Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Muslims Need More Than Just Symbolic Solidarity

Shenila Khoja-Moolji is a research fellow at Columbia University’s Teachers College specializing in gender and education, and an education affiliate with the Religious Literacy Project at the Harvard Divinity School. She is on Twitter

Updated January 6, 2016, 3:21 AM
New York Times, All Rights Reserved, Copyright
 
As Islamophobia in the United States has grown, Muslim sisters have been verbally and physically abused simply for wearing headscarves, an expression of their faith. Actions like World Hijab Day that call on non-Muslims to don the hijab in solidarity with Muslims are crucial ways to direct attention to this increased violence against women.

I do not wear the hijab, but I staunchly stand with sisters who do and are being viciously attacked because of it. I grew up in Pakistan and have seen Muslim women don the hijab – or other coverings, such as the dupatta – for myriad reasons: demonstrating submission to Allah, expressing modesty, conforming to local patriarchies or resisting everyday injustices.

Wearing the hijab as an act of solidarity with Muslim women then requires recognition of these multiple meanings — particularly since the hijab has historically been deployed to signal the oppression of Muslim women by Muslim communities and to legitimize interventions in Muslim nations. Solidarity through hijab should not be reduced to making a fashion statement or a voyeuristic experience into a Muslim identity.

In addition, the dominant markers by which Muslims are recognized in the West are not just beards or hijabs – but also skin color. Islam in the West has historically been racialized. When we think of Muslims, we often conjure images of bearded men or veiled women who are brown-skinned. This means that brown people can be targets of attacks whether or not they are Muslims. A clear example is the recent attacks on members of the Sikh community.

Similarly, African-American Muslims, who constitute a significant portion of the Muslim population in the United States, experience violence that draws on both Islamophobia and anti-black racism. Even without a hijab, being a brown or black Muslim in America can be precarious. Racism and Islamophobia are deeply entangled in how we experience our worlds.

Solidarity, hence, can begin with donning the hijab, but it should not end there. It must evolve into a deeper engagement with the causes of Islamophobia, racism and bigotry, along with the oppression of women.

It is only then that we will be able to effectively challenge the deeply layered ignorance about Islam in the West, and address gender-based discrimination within Muslim communities.

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