Is wearing hijab empowering? When Muslim feminists say this, they explain it by appealing to the notion of choice. A Muslim woman is empowered because she can choose to dress as she wants. The choice is what confers the power. But if this is what is meant by empowerment, then if a woman chooses to dress in a bikini or something else, that would be equally empowering since it is based on her choice.
Is it any wonder that young Muslim girls who have been raised on this notion of empowerment choose to forego the hijab entirely? Why bother with the hijab when what is important is choice and feeling empowered? You can feel really empowered wearing fashionable clothes, looking sexy, getting guys to notice you. That feels a lot more empowering to the average woman or teen girl in our society than covering up, getting stared at by people, etc.
So let’s drop the “empowerment” cliches please because, even if it did make sense to some people at some point, at the end of the day, it has done a lot more harm than good.
What is amazingly ironic is that, if we really want to talk about hijab in terms of empowerment, there is a very obvious and compelling way to do so. As it turns out, covering yourself, hiding in plain sight, shielding yourself from public view is universally understood as empowering. Think of the CIA, MI6, and other secret, covert agencies. A large part of their power comes from being out of public view and being hidden.
The most powerful people of the world stay out of public view. They avoid the tabloids and the photo ops. The US Supreme Court justices for example are notoriously private. Many of the meetings between the world’s richest people and politicians happen behind closed doors.
And this is not something new. Sultans and kings of the past made an art out of avoiding the gaze of the commoner. To be seen by regular people was seen as diminishing to one’s status. If they had no choice but to travel through common streets, some Ottoman sultans would even don the veil to avoid being seen. This is not unlike modern politicians and rulers riding in their black limos with tinted windows.
But for some reason, people today think that baring it all for all to see is what is empowering. How foolish. How contrary to common sense. Not only do they uncover their bodies, they even display the intimate details of their private lives. Social media makes it increasingly easy to let strangers into your home. This is the opposite of empowering. This is enslaving yourself to the eyes of others. Instead of controlling the information people have about you, you give it away for free, handing them the key to your soul.
All societies understand the value of privacy but this is a concept that has been thoroughly eroded for us today due to the influence of corrupt ideologies like feminism (especially third-wave, “sex positive” feminism). Seen in this light, we can reflect on a possible wisdom of the hijab. Women, as opposed to men, certainly have more that can be coveted, though men have much to hide as well. But women ultimately have more information to hide, so to speak. They are more vulnerable to the predatory gaze of others, whether those of men or even women. This is just due to the qualities God has given women. So given these assets, should women just give away everything for free? They could, but that would be contrary to reason and common sense. Not only would it be a major lost opportunity, it would also make them vulnerable to harm in a thousand different ways.
Fact of the matter is, past women understood the high value of not being available for public view and they leveraged this power for their personal ends, whether social, financial, familial, or even political. But modern academics and researchers simplistically think, “Those poor powerless, voiceless Muslim women and their veils. How degrading. How oppressive. What a tragedy!” Little do they know that they’re the ones living a tragedy.
And of course, we know that the ultimate reason one wears hijab is to be obedient to Allah and follow His commands with devotion and sincerity. WaAllahu `alam.