You can be forgiven for missing World Hijab Day – I did – but it happened on 1 February.
Not heard of it?
World Hijab Day was founded by a New York, Nazma Khan, in 2013. She came to the USA from Bangladesh with her family when she was only eleven years old. She and her family were, and have remained, devout fundamentalist Muslims.
She decided to establish World Hijab Day (WHD) to, in her words, “foster religious tolerance and understanding by inviting women (non-Hijabi Muslims/non-Muslims) to experience the hijab for one day.” The hijab is the head covering worn by Muslim women and it has various forms with some allowing the woman’s face to be seen with the more fundamentalists demanding veils have a total coverage with only the eyes – and sometimes not even them – exposed.
According to their website, “WHD has thousands of volunteers world-wide and 70+ WHD Ambassadors from over 45 countries. WHD Ambassadors come from all walks of life from a high school student to a Congresswoman in the Philippines.” The movement claims that WHD happened in an estimated 190 countries last year.
World Hijab Day seems to have superseded or maybe just incorporated International Hijab Day which used to be held on 4 September. This date was chosen as it was on that date in 2002 that France became the first country in Europe to ban the wearing of it. Why 1 February has been chosen as WHD is not explained.
And while the WHD claims that it has received huge international media coverage, Australian news organisations seem to have lost interest. I couldn’t find any stories about WHD in Australia in local media this year. The ABC, which could be expected to cover the event, was notably silent although it did run stories in 2017 while SBS, also considered a prime candidate to provide extensive and sympathetic coverage, hasn’t mentioned it since 2014. The Australian also had some coverage in 2017. Perhaps it just isn’t worth covering or, perhaps, any sympathetic coverage or even mention could arouse the ire of civil libertarians, feminists and others who see the hijab as a form of male oppression of Muslim women. Then again, upsetting people has never ever been a real worry for the ABC or SBS so maybe they just have lost interest altogether.
But it hasn’t been all plain sailing onwards and upwards for World Hijab Day.
The hashtag #NoHijabDay has taken social media by storm and has been accompanied by videos and pictures of women all over the world burning their hijabs in solidarity with Iranian women who are forced by law to wear them.
Anoud Al Ali, a self-described bisexual, atheist, ex-Muslim, feminist activist from the United Arab Emirates posted a video of herself setting fire to her hijab with the message, “For me, being oppressed, and for all other women who are oppressed, I’m going to burn this hijab, the symbol of oppression.” She described her act of defiance as “liberating”. She has received massive support throughout the Arab world.
According to Reuters newsagency in a story posted on WHD on 1 February, “...an influential (Iranian) activist said women were symbolically rejecting the wider ‘interference of religion’ in their lives.” This woman, Misih Alinejad, has a website “My Stealthy Freedom” where women in Iran post photos of themselves without hijabs. According to her, these women are saying, “it is enough – it is the 21st century and we want to be out true selves.” She says, “These people are not fighting against a piece of cloth, they are fighting against the ideology behind compulsory hijab. This movement is the true face of feminism.”
Under Iran’s Islamic law imposed after the 1979 revolution which saw the Shah toppled and sent into exile, women are obliged to cover their head with a hijab and wear long, loose-fitting clothes. And the government and its so-called “morality” police are not just committed to upholding this law but are very enthusiastic and single-minded about enforcing it.
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