“Is Abdullah suggesting, however irrational that may appear, that anyone who raises questions about the advisability or wisdom of wearing the hijab is encouraging Muslim women to tend towards prostitution?
“Clearly, Muslim women, hijabis or not, can think for themselves. Evidently, Aisha Sabur didn’t feel she wanted to remove her hijab. Is Abdullah suggesting that she has that right but does not have the right to do the opposite?”
The following Letter to the Editor, which is prompted by Umar Abdullah’s response to Kevin Baldeosingh’s 28 May Sunday Guardian column, headlined “Hijabonomics Explained,” was submitted to Wired868 by Alana Abdool:
In his column which appeared in the Sunday Guardian of 28 May under the headline “Hijabonomics Explained,” Kevin Baldeosingh posed this rhetorical question, “Why, then, does she simply not remove her hijab so she can get the job?”
Quite frankly, although Baldeosingh’s columns have not always sat well with me, I had absolutely no problem with the manner in which he presented his case in this one.
Ironically, I have a certain difficulty with one high-profile Muslim’s response to “Hijabonomics Explained.” That response came from Umar Abdullah and I believe it to be a statement which is nothing short of absurd.
According to the Islamic Front head, Baldeosingh’s question implies that: “…all women should strip themselves and compromise their true worth in order to get a job in this country. This is synonymous with prostitution.”
Is Abdullah suggesting, however irrational that may appear, that anyone who raises questions about the advisability or wisdom of wearing the hijab is encouraging Muslim women to tend towards prostitution?
I have difficulty believing that the Muslim cleric was likening to prostitution any decision to divest oneself of the hijab for personal financial gain.
It would be far-fetched to speculate that Baldeosingh’s comment covers women’s clothing in general, inclusive of the clothing of non-Muslim women, as that would be to completely ignore the context of the original question. To me, it seems a more than reasonable deduction that Baldeosingh is referring exclusively to Muslim women as is clear from his reference to the removal of “her hijab”—a garment worn exclusively by Muslim women.
Clearly, Muslim women—hijabis or not—can think for themselves. Evidently, Aisha Sabur didn’t feel she wanted to remove her hijab. Is Abdullah suggesting that she has that right but does not have the right to do the opposite? Does he believe that hijabis’ understanding of the concept of hijab is either fundamentally very weak or non-existent?1
If not, why did he feel the need to make the statement at all?
If a woman chooses to remove her hijab or chooses not to wear it at all because it doesn’t align with her understanding or her beliefs, does that make exposing herself “prostitution?” If she doesn’t believe in wearing the hijab, is it prostitution because people like Abdullah believe in the necessity of wearing the hijab?
I think that there’s at best maybe a five percent chance that a Muslim woman who understands why the hijab is necessary and fully believes in it might remove it. I cannot, therefore, imagine that that scant probability would worry Abdullah sufficiently to warrant his statement.
So the question we must ask ourselves is this: Why would the absence of the hijab or, more specifically, the removal of the hijab spawn protestations of “prostitution?”
Based on an open-minded reading of the “Hijabonomics Explained” column, you would have to know very little about logic or, alternatively, to be what is generally called a “quack” to call Abdullah’s statement a deduction. So, like Baldeosingh did in his follow-up response, I am going to assume that Abdullah was “pretending to not understand,” and view his statement as inductive—meaning that it was pulled from specific observations.
That being the case, while I still can’t bring myself to see the line that directly connects the absence of the hijab to the sewer of prostitution, I’d agree that I have observed significant differences in the interpretation of what constitutes a hijab—including the niqab—in what it is and what it is not. The concrete expression of these differences of interpretation has, in my view, led to a kind of cultural and religious stratification.
In addition to the Quranic injunction on khimar—called in modern times hijab—believing women are also called upon to “guard their haya.” Haya is most commonly interpreted as “modesty.”
As a child, I saw Muslim women walking into different masajid with shawls loosely draped over their heads, sometimes slipping back to reveal half their heads. This “halfway hijab” would, depending on the masjid you entered, see you getting the cold shoulder.
And there were also those women who either wore lipstick or wore a shade of lipstick that was a tad too bright or wore bangles that jingled or wore nails that suggested that they may have had them manicured. All such women ran the risk of finding themselves consigned to the dreaded category of “feminist hijabi.”
And there was yet another group who, most notoriously, dared to walk into the masjid hall wearing no hijab at all. This group is nowadays small enough to be considered non-existent but the segregation of and discrimination against the “lesser hijabs” is alive.
Now that I have put on the hijab, what I find particularly interesting are the statements of non-Muslims about what constitutes proper hijab. My impression is that they are heavily influenced by their familiarity with the now more widely propagated description of the “greater hijabs.”
There has to be alignment, they stress, between your inner conviction, belief and understanding and the individual external display of your interpretation of hijab. In other words, it’s all or nothing; if you can’t do it properly, then don’t do it at all.
But that still leaves intact the mystery of Abdullah’s thinking. According to him, since there can be no independence of inner intention and outward expression and since the locus of protection of all things immodest is the hijab, then the slightest departure from modesty constitutes prostitution.
So I am left to wonder what specific observations Abdullah has made that lead him to believe that inadequacies in hijab provoke the categorization of prostitution.
And I feel compelled to ask this question: What would be the “greatest hijab?”