I’ve been meaning to comment on a recent article in the Guardian (surprise, surprise) about how wonderfully liberating the hijab is and am glad I was reminded of it today.

The author, Nadiya Takolia, says:

…in a society where a woman’s value seems focused on her sexual charms, some wear it explicitly as a feminist statement asserting an alternative mode of female empowerment. Politics, not religion, is the motivator here. I am one of these women…

…In a world as diverse and changing as our own, the hijab means a multitude of things to the many women who choose to wear it. I speak as a woman who just happens to come from the Islamic faith, and for me the hijab is political, feminist and empowering. This dimension is increasingly important for many women who choose to wear it; it’s a shame it is understood by so few.

It’s ironic how hijabis often portray their wearing of the hijab as a form of liberation from the sexualisation of women in society when it is just one other form of sexualisation and control. In fact, it sexualises girls from a young age and demands that they be covered and segregated so as not to cause fitna or chaos in society.

In the real world, this isn’t called liberating or empowering. It’s called something else and it’s far from a choice for a majority. It’s no more a ‘choice’ than other forms of control and sexualisation, such as female genital mutilation or the chastity belt and foot binding.

Rahila Gupta has recently written a piece in Open Democracy on this very issue. It’s called The hijab or the bikini: The shaping of young girls’ sexuality.

In it she says:

By calling for a ban on lingerie and beauty pageants for young girls, the French report shifts responsibility from parents to the corporate sector which, to some extent, disguises the fact that the state is challenging parental hegemony. Additionally, it shifts the public debate and opens up a space to call for the banning of hijabs worn by young girls which also draws attention to girls’ sexuality, conversely by covering them up. Both sets of girls are robbed of the freedom and innocence (i.e. not being constructed as objects of desire) of childhood. Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson for Council for Ex-Muslims is forthright in her condemnation of the imposition of hijabs on young girls, ‘child veiling must be banned full stop. This is a children’s rights issue. While adults may ‘choose’ veiling or a religion, children by their very nature cannot make such choices; what they do is really what their parents tell them to do…. They [parents] can’t deny their children medical assistance or beat and neglect them or marry them off at 9 because it’s part of their beliefs or religion.’  This is an important perspective in the debate on veiling which is often missing in the West out of ‘respect’ for other cultures and religions.

As an aside, whilst Rahila  supports a ban on child veiling, she opposes my demand for a ban on the burka. I have commented on this by saying:

It is not enough to say that a burka ban is ‘counter-productive and seen as an onslaught on Muslims’. This can be said about any position regarding Islam and Islamism. One can say the same about those opposing child veiling and sharia law and its discrimination against Muslim women and so on. Firstly, it disregards the reality that Islamism and its rule target Muslims first and foremost. Also I believe women’s rights campaigners cannot evade their responsibilities. Yes there is racism that we must confront but as Rahila has herself said many times, we cannot ignore the enemy within because we live in a racist society. The burka has real negative implications for women and their rights and lives. As we do on all other issues, we can bring an opposition that is different from Sarkozy’s position or that of the racist ruling elite just as we bring a different perspective against Sharia law from the racist far-Right that targets Muslims and immigrants.

(Guardian link via Asad Abbas)



  1. I am an ex-muslim teenager, I want to take off my hijab but I can’t because I live with my parents and they obviously don’t know that I am a disbeliever. How can I bring about the subject of taking off my hijab? I feel really trapped because I have younger sisters that wear hijab too so its nearly impossible for me to take it off. But I can’t take it anymore; I want to live my life and enjoy it, I will only be young once. I do have a plan of moving out, but its going to take a year and a half; the reason why its taking so long is because I want to leave with enough money and my college diploma so I never have to move back to my parents house. Til then I’m stuck, and its bringing me a lot of anxioty and stress and anger. What should I do? Please help!

    1. Samira, I am so sorry that you are forced to wear the veil. I can help give you some suggestions. We also have a meet-up group where we have women who have removed their veils at home and they can give you some advice. Your safety of course comes first. Each situation is different. If you are in London, you can come to the meet-up group. If not, I can try and email you in more details. Write to me at maryamnamzie@gmail.com. take care.

  2. I so agree with Yessenia about the “victim blamey” bit.
    To say that we are making ourselves a sex object by just walking down the road showing our hair, or our face, or even our legs up to the knee in a skirt, is to blame us for men not controlling their own desires.
    It is tantamount to saying that women who do not wear the hijab are indecent and inviting rape!
    When men walk around bare-headed or in shorts or tight jeans I do not assault them. Men must control their feelings and desires, not control women.
    The bikini argument is a bit silly as nobody walks down the street wearing a bikini. They wear it on the beach where men are also nearly nude. Western women in a professional context dress in a sufficiently modest fashion – look at Angela Merkel, Theresa May, Harriet Harman. Are they inviting rape?
    Have you noticed how some Muslim women wear the hijab or burka yet also wear makeup? Eye shadow and mascara peeping through a burka or hijab, painted toenails and skimpy sandals peeping under the burka, all giving a contradictory message.

  3. I think in most cases, you need to differentiate between burka and hijab.

    I live in Indonesia where I’d argue that the majority of urban hijab(we call it jilbab here) wearers are doing it for reasons similar to Nadiya, or even more mundane one like fashion, or to cover certain parts of their body for aesthetical reasons.

