I Can Be a Feminist and Hijabi, and I Needn’t Be Saved. Here’s Why

Many of us do not understand the hijab but believe that a woman with a headscarf is silently begging to be saved.

3 min read
A R Rahman tweeted a picture of all the women in his family to show every one exercises freedom of choice. 

One day, I was rejected an apartment in South Delhi after revealing my Muslim name in the rental agreement (nothing new or newsy about that I am sure) and I told my would-have-been landlord frustratingly that he shouldn’t have wasted my time. Didn’t my headscarf tell him that I am a Muslim? “Oh, this was a hijab,” he exclaimed staring at my head in surprise. “I thought you were shielding yourself from the sun. We did not know.”

And then another day, a very close friend commented matter-of-factly, “why do you wear it anyway? Aren’t you a feminist? Shouldn’t you be fighting against such regressive practices?”


Both these situations were perplexing. Not because I did not have answer.

It was shocking to realise how many people in this country did not know what a hijab looked like and the thought of explaining to my dear colleague the reasons behind it, establishing that I do not find it ‘regressive’ or limiting, was tedious.

Hijab Is A Matter Of Choice

The outrage over A R Rahman’s daughter Khatija, for wearing a niqab on stage instantly reminded me of this episode. And I immediately empathised with her and her father.

Many in this country do not understand hijab but have a lot of opinions on it, the popular one being that a woman with a headscarf is caged and is silently begging to be saved.

Being a hijabi, hence, becomes frustrating. Worse, if you are a millennial. Everyone around you is ‘woke’ and that by default, gives them the right to attack you and your community for being rigid and orthodox.

Not every woman wearing a hijab has a family steeped in patriarchy or a mufti running behind her with a fatwa. Most of the times, it is just choice. Like Khatija. And we really need to stop trolling a woman or those around her for the choices she makes.

Having said that, I am not denying the fact that there are many girls and women who are strong-armed into it.

But then again, coercing women to stick to a certain dress code and way of life is not restricted to Islam, is it? Unfortunately, the phenomenon sweeps across cultures and countries. If you want to stand for the liberation of women, speak out when they get groped, abused and raped on the streets and in homes. Why the selective outrage, good people?

Hijab Is A Cultural Statement

Most Muslim families in India will have a photograph like the one A R Rahman posted on Twitter.

There will be hijabs, niqabs, and no-hijabs. That doesn’t mean any of them are less or more Muslim than the other. Sometimes, a headscarf is more of a cultural statement. My hijab is my identity, it represents the culture I am raised in, just like the food I eat.

So, just like I may not believe that exposing a strand of hair to the world will land me in the scorching flames of hell, I will also not agree that choosing different hairstyles is the key to my freedom. Because, both these tones reek awfully of dictation.

Last year, a college in Mangaluru objected to students wearing headscarves inside the classroom. Students protested and many liberals spoke about ‘uniform’ dress codes and what not. We are not a uniform country, we have Christians, Sikhs and Muslims in classrooms. To ban anyone from wearing their attire is to strip them of choice, identity and culture.

Treat Hijab Like A Common Sight

Many have taken it upon themselves to save Muslim women from their ‘oppressive’ religion and empower them. But the majority of the Muslim community, in this country, have been oppressed and marginalised for ages.

At a time when women from such a community are making their presence known in mainstream educational institutions and professional spaces – making hijab a common sight – we ought to cheer them on, instead of pulling them down for their choice of clothing. They really don’t need as much saving as they need acknowledgment and encouragement.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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