Sunday, June 14, 2015

Lollipops, Hijabs, & the 'Ideal Muslimah'

Regarding those who think that the lollipop/hijab analogy isn't a big deal, or that people who object to it simply don't get the point of analogies:

1) We understand what analogies are. We understand their uses. We also understand that there is such thing as a good analogy, and a bad analogy.
(Examples of bad analogies:

2) The lollipop analogy is particularly offensive because of what it implies. The image shows a wrapped lollipop - i.e. a woman in hijab, who is ostensibly clean and undamaged - and an unwrapped lollipop that is covered in dirt and surrounded by flies - i.e. a woman not in hijab, who is dirty and attracting filth (men).

Even if one plays along and agrees to the premise that hijab is primarily (or solely) to protect women from men, the analogy is still quite dangerous. Why? Because a hijabed 'lollipop' is considered worthy and desirable, and an unwrapped lollipop is considered - literally - garbage to be discarded.
Thus, the analogy does nothing to say that a woman in hijab will be protected. It implies very heavily that a woman in hijab is desired (everyone would love a wrapped lollipop!) but that a woman who does not wear hijab is NOT desirable and is dirty and is, essentially, worthless and to be despised.

Again - even assuming that one agrees with the sentiment that hijab is about protecting women from men - this is, at the very least, a disturbing way to speak about any human being, let alone one's sister in Islam.

3) Using analogies is great to get a point across - except that we also need to recognize that the way certain analogies are used, and the context they're used in, also contribute to something more.
In the case of the lollipop analogy, it has contributed and exacerbated the attitude that hijab *is* primarily about 'warding off men', and stripping it of all other nuance and reasoning (including what Allah mentioned in the Qur'an, i.e. that it is also a form of identity for the Muslim woman, and obviously, that it is an act of worship).

Just a brief look at the comments section of these memes will show how so many Muslims - men and women alike - truly believe that hijab is the be-all and end-all definition for what a good Muslim woman is, that it is the only yardstick by which a woman's self worth or piety revolves around.

Other analogies such as the flowers and pearls/diamonds are not as offensive as the lollipop one (in that there is no equating un-hijabed women with being garbage), but still contribute to unhealthy ideas about Muslim women, their self-worth, and their role in society is (that they are *all* delicate - or should be if they aren't, and if they aren't, that they are lacking in femininite; that they are to be seen - but only in a certain way - and not heard; that they are not meant to contribute in any other capacity than a domestic one).

The lollipop one, however, remains hands-down the most disgusting and offensive analogy I have seen in terms of how it refers to women.

4) It is very, very easy for men to tell anti-lollipop folks (and I mean lollipop in the metaphorical sense, obviously) that we are exaggerating - because they themselves have never experienced firsthand what it is to be told that your entire self-worth as a human being depends on whether you are covered, how you are covered, and what you are covered with.

As an example -
I wear niqab and in the time that I once had a picture of myself on FB - in black abayah, niqab, half-gloves, a jacket, and sunglasses - I received numerous comments telling me that I wasn't wearing "real" hijab because I was 'attracting too much attention.' Despite the fact that I am a writer who posts almost daily on a wide variety of topics, people felt compelled to comment solely on on this one aspect - my image.

I found it annoying, but I have more to worry about than what people think of my image. Yet it also made me realize how much more other Muslim women go through on a daily basis - how pressured they are, how they are made to feel that their entire worth depends solely upon how they look, instead of a myriad of other factors.

5) It is necessary to know that for many, many years, a significant percentage of Islamic books and lectures about "women in Islam" pushed forward a very shallow, narrow, and restricted view of Muslim women.
The 'ideal Muslimah' was described as being a woman solely dedicated to the domestic sphere; a woman who is quiet, meek, and delicate; that her only desires revolve around her husband and her family.

There is, of course, nothing wrong whatsoever with a woman who does match that description. The problem arises when women who do *not* fit those characteristics are looked down on, viewed as and spoken about as lacking in faith and 'true femininity.' These women are considered to be inferior and less valuable as members of the Ummah, simply because they do not fit a certain definition.
Unfortunately, we forget that even the wives and female Companions of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) varied from each other in personality and demeanour. Women such as A'ishah and Hafsah (radhiAllahu 'anhunna) were forthright and outspoken; others, such as Fatimah bint RasulAllah and Maymunah bint al-Haarith were much more demure and private. Both categories of women, both types of women, were beloved to Allah and recognized as greater than all others simply because their Taqwa was what He cared about most - not that they should have all been cookie cutter replicates of each other.

It is this history and baggage that many Muslim women carry today. We have heard these messages for so long and had them shoved down our throats to the point that many of us have questioned whether we have any worth in the Sight of Allah.

It is not enough to say that "not all men" carry such an unhealthy attitude about Muslim women, because the sad fact is that many of them - a significant proportion of them - do. What's worse is that many of them have only the best intentions and do not actually intend to be hurtful or offensive. It is precisely because of this that we should encourage a stop to the use of lollipop (and other) analogies - to help our brothers in Islam realize that such a reductive attitude does nothing to foster goodwill and harmony between Muslims, but merely exacerbates antagonistic feelings and behaviours.

Rather than spend further time arguing as to whether it is okay or not to use analogies that compare women to objects, we should be channeling our energy on how to view each other - men and women alike - as more than one-dimensional creatures whose value depends solely upon one single behaviour or item of clothing.
Instead, let us take the time to overcome our own inner biases and strive to see each other as human beings with both strengths and flaws, weaknesses and abilities. Let us try to embody the best description of believers as Allah mentioned in the Qur'an:

{The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those - Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.} (Qur'an 9:71)


abusajidah said...

Hijab is not the be all/end all. It really isn't.

But I gotta' tell you, we're being killed out there. From within and without, our way is being challenged, ridiculed, picked apart, factionalized, legislated against, lambasted, deconstructed, and liberalized to the point that it is either uncomfortable or unrecognizable.

You look out across that dark sea and you see a brother with a beard, an old man clutching his prayer beads, or a woman with her head covered, and you feel sane for a moment.

Beleaguered people everywhere know that a little warpaint, a primal scream goes a long way. Surrounded and outgunned by our enemies, we need to know who our friends are in an instant. Recognizable symbols that make clear our affiliations help with that.

In my insecurity, I am one of those men who overemphasized the hijab. And when my wife took it off to reclaim herself, I lost it. And eventually she left me. Your admonitions have merit.

And I suppose that if one were made of more trusting, generous stuff than I, one could approach the world wide-eyed and open-hearted, looking to build bridges rather than circle wagons.

In my view, this becomes an issue of timing. When we are recognized, we can open ourselves to looking at things differently. We can celebrate diversity and defend the right of others to challenge us.

But when we are without a seat at the table of global consciousness, we need to make clear, consistent statements. As a group. And in an increasingly visual world, the hijab matters. The beard matters. A smile matters.

A lot.

Wa billahi tawfiq was-salam,

Umm AbdurRahman said...

assalamualaikum! Just another niqabi "feminist" here your blog and please please please never stop writing! That is all.

nk; said...

First time here. This is beautifully written Masha-Allah. The message is clear, the hikmah is even clearer. Excellent post. I hope the readers benefit from this, it's truly beneficial.

nk; said...

First time here. This is beautifully written Masha-Allah. The message is clear, the hikmah is even clearer. Excellent post. I hope the readers benefit from this, it's truly beneficial.

nk; said...

First time here. This is beautifully written Masha-Allah. The message is clear, the hikmah is even clearer. Excellent post. I hope the readers benefit from this, it's truly beneficial.