As the new year begins, Larycia Hawkins, the Wheaton professor who was suspended for the assertion that Muslims and Christians worship “the same God,” is still not fully reinstated. Hawkins’ choice to wear a hijab was a strong symbolic statement, one that elicited as much controversy as her interfaith theology. As noted here in RD, a Washington Post op-ed by Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa that challenged the notion of “hijab solidarity” signals the beginning of a much longer discussion. Here, Hina Tai offers a perspective.
Ultimately hijab solidarity does more harm than good.
Foremost, hijab solidarity alienates and rejects the voices of Muslim women who do not wear the hijab but who still suffer the burden of Islamophobia. Non-hijabi Muslim women are often pressured to recognize their struggles as lesser because they are not “visibly” Muslim. Though Muslim women who wear hijab are most vulnerable to discrimination and violence, it does not erase the fact that many non-hijabi Muslim also face these issues and require support.
I have even heard some non-hijabi Muslim women confess to being guilted into sporting the hijab in order to demonstrate solidarity for their hijabi counterparts. Hijab solidarity creates and enhances boundaries, particularly among Muslim women. This is not the time or place for differential solidarity when we all hurt and we all ache. If we can do better to support each other, we should.
Hijab-solidarity campaigns, such as “Wear Hijab for a Day” initiatives on college campuses, send the wrong message. What we need to remind people is that Muslim women are more than their veils. It is superficial to assume our identities can be reduced to the hijab, especially when we desire to be recognized for more than our clothing.
Yet through these campaigns, our suffering, our contributions, our heterogeneous lived-experiences are conflated with a simple piece of fabric, and more so for a social experiment. This preoccupation with the hijab—by Muslim and non-Muslim communities alike—has prevented us from addressing real issues. As Muslim-Americans, we have fueled our own stereotypes and nourished the hijab obsession by encouraging such campaigns.
Hijab is inscribed with so much meaning, history, tradition, symbolism and even heartache that cannot be understood from a single day of wearing the headscarf. Instead, when non-Muslim individuals wear the hijab for a day as part of an exercise, they underscore their privilege in being able to remove the stigmatized-Muslim identity at the end of the day.
To me, hijab solidarity does not demonstrate support, but rather a power dynamic.
To those who stand with us in solidarity: I love your support, I really do. But I don’t need you to pretend to be Muslim or “look” Muslim in order to be my ally. And so I ask you, please do not demonstrate your solidarity through the headscarf. Hijab has always been a divisive, contested element in Islam and that has no place when it comes to building bridges between communities. In its place, I offer five alternative ways of demonstrating solidarity with Muslims.
- Learn about Islam, Muslims and the history of minorities in America.
Much of the anti-Muslim conversations dominating mainstream media stems from misunderstanding of Islam and overgeneralization of diverse Muslim communities. It is oft forgotten that the modern Muslim-American experience is an extension of minority struggles in America. Therefore, the best way to show solidarity is to arm yourself with knowledge so you have a better understanding of the history and context in which Islamophobia is arising.
- Visit your Muslim neighbors or your nearest mosque.
There is no better way of debunking myths about Islam and demonstrating solidarity than befriending Muslims in your nearby communities. Engage in conversation and ask questions—our doors are always open!
- Speak out against anti-Muslim rhetoric and bigotry.
If you hear something, say something. Your privileged positioning as a non-Muslim at this moment in time grants your voice authority. Use it for good to speak out against anti-Muslim rhetoric and any form of bigotry whether it be racism, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, etc. Muslims live at an intersection of multiple identities—we cannot tackle Islamophobia without also addressing the numerous forms in which injustice and inequality manifests.
- Donate money to aid Syrian refugees.
Donald Trump’s bigoted call to block Muslims at the U.S. border has left Syrian refugees seeking resettlement in this country particularly vulnerable. Growing public fear has created a hostile environment for incoming refugees, besides rendering them political pawns in an election season. You can help by donating money to emergency relief for Syrians seeking safety and security from violence.
- Give us a smile of acknowledgment.
Muslims live in fear and anxiety day in and day out after years of dehumanizing rhetoric and media portrayal. Simply smiling as you pass a Muslim on the street is enough to reassure us that we have allies who wish us well and acknowledge our humanity.