Like it or not, World Hijab Day is now officially a part of the calendar. And as with everything even remotely linked to hijab and/or Muslims it comes with its own set of controversies, debates, arguments, disagreements and criticisms. This article, for example, is full of all of the above. You probably already know where this day originates from and what it’s about; if not you can read more on that here. Personally, I’m very against writing about anything linked to the hijab (because there’s too much of it already), but I feel like I needed to write this to hopefully encourage people to look at this day in a new, more positive light.
One of the arguments against World Hijab Day is that non-Muslim women don the hijab for one day in the year and therefore somehow treat it as a ‘costume’. I’m not going to deny that this may be the case for some women, but then this can also be said of some Muslim women who wear the headscarf and treat it as a fashion accessory, can it not? So how are we saying that every single woman who chooses to cover her head on this one day is wearing it as a costume? There are many women out there who do it with good intentions, to actually learn about, not just the hijab but about Islam as a whole and about Muslim women in general. Why is that a bad thing?
Another issue a lot of people seem to have with this day is that it discriminates against Muslim women who don’t cover their heads. Well, first of all — and this has been said many times as well but I’ll repeat it just to prove a point — the concept of hijab is not just the physical covering of the head but, as with most practices in Islam, it’s more about the spiritual aspect of it. The spiritual hijab can be defined in many ways but to put it simply, it is to remain modest, not just in how you dress but how you behave as well (by the way, the concept of hijab in the spiritual sense applies to men too). Just because a Muslim woman doesn’t cover her head does not mean she is not practicing the spiritual hijab and in that sense, many non-Muslim women could unintentionally be practicing it too. So for people to say that this singles out non-hijabi Muslim women is nonsense, because that’s not what this is meant to be about. Surely Hijabis and non-hijabis alike can use this opportunity to inform women who are interested in the concept of spiritual hijab alongside the physical practice of wearing it.
The other criticism this particular day gets is that wearing the hijab for one day will not be the same as wearing it every single day and experiencing the difficulties hijabi Muslim women face. This video of four women sharing their one day hijab experience proves otherwise. But even if this is true and they don’t even come close to realising what a struggle it really is to wear it every day, the fact that women are showing an interest in it is a good thing. It’s raising awareness, it is making hijab, Muslim women and Islam seem not so foreign and alien. It’s normalising the hijab and making it more mainstream. Not something that only happens in some far away Middle Eastern land where women aren’t allowed to drive. And as more and more women talk about it and try to experience it in a positive way, this attitude of ‘them’ versus ‘us’ may slowly be eradicated (well, one can hope). It’s no secret that Muslims are always the bad guys in mainstream media, a lot of poor souls out there are constantly being misguided into believing all sorts of lies, and so if people are taking a positive interest in Islamic practices, this needs to be encouraged.
Let me give you another example of something done to encourage non-Muslims to experience what it’s like to be a Muslim: The Big Iftar, an initiative launched in 2013 that invites people of all faiths to join Muslims at their mosques and centres for ‘iftar’. Iftar is the meal at sunset when Muslims break their fast during the month of Ramadan. Non-Muslims are invited so that they may experience a tiny part of what it’s like to fast for an entire month. Another example is of Visit My Mosque Day, which coincided with World Hijab Day this year, where several mosques all over England opened their doors to the general public to ‘demonstrate unity and solidarity during what has been a tense time for faith communities’. This initiative was taken to allow non-Muslims to familiarize themselves with what goes on at a Muslim place of worship on a daily basis.
The idea behind each of these initiatives is to promote unity amongst all members of society. Does having one meal with Muslims instantly make them experience all the difficulties that come with fasting and/or gain all the spiritual benefits of it? Does visiting a mosque for one day make them realise the struggles of praying 5 times a day? No, of course not. But that’s not the point. The point is to be inviting and welcoming and allowing others to find out more about practices that might have intrigued them or even confused them but didn’t know much about.
One last thing I want to point out is that by making all these criticisms against this day, we are in fact completely undermining the good intentions of Nazma Khan, the founder of World Hijab Day, who has experienced first-hand the struggles of being a hijabi, in post 9/11 America no less. So if not for anyone else, then let’s at least honour this day in solidarity with Nazma and her struggles.
I’m not a big fan of dedicating one day for things I feel should be happening every day. Every day should be mother’s day and Valentine’s Day because we should be telling people we love them all the time. Similarly, Muslim women should be making it easier for others to learn about hijab every day. Hijab is normally seen as a sign of oppression but because of World Hijab Day, women from all over the globe are choosing to wear it, even if it is for just one day and there’s nothing oppressive about that.
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Rubab Zaidi is a freelance writer who is currently working in Sales and Training. She loves shopping, fashion (especially the modest kind), and socialising over cups of tea. She is an eternal optimist and believes that good communication skills can make life so much easier. She is a single mum to a beautiful boy who is her biggest fan. Life has taught Rubab to prioritise her own health and well-being without paying heed to the opinions of others. She tweets @Ruby2805.
This piece was edited by Afroze Zaidi-Jivraj.