We are not your pawns nor are we a triumph for you to claim.
By Hafsa Quraishi
According to the latest FBI statistic, anti-Muslim hate crimes have nearly tripled in the past year. Muslims are being targeted on streets, at stop lights, even inside of their homes. With anti-Muslim sentiment on the rise, many parents are asking their children to take active measures to caution against being targeted. These include asking them to refrain from going out after dark, carry pepper spray, and travel in groups. The most prevalent request is from parents asking their daughters to remove their hijab.
Social media is ridden with Muslim women complaining that their parents fear them being targeted, which is valid, but it is now affecting their practice of Islam. It seems reasonable to request this considering the danger a visibly Muslim person is in; however, it is not the solution to a conflict like this.
Beyond fearing for our lives, hijabi women have faced countless micro-aggressions, from snide remarks when we enter the room, to not-so-subtle comments about our seemingly oppressed way of life. Our wardrobe is mocked and our religion along with it. We are constantly stuck in the battle between staying true to our faith and assimilation to white, Christian America.
Our choices to cover ourselves is now being categorized as a symbol of resistance against Trump and anti-Muslim conservatives. What was once an act of faith for our God has been diminished into acting as a political prop for liberals to celebrate and white feminists to applaud. This effort of tokenism needs to stop. We are not your pawns nor are we a triumph for you to claim. My decision to cover myself is not a marketing strategy for you to reach me like the rainbow flags that were dismantled following the last day of Pride Month. The reason hijabis wear their hijabs vary, but it is certainly not to become a token.
The fashion industry, including companies such as DKNY and Nike, have been co-opting the hijab, a spiritual symbol, and using it as a marketing technique. Mango and Tommy Hilfiger release annual Ramadan collections in an effort to appeal to Muslim women. These collections not only overlook the non-materialistic essence of Ramadan, but they disregard the values of their targeted demographic. Dolce & Gabbana featured non-Muslim models walking their catwalk in headscarves, as if it were a stylish hat. Sorry, my religion is not a “cutting-edge” trend for you to debut at your fashion shows.
The media industry has also begun discovering the potential marketing rewards of the hijab. In these instances, the hijab is used as a token of diversity and a symbol of resistance in the media– which sees protesting as a sexy fad, never highlighting the very real issues that are being protested. Such is the case in the widely used Shepard Fairey image of a woman using the American flag as a hijab, never mind that the original model for the photo wasn’t even a hijabi. The insensitive use of Muslim women as a marketing feature not only diminishes the meaning of hijab for actual hijabi women, but it insults the entire practice of dedicating an act to God.
Rather than co-opt the religious headscarf as a trend or a symbol of resistance, companies and the media should work to educate the masses about the dangerous reality hijabi women face. Hijab-clad Muslim women are visibly Muslim, and in the current political climate, they are endangering their lives every time they step out of their house. Wearing the hijab shouldn’t have to be considered as an act of bravery, rather it should be considered an act of devotion, which is what it is meant to be. By not creating the spaces for that conversation, the media and companies that co-opt hijabs to sell their products are only further restricting Muslim women from practicing their faith freely.
Featured Image: pny235, Creative Commons
Author Bio: Hafsa Quraishi is a Muslim American writer, artist and activist. She currently interns at the Florida chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a nonprofit civil rights organization. Hafsa also leads the divestment effort on her campus which encourages her university to stop funding the private prison and fossil fuel industries. She aspires to be a foreign correspondent for a major news network. Follow her on Twitter for some good times.