The Playboy Hijab

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A way of life in which one sub­mits him­self entire­ly to God. A monothe­is­tic faith, with the Qur’an as its cen­tre point – requir­ing adher­ence to Islam­ic val­ues and prin­ci­ples to the best of ones abil­i­ty.

Play­boy:

/ˈplāˌboi/

noun

noun: play­boy; plur­al noun: play­boys

A wealthy man who spends his time enjoy­ing him­self, espe­cial­ly one who behaves irre­spon­si­bly or is sex­u­al­ly promis­cu­ous.

Play­boy Mag­a­zine:

Found­ed by Hugh Hefn­er, Chica­go 1953. Known pri­mar­i­ly for its cen­ter­folds of nude and semi nude mod­els. First issue fea­tured actress Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe as cen­ter­fold icon. Also pub­lish­es short sto­ries, full-page colour car­toons, and inter­views of sig­nif­i­cant fig­ures.

Hijab:

/hiˈjäb/

noun

noun: hijab; plur­al noun: hijabs

A cloth cov­er­ing the head and extend­ed over the chest – worn in the pres­ence of males out­side a Mus­lim woman’s imme­di­ate fam­i­ly.  Often worn as a sym­bol of mod­esty, the Hijab has been out­lined in Islam­ic scrip­ture and its com­mand is seen as com­pul­so­ry.

Islam:

A way of life in which one sub­mits him­self entire­ly to God. A monothe­is­tic faith, with the Qur’an as its cen­tre point – requir­ing adher­ence to Islam­ic val­ues and prin­ci­ples to the best of ones abil­i­ty.

Now, mix it all up. Dif­fi­cult, isn’t it?

On Sep­tem­ber 24th 2016, it was report­ed that the up and com­ing Noor Tagouri was to be fea­tured in the ‘Rene­gades’ issue of the Play­boy mag­a­zine, proud­ly sup­port­ing her hijab. Tagouri, an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist, tweet­ed that it was an ‘hon­our’ to be fea­tured in the Octo­ber 2016 edi­tion – and no doubt, her hon­our sent social media into a fren­zy.

Some are in strong sup­port of Tagouri’s deci­sion to fea­ture in the mag­a­zine and believe it to be empow­er­ing, whilst oth­ers remain high­ly crit­i­cal and focus on the nature of the mag­a­zine itself. A descrip­tion of which can be found above. So why is it such a big deal?

To put it sim­ply, the two just do not go togeth­er. One need only look at what the Hijab stands for and what Play­boy stands for, and come to the real­i­sa­tion that you sim­ply can­not unite the two. The Hijab stands as a sym­bol of the Islam­ic Faith, and a woman who choos­es to wear it becomes one of the stark­est rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Islam. But this con­ver­sa­tion does not sim­ply revolve around the Hijab and its sig­nif­i­cance. No, it is unfor­tu­nate­ly indica­tive of much deep­er issues fes­ter­ing in young Mus­lims today: the need for accep­tance and val­i­da­tion, the free­dom fal­la­cy, and the ram­pant sec­u­lar­i­sa­tion of reli­gion.

Accep­tance, Val­i­da­tion, and the Free­dom Fal­la­cy

One Face­book user argued that Noor’s fea­ture in the mag­a­zine was a result of the mar­gin­al­i­sa­tion of Mus­lims today who have resort­ed to tak­ing any steps nec­es­sary in order to be accept­ed in soci­ety and to be per­ceived as ‘nor­mal’; even if that means being fea­tured in a mag­a­zine that has thrived off the objec­ti­fi­ca­tion of women. 

Web Devel­op­er based in Lon­don, Tuqire Hussain’s ini­tial thoughts on the fea­ture echoed the cries of many Mus­lim women who are well aware of the impli­ca­tions of Tagouri’s actions:

 ‘…I mean this mag­a­zine sole­ly exists for young men to sex­u­al­ly objec­ti­fy women right? She’s only fea­tured here as an exot­ic fetish for these men and noth­ing more. Any talk of women empow­er­ment, to me, is juve­nile.’

It has also been argued that the sup­port for Noor’s choice is reflec­tive of how many Mus­lims nowa­days ‘tend to be much more accept­ing of patri­ar­chal and misog­y­nis­tic prac­tices amongst non-Mus­lims than Mus­lims’. And had this been ‘a seedy Ara­bic or Urdu lan­guage mag­a­zine, this con­ver­sa­tion wouldn’t exist. And she def­i­nite­ly wouldn’t fea­ture in it.’

So here we are, faced with a des­per­ate cry for val­i­da­tion and an under­ly­ing cur­rent that rein­forces the notion of fash­ion­able activism and Hijabi Hero­ines. The Hijab is being used in order to gain a fol­low­ing, rake in the rank­ings and to gain pub­lic­i­ty – but at a dire cost. By fea­tur­ing in Play­boy, will Noor’s ‘free­dom’ and ‘choice’ in wear­ing Hijab final­ly be val­i­dat­ed? And will that val­i­da­tion come at the cost of ref­or­ma­tion?

