Update: If you would prefer to access this post through audio, I have just uploaded a reading (with some commentary) on my podcast ➡️ https://bit.ly/3sxOLjF
Hello dear reader! It’s been a while (like 5 months oops) and as I may have said in the past, theres been loads I wanted to write about but it can be overwhelming when I have to plan out my thought process on heavy topics. I’m not one to force myself to do something at the detriment of my mental health, but I have been discussing some of these ‘heavy’ topics across my socials. If you have missed me (😉), I’ve been pretty active on my Instagram and post regularly on my YouTube channel!~
As I explained in a previous post, the ‘hijab’ is a spiritual concept; whereas the headscarf is the physical covering a Muslim woman wears on her head. The hijab applies to all genders but for ease of understanding, I’ll use the term hijab in place of headscarf seeing as though that’s how this story has been covered.
In March the French Senate passed an amendment to ban girls from wearing the hijab in public if they’re under the age of 18. The bill would also prevent mothers in hijab from participating in school trips; officially ban the burqini (a full body swim suit) in public swimming pools, and another amendment even proposes to ban hijabs in televised sports.
When the news first broke I posted a short caption to my Instagram story, which was almost immediately removed without any warning or explanation. What’s more, the same thing happened to my friend Ibzmo. All I had said in my caption was that Islamophobia in France is nothing new, along with a short personal anecdote. It made me wonder, what happened to freedom of speech? In response to this strange occurrence I expanded on my point in an Instagram post. I will share the photo and caption below.
*About a week ago* I shared a post about France to my story and wrote that the #Islamophobia in #France is nothing new. This got taken down without any clarification, and it alarms me to see that this happened to someone else too. Since then I disengaged with the topic completely, but I now reminded myself that that’s not me and I’ll speak if I want to.
The first time I went to France was with my dad when I was aged 10. My parents worried that I might be treated badly for wearing a headscarf and so I didn’t wear it for my trip. When I shared this anecdote on my story, someone asked why I was even wearing it at a young age. Simple; because I chose to. Sure I was younger, but it was a choice then and it’s a choice now. The current situation in France is a continuation of the movement to suppress the right to choose. ALL women should have the right to choose how they dress. I CHOSE to wear a headscarf from a young age. I remember constantly asking my mum if I was allowed to wear my scarf when I was little and when she eventually said yes, I felt happy. Each Muslim has their own relationship with hijab and as time goes by this continues to develop for me. Yes I chose to wear a scarf when I was little, but I came to truly appreciate it when I turned Shia and learned more about it’s value. For instance, I heard of how Bibi Zainab s.a was humiliated when her scarf was taken from her and she was paraded through the streets without it. It emphasised the fact that this cloth; this flag; this crown, it can’t be taken lightly. If Bibi Zainab s.a was so distraught that her scarf was taken from her, how could I take mine for granted? 1400 years later and this same scarf is being taken away from women who feel empowered to wear it. It’s not okay.
Not long after posting this, a friend I met from a creative programme forwarded a photography opportunity to me. I then participated in a photography project to amplify Muslim voices and share thoughts on the situation in France. The shoot was organised by Noor, a Muslim photographer from London who has been sharing the photographs along with a caption by the subject of the shot. The photo at the start of this post is one that she had taken of me and I will share some more below. You can find clearer versions of these photos in my latest instagram upload paired with this post.
My caption for her project is as follows: “The situation in France is a farce. It’s hypocritical, but unfortunately not surprising. Why is it that a woman will be penalised for choosing to wear a headscarf as a religious piece of clothing; yet another woman can wear the same headscarf in the name of fashion with no problems? Muslim women are not being relieved from oppression (as if to say that is the true intention behind this), rather this bill enforces oppression by removing the right to choose how women dress. To the onlookers who may not recognise the gravity of the situation, just consider the ripple effects of this proposed legislation. France has a rich history of Islamophobia and if the government passes this bill it will only embolden more right wing people to openly carry out out their Islamophobic abuse and hate crimes.”
Funnily enough, as soon as I sent over my caption for Noor’s project, a different friend told me my first post had inspired her to speak on the issue and invited me to take part in a different project. So the chances are, this will not be end of my public involvement in this dialogue. I’m humbled, but more than that I hope this makes an impact. What are we raising awareness for? I heard people say that in this day and age we’re well past the ‘awareness’ phase of social issues. It’s mostly true. In a lot of cases people choose to stay ignorant on issues, because it’s so easy to find information in the age of the internet. Instead, I hope that part of the impact of the trending #handsoffmyhijab tag is that posts such as these will reach Muslims in France (and other places in the world where its difficult to wear the hijab) and help them to feel less alone. I saw a Tiktok video in which a 17 year old Muslim in France partially removed her hijab on camera and instead put on the hood from her hoody. Do you see how that makes no sense? This was her coping strategy to maintain some form of physical hijab; but if she had kept on her scarf, that cloth would have caused an issue. I hope this conversation continues and does not end with France.
Again when it comes to coincidence of timing, the day that I took part in Noor’s shoot, I also received the completed piece for an International Women’s Day project I participated in. The ‘Celebrate Women’ initiative is run by an Asian American who wanted to share diverse stories of women empowerment. For this project I did a self portrait and by chance decided to focus on the hijab for my accompanying caption. If you want to browse the full project and see other women who were involved as well as my own photo, you can view it here. See below for two images I did not submit to be used for the initiative and find my final photo on the site (note that my skin tone came out quite orange after the colours were touched up for the album). My caption can also be found below.
