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World Hijab Day seems to have superseded or maybe just incorporated International Hijab Day which used to be held on 4 September.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.
Iranian police have confirmed that twenty-nine women who had protested against the laws had been arrested only recently. They had joined the “Girls of Revolution Street” movement which officially is held to be treasonous, immoral and of being puppets of imperialist anti-Islamist foreigners.
Alinejad, who now lives in New York in self-imposed exile since 2009, has received death threats since her campaign began but she is undeterred saying, “I am full of hope. Civil disobedience is the first step to gain our victory.”
One young Iranian woman, Narges Hosseini, who was arrested for protesting the hijab law on 29 January, is being held in Iran’s notorious Gharchak Prison, and she is unable to pay the $US135,000 set as bail by the judge presiding over her case. Her crime was that she allowed herself to be photographed standing on a bench in public waving her hijab like a flag with her face and head fully exposed.
Under Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, she is charged with “openly committing a haram (sinful) act”, “violating public prudency” and “encouraging immorality or prostitution”. If convicted – and there is a virtual 100% chance of that – she could face up to ten years in jail and up to seventy-four lashes.
Typically, for women who openly rebel against the hijab laws, she is accused of being a drug addict. A government spokesman said the hijab protesters “have been taking industrial drugs and participating in an organised plot hatched abroad”.
The Prosecutor-General said the protests were a “minor issue”, that the protestors were “childish” and that “anyone appearing on the street without a hijab is committing a crime and can be pursued by the law”.
“We will not allow the enemy to carry out their plans,” he said.
In London, the Conservative government was embarrassed when somebody in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office leaked an internal memo that promoted the wearing of the hijab on WHD and even promising to issue staff with “free scarves” for those who chose to try it.
The memo read: “Would you like to try on a Hijab or learn why Muslim women wear the headscarf? Come along to our walk-in event. Free scarves for all those who choose to wear it for the day or part of the day. Muslim woman, along with followers of many other religions, choose to wear the Hijab. Many find liberation, respect and security through wearing it.” It also provided the address of the Departmental event and invited staff to visit.
After delay after delay citing all sorts of specious reasons, the Department finally issued a statement five days after the memo went public in British media: “This was an internal event for staff in London who wished to gain a better understanding of the different cultural and social issues they may face when working overseas.” And, no, they didn’t identify what were the “many other religions” apart from Islam that has its women wear hijabs.
The normally loquacious Foreign Secretary, the irrepressible Boris Johnson, remained tight-lipped. It seems he wasn’t aware of what his Department was doing on WHD according to “informed sources” quoted in British media. “Informed sources” usually means a Minister or senior staff member is giving the official view but not wanting to be directly quoted.
While World Hijab Day is, so far, a voluntary movement, the question arises as to whether it might get an official United Nations endorsement in the future. The UN has only six “International Days” set aside for joyous celebration or sad commemoration in February and that day is still mercifully free.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, founded in 1969, has fifty-seven nation members, fifty-six of which are members of the UN. There are 193 member countries so fifty-six is a solid voting bloc.
Last year, WHD transformed itself into World Hijab Day Organisation Inc, a non-profit outfit in the USA with the mission “to fight discrimination against Muslim Women though awareness and education.”
Don’t expect them to reach out and support the imprisoned women in Iran. After all, those women are immoral, disgusting, vile and disruptive aren’t they? And imperialist puppets and drug addicts.