Face­book user Zainab Cha­mi felt the effects of this fea­ture and intel­li­gi­bly expressed her views,

No one should dehu­man­ize any­one else. So coun­ter­ing dehu­man­iza­tion through ques­tion­able means is only hurt­ing us.

If we are so des­per­ate to be human­ized by the dom­i­nant cul­ture, let us con­sid­er what being fea­tured in a pub­li­ca­tion like Play­boy will real­ly com­mu­ni­cate.’

Per­haps by engag­ing, us Mus­lims will no longer be seen as a threat. Maybe by fea­tur­ing in sug­ges­tive pub­li­ca­tions, we will final­ly be human­ised. Maybe, if we vio­late our core val­ues, we will be seen as easy-going and tol­er­ant. Because that is what it is all about, right? Accep­tance. That we can fit in to a sec­u­lar and open-mind­ed soci­ety. That the cloth on our heads is some­thing we wear because we choose to – no oth­er rea­son real­ly. We are only inward­ly sub­mis­sive to God. Do not wor­ry, out­ward­ly, it is just a fash­ion state­ment.

And does this not all defeat the very notion of Hijab? That it is to take away from an exter­nal view of a woman and her body and assert that a woman’s val­ue lies with her intel­lect, mind­set, char­ac­ter, and not sim­ply her out­er appear­ance.

Huff­in­g­ton Post con­trib­u­tor, Shohana Khan recent­ly wrote an arti­cle enti­tled The Accep­tance Of Hijab, Just Won’t Hap­pen Through The Cat­walk’ in which she scru­ti­nised the idea of Hijab on the cat­walk and ques­tioned the focus on the Hijab as a tool for exte­ri­or judg­ment.

Hijab takes away from the pub­lic sphere what Mus­lim women seek to make pri­vate. It is char­ac­ter, achieve­ments, skills that Mus­lim women seek to put on show. So should we have to set­tle for accep­tance based upon how aes­thet­i­cal­ly appeal­ing the hijab can look, despite most Mus­lim women not wear­ing it for such rea­sons?

Mus­lim women enjoy dress­ing well, but hijab is fun­da­men­tal­ly not a style item, it is a sign of iden­ti­ty and val­ues. In the cli­mate we live in today, rejec­tion of hijab is also on the basis on iden­ti­ty and val­ues, where it is seen as an act of defi­ance to West­ern soci­eties by many. So real­ly, the inclu­sion on the next cat­walk line up of a new sea­son does not mean a mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ence on the plat­form where it mat­ters most – accept­ing hijab as a nor­ma­tive part of one’s iden­ti­ty.’

Thank you, Shohana.

A prod­uct of her envi­ron­ment, Noor clear­ly believes that her oppres­sors are her lib­er­a­tors. And this is not just the case with her; so it is with most young Mus­lims today. Inte­gra­tion is no longer enough. We need to now assim­i­late entire­ly in order to be accept­ed. And even then, it will not be suf­fi­cient.

The Sec­u­lar­i­sa­tion of Reli­gion and Empow­er­ment

There has been a mon­u­men­tal shift in what it means to be a Mus­lim. It is no longer this idea of sub­mis­sion to a Divine being, but rather to ones own self. Our whims and desires have become our God, and our own self takes prece­dence over all-else. This blur­ring of lines has result­ed in many Mus­lims high­light­ing their inher­ent belief in their own choice, their own pow­er to act as they please, and their com­plete auton­o­my over their actions.

Hus­sain Makke from the Mus­lim Vibe wrote,

Peo­ple have made Islam what they want it to be accord­ing to how it suits their lives, and if those peo­ple of tra­di­tion have any­thing to say about it they are imme­di­ate­ly labeled as fun­da­men­tal­ist and extreme. They are labeled, iron­i­cal­ly, as judg­men­tal.’

And is the hypocrisy not astound­ing? When Mus­lim women final­ly speak out about that which they believe cross­es the line, they are labeled as back­ward and unsup­port­ive of pro­gres­sion. They are tar­get­ed for being wor­ried for their faith. Tar­get­ed because their views are not in line with the sec­u­lar lib­er­al par­a­digm cur­rent­ly in place.

DPhil Islam­ic Stud­ies can­di­date at Oxford, Walaa Quisay, also elo­quent­ly addressed the top­ic of free­dom, Hijab, and sec­u­lar­ism as fol­lows:

To be hon­est, I have nev­er been ful­ly com­fort­able with the appro­pri­a­tion of the nar­ra­tive of choice as the pri­ma­ry expla­na­tion behind the hijab. There is a lot of epis­te­mo­log­i­cal bag­gage out­lin­ing that line of rea­son­ing. So beside what this par­tic­u­lar lady chose to do, this is real­ly the end of using the hijab as a state­ment of iden­ti­ty.

