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The Acceptance Of Hijab, Just Won't Happen Through The Catwalk

26/09/2016 12:32

New York Fashion Week's collection by Muslim designer Anniesa Hasibuan, did not just cause ripples of excitement in the fashion world, but in the perhaps less vibrant, social and political world as well. The collection has been seen as a momentous moment, signifying the move towards acceptance of hijab in the mainstream. While it is true to say Hasibuan has done something no other designer has managed at such a high profile; one really wants to ask - since people have viewed this as a social and political celebration - will such an event really change the lives of normal Muslim women, adorning the hijab?

Hasibuan in no way bears the responsibility to normalise the hijab on her shoulders, so this in no way a condemnation of her efforts - if she did carry those intentions. She is arguably just another person doing their job in the fashion world. And there is no doubt that Muslim women living in the US and Europe would welcome a wider array of appropriate clothing for them to purchase on the high street.   

However, the discussion that has arisen; claiming this catwalk is a step forward for Muslim women and the normalisation of their hijab, needs some scrutiny. Firstly, why is it that the path towards acceptance of Muslim women's dress code must take the route of the runway? This must be a question asked about women's dress in general - Muslim or not. But in context of the hijab, there is a widespread view of those wearing the hijab, that the very concept behind this item of clothing is about gaining control over the ability of people to judge you based on your exterior appearance. Hijab takes away from the public sphere what Muslim women seek to make private. It is character, achievements, skills that Muslim women seek to put on show. So should we have to settle for acceptance based upon how aesthetically appealing the hijab can look, despite most Muslim women not wearing it for such reasons?

And what about when a hijab doesn't conform or doesn't want to conform to fashion trends, and has no stylistic edge - when it is just plain fabric on the mother pushing the buggy, or the uninteresting wrap on the student walking to college. Then it is the fabric that is invisible, but the representation that is noticeable. The hijab now represents the enemy, otherness, and a threat -  a result of long-standing Muslim-centric sensationalist media coverage, conflating Islam and Muslims with a threatening otherness.

Two Muslim women, also in New York, who this month were pushing their babies in their buggies, were attacked by a woman who tried to rip off their hijabs. In this instance, neither the colour, fabric nor style of the hijab would have made any difference as the perpetrator shouted abuse at them and demanded they return to their countries.

This September, a picture issued by Stanford Football club of Stanford University, with a woman in hijab amongst the other people, caused hateful threats to pour in. People demanded she be removed from the picture due to her hijab.

When the woman who sat with her children on the French beach last month, enjoying the sun and the sand, was surrounded by police officers, and instead of coming to her defence, surrounding sun bathers watched her being harassed and forcibly unclothed.

Muslim women enjoy dressing well, but hijab is fundamentally not a style item, it is a sign of identity and values. In the climate we live in today, rejection of hijab is also on the basis on identity and values, where it is seen as an act of defiance to Western societies by many. So really, the inclusion on the next catwalk line up of a new season does not mean a meaningful difference on the platform where it matters most - accepting hijab as a normative part of one's identity.

As Muslim women across Western world suffer verbal and sometimes physical abuse as a result of their hijab, the responsibility of normalising hijab should not become diverted from the addressing the prejudices themselves. Unless the root of why the hijab is seen as a symbol of otherness is addressed, the everyday hijab of everyday people will remain as obscure and threatening as it has become today.

The animosity towards the hijab is symptomatic of the general animosity towards Islam and Islamic behaviour, which people commonly see to be the cause of violence and hatred in the modern world today. And it is this perception that must be challenged and deconstructed to illustrate that overwhelming amounts of observant Muslims actually want to treat those around them well, they want to be a force for good in the communities in which they live. So the hijab and all values that come with it, can and need to actually be seen as beautiful aspects of the lives of a minority community. This is what should be concluded if people just stopped to discover what impact Islam really has on people's behaviour.

Like I said from the onset, this isn't about finding an opportunity to bash another Muslim for their efforts, as some may derive. It is about correctly diagnosing the cause of prejudice against hijab, and defining the correct direction through which we can clear its' name. It is then that hijab will become mainstream for what it really is, no edges blurred - as opposed to what everybody else would like it to be.

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