Today, in various locations around the globe, many participated in World Hijab Day 2014.
I heard about it from a number of my Muslim female friends, many of whom have experienced abuse on the streets as a result of choosing to wear a veil. These brilliant women invited me to participate by wearing a veil for a day. [Disclaimer: I was partly uncomfortable about this, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, and simultaneously very thankful for the invitation to go along, listen and learn].
I love these friends dearly and the pain they’ve faced as a result of choosing to wear the hijab is appalling, as is the suffering of those who choose not to wear it and are punished as a result.
We often discuss how devastated we are by the seeming gulf between Christians and Muslims and enjoy supporting each other in any opportunity to work for unity, however big or small.
What is World Hijab Day about?
This BBC piece gives a pretty thorough explanation. In short, it’s about raising awareness that Muslim women’s voices must be heard – and on both sides of the discussion: some women *want* to wear the veil and are attacked, stared at, or spat on for doing so. Other women choose *not* to wear the veil and are punished as a result. Both groups are suffering abuse and have important stories to tell.
Today was about the need for freedom of choice for all women; that no one should be compelled either way. In that sense it’s not a day in favour of wearing veils, or not wearing veils. It’s simply a day representing freedom of choice for all, and a commitment to friendship and listening.
Why did I join in?
My reason for being part of WHD2014 is simple. I have lots of Twitter followers and blog readers, and I want to use those platforms in whatever small ways possible, to amplify the important stories that women have to tell. Stories are powerful – they can truly change the world and shatter stereotypes. Social media does a lot of good and a lot of harm, but one of its great powers is to spread messages globally. Women’s voices need to be heard and as sisters standing together we can pool our networks – both online and offline – to help each other.
What was today like?
I wore the hijab, along with many others. But my point in doing so is actually not to tell you how I felt, or what I experienced.
Many of you have asked and I’m sorry to disappoint!
So I apologise that I will not be sharing with you how it felt, or whether I encountered positive or negative attitudes.
All I will be offering is my silence.
Because I am a white Christian.
Because for me to put on a veil for a day and claim to have had any ‘experience’ would be laughable and offensive.
Because I write and live from a place of white privilege and that makes my voice in this matter pretty much invalid.
So why go along?
These factors almost made me not participate, as I am deeply uncomfortable with any tokenistic Western women parading around in acts of ‘hijab tourism’ (an interesting turn of phrase that I came across here and here), or of any misguided leaps into ‘cultural appropriation’. I also find it distasteful than anyone would participate in a day like WHD the write articles about ‘how it felt for them’ – especially if this involved getting paid for those pieces. These all seem self-centring practices, rather than simply allowing the day to amplify the voices of Muslim women who have authentic, long-term experiences to share.
On this basis I almost declined their invitation. But having thought a lot about it, I also did not want to let down my Muslim friends after the work they had put into the campaign, or pass up on the opportunity to watch, listen and learn from them.
So I came to the conclusion that I would go. Supporting my friends’ event, whilst also being painfully aware of my own privilege and lack of understanding, overall seemed better than sitting at home and declining their invitation. Solidarity, is in part, simply about showing up and listening, and they said having me there would mean a great deal to them and would open up new inter-faith friendships.
Open to misunderstanding and assumptions
Participating in a day like today of course leaves you open to be misunderstood. I was aware of this, and my Muslim friends said that in itself was meaningful to them; as they felt it was a way I could show respect for the vast levels of misunderstanding they face daily, when people judge their intentions based only on what they wear, without taking the time to hear what their intentions are. So they said any element of me being misunderstood for participating would be meaningful to them in itself, as a small act of solidarity together. [To be crystal clear on this point: I don’t feel there is any sense in which this was me ‘experiencing their suffering’. They simply said it was meaningful to them that I might face misunderstanding].
What happens next?
Anyone thinking about participating in World Hijab Day 2015, do consider joining in.
Like I said, personally I will not be commenting or writing on how the experience was for me. Today was never about that.
The real outcome will be the highlighting of the women’s stories I was grateful to get to hear as a result of WHD2014.
So a series of stories from Muslim women will follow on this site. Some wanted to take time to write down their stories at home, so I don’t know when I shall receive them back, but needless to say I’ll get them uploaded and published as soon as I do.
The first of these has just been published here – Mira’s story.
Also, I’m excited to see the footage that my friend Sabbiyah Pervez filmed today at the gathering she organised in Leeds. She is an incredible young woman -interviewed here on this site – and someone who is already working hard to change the world.
– Vicky x