The West's zeal to save “oppressed” Muslim women by urging them to discard the veil, whether it is the hijab or the niqab, demonstrates a profound ignorance of Islam and the rights of Muslim women.
We have seen a number of European nations and, to a lesser extent, Australia enact laws that purport to free women from their religion. While some Muslims may view these actions as good intentions gone awry, I see it as a systemic attempt to impose draconian laws that further oppression. As I have stated previously, democratic nations that impose laws restricting Muslim women from wearing the hijab, the burqa or the abaya share much in common with the Taliban by imposing their own interpretation of what is appropriate for Muslim women.
Academic Leila Ahmed goes so far as to call this a new colonialism, and there is much merit in her arguments. British occupiers, she points out, sought to free Egyptian women from the alleged tyranny of Islam at the beginning of the 20th century by encouraging them to unveil. Indeed, for more than 70 years Egyptian women rejected the hijab.
By the 1980s, the hijab emerged as a symbol of Islamic feminism. Specifically, women embraced the hijab as a means to minimize gender bias and force men to see them as equals in the workplace, and not view them as sex objects or simply for their beauty. Muslim women do not want their appearance to influence the conduct of the people around them.
Ahmed recognizes that the hijab is not a symbol of empowerment in some Muslim countries where women have no choices in whether they cover their hair. Yet Ahmed is spot on in stating what Muslim women have been telling the West for more than decades: the hijab is an Islamic feminist statement.
Ahmed has a new book out called A Quiet Revolution. I plan to pick up a copy and I suggest that those readers who prefer to discover an enlightened view of the hijab buy a copy as well.