Gender Jihad

I promised myself I would NOT do any pieces on the endlessly dissected “hijab”.

The Hijab is our modern day celebrity- consistently analysed, its status has been blown out of proportion in a tabloid frenzy of insinuations and associations.

Depending on who you speak to, the Hijab is a metaphor, a threat, a chastity belt, a symbol of the apocalypse/clash of civilizations, a fashion statement, a protest, a revolt, oppressive, liberating, frightening- all in turns and sometimes at the same time.

(Hijab is now in detox wearing dark sunglasess and will not be releasing any statements.)

So I couldn’t help but linking to this extract from the Australian from Waleed Aly’s book which seems to get it exactly right.

Whether its to demonise or ‘save’ everyone from conservative commentators, Muslim preachers and western feminists have been guilty of objectifying the Famous Hijab/i for all she’s worth.

It is one of the saddest facts of contemporary Islamic discourse that Muslim women are so often reduced to the same symbolic function that they are in the Western conversation. Here, too, they are not people. They are appropriated, usually by men, as symbols of Islamic identity, purity and resistance to Western cultural hegemony. And, just as in the West, the hijab has become the central, obsessive fixation of the discourse.

But the Hijab is the elusive postmodern rosebud- the meanings ascribed to her revealing only the commentator’s own fears and anxieties.

On one level, it seems the political fixation with Muslim female dress remains alive and well. But on another it has little to do with a dress code. The Muslim woman, in her varying degrees of cover, has become merely a symbol; a battleground for a much broader polemic. She is not a person with interests, aspirations, struggles and feelings. She is a concept.

In truth, the sexualisation of the hijab is more male than divine. It is a product of its male appropriation in a struggle for identity. Muslim thinkers who promote such apologia have far more in common with hijab-fixated Western commentators than either cares to realise or admit. Both take a simple piece of cloth, and transform it into a cultural struggle.

Whilst some may cynically argue that Waleed Aly joins the chorus of male commentary on the never-ending spin that is the academic exercise of “understanding the hijab”- his commentary “on the commentary” is nuanced precisely because it is critical on several levels and avoids the muslim “apologia” which invariably involves some sort of nauseating analogy to “pearls.” (muslim insiders will get that one).

Such, lamentably, is the prevailing nature of contemporary Muslim apologetics. It invariably expresses an inherently male perspective, one that assumes women must dress to accommodate the frailties of men…

…while it is often claimed and is sometimes true that the oppression faced by Muslim women is a product of culture, not religion, it must frankly be acknowledged that a considerable portion of this misogyny is perpetrated in Islam’s name. The battle of Islamic ideas is therefore central. (my bold)…

… the intellectual battle – call it a gender jihad, if you must – is indispensable for change. But it is a battle that must be won in the West as much as the East. Only when Muslim women are treated as human beings whose views matter and who are valued in their own right will we have cause for optimism. As long as they remain symbols, and as long as those symbols are invoked by opposing sides in obnoxious rhetorical wars of culture, they will continue to be little more than a battlefield. Relentlessly discussed, never consulted, invariably exploited. “

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