We’ve all heard them: the pearls in the oysters, the jewels in the boxes, the sticky sweets without the wrappers, the queen that won’t shake anyone’s hand… and now, the iPads in their protective cases. Yes, iPads.
Many people encourage these analogies for wearing hijab, and, for the most part, they seem to get the point across. Women are beautiful, and covering that beauty does not diminish it, nor devalue it. But is that all these analogies are saying.
For a while, I loved the imagery and used it myself when justifying my hijab to non-Muslims. I cherished the idea of being a precious pearl, an invaluable jewel, a queen of my religion. But what I didn’t realise is that playing into these analogies was only adding to a superiority and arrogance that was developing inside my heart. The doubts about these metaphors slowly started to develop when the images across social media became less flattering.
That sticky, dirty lollipop all covered in flies. When I first saw it, I chuckled. I’m being honest. Good point, I thought snarkily, and continued to scroll down my newsfeed. However, seeing a YouTube rant about that image, got me thinking. What if I was a sister struggling to come to terms with the hijab? Would that image inspire me, shame me or make me defensive? Probably the latter two. Then I thought, what if I was a man looking at that image? I know we all love to pipe on about the brothers with no control over their sexual urges, but are we really going to generalize all brothers and degrade them to insects with little more than half a brain cell capable of making logical decisions? I realised that the only person that image was complimenting was a woman in hijab… or was it?
Am I a lollipop? Do I become dirty when I remove my wrapper? Would my future husband be a hungry, dirty fly, only seeing me for my appearance?
These analogies have stemmed from a sense of superiority of hijabis over non-hijabis. It screams out the idea that the cloth on your head equates to piety and worth. This idea was further encouraged by another popular image: the bar chart. This chart had small illustrations of different women steadily wearing more clothes. It went from a girl in shorts and a camisole top, to a sister in an overhead jilbab and niqab. The chart then illustrated each woman rising higher on the bar chart, reaching the sky and, ultimately, closeness to Allah (SWT). The image was captioned, “Which stage are you at?”
This was the first image that immediately made me uncomfortable. Sure, I knew which stage of hijab I was at, but who are we to claim which stage of closeness to Allah (SWT) a person is at? This image scared me. Because, despite my hijab and abayah, my teenage years were mainly a struggle with my salah. I was late with most of my prayers, and even missed a few. I was at a very low point and my iman was crumbling, yet I still held onto the idea that my hijab defined the type of Muslim I was. As a result, I wasn’t taking enough steps to improve my situation. I was living proof that your level of hijab DOES NOT represent how close you are to your Creator, and believing this lie only prevents improvement.
Therein lies the problem with our precious analogies – they boast perfection. In buying into these analogies, we degrade the state of a Muslimah to be nothing more than her hijab. We are humans with souls, desires, interests and hobbies, and our responsibilities extend to more than just our clothing. Now, I am not denying that hijab is part of my identity; it is a reminder of who I am and what I am working towards. But that is the main point that gets lost when we boast about being pearls in oysters – we are working towards something. We haven’t completed our purpose in life by draping our bodies in cloth – that is just one aspect of who we are and what we represent.
Another failure of using pearls, jewels and iPads, is it blatantly ignores the other aspect of hijab – the inner hijab. Like I said, we are more that just our appearance and clothing. We complain that the West has reduced women to nothing more than looks and attractiveness. We claim that hijab has liberated Muslimahs from this degradation, yet in the same breath, we add to it by reducing Muslimahs to a state when their worth is defined by the clothes they wear. How is this any better than the Big Bad Western World?
I would like to highlight here, that by disagreeing with these analogies, I am not disagreeing with the value of hijab. It is an obligation from our Creator, Allah (SWT), and I will never ever dispute that, insha Allah. My point is only this: we are more than what we wear. Hijab is a symbol of submission, but we must also have that submission enacted in our daily lives and in everything we do, not just when we get dressed in the morning.
In the future, if we have to use images, I hope to see a pie chart (or a cake, I’m not fussy) split into sections that represent the different aspects of what it takes to be a Muslim – male or female. Let’s stop placing hijab as an extra pillar of Islam, depicting it as the be all and end all of a Muslimah’s life and identity. The first and most important pillar of Islam is shahadah, the declaration of faith. A declaration that illuminates every aspect of your life, every deed you perform, including, but not restricted to, hijab.
I love you, my sisters. Whether you are draped in black, focusing on your iman or just trying out your first patterned headscarf. If you love Allah (SWT), I love you.
Khadijah Stott-Andrew is a freelance writer and editor and is currently managing the newly launched website, www.lexical-scribe.com. Khadijah is the Reflections Editor for SISTERS Magazine and you can find her on Twitter, @Khadalina, or check out her personal blog, www.scribebehindthecurtain.blogspot.com.
This article was originally published in the March 2015 issue of SISTERS Magazine.