On paper, me and Billie Eilish have nothing in common. She’s American, I’m British. She’s a pop star, I’m a wife and mother. She’s a Christian, I’m a Muslim.
But we have faced exactly the same challenges as women who don’t want to be sexualised objects for men. Eilish explained she wore baggy clothes because:
“Nobody can have an opinion because they haven’t seen what’s underneath. Nobody can be like, ‘she’s slim-thick,’ ‘she’s not slim-thick,’ ‘she’s got a flat ass,’ ‘she’s got a fat ass.’ No one can say any of that because they don’t know.”
Any Muslim (and many a non-Muslim) reader will read the above as an argument for hijab. This is something I have been witnessing more and more amongst my friends of different backgrounds: Hijab By Any Other Name.
This is ironic, because hijab, as the most visible symbol of Islamic observance, is constantly under attack from both outside Muslim communities and sometimes even from within.
Islamophobes refuse to believe that the majority of hijabis do so not just out of religious choice and piety, but because the hijab addresses a need every woman in the world has: to go about her daily life without becoming an object, an exhibit, a spectacle. Those same attacks are mirrored by what I call internal Islamophobes: Muslims who are so caught up in the struggle to exist as a minority that they start to dismember the tradition they seek to rationalise (“hijab is a state of mind”, or “let men wear hijab by lowering their gazes”, etc.)
Too often, we Muslim women have been drawn into playing the Islamophobes’ game: we view hijab as a bizarre cultural phenomenon that needs to be explained away, apologised for, or made more appealing. Wouldn’t it be easier to see this as our formal solution to the problems faced by every woman – even Billie Eilish?
I have struggled with my hijab a lot. There was a long time in my adolescence and early adulthood when I thought I would never wear it. And since then, there have been times when I have toyed with the idea of taking it off, or at least letting it slip a little (what harm can an innocent fringe do?)
But – and it embarrases me to say this – as the culture has caught up with Islam, I have further embraced my Islamic dress. Raunch culture is out. Hijab is in. Even if you don’t use the word, “not letting them see what’s underneath” is almost a verbatim summary of Islamic guidance on women’s dress.
So while the celebrity hijabis have been busy trying to have their halal cake and eat it – wearing items of clothing that look like hijab, but certainly don’t function as hijab (take a look at Sports Illustrated to get an idea of what I mean), non-Muslim women have been proudly guarding their ‘awrahs.
From one woman to another: I feel, you Billie. I’m proud to say no one is ever going to get even an idea of “what’s underneath” – except my husband.