The unconventional conventionality

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Sameen Sadaf

In a desperate effort to break with tradition and herald a new beginning, the Muslim sceptic’s enthusiasm has, indeed, eluded his intellect. He conveniently forgets that to usher in modernity, a mere denial of the conventional is never enough. It requires a far more consistent and rational pursuit of that which is elusive. There is no denying that without wholeheartedly embracing the concepts of modernity, there can be no progress. That is precisely why it is vital to revisit our understanding of modernism in a Muslim society and all that it entails. Theresa Corbin, a writer, public speaker and revert to Islam, believes that, “… being modern is more than what it is not. Recognising and dealing head on with the problems of the day while striving for a better future is modern. Self-expression in many ways and in many platforms is as modern as rejecting the over exposure of the self. Accepting others’ experiences and making room for them in the human tapestry is modern. Being technologically savvy doesn’t necessitate modernity, but being connected does. Being modern is sifting through culture and finding what has actual value while holding little respect for the illogicality of thoughtless tradition.” The conventional and traditional ‘hijab’ (worn by a huge percentage of Muslim women as a symbol of their submission to God) has of late come under a lot of fiery debate and scepticism from all over the world. The premise of the whole discourse is the alleged oppression caused by the archaic nature of this ‘piece of cloth’ and its incompatibility with the concept of a modern Muslim woman. What we need to come to terms with is the fact that all that is “modern” is not directly opposed to all that is ‘traditional’ or religious for that matter. Iqbal was a modern thinker of his time. His main accomplishment like a true thinker and philosopher was to reconcile the present with the past and foreseeing a way leading to the future while doing so. In his poem “Khilafat e Adam,” Iqbal deals with this phenomenon of “hijab” and the concept of a “modern Muslim woman” with a wisdom and logic that still escapes many. He says, “Throw a glance at the vitality of all affairs in the universe around you! (and ponder). Don’t disturb the entity responsible for creation with the hassles of the company as the prosperity of creation lies in the concealment and secrecy of the very act of creation. Only in the depths of solitude is born the pearl of creativity!” I refer to it as a phenomenon because this apparent manifestation of an essentially profound concept has been quite transcendental to the modern world and has caused a stir amongst its powers. Few instances involve the recent uproar at the burkini in France; the ban which was later withdrawn by the government, the hijabis in the Olympics, the Scotland yard allowing hijab as a part of its uniform, the Canadian PM denouncing French ban on the Burkini, and the post-Trump violent incidents involving hijabis all over the US. All of this points towards the extreme patriarchal and racist reality of the ‘modern west.’ These events have subsequently caused hijab to become a symbol of empowerment, liberation, strength and identity for Muslim women, especially in the west. Naila Kelani a Muslim blogger for “Muslim Women Speak” says in her piece “Art and Hijab Politick”: “This foregrounding of beauty and self-confidence is not unusual; somewhere down the line popular, sound bite-y reasoning for wearing the hijab changed from “submission to God” and “modesty” into territories of “refusing to abide by Western beauty norms” and ‘maintaining a strong identity. Being modern is sifting through culture and finding what has actual value while holding little respect for the illogicality of thoughtless tradition.” The conventional and traditional ‘hijab’ (worn by a huge percentage of Muslim women as a symbol of their submission to God) has of late come under a lot of fiery debate and scepticism from all over the world. And sure, the hijab can be a marker of identity. It does disrupt notions of beauty in a way that pronounces the difference between public and private spaces, creating modes of being unique to each, but divorced from any directly spiritual reasons, the spectacle of it all can be tiring. We end up with the classic reduction: the purpose of the hijab is ostensible to mask beauty, but also, that’s what makes it so beautiful.”qbal’s ‘hijab’ on the other hand holds a deeper significance. It focuses on the way of nature. According to Iqbal, the passion or the capacity to create is intrinsic to the human being. Those who are able to reach their full potential in creativity know the importance of hijab (a hurdle, barrier, curtain to achieve isolation). Great men have pondered on the secrets of this universe in solitude, reaching the heights of intellect and creativity, which was not possible without it. Iqbal’s woman in a Hijab is more than liberated, she is an epitome of power and strength. She is an aide to God himself. Creativity personified. She has been entrusted with the power to create and affect mindsets. The hijab is not merely a piece of cloth but a complete way of life for her so that her power and strength is both preserved and magnified. Her creative abilities are the lifeline of a nation and the salvation of her actual strength lies in her ‘hijab’. The world today is in a critical need of a more ethical understanding of this phenomenon. Tolerance is a must, not only for its visible manifestation but also a genuine and empathetic understanding of its deep conceptual basis. Until then, we cannot have any real hope for a truly pluralistic society or the world, for that matter. Women should be allowed freedom and respect regardless of their financial status in society. They should be granted social acceptance and space, and the systematic oppression and the rejection of ‘hijab’ should be resisted. All this and much more needs to be done in order to safeguard a woman’s right to her ‘creative self.’ It is sad that the modern world is still trying to reconcile itself with the idea of ‘hijab.’ It is yet to be seen whether the ‘hijab’ and its spiritual dimension — submission and a strong connection to God himself — will ever be as readily acceptable and encouraged as its commercial version is.