“But, I am modern therefore I am different”. So many times have I heard this from my fellow Muslim women that I started to wonder whether we had constructed this idea of being ‘modern’ on our own, or become too obsessed with appearing “normal” or “western” and hereby taking the constructed western definition of being modern.
The fact is that, even though there is nothing wrong with wanting to appear ‘modern’ or ‘western’, the problem however lies in the underlying hidden meaning that has been constructed by ourselves, but also by the West. After all, by putting an adjective like ‘modern’ in front of the words ‘Muslim women”, many suddenly perceive the word to have a positive connotation rather than a negative one, because lets face it, Muslim women have often been portrayed as abnormal creatures by the media.
And what does modern really mean? To be liberal? To be open-minded, or to be more western? Often the word modern in the context of a Muslim woman, is used to tell others that even though she is Muslim she is liberal, she is western, she is open-minded and liberated from her ancient traditional oppressive culture. Because God forbid, if she is JUST a Muslim woman she must be oppressed, she can’t be free, she can’t wear any colour and must certainly suffer in a male dominated world. This is unfortunately the picture painted by many western media. And in response, many Muslim women become obsessed with appearing more ‘western’ or ‘modern’ and thereby surrender to stereotypical definitions of a more ‘modern’ and more ‘western’ woman, losing their own heritage, let alone their identity, and thus lose that which makes them unique, their substance.
Acceptance and recognition
There may be several reasons why one chooses to feel attached to the definition, but one of the most common reasons is cultural acceptance and recognition, as by calling ourselves ‘modern Muslim women’ we justify that we are different from ‘just a Muslim woman’. Therefore, many Muslim women unthinkingly embrace this definition when trying to justify or even define themselves. And I was one among these.
In December 2013 a group of young American Muslim women published a video called Mipsterz (Muslim hipsters), wearing stylish hijabs with cool and colourful clothes while skating around urban areas. It not only created a lot of debate, but it also offended some other Muslim women, and the girls featuring in the video got a lot of criticism from them. This is problematic too. I have noticed that too many Muslims criticize Muslim women in social media for not wearing clothes that are in accordance with Islamic guidelines, as they appear to wear more ‘western’ clothes. After all, a hijabi girl is not supposed to wear a Nike sweater and Boyfriend jeans.
In both cases we are trying to defend our heritage. Either by trying to redefine what it means to be a Muslim woman or by ‘claiming’ the one way of being a Muslim woman. In both cases, what we really seek is acceptance of our own heritage. However one must remember that in doing so one can also ‘lose’ their own essence by focusing too much on being like the other or being accepted by the other.
Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised when a couple of months back I saw a photo on Instagram of a magazine that showed pictures of models with hijabs drawn over them. I found this hilarious and quite interesting as it told me that this particular person’s reality originated from her own heritage, which she couldn’t recognise in the models represented in the magazine. So this person created a reality that corresponded to her world. But what I found the most interesting was that this particular person tried to show us that everybody has their own truth, that what we might think is the truth may be someone else’s lie – or maybe this person tried to create something that she could recognise. The point is not that she drew hijabs on the models, the point is that she tried to create her own reality instead of the reality constructed by society. In a world where we are constantly told to be unique whilst being pushed to do what everybody else does, I found it refreshing to see that there are still women out there who reflect on their truth, and that being ‘just a Muslim woman’ isn’t a crime.