“Let Muslims play Muslims, let us write our own roles, let us be portrayed in the way that we, would like to be portrayed.” – Ayesha Tape
When you think of a Muslim woman, you probably picture the headscarf and the modest attire. Depending on where you’re from and your views on the world, the preconceived ideas associated with this image will be different. For those who don’t know any Muslim women, their only ideas may stem from the media, but this could be problematic due to the poor representation they’ve received. Recently, the media coverage that they’ve been getting gravitates around violence, and conservatism. Looking to the media I gained the notion that they were oppressed. Yet, as a Muslim Woman, I found myself confused, angered, and distanced as I am unable to relate to these media produced Muslims, and this may have to do with the fact that I’m not the women you’ve pictured with the headscarf and modest attire.
I decided to interview someone who isn’t afraid to critique the Muslim community, Ayesha Tape. Ayesha is a Coloured-Indian, Muslim woman studying Humanities at the University of Cape Town, who chose her degree on a single fact “I can’t comprehend why an Apartheid state like Israel can still exist in the modern world.”. I interviewed Ayesha with the intention of gaining her insight on some of the issues, to shut down the negative stigma attached to Muslim Women.
To start, let me introduce the hijab. Hijab is Arabic for “The Veil”, worn with the intention of “Protecting their modesty and not displaying their beauty”, according to the Quran. This is where the notion of Muslim women being modest stems from, as it is of religious motivation, yet the ideologies that accompany the reasoning and results of Muslim women being “modest” are presented very poorly.
After we touched on the concept of modesty, I started with a misconception that’s passed around within the Muslim community. Infamously spread around through online lectures – The “Lollipop” explanation; it goes along the lines of “If you were to choose between two lollipops that have fallen into dust, one with and without the wrapper. Would you not prefer the covered lollipop?”. This metaphor is referring to women as the lollipop and the wrapper as hijab. This explanation is contradictory to the reasoning for women wearing hijab as it implies that their modesty is for the benefit men. I asked Ayesha what she thought of the “Uncovered Lollipop” explanation.
She responded from her own experiences with a similar analogy, explaining how her father used a similar concept by comparing her to a diamond that needed to be kept safe. “The older I got, the less sense it made…I still struggle to understand the physical hijab, just because the way we’ve been taught has been completely twisted and turned.” She refers back to the “Lollipop” explanation, “for me, that analogy is so flawed, and it continually perpetuation that we are just objects.”
Society has misinterpreted the ideology of hijab through this explanation. I think once we become more aware of the fact that hijab isn’t something meant to oppress and prevent women from expressing themselves, we’ll break down this notion of it being oppressive, with that I was brought to my next question, “What is your take on Hijab being labelled as “oppressive”?”
“I don’t think it’s for anybody to decide what’s oppressive to who. I don’t think that that’s a thing.” She begins to explain what she sees as “oppressive”, “In Iran for example, Hijab is compulsory, it’s a law. I see that as inherently oppressive as it takes away from choice.”. This statement lead to a discussion of what elements are considered oppressors when it comes to women wearing hijab, “When you have non-Muslims come at you, and tell you how to feel…when you are intentionally excluded from work things, when you can’t even get a job, when you go into a work place and the first thing the person there sees what’s on your head – that’s inherently oppressive. It stops a lot of women from actually wearing hijab and wanting to do it because of the circumstances behind that.”
Ayesha explained that although she understands the context of people relating hijab with oppression, she doesn’t think hijab itself is oppressive, “While we have an instance like Iran, we also an instance where 90% of Muslim women living in western countries decide to wear the hijab, so it’s very contextually based.”.
“There’s like 1.6 Billion Muslim’s in the world and we’re not a homogenous group of people. We fill additional cultures and national identities and there is no way that we will ever perfectly execute the “stereotypical Muslim” because there is no such thing.”. When it comes to entertainment and pop-culture in the form of movies and TV shows, Female Muslim characters are very scarce. Ayesha goes on to explain the importance of the portrayal of Muslim women in the media – in order to normalise the image and allow people with misconceptions to understand that there is nothing wrong with a woman in hijab, “Let Muslims play Muslims, let us write our own roles, let us be portrayed in the way that we, would like to be portrayed.”.
She concluded on the note, “As Muslim women we will always be looked at, people are always fascinated by us or inquisitive…people think that we can give simple answers to nuanced issues. Modesty itself is a nuanced thing, as it’s understood differently by different people.”
There’s a vast variety of complex and beautiful Muslim women in the world, all holding different opinions and views and all presenting themselves in different ways. In order to detach the negative stigma that comes with wearing hijab, we need to empower and celebrate all Muslim women.