    Burka on the other hand, is a totally different matter.

  4. Maybe old women who find it very hard to change their own attitudes to the burqa should be granted a pass from the ban, rather than get imprisoned at home by their own shyness.
    Apart from that, I would approve of a burqa ban, but the issue is complex.
    In some Swedish schools muslim girls have been allowed to wear a “burqini” swimsuit for swimming lessons, since there was genuine concern the parents would not allow their daughters to participate otherwise.
    And while pupils have an obligation to attend school, some muslim parents might pack off the children to privately owned muslim schools if no compromise was reached.
    Pragmatism won, since giving the girls the ability to stay alive if they fall into a river or sea is more important than making a point of principle. I do not claim it is perfect, but reality is messy.

    1. What I don’t understand is why no one worries about whether parents will keep their sons at home unless the girls conform to modesty requirements.

      Is it because they wouldn’t confine their sons in such a way, even though their sons supposedly risk committing spiritual crimes by seeing unveiled women?

      1. Yes, obviously, it’s blatantly sexist. The women are constrained by the mens so-called inability to control their desire. But the alternative may be that women are isolated altogether.

        You haven’t actually stated your position on this Yessenia. Ban the burka or not?

        1. For a child? Absolutely.

          A burka on a child has such obvious potential for abuse. Here’s just one example: Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapper put her in a burka. When a police officer searching for her actually found her, he asked to see her face to see if she was the missing girl. Her kidnapper said, “oh, sorry, only her husband can see her face.” The cop apparently shrugged his shoulders and went on his way, condemning her to 9 months of sexual slavery.

          But the alternative may be that women are isolated altogether.

          I don’t see why we have to entertain this as the inevitable alternative. That was my point. And if it is, then I don’t agree that we should therefore enable their child abuse, but to make burkas on a child an enormous red flag.

      2. Spot on, Yassenia and Maryam. I think to coerce the hijab on girls is sexualzing them and is disturbing. A ban for girls wearing the burka is right. I would also ban the wearing of the burka for women, anyone- because as long as there are women who are forced to wear it, the right to wear it by ‘freer’, ‘stronger’ women shouldn’t act as a cover of legitimising it. The ‘choicers’ should realise their right to wear it enforces and excuses the acceptance of a garment that has a terrible symbolic meaning: the control of women.
        The term ‘parental hegemony’ is also used quite a bit in recent posts. If there is one excuse for keeping harmful practices alive this is a big one. ‘But if we don’t veil/segregate the sexes/mutilate the genitals of our children then they will be deprived of their religion/culture. The children’s rights will be denied! We feel offended on behalf of our children!’ A weak argument but which gets lots of traction. What it boils down to is not the rights of children, but the rights of adults to enforce sexist views and physically/psychologically harmful practices on unconsenting children. ‘Parental rights’ or right to religion does not trump the human rights of children. Full stop. After all: whose bodies, whose rights are more vulnerable?
        As for boys from muslim families: are they getting an education that includes an understanding of misogyny and sexism? Are they taught to treat girls and women as equals? Are the next generation of males growing up to think that the burden of self-control should be shouldered not by themselves- but by women?? How do we find this out?

  5. I think in the UK, many people hate the burka and what it represents, but see an outright ban as excessive interference.

    I have had a prolonged debate with a young muslim woman with whom I previously worked, where she claimed it was a womans choice. But why make that choice? Why choose to cover yourself to that extent?

    It is my understanding that Islam does not require the wearing of the burka, or even covering of the head, but that the practice persists anyway.

    And with the Muslim population of the UK rising at between 4 and 10 times the national average (depending on whose figures you accept), the burka will become a more and more common sight, and will become more and more normalised.

    1. Any ban can been seen that way – remember all the uproar over the ban on smoking in public places? We heard about how it is undue interference in people’s personal choices but it was needed for public health issues. Banning the burka is also about safeguarding the public’s health including the women wearing it.

      1. I am more inclined in your direction than not Maryam. To me the burka is a symbol of oppression, whatever my muslim friend says.

        I think in the UK’s desperate attempt to accomodate diverse cultures, it has ended up accomodating several cultural practices that would otherwise attract universal condemnation.

        What feedback do you generally experience from muslim women?

  6. It is me telling the world that my femininity is not available for public consumption. I am taking control of it, and I don’t want to be part of a system that reduces and demeans women. Behind this exterior I am a person – and it is this person for which I want to be known.

    In other words, if you don’t wear the hijab, you’re kind of asking for it.

    Wait, that sounds kind of victim blamey.

    Let me try again.

    If you don’t wear the hijab, you are telling the world that your femininity is available for public consumption.

    Wait, no, still victim blamey.

    If you don’t wear the hijab, you are telling the world that behind this exterior is something less than a person.

    Damnit, no. I guess I just don’t understand feminism well enough to see how these messages reflect a belief that women are the social, political and economic equals of men.

    1. Glad you raised this as I had wanted to make that point too and forgot. The implications in much of this debate – whist covered in rosy language of choice and empowerment is that if you’re not veiled, you are a whore.

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