Hijab: Not my Body, Not my Choice

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.

Disclaimer: Material published by Traversing Tradition is meant to foster scholarly inquiry and rich discussion. The views, opinions, beliefs, or strategies represented in published articles and subsequent comments do not necessarily represent the views of Traversing Tradition or any employee thereof.

25 thoughts on “Hijab: Not my Body, Not my Choice

  1. I have racked my brain trying to send a similar message to my sisters, but could not do it. I was so passionate and did not know how to deliver it without offending anyone, without it being a debate of men trying to control women, but was not able to. Eventually I had to just shut up, just in case I break the limits set by Allah, The Exalted. But it pained me greatly because I had a message for my dear sisters but could not put it into appropriate, kind and truthful words. Then I saw this article. You delivered the message that I had in my heart and in actuality, perfectly! More than I thought was possible! I am glad that it was you who delivered this message to our sisters and not me. And I am glad I kept my mouth shut on this issue. May Allah continue guiding, inspiring and helping you in being one of the few lights that He uses, to guide our sisters, daughters, mothers, aunties and women of Islam and Non Muslim too! And Our Brothers too on how to deal with our sisters. May Allah free you from corruption of the heart by men and jinn and May He always keep u focused on the straight path.
    I am ashamed to say this but I am afraid to marry because I feel like I don’t know how to deal with the sister. How am I to deal with her, what can I tell her to do, what can’t i tell her to do, am i being fair with her or am i unconsciously oppressing her. It has been such an issue for me that I am depressed and anxious and don’t communicate with anyone. Sometimes it causes me to have doubts in my religion. Sorry I know its none of your concern but I am just putting it out there. Maybe Allah will guide me to someone who will show me the truth. I want a wife i want children but yet i feel i cant have any of them!

  2. Very beautiful article with a beautiful message. I think once we submit ourselves to God and not to our whims and the desires of others, then that is true liberation because then your internal security is reliant on the one you can really trust. Putting your life and your orientation to others is turbulent and chaotic.

    That said, I personally think we have to start with the importance of modesty and not just for women, but also men. Some women may wear the hijab but not really practice modesty. From my understanding, the hijab is a means of maintaining modesty. I believe that once we understand and appreciate the value of modesty, then we can be emotionally and intellectually be secure by putting that modesty into practice. Not taking away from the fact that its an obligation, but the Quran tells us that we do it for modesty. And understanding what modesty is and why its valuable only does justice to that command. Wa Allah A’lam

    1. JazakAllah Khayr for sharing your thoughts 🙂 I agree that modesty is important for both men and women and I pray that He grants us tawfiq to embody haya properly, both externally & internally.

  3. Loved your article. May Allah bless you and us with the strongest of eman and guide us to straight path by living according to Allah’s will and not our own.

  4. Amazing. To be honest, when I was reading it, I felt that someone has knotted the muddled ideas into a pearl necklace. There is one thing that I will like your opinion or probably elucidate in any future articles of yours. I understand that “Not my body, Not my choice” clears the pathway to submission to Allah without any ifs and buts. But one issue begs inquiry that should men (father and husband generally) have any role in helping her realize this idea. We have seen seen that throughout the underdeveloped Muslim society, male members force the women to observe hijab without letting them willfully exercise their choice in submission to Allah. How will you counter the argument that, “my body, my choice” is not against Allah’s commandments, but instead for the such men of our society who wants to force us into submission to Allah. This is the initial basis for taking over the control agency from the men to yourself and your choices as a women. Rest of the ideas as you mentioned in the article follows later. This idea is the core of “my body my choice” debate. What is your say on this ?

    1. Assalamu Alaykum Br Ahmed,

      JazakAllah Khayr for reading my piece, all praise is due to Him for any clarity it might’ve provided you.

      Thank you for raising this question—InshaAllah this Saturday, June 13th at 5 PM GMT I will be answering questions readers had about this piece live on TT’s Instagram account. I hope you’re able to attend and ask any questions you have there 🙂

      1. I will definitely attend. Looking forward to your talk. May Allah bless you with further insight.

  5. Really well written, and a much needed intelligent response. Will be sharing this with others. May Allah reward you for it.

    1. Assalamu Alaykum Br Adnan, Ameen JazakAllah Khayr for taking the time to read it! Your kind words mean a lot; I hope it’s of benefit to others 🙂

  6. “Not my body, not my choice.” Such a dangerous and irresponsible message, especially to a generation of young girls. With everything we know about sexual and physical abuse, why would anyone deliver such a message to young girls such as- your body doesn’t really belong to you? You should be careful with your choice of words. Not a message I would give the young girls in my life.

    1. Did you not read the rest of the article? This message is an amazing concise explanation of what it means to wear the Hijab and why in an era of complete dissolution from anything meaningful.

    2. I think the message was misunderstood here , sister.
      The message I took away from this is that our body is an Amana (trust) from Allah swt. If we completely submit to the almightily one, in terms of dress code and modesty according to Quran, we will not allow ourselves to become victim to capitalist ideals and values that is pushed in society.
      Indeed Allah ordains everything with wisdom and he SWT Knows what is best for us.

    3. I think the message was misunderstood here , sister.
      The message I took away from this is that our body is an Amana (trust) from Allah swt. If we completely submit to the almightily one, in terms of dress code and modesty according to Quran, we will not allow ourselves to become victim to capitalist ideals and values that is pushed in society.
      Indeed Allah ordains everything with wisdom and he SWT Knows what is best for us.

    1. Assalamu Alaykum Sr Maryam, I’m so happy to hear this! May Allah SWT continue to bless us with knowledge and understanding of ourselves and of who He is.

  7. This is beautifully written and so powerful! We need more role models like you and far less of these deeply problematic ‘influencers’ Jazzakallah Kheyr

    1. Assalamu Alaykum, I feel blessed to hear that my piece resonated with you! May Allah SWT reward you for your high opinion of me and make me worthy of it. May He guide us all in worshipping Him as He deserves to be.

  8. Brilliant! You went easy on them. One other dimension to the “hijabi” influencers is that most have no real education or skill set so its about making money in the easiest thing as possible…using their deen as a tool to acquire wealth and fame.

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