Cultural Femininity and My Hijab
My decision to wear hijab when I was 11 was a game changer in how people viewed me. Now it wasn’t just my skin colour that made me different, I was wearing a cloth around my head, further emphasising my physical differences. I wasn’t just a representation of my Indian heritage; I was also representing Islam.
Apart from the normalised micro aggressions, dirty looks and terrorist comments, going to a diverse, all-girls school sheltered me from what most would say is the real nitty-gritty Islamophobia. My parents were proud of what was seen as my mature decision to wear hijab – but not exactly thrilled. With rising levels of hate crimes, they were rightfully worried about my safety. In fact, I explicitly remember being talked out of wearing hijab, with arguments that frequently consisted of the line: "as long as you dress modest, it’s fine".
My parents were proponents of hijab, but only because it visually represented Indian values of feminine meekness, not because it was a command from God. I began to notice this friction between religion and culture as I got older. Crop tops and ripped jeans were considered shameless, but sleeveless shalwar kameez and saris were fine. Western films and music were forbidden for their explicit content, but their Indian equivalent were fine (mind you, they were just as explicit). These contradictions began to build themselves upon racialised brownness and whiteness.
We were told one thing by our Asian parents, another thing by society whilst Islam commanded something else. And, whilst Western media stereotyped Muslims through the lens of the oppressed burka-clad woman, many Asian parents inherited the patriarchal double standard found across all cultures: fixating on their daughters' appearances whilst their sons ran amok. I soon found that Islam revealed a plethora of freedoms, freedoms which challenged patriarchal South Asian doctrine and surpassed those freedoms promised by Western civilization – and my hijab was a part of that.
This has led to an awakening – in the past decade, Muslim women who wear the hijab have challenged crude cultural stereotypes and carved their own identities, free from any culture's restraints. Now represented in every field, (on their own terms) these women have become actional in voicing their own identities. Despite labels of being "whitewashed" or "extremist", they continue to create their own identities, identities which include selected elements of their cultural and religious identity, but are ultimately much more.
By Nazrin Bhadusha