I started wearing the khimar (Muslim head covering, commonly known as hijab) when I was ten years old. I was influenced by older friends who practiced hijab and I believed that it was the right time for me to start implementing it as well. More than a decade later, God has blessed me in continuing to progress in my journey to conform internally and externally to the requirements of hijab. This journey to cover and conduct myself in a way I believed would be pleasing to God and honor the fact that my body is not my own, but an amanah (a trust) from God, was and is not easy: a struggle millions of Muslim women echo.
Like other requirements of Islam, hijab experiences the natural highs and lows that every believer endures. However, it increasingly seems that distance from the hijab: whether blatantly refusing to ever don it, wearing it in a way that still displays substantial parts of one’s form, or eventually removing it after once practicing it, is being expressed not just in sentiments of nonchalance, but moral righteousness. This is particularly heard from many popular Muslim personalities who have enormous global platforms. What impact does it have on impressionable Muslim girls (who are already starved for role models) to hear that the reason their favorite bloggers took off their hijabs is not because they are struggling with their faith, but that it was important for them to “speak their truth” and “wear what makes them happy”? As Daniel Schwindt writes: “No one acknowledges a truth and at the same time denies the obligation — the duty — it imposes. And so again, in ages of fear, truth, because of its imperious character, is the most despised of things.” It is this fear of submitting to the responsibility that comes with recognizing God’s Truth that has led many to “speak their own truth.” Why and how does one’s “truth” supersede God’s Truth? Has hijab been appropriated by the liberal system from a declaration of submission to God to a political or fashion statement? Does hijab cease to bring “happiness” when it no longer aligns with our aesthetic? What false and material happiness are these influencers now marketing? Do they realize that they commodify themselves, other Muslim women, and tenets of Islam itself through their carefully curated feeds?
The problem is not that these public Muslim personalities may be experiencing doubts—dips in faith are natural and acknowledging and resolving them often makes one a more devoted believer than she originally was. The problem is the rhetoric they espouse in justifying their decisions and their absurd refusal to acknowledge that their influence is not limited to beauty products or shoe styles, but public understanding of Islam itself. Influence is an all-encompassing and bilateral exchange–a reality that should be most familiar to those who call themselves influencers. Just as these bloggers influence their followers, so too are they themselves influenced by the media and fashion industries they occupy, which have been for years hostile to expressions of faith, particularly Muslim ones, as Islam refuses to yield to the sexualized, capitalistic narcissism that these industries often require. Moreover, young impressionable Muslim women who may know of no other resources to learn their religion often see such influencers as not only ambassadors for modest fashion, but also as teachers of religion. These personalities frequently market themselves as the “first Muslim xyz” and parade their Muslim-ness when there are brand endorsements or social capital to be secured, only to hide behind feeble excuses of “we never claimed to be scholars” when probed about how their actions misguide or confuse their followers. Being Muslim comes with internalizing that at all moments we are representatives not only for Islam, but also for God Himself, as He bestowed a trust upon us and made us His vicegerents on Earth.
Fluctuations in taqwa (God-consciousness) or iman (faith) are common and affect our external and internal commitment to God. We must thus recognize that our faith and guidance are not guaranteed. We should proactively protect ourselves by abstaining from or being critical of industries and spaces that may be hostile to our beliefs. Even those who have strong knowledge of and conviction in their faith are not immune to the allure of individualistic sirens who belt through their playlists, featuring tracks like “my body, my choice,” “listen to your heart,” and “speak your truth.” The melodic propaganda of these sirens is superficially beautiful, with songs full of lyrics about personal autonomy and agency that provide transient emotional highs. But these slogans and the philosophical positions embedded within them destine shipwreck by leading us away from tawhid (the Oneness of God) towards taghut (worship of all but God). Tawhid is a requirement of faith, as it is not only conscious recognition of the Oneness of God, but complete submission to it. To be Muslim is to submit one’s personal choices and fleeting desires to the choices God has made for us and to align our will with His. Increasingly we see how Islam, which promises liberation from all but God, has been co-opted in the liberal system to liberation from all including God and His commandments.
Religion has become a celebration not of commandments, but of choice, with personal readings of scripture and individual interpretations of faith superseding that which the prophets and the inheritors of the prophets, the ‘ulama (scholars), have passed down to us. Post-Enlightenment liberalism and secularism have made Choice a false God. They have divorced us from teleology (a committed orientation towards an Ultimate Reality or greater purpose) and gifted us egoism that centers man and his choices, desires, and “truths.” We must resist the illusion of liberation that this “gift” provides, as it disconnects us from our Creator and enslaves us to this materialist, capitalist world. Many Muslims invoke the Quranic verse that states there is “no compulsion in the religion” (2:256) as justification for their choosing of which Islamic injunctions to honor and which to abandon. This complete misreading of the text is dangerous as it creates a liberty of conscience that allows individuals to construct their own religion and tailor their actions not by Divine authority, but by their own whims. It also ignores the remainder of the verse, which reads: “The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it.”
Influencers and the hijab are only one part of a greater conversation about how the liberal world order is restructuring how we view Islamic tenets, ourselves, and God Himself, all while many Muslims remain embroiled in juvenile debates or stale rally cries of “only God can judge me.” We must accept with urgency the threat liberalism, secularism, and materialism pose to our civilization, as crises of faith inculcated by these ‘ism’s have become a pandemic in our communities, leading many to abandon Islamic obligations and faith altogether. We must also resist the insidious work they are doing in convincing us that conformity to and representation in the status quo are intrinsically good moral pursuits. Far too many popular Muslim personalities market a lifestyle that has no marked difference from their non-Muslim counterparts, with their view of success centering around material possessions and a prioritization of their own needs and desires over all else, including God. We must follow the Prophetic model of helping such individuals with empathy, not ostracization. Our communities must internalize the gravity of what tawhid requires of us and submit to the reality that our physical bodies are only vessels for His worship. That is where true happiness and liberation lies.
Not my body, not my choice.
Disclaimer: This is not to suggest that those who do not practice hijab or who once did and now no longer do so have left God. I make no such claims and have no desire to comment on their commitment to God. I pray that influencers are rewarded for whatever good they have facilitated in motivating girls to start wearing the hijab and making it culturally relevant for our generation. May He guide them and me and bring us all closer to His infinite wisdom and mercy.
About the author: Eeman Abbasi is a graduate in Physiology & Neurobiology and Human Rights, working in international development. Her interests include Hanafi jurisprudence, refugee advocacy, health and human rights, and the food industry. You can follow her on Twitter here.