Quratulayn Haamidah discusses the absurdity of feminist Shaista Gohir’s recent comments in comparing children’s hijab to pole dancing.
The hijab is a concept which ultimately goes beyond the sublunary, connecting the spiritual by obliterating worldly expectations in favour of conformity to that which is most pleasing to God. It is for many Muslim women attuned to their faith, a source of comfort and a means, like other religious dictates, to become closer to their Creator.
Naturally, the bond that forms between mother and daughter is unlike other relationships. It doesn’t require studies to prove that children imitate their parents. Fathers will often speak of their sons, asking when their beards will sprout. Similarly, little Amina, Aisha or Aasia, seemingly occupied with her toys, will often be seen keenly observing her mother as she wraps her shawl around her head, and perhaps dons the niqab.
It isn’t too long before a said child asks, “where’s mine ami/ummi/mummy?” To deny her interest would deny something beloved to Allah. Of course, it’s not obligatory, but watching your child go sparkly-eyed over any aspect of faith would bring joy to the heart of any Muslim parent. Jarring with this reality are the screeching interjections by “Muslim feminists” like Shaista Gohir of Muslim Women’s Network, regarding a spat between Muslim parents and a Birmingham school.
According to reports in the media, a Catholic school had instituted a new uniform policy since last September, forcing young Muslim girls who wore the hijab in school to remove it. This contrasts with Sikh children who can continue to wear the turban.
Based on this brief analysis, it appears as if the school policy has resulted in indirect discrimination; the policy applies to all, but its effect is largely limited to Muslim girls.
The story has focussed on a four-year-old pupil. Her parents, as well as other parents, have pointed out that their daughter wished to wear the hijab out of her own will. The school has threatened the pupil with punishment such as exclusion from breaks, swimming lessons, and class trips. A parent has stated that the four-year old was feeling “absolutely devastated” and “went home crying and really upset.”
The disproportionate behaviour towards a young schoolgirl or her mental state after experiencing exclusion seems not to be the main concern of Gohir. She seems to have taken the Muslim-bashing line with a series of subjective and irrational pronouncements.
Though Gohir rightly states that the hijab is not a requirement for prepubescent girls, the conclusion that therefore the “criticism” of the school “had been unfair” ignores the fact that the hijab is still part of general Muslim culture.
Government on the Equalities Act 2010 in the context of schools highlights the need for schools to “be sensitive to the needs of different cultures, races and religions and act reasonably in accommodating these needs”.
Additionally, the fact that Sikh children can continue wearing their turbans exasperates the insensitivity and discrimination on the part of the school, despite the religious requirement of Sikhs to wear a turban confusingly characterised as a “racial” trait.
Blame the victim
Gohir’s statements demonstrate an unhealthy obsession with doing away the hijab. She believes, “we should let children be children”, as if pieces of cloth, which, in addition to covering the body also happens to cover the head, magically turns children into something else. She also “personally” does not like to see the wearing of hijabs among young girls “normalised”, turning into a feminist fashion police and dictating to Muslims which of their practices are considered “the norm”. In doing so, she is effectively exerting control over Muslim mothers.
Worse still (considering her feminism), she shockingly employs the victim-blaming argument: “I would personally not like to see it normalised for four and five-year-olds to be wearing headscarfs… In the current climate there is so much negativity towards Islam.”
Muslims must behave in a manner where they are second-class citizens, not entitled to exercise their cultural and religious rights like other communities. Rather, they should capitulate to a bigoted atmosphere. Common sense would dictate that the bigoted climate should be challenged, and the pious feminist preaching re-directed at those who perpetuate the “current climate”. As it is, her statements are a worrying message to the Muslim community.
The rational disintegration is most acute with her particularly gut-wrenching soundbite in which Gohir argues that Muslim parents who make young children wear the hijab should be challenged like parents who spray tan or give pole dancing lessons to young girls. According to Gohir’s ideological imposition, the purpose of the hijab is designed to discourage “unwanted sexual attention”, therefore sexualising children.
Ignored was the point that the pupil was not forced to wear the hijab, and how Muslim parents actually view their child in a headscarf. This soundbite was, however, proudly propagated in the Daily Mail, Express, and other right-wing trash outlets. It demonstrated the affinity such narratives, which contain coded Orientalism (girls wearing Hijab must have been forced to do so), have with papers with a history Islamophobic reporting.
A close analysis reveals that the argument is actually quite ridiculous. If, as Gohir claims, the Hijab discourages sexual advances, how exactly does this translate as sexualising a child? It logically does not follow; it’s like arguing a safeguarding lesson for children on child grooming is paedophilic. Indeed, why cover at all?
Public genital exposure would be considered “indecent exposure” falling foul of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and possibly the Public Order Act 1986. Clothing small children, using Gohir’s argument, would therefore be considered a form sexualisation. The argument is completely absurd.
Moreover, there is absolutely no moral equivalence between a woman dancing on pole, which is inherently associated with gross (public) sexualisation of women, and the Islamic concept of the hijab, which seeks to raise a woman above such base desires that de-materialises her. Only a seriously deluded moral compass would attempt to analogise two notions which are conceptually diametrically opposed.
This is to be expected from a “Muslim feminist”. Feminism is an ideology which is volatile enough to produce adherents that claim strip clubs are completely in tune with feminism, as argued by Maajid Nawaz, whilst also simultaneously producing the likes of Gohir who would seem to oppose it. No amount of “intersectionality” blusters or denial of other interpretations negates the fact that such ridiculous positions are all valid in the wasteland of feminism. When it comes to providing a coherent moral compass, feminism has quite miserably failed, offering instead incoherence templated on the debris of male society.
Louise Casey has, as part of her review into “extremism”-based integration, described Muslim families as being viewed suspiciously because women wear the hijab, jilbab and niqab, as “common-sense” (Para. 8.32).
For us Muslim women caught between the saviour feminists pouring pity while attacking Islam, and the right-wing modern day colonialists wishing to eradicate the faith through securitisation, the sanctuary remains firmly within the domain of Allah, for our rights and responsibilities, rights and wrongs, are set by a source of stability which is unmatched.
“If We had sent down this Qur’an upon a mountain, you would have seen it humbled and coming apart from fear of Allah. And these examples We present to the people that perhaps they will reflect.” (Qur’an 59:21)
Quratulayn is a student of knowledge in the Hanafi school of law. She has studied law, works professionally and takes a keen interest in Muslim public affairs.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of 5Pillars.