This is not about hijab vs no hijab
Women in Iran are leading a feminist, social, and political revolution
Welcome to ‘eyb my newsletter, in which I write openly and frankly on topics that growing up I would be told are ‘eyb or shameful to speak about as a young Arab woman. I also share my crazy life anecdotes, as well as what I have been writing, reading, watching, and listening to.
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No doubt you are aware of the protests sweeping Iran at this very moment, led by women. If you do not know the back story, 10 days ago a 22-year-old Kurdish woman called Jina Amini, who is being referred to as Mahsa Amini in the press, was visiting Tehran when she was violently arrested by the morality guard for “unsuitable hijab” and severely beaten while in police custody, resulting in her falling into a coma and dying.
The Iranian state said she died of heart failure but her family said she was completely healthy with no heart conditions, and eyewitnesses have reported seeing her severely beaten. Leaked medical scans show skull fractures which support eyewitness accounts that she had been beaten on the head, ultimately leading to a brain haemorrhage and her death.
In the aftermath of her murder by the Iranian state, women in Iran have taken to the streets, publicly removing their hijabs and burning them, as well as cutting and shaving their hair. Women and their male allies have been chanting, “women, life, liberty.” Iran is an authoritarian state and of course state security is doing its best to stamp out these protests, even firing at and killing protestors with live ammunition. The hijab has been mandatory in Iran since the 1979 Iranian revolution and establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Many Iranian women who have removed their hijab publicly as a form of protest in the past have been arrested and put in prison.
According to the Iranian women I have spoken to, women in Iran have reached their limit - incidents like this have been taking place constantly, but have not caught the attention or found their way to international press, and the murder of Mahsa Amini was the last straw for them. They told me that they have reached a point beyond fear - they said that the worst thing that can happen is being killed, and since that is already happening, what could be worse beyond that?
And so the public burning of the hijab, the cutting and the shaving of their hair is not only a symbol of their collective mourning for Mahsa and for all the other women who have been apprehended, arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and murdered by the Iranian state, but it is also a feminist and political statement that says “we will no longer accept the state to police our dress, and to police our bodies.” It is about Iranian women demanding back their agency after over four decades of living without agency.
When something like this happens in the SWANA region - when Asian, Iranian, and Arab women stand up against authoritarian rule, against the patriarchal oppression they face from the state, the street, and at home - non-Muslims and ex-Muslims love to jump on this with their Islamophobic takes that this is evidence that Muslim women are oppressed, that the hijab is oppressive, and that the women want liberating from the hijab.
If that is your take then you don’t understand what is happening at all.
This is about women having had enough of having every aspect of their lives controlled by the state, and being forced by law to wear the hijab. Say your government was to issue a new law that all women had to wear tight corsets and that there would be morality police on the streets that could stop, apprehend and even arrest you if you weren’t wearing your corset, or you weren’t wearing it tight enough, you would call this policing of your body and state oppression. It has nothing to do with the hijab itself or with Islam, but it has everything to do with patriarchy and the oppressive rule of the state.
And if you support women in Iran in their fight for the choice to not wear the hijab, you must apply the same support to Muslim women in France, North Europe, and in India, who are fighting for the right to wear their hijab and are facing state prohibition from wearing it.
It is the freedom to choose. It is having agency as a woman.
Image courtesy of Shahrzad Changalvaee
As well as facing Islamophobic takes on what is happening in Iran, as Muslim women we also have to face takes within our own community which display similar ignorance on the situation.
People within our community are saying that women in Iran shouldn’t be burning their hijabs, or that they are playing into the hands of the West. That they can protest without removing and burning their hijabs. I’ve even had family members in the last week tell me that if it was a choice between state prohibition of Muslim women wearing the hijab, or state enforcement of Muslim women wearing the hijab, the latter was better! (And no, it wasn’t my father this time.)
Again, if you support the right for Muslim women to be able to wear their hijab in France, North Europe, and elsewhere, then support the right of Muslim women in Iran to choose to not wear it.
Similarly, posting pictures on social media of women in Iran pre-1979 without hijab wearing swimsuits or short skirts and saying how they miss this period of time under the Shah again shows ignorance - because under the Shah, women in Iran were prohibited from wearing the hijab, so yet again they were policed and were forced to dress in a certain way.
Never has an item of clothing been so politicised in history as the hijab. And Muslim women worldwide have had enough.
What I’ve been writing…
I got to interview Egyptian Australian author Sara El Sayed about her funny and heartwarming memoir, “Muddy People,” which charts her life growing up in an Egyptian immigrant family in a mainly white and quite racist Australian community, for The New Arab. Read it here.
Excited to announce that Libyan British journalist and former Deputy Editor of Aurelia, Shahed Ezaydi, has written an immensely important book, “The Othered Woman: How White Feminism Harms Muslim Women,” and is currently working with crowdsourcing publishers Unbound to raise enough pledges to get it published. If this book sounds up your street please pre-order your copy here. I’ve just pre-ordered mine.
What I’ve been reading…
Continuing with the subject of the protests in Iran is this brilliant op-ed by Pakistani American journalist Hafsa Lodi for The Independent. Read “The death of Mahsa Amini and the truth about the hijab.”
A vital read by Pakistani British journalist Alia Waheed for The New Arab on dementia in the British Asian community. Read “A harsh reminder: Ethnic minorities in Britain are more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.”
What I’ve been listening to…
Well this was more listening back to myself talk on the September 14 episode of podcast Hijabi Culture, where I spoke to journalist Haleema Saheed about my hijab journey, being a hijabi author, being the only hijabi in the room, Islamophobia, and the need for more female Islamic scholars. Take a listen on anchor.fm, Spotify, or Apple Podcasts.
Finally, if you enjoy my work and want to support me, consider buying a copy of my semi-autobiographical novel, Hijab and Red Lipstick, published by Hashtag Press.
Longlisted for The Diverse Book Awards 2021, Hijab and Red Lipstick is a rare insight into what life is like as a young Arab woman growing up in the Arab Gulf. Find it on Amazon, Waterstones, Blackwells, and worldwide on the Book Depository.