Normalizing the Hijab

A model in modern hijab parades on the catwalk during Aceh Fashion Week in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. (Photo: CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP / Getty Images)

Celebrating the wearing of hijabs as a liberating cultural expression has become the icon of the post-Trump (election) feminist era in the West.

Consider just a three of the latest events:

  • The makeup line CoverGirl is promoting hijabi beauty blogger Nura Afia as its latest “brand ambassador.”
  • Elite couture fashion house Dolce and Gabbana launched its Abaya and Hijab Collection, with runways sporting models in full Islamist attire.

Muslim reformer Shireen Qudosi,  writing about the phenomena , quotes Melanie Elturk, CEO of Haute Hijab, as saying, “fashion is one of the outlets in which we can start that cultural shift in today’s society to normalize the hijab in America.”

Qudosi goes on to analyze the message:

“With CoverGirl’s newest ‘brand ambassador,’ Nura Afia, the message echoes the mantra of hardline Islamist groups who have, since the presidential election, lost much of their political ground. Lost ground is now regained in new spheres through personalities such as Afia, without any association with political parties.

“Beautiful Nura Afia in an advertising campaign is a far more appealing and consumer-friendly alternative to CAIR’s Nihad Awad or the political complexities of the Muslim Brotherhood. The face has changed but the message has not.”

  • A new children’s book Tilt Your Head, Rosie the Red, by Rosemary McCarney, promotes the wearing of the hijab by children.

The book tells the story of Rosie, a little girl who always wears a cape, a superpower symbol. When she sees a new hijab-wearing girl at school getting bullied, she turns her cape into a hijab in a show of solidarity. Before you know it, all the kids have turned everyday fashion accessories into “hijabs.”

In a video commentary on the book, Barbara Kay says, “What really rings my alarm bells is the metaphor called equivalence that McCarney makes between the hijab and any old-fashioned accessory for the head, but more significantly, between Rosie’s capes and the hijab.

“By showing that the cape can be very easily transformed into a hijab in the literal sense, McCarney seems to suggest that there is no meaningful difference in value between them. But symbolically, the hijab and cape are light years apart.

“The cape tells girls they are empowered individuals that can take on any roll [sic] they want, even those traditionally reserved for boys and men, heroic boys and men. While the hijab tells girls that they are very different from boys, and that they are destined for a life that is defined principally by their own biology and pre-modern sexual honor codes.”

As Kay says, in the absence of the choice of whether or not to wear the hijab, “The hijab is the opposite of empowering.”

Astonishing in the promotion of the hijab – from the above-mentioned children’s books to CoverGirl – is the absence of any discussion of its origin, purpose and the oppression of women associated with in in Muslim-majority societies.

For women who are forced or bullied into veiling themselves – from Iran to Saudi Arabia and many other Islamist societies, wearing a hijab is anything but a fashion statement.

The West has lost its moral compass by leaving these women out of the discussion.

Let us know your thoughts:

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org