Why the hijab is a symbol of strength in today's West

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Wearing the hijab too often receives ugly backlash in the West (image via Twitter).
In the current political climate, it takes real courage to wear the hijab in the West given the discrimination and mistreatment that all too often comes with it.

In some countries, women must deal with being coerced to don the hijab, while in the West, they most often must deal with defending their rights to wear their beautiful piece of extra cloth without being judged or stigmatised. The difference between the two is that, the West is largely known for liberal democracy and famed for human rights or political sophistication, while the countries on the other side are largely seen as less democratic.


— Wazeer Murtala Gatta

FROM Boris Johnsons condescending “letterboxes” and “bank robbers” jibes to the dramatised and sensational Pauline Hanson’s burqa farce in the Australian Parliament, attacks on the Muslim woman’s choice of clothing has become a feature of today’s political divide.

There is arguably no piece of clothing that has come under more controversy than the hijab. Multiple reports show that Muslim women bear the brunt of Islamophobic attacks more than any other member of the ummah.

While it may be hard to tell if a man is a Muslim, the visibility and distinctiveness of the hijab has made it easier for "Islamophobes" to target Muslim women. Examples across major cities in the liberal democratic countries of the global north include the attack on a 19-year-old Muslim lady in Belgium, an unprovoked attack in AustraliaCanada and many more.

According to statistics given by TellMama, a UK based organisation, Muslim women were significantly targeted in 2017. A report from the UK’s Social Mobility Commission shows that Muslim women are less likely to reach their full potential due to enormous social challenges and discrimination. According to a BBC investigation, it was made clear that employers are also less likely to consider candidates with Muslim-sounding names for jobs.

There have been cases of Muslim women also opting not to use their hijab due to the fear of being socially ostracised. 

In the U.S., there have been multiple reports of hate crimes and attacks on Muslim women. One of the most horrific of such attacks is the one that took the life of the innocent 17 years old Nebra Hassan in the state of Virginia.

In Australia, hate groups like Reclaim Australia and The United Patriots Front have demonstrated Islamophobic tendencies, where a group of young Muslim girls were forced to leave a career expo event because of their hijab.

In France, a woman was forced to remove her "burkini" while sitting on a beach. The same woman was reportedly fined in Cannes for wearing leggings and a headscarf. In other cases, a United Nations committee criticised France for violating the rights of two Muslim women to use niqab.

In Germany, there have been reported attacks which according to the German Muslim organisation Millî Görüş (IGMG) rarely lead to arrests by the police.

European  Muslim Sisters

European Muslim sisters are also targeted due to their hijab just as their counterparts abroad. For example, Ms. Svenningsen, a Danish Muslim recounts how she has been told on the streets of Denmark to “go back to your country” even though she is a Danish with Viking roots.

In Riga, Latvia, a new revert sister, Elina was also almost hit by a car and harassed on the bus: two situations that she said would not have been possible if she was not wearing her hijab.

In most these cases, it is the hijab and the Islamic identity that these Islamophobes seem to have problems with. One of the arguments by them is that hijab is not compatible with their liberal values, but of course, hating and attacking innocent women because of their freedom of choice is anything but liberal.

Why a section of people in these countries can hate "a piece of cloth" so much is confusing.

The Muslim woman’s hijab does not infringe on anybody’s freedom and does not stop others from wearing their bikinis or, if they like, walk around with no clothes on. Why then can’t these innocent women enjoy their liberty and their fundamental human rights of freedoms of choice, religion, expression and peaceful assembly in democratic countries that are known to champion for these very fundamental human rights abroad?

Wearing hijab despite all the documented social and economic prejudice that may come with it shows the in-built perseverance that many Muslim women exhibit in their day-to-day activities.

There is the possibility of psychopathic attacks on the streets or being bullied on social media. These innocent and vulnerable women who happily and voluntarily wear their hijab no matter what should be celebrated for their display of courage and tenacity in the face misogynistic bickering and an avid expression of freedom and political rights in the face of hate.

If anything can be compared to the powerful resolute of these strong Muslim women in recent times, it would be the activities of the men and women who fought and campaigned for the rights of women to vote and own properties in the 19th century politically misogynistic Europe of the past.

In today’s political climate, hijab is not just a symbol of faith or devotion to their belief, it is an emblem of courage, strength and empowerment.

Wazeer Murtala Gatta has a background in History, International Relations, Strategic Studies and Development and Governance. You can follow him twitter via: @Wazeerr.

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