Have you seen the movie “Gravity“?
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:
And practically everything under the sun has been said about this uber cool, two minute video montage of fun-loving, North American Muslim, hipster, fashionable women doing… well, many things that fun-loving, North American Muslim, hipster, fashionable women do when hanging out together for a video shoot.
Despite not really saying anything in the video itself, outside of illustrating that somewhere in America, Muslim women in various forms of hijab are all sorts of Tumblr-esque and Instagrammable awesome — the video generated massive amounts of commentary. And criticism.
From practically every pocket within the Muslim community.
There was the very popular, awesome, and polarizing analysis take-down that pointed out the video’s objectification of women and voyeuristic promotion of Islamofashionista culture. Then Facebook responses quickly criticized the video’s offensive Jay-Z music track, which prompted the creators to release a clean “radio” version. And the mud-slinging really began when people started body policing the women in the video for “improper hijab” and negative video critiques for being *gasp* feminist.
Articles, tweets and blog posts argued a wide spectrum of opinion that the video (and subsequent debates and criticisms): is anything but progress, a privileged normalization of socio-economic divisions, and a narrow representation of Muslim women. Appeases the Western male gaze. Is a product of an environment where Muslim women’s bodies are trafficked as symbols. Illustrates the lack of agency and voice women have in the Muslim community. Offers one view of Muslim culture — one that does not have to be at odds with western culture. Is refreshing and necessary to fuel creativity and progressive dialogue. A sad example of the slut-shaming and judging that goes on in our communities.
One of the video’s models responded to the overwhelming reactions by saying, “we need more media that reflects our multi-faceted identities as Muslim women.” Another shared deeply personal reflections on her hijab struggles and explains why the mipsterz video project is important to her.
So much has been said already — I even wonder why it would be worth adding my perspective to this discussion. Especially in the quickly changing world of Social, where everyone has already moved on to more important discussions — like whether or not Muslims celebrate Christmas or if we’ll find out how Sherlock did it.
But this discussion is important and will continue to be important for as long as we allow Islam, Muslim culture, and Muslim identity to be defined upon the bodies of women. For as long as it’s needed to determine who holds the pen on defining the “authentic Muslim woman.”
The beauty of hijab, from my understanding of one Qur’anic interpretation, is to “be known.” If hijab is starting a discussion, then it’s doing it’s job. Whether that discussion is about Muslim women thwarting Orientalized stereotypes from a subculture within the community — or inspiring an immigrant from Trinidad to find reflections of shared humanity in a hijab style. This man may never have spoken with a Muslim before — but the way I styled my hijab and my openness to share, allowed the two of us to learn a little more about each other, our backgrounds, and philosophy on life in a two minute conversation.
And as a community, now that we’ve had this explosive conversation about hijab, body policing, and Muslim identity in some online spaces — perhaps we can start moving beyond the times hijab is used as a tool of privilege, as a tool to shame, as a symbol of oppression, and start talking about more important things in our community. Such as how systems of privilege and oppression exclude women from mosque participation and religious authority, or how systems of racism and prejudice silence and exclude entire communities from participating in the “authentic” Islamic narrative.
Like it, or lump it, hijab is now cool. But it’s classification of cool shouldn’t be dominating the narrative — even if the women wearing it are totally fabulous.
Besides, it’s already been done: