these stereotypes online — creating spaces where they celebrate their empowerment and work towards countering negative images of Muslim women. Intentionally or not, they’re propagating dialogue with authentic voices — encouraging the creation of positive narratives for themselves and their families.

This means, of course, that I’ll have a lot to share with you in regards to some pretty awesome happenings in the Muslim blogosphere. Something I’m pretty excited about. So keep an eye out for a new blog series filled with stereotype smashing and lots of blogger love.

The day my friend took off hijab was disappointing. While everyone was offering congratulations on the new look, I couldn’t help wonder if my friend was having a crisis of faith. And when I asked if everything was okay, I learned a secret truth that sent me reeling.

He never wore hijab in the first place.

It was naive assumptions that led me to stereotype my friend as the “type of Muslim” who sports a beard out of religiosity, modesty and a reflection of his spiritual commitment. But I can’t really be blamed for doing so, can I? He was president of the Muslim Students’ Association, led prayer, gave the occasional khutbah, took religious courses, and embraced being a recognizable Muslim.

And while his beard changed shape over the many years of our friendship — from a sleek Hollywood beard to a goatee and back again — it just seemed like a natural assumption that his beard was worn to follow the Sunnah. If he was outwardly “religious” in all other aspects of worship, shouldn’t his beard be a reflection of his inner hijab?

Nope. I was absolutely guilty of stereotyping a person based on their visuality.

It turns out he grew a beard “because.” Just because. Because he could. Because it was stylish, comfortable for his skin and something guys did. I imagine having a beard also helped my friend gain some kind of authenticity at the mosque and within the community — even though that probably wasn’t his intention in wearing one. And as he didn’t wear it out of religious motivation, shaving it off was no big deal.

In fact, after speaking to several colleagues with various opinions and styles of “beard,” it seems like any sort of facial hair, or lack thereof, can exist without much commentary from others.

Sure there are naseeha-concerned-advice-giving-types who correct people on prayer, police women’s clothing and comment on beard length — everything from “that beard makes you look like an extremist” to “it is haraam to keep a cleanly shaved face.” Some experience extreme social and family pressures regarding the hair growing powers of their beard follicles, or are shunned outright by communities for having baby smooth skin. And the stereotypical image of a bearded Muslim is often used to incorrectly represent extremism, terrorism, and overall make things very difficult. With grave seriousness, having a long beard is sometimes grounds for being insulted, harassed and viciously attacked.

But there is a huge discrepancy between the type of attention given to the “proper way to hijab” and the “proper way to beard” — especially when looking at the online narrative.

There’s sweet, positive and encouraging:

sunnahbeard

So grab them while you can!

inspiringhijab

This is an incredibly appropriate message.

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