The Hate We Receive; Muslim Women vs. The Haram Police
Disclaimer: across the world, Muslims are subjected to discriminatory violence from Islamophobic slurs to the generalisation of Muslim men as religious oppressors. In fear of provoking Islamophobic rhetoric, many Muslim women feel they do not have safe places to share their experiences. This makes the exposure of community-based violence and discrimination a lot more challenging for survivors. With that said, this piece is not written to incite further degradation of the global Muslim community.
For years Muslim women lacked positive representation in mainstream media until social media opened up its doors. As big screens continue to get it wrong, our small screens are brightened up by the thousands of Muslim women enchanting the virtual stage. From hijab tutorials to opening up political spaces, Muslim women are at the forefront of a digital revolution that is breaking down societal and cultural stigmas. Muslims growing up in the West are too familiar with the struggle of existing in a land that screams, “you don’t belong here”, so seeing Muslimah influencers hit a million-plus followers on social media should be seen as a win. After all, representation equals normalisation which equates to acceptance. Is that not what we want? To be accepted, and seen as regular members of society?
We hear about the hate online figures receive daily, and we simply write it off as trolling. In doing so, we separate the virtual from reality. It is only online, it's only words. No harm was done, just ignore it, turn off the comments. But what do you do when the comments are more than words? What do you do when the comments come from the community you represent?
Dina Tokia has become a household name for many Muslim girls and women who grew up watching her on Facebook and YouTube. For many in the West, her content has been somewhat liberating and refreshing as she made modesty trendy and relatable in the age of low-rise jeans and Hollister tank-tops, and young British Muslim girls finally had a modest fashion icon to take inspiration from. Today, with over one million Instagram followers, Dina continues to represent the Muslim community by breaking cultural barriers and stigmas on mental health. However, her efforts in making the community a safe space has been side-lined by her decision to stop covering her hair which resulted in online hate, from slut-shaming, Islamophobic slurs to death threats. The self-righteous haram police swooped in to denounce her religiosity.
The haram police are the online equivalent of the State morality police in Iran and Saudi Arabia. These individuals take time out of their days to harass, shame and humiliate mainly Muslim women online with their comments focusing on a woman's honour: haya, with the sole goal to shame their target. There is not a single Muslimah who is exempt from this humiliation, veiled or unveiled, finding themselves having to read comments sections that are littered with the question: “Sister, where is your haya?”
In Islam, men and women are required to prescribe to an inner and outer modesty. In the Quran, Haya refers to a form of modesty that encompasses shyness and a deepened sense of faith. It is a mere reference for how one should conduct oneself in front of God, others and even alone.
In the holy Qur’an, God says: “O children of Adam, We have provided you with garments to cover your bodies, as well as for luxury. But the best garment is the garment of righteousness. These are some of God’s signs, that they may take heed.” (Al-Araf 7:26)
Despite Islam granting Muslim women agency over their bodies — yes, free will exists (or is that only for the brothers?) — the dynamics of honour in the Muslim community has created a toxic environment inviting extreme forms of gender-based violence, from honour killings to character defamation. The framing of honour is characterised by how Muslims should carry themselves but the fusion of culture has narrowed haya to dress-code and coyness as a woman’s sexual innocence is constantly at the forefront of the conversation. With these cultural dynamics at play, it seems women cannot post a simple selfie without someone slut-shaming them. It’s important to note that the concept of honour is not inherently Islamic nor is it “foreign” to the West. The premise of honour lies in the framing of a good, unmarried woman, and a good, unmarried woman is a virgin.
In this hetero-patriarchal world, a woman’s body is her currency. It measures her worth, status and religiousness. From a young age, women are told to guard their bodies, that spilt honey will only attract flies. Analogy after analogy, we are indoctrinated to objectify our existence to only spend years unlearning our internalised misogyny. Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy cites “the obsession with controlling women and our bodies often stems from the suspicion that, without restraints, women are just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability”. Recognising the violence of the haram police is only a fraction of what needs to be done to eradicate misogynistic values and practices. It simply uncovers a deeper systemic issue that breeds gender inequality in both public and private domains. The haram police are only furthering sexist chauvinism against Muslim women, deepening a worldwide patriarchal system whilst distancing the act of unity between the ummah.
By Mona Sharif