Halima Aden acted with integrity, Muslim twitter should too

Halima Aden acted with integrity, Muslim twitter should too
5 min read
01 Dec, 2020
Comment: Aden's choice to quit fashion unleashed a torrent of opinions on Muslim twitter about the hijab, showing a shocking lack of respect for women's choices, writes Yousra Samir Imran.
Aden says she felt pressured by the industry to compromise her beliefs [Getty]
I was scrolling on Twitter last Monday, when someone I follow said to head over to Instagram and check out Somali American model Halima Aden's Instagram story. In a long thread Aden, who was the first hijab-wearing model to walk the runway at New York Fashion week, announced she would no longer be working with labels that caused her to compromise her hijab.

Aden reflected on instances when her religious practices were compromised, from missing prayer times and having male stylists assist with fittings, to wearing a pair of jeans on her head instead of a headscarf as part of an American Eagle campaign.

There was an outpouring of love for Aden on social media. I was happy - happy that Aden was making a decision based on her own convictions, and not because she was caving into pressure from anyone in the community.

But behind the flood of support for Aden, I witnessed an ugly side to some in the online Muslim community. Rather than reflect on Aden's brave action of walking away from a lucrative career for the sake of her beliefs, some Twitter users saw it as an opportunity to troll Muslim women who do not wear the hijab or not wear it in the style they deem "correct."

Some Twitter users saw it as an opportunity to troll Muslim women who do not wear the hijab

Some users belittled Muslim social media influencers who decided to no longer wear the hijab, saying they were praying for non-hijab wearers to see the light. Aden's response to this was fantastic: "Don't utter my name in praise if you are openly shaming other people. This just taints what I'm trying to spread, love!"

Maryyum Mahmood, socio-political analyst, and creator of The SHIFT, an online platform that provides intercultural and faith training, was on the receiving end of such cyber bullying. She was forced to remove tweets highlighting hypocrisy in our community: praising women for wearing the hijab in a way deemed "correct", and criticising women who choose not wear it, or who wear it without conforming to a literalist interpretation.

Maryyum's tweets reflected our community's obsession with discussing what women wear, and called for respecting a woman's choice. They were met with a torrent of abuse, accusing her of siding with ex-Muslims and Islamophobes.

Likewise any Muslim woman who put out a tweet reminding people that a Muslim woman's choices are her own, encountered a backlash from the community, with some saying that the hijab is not a choice and that anyone not wearing it "correctly" is fooling themselves.

Even I faced backlash. In one now deleted tweet, I reflected on how in the past, no one advocated for a single style of hijab. From the gele in Nigeria, to the dupatta in India and Pakistan, Muslim women within each cultural community have been wearing their own styles for years. As I went on say, "no one, no matter who they are, has the right to judge a Hijabi for the way they wear their headscarf, period." For this I received a torrent of abuse from other Muslims, accusing me, yet again, of siding with Islamophobes - something I found amusing since I wear the hijab myself.

Read also: It's time to read about the untold history of revolutionary Muslim women

Leila Ahmed's book 'Women and Gender in Islam' does a fantastic job of charting how Islamic political movements had an influence on styles of hijab in the 20th century, as does Hafsa Lodi, who also explores evolving "modest fashion" in the 21st century in her book 'Modesty: A Fashion Paradox'.

In 2016 Muslim Girl made a video showcasing the different types of Hijab women have worn in different cultures throughout the last century, which was followed by Najma Sharif's video on 100 years of hijab styles worn across Africa. So how did we come to just one "proper" or "correct" hijab?

The hijab has become the a huge topic of debate in the Muslim community with some men still appointing themselves as judges, determining what Muslim women should wear. We are tired of a number of men in our community telling us to cover, or how to cover. We juggle this alongside western governments that pass legislation making it harder for Muslim women to wear the hijab and the niqab, all in the name of "freeing us", when there is nothing to free us from.

And if this isn't enough to handle, we now have to contend with judgement from other Muslim women who troll women who choose not to wear it, or those hijabis with with a style different to their own. It's a toxic environment.

We are tired of a number of men in our community telling us to cover, or how to cover

If we are ever to find unity within our community, we need to start respecting other Muslims' choices. We need to stop abusing the term 'naseeha', Arabic for advice. Some Muslims believe it's their duty to advise other Muslims. However, there are rules of engagement for naseeha-giving, rules that have been discarded.

You are not meant to judge people, nor are you meant to give advice 
in the public domain in a way that embarrasses someone or hurts their feelings. We are taught to practise naseeha using wisdom so that it does not make an individual feel targeted.

Have we forgotten how to have a nuanced discussion? Some lament the loss of the Golden Era of Islam of the 9th and 10th centuries, forgetting this was also time when Muslims had differing opinions and interpretations of the religion, and discussed them respectfully.

Halima Aden's announcement that she would no longer take on jobs that compromised her faith should not be about her wearing "proper" hijab and pressuring others to follow suit. It should be a celebration of standing up for what she believes in, and having agency as a Muslim woman to make her own life decisions.

Yousra Samir Imran is a freelance journalist based in West Yorkshire. She is the author of Hijab and Red Lipstick, published by Hashtag Press in October 2020.

Follow her on Twitter: @UNDERYOURABAYA

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.