I have always been a Creative by nature. I thrive when making things; taking something from one form and turning it into something else. Part of this shines through in the way that I dress, as my love for art is often reflected in my outfits. As a Muslim woman, I have dealt with comments where people have commended me for my bright outfits because it strays from the ‘norm’ of how a Muslim woman should dress. I’m here to say that people should never dictate any woman’s choice of clothing or expression. There is no standard ‘Muslim style’. Black or pink or any other colour are fine. I’m bold, I’m bright, and I’m not changing for anyone but myself.
As you can see, the timing at which I received the final ver seemed ironic because what I spoke about weeks prior in preparation for International Women’s Day also tied into the current conversation regarding France. All women should be given the freedom to choose how they wish to dress. Speaking of how Muslims are perceived though, the norm for any group of people is largely determined by the media that we consume. Wouldn’t it be great if Muslims could be cast in more mainstream media projects? Oh and it would be superb if the narratives of those projects steer away from the characters’ overt ‘Muslimness’; feeling at odds with their religion and cultural values; something to do with terrorism? How about a non-cringey show which champions minority people for just being people without exasperating their stereotypes and tired tropes? Perhaps this is a post for another day but before I close this thought for now, let me share something that may either make you chuckle or reflect, perhaps depending on where you sit.
Not too long ago I attended an online talk by a man who works in VFX (visual effects used in video production). He began by sharing a group photo of his company and from my small phone screen I wasn’t sure if all I saw really was a sea of white. Later on he shared some video reels of projects he had worked on. One video had black actors and the background music had a loud refrain of “melanin”. I raised a question in the chat box asking how many people of colour worked for the company as the videos sparked my curiosity. My question was missed amidst the presentation so I asked it orally at the end. I commended the man on his achievements (he gave an overview of his resume at the start) and indeed for the reels. I then asked how diverse the company was as I noticed some of the casting choices and use of language in the materials shown, and that I see great strength in allowing people of colour to craft their own stories by putting them in positions of power. It was then that the man began to fumble. It was sad but somewhat amusing to watch how a white man could not give me a straight answer to a simple question on ‘diversity’. He couldn’t even tell me whether they had a brown person in the team to fill a quota. What he did eventually say though was that its a notoriously difficult industry for representation and he thinks thats terrible. -And also that he’s part of a diversity scheme. I was impressed at least by his honesty and read into the scheme in my own time. I then emailed him to find out more about it directly and sent my CV for any casual opportunities. Although VFX isn’t my main field of interest, he had mentioned that he’s keen to hear from people and all applications go straight to him. As you may have guessed, I still have not heard back.
To bring things back to the topic at hand I want to end on a recent post by Jada Pinkett Smith. In the two selfies linked in her name, Jada is seen posing in a light peach (looks cream to me) hijab. The post’s caption is “I really think the color peach in the Middle East … suits me✨”. I saw a different photo of her in another hijab before seeing this Instagram post. I had just explained the France bill to a non Muslim friend and a day or so later he tagged me in Jada’s new Facebook upload. Let me share a screenshot of how the tag looked and the upload itself before I explain why I’m bringing this up.
The reason I’m critical of her in this instance is because she has a large and thriving platform where she discusses contemporary social issues. That is to say, she is socially and politically aware and makes efforts to share thoughts on pressing topics. But in this case these photos came across as tone deaf, to me personally and at least to another friend I saw speak on this. I feel that she really missed the chance to do something with her platform as it could have been a powerful statement of solidarity for her to have worn the hijab under the backdrop of such global tension. She wore it like an accessory and all she had to say was that she looked good in the colour peach. With her influence she could have worn it as a symbol to speak about the situation in France. Of course we have to respect her choice to not speak on this and focus on her ‘non glamor glory’. The thing is I wouldn’t normally bash posts like this, but for someone who makes the effort to get entangled in important social issues, it seems privileged and inconsiderate to wear the hijab so casually and choose to make vanity the focus given the current climate.
As I said initially, the Islamophobia in France is nothing new. In 2011 France banned the niqab (face covering) and burqa (long dress). What’s strange is that a Muslim woman in France who chooses to wear a niqab will be met with a fine, but will also receive a fine if she does not wear a face mask due to Covid-19 protocols. A mask and niqab essentially cover the same portion of ones face. A few years later in 2016, several beaches in France banned the burqini from public beaches. I remember there was minor uproar from my personal circles when I spoke about the news back then. “A women should have the right to choose how she dresses”. I agree. So where are my fellow feminists now? I implore you to speak on issues such as this even if they do not affect you personally. If the fact that we’re discussing a piece of cloth is too much, I get it. But think of the violence this could allow. In the same way that the then President Trump called Covid-19 the ‘China Virus’ which caused mass violence and discrimination to East and South East Asians across the globe; the French government merely suggesting such an Islamophobic bill certainly paves the way for another rise of unnecessary violence towards Muslims, across the globe.
The bill in France is not anti-separatist, its Islamophobic.
If you’re a Muslim woman who chooses to wear the headscarf, good luck 世界。
此致敬礼，欣妍 – From Nabeela.
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