Last week’s Sunday Times paper published a story about 5 year olds wearing hijab as school uniform. The paper also suggested that schools and headteachers “had come under pressure to parents or religious leaders to change uniform regulations.”
Since then there has been much debate and discussion online. Though there are many agendas at play here, I’m going to attempt to put forward the pro-choice side of this debate. I am not saying that young girls should wear the hijab or that they shouldn’t, I am saying they should be given the opportunity to make the decision themselves and that decision should be respected.
Why is it that every single time a Muslim woman and their hijabs are discussed it’s within the framework of oppression and force? Loaded question, I know. We are viewed within the gaze that surely we are oppressed or being forced to do something because of course, neither Muslim women or girls have autonomy or agency to make their own choices. So apparently the counter narrative to this is to decide what’s best for us and then enforce that. Autonomy is something neither the West nor those who think they know better within our own religion and cultures allows us.
There can only ever be one narrative. Apparently. In this particular case, you are either for or against 5 year olds / young girls wearing the hijab. Nuance is thrown out the window. Everything is black and white. Democracy, choice, the choice to do what you want with your body, parental responsibility, religious freedom are all thrown aside in favour of so called equality. But who’s equality are we being forced to adopt? The West’s? Progressives? Non-hijabi wearing Muslims? The Governments? Feminisms?
I am going to put in a disclaimer now to acknowledge that I know some parents pressure their children into wearing hijab. Every parent of all religions and no religions pressure their kids to do things. Forcing a young child to wear the hijab is not Islamic. You can’t force someone to do something in Islam and simply that is the beginning and ending of that discussion. Forcing someone to wear the hijab is equally as bad as forcing someone to not wear the hijab.
My frustration with this argument is that the conversation portrays the debate through one lens only. Hijab’s are being included in school uniform lists. But maybe that’s happening because we live in a multicultural, democratic society which encourages inclusivity and clarity for parents and students?
You cannot claim that the only reason young girls wear hijab is because their parents force them too.
My niece is 2. At 2 she’s headstrong and stubborn and fierce. If she wants me to make a fake phone call, I will, if she wants me to dance, I will. As will her Dad. And her Mom. When I wear lipstick, my niece will come over and give me a kiss on the lips. The only reason she does this is because she wants lipstick on her lips. Afterwards she’ll run around and tell everyone she’s got lipstick on like her Aunty. Incase you are wondering she’s not allowed to wear lipstick, you know, cause she’s 2. Kids want to do what those around them do. So how are you going to tell me that 5 year olds aren’t influenced by their parents or family and are all forced to wear hijab? If a 5 year old child wore a cross necklace to school everyday, would that make news headlines? No? Then why this targeted attack on Muslims?
When, the only narrative that is presented is “5 year olds are forced to wear hijab,” I have to wonder what the aim of this type of divisive and stigmatising rhetoric is. Are those involved actually bothered about the well being of the children they are discussing or are they just using the discussion topic to purposefully mislead and demonise Muslims and Islam to fuel their own agendas.
As women, shouldn’t we support the choices of the women around us?
Telling a 5 year old who has decided she wants to wear hijab that she can’t, is taking away that young girls autonomy and her choice. Yes she’s 5 or 7, or 11 but the choices of women have long since been ignored. I don’t want the choices of the young women in generations to come to be ignored. I want them to be heard and to be respected. Should a 5,7 or11 year old feel ashamed if she wants to wear the hijab? Should she feel sexualised? Are you going to tell her that if she wants to wear the hijab she’s been brainwashed? If a young girl wants to be like her Mom who wears the hijab is that wrong?
Saying someone should or shouldn’t wear the hijab means you are still attempting to control someone elses body. If we are concerned about the hijab being pushed upon young girls then shouldn’t we educate parents instead? Shouldn’t the goal be to encourage educated choice not control the outcome?