So when we start our line of rea­son­ing, the hijab was my choice; it is my right to wear it. It means I am a Mus­lim. There is a very inter­est­ing process going on; we are refo­cus­ing reli­gious prac­tice away from God and back to our­selves. We jus­ti­fy it with very par­tic­u­lar notions of auton­o­my, sov­er­eign­ty, and it ulti­mate­ly becomes a state­ment of iden­ti­ty. We essen­tial­ly end up prac­tic­ing Islam in a very sec­u­lar way and under very sec­u­lar terms. It becomes not some­thing we become (i.e. obe­di­ent faith­fuls) but a Hijabi that could and will occu­py any space.

Con­sid­er­ing all of that, it is not sur­pris­ing that a ‘Hijabi’ goes on Play­boy to prove to the world that she exists. But then it is fun­ny because you try to reassert your pres­ence but then play it on their terms tak­ing away any mean­ing that the hijab could have had in the begin­ning and los­ing your iden­ti­ty bat­tle all in one go.’

If Mus­lim women felt com­fort­able in their own Islam­ic iden­ti­ty, there would be no need to ped­al pri­ma­ry cap­i­tal­ist aims, such as exploit­ing women, in a bid to increase rev­enue.

For those who push the argu­ment of Empow­er­ment, let us make one thing clear – any kind of affil­i­a­tion with Play­boy is not empow­er­ing.

Many are also high­light­ing the case of notable fig­ures such as Mal­colm X and Muham­mad Ali fea­tur­ing in Play­boy. Why was there no uproar at their par­tic­i­pa­tion? Why is a Mus­lim woman being held to account? Why is there such a bla­tant dou­ble stan­dard?

Well, first and fore­most – when it comes to a mag­a­zine such as Play­boy, fea­tur­ing a man is one thing, but fea­tur­ing a woman is a whole oth­er ball game – con­sid­er­ing the mag­a­zine pro­pelled to fame through show­cas­ing women as an item, a cen­tre-piece, to be gawked at and mis­used.

Sec­ond­ly, we live in a time where the Hijab is one of the most wide­ly dis­cussed issues in the media; we live in the era of the Glob­al War on Ter­ror; an era of scruti­ny on Mus­lim men and women alike; an era in which there is a clear agen­da to reform Islam entire­ly and, this time, our Hijab wear­ing sis­ters are being pushed into the are­na, where they are used as pawns in this glob­al, ide­o­log­i­cal game of chess.

Third­ly, their inter­views did not come at such a mas­sive com­pro­mise of the Islam­ic val­ues that are meant to be upheld by Mus­lim women. Yes, women are held to a dif­fer­ent stan­dard in Islam, a high­er stan­dard by the very nature of their sig­nif­i­cance, in birthing gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion, by their over­ar­ch­ing con­tri­bu­tions to soci­ety. No, it is not patri­archy. It is not misog­y­ny. It is the under­stand­ing that in Islam, we answer to God. Not to man. If He has set a stan­dard for us, then we try our best to live up to it. For­get what they did then. It is about what we are doing now.

Last­ly, and I feel this is a very impor­tant point to under­stand, these inter­views actu­al­ly did come at a time when there were a min­i­mal num­ber of plat­forms to gain pub­lic­i­ty, or to be heard, that is 1963 and 1975, to be pre­cise. I think it is rea­son­able to say here that had these inter­views tak­en place now, the response gen­er­at­ed would be fair­ly dif­fer­ent.

And for those who argue that Play­boy no longer fea­ture full frontal nudi­ty, this is not due to a sud­den real­i­sa­tion that exploit­ing women is plain wrong. It is due to the plain, sim­ple fact that Play­boy can no longer com­pete with the pornog­ra­phy indus­try. It can­not com­pete with this new age of instant tech­nol­o­gy and so it is high time to move on. As Play­boy CEO Scott Flan­ders stat­ed,

You’re now one click away from every sex act imag­in­able for free. And so it’s just passé at this junc­ture.”

And thus the moral com­pass remains askew. Of course, there will still be a ‘Play­mate of the Month’ – but just PG 13. Fun­ny that.

It is argued that we need to reach out and take advan­tage of the few plat­forms that we have access to; we have to do what­ev­er we can in order to make our­selves heard. But is a mag­a­zine that has played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the sex rev­o­lu­tion, a mag­a­zine that has shame­less­ly used women as a com­mod­i­ty to gen­er­ate inter­est, a mag­a­zine that cel­e­brates objec­ti­fi­ca­tion and rel­ish­es in misog­y­ny, real­ly the medi­um through which we want to be com­mu­ni­cat­ing our thoughts? Is being fea­tured in Play­boy a mea­sure of progress?

I am a Mus­lim woman who wears Hijab. And I am say­ing the fol­low­ing: This fea­ture has not empow­ered us, it has only tight­ened our shack­les and crip­pled us fur­ther in the bat­tle for lib­er­a­tion against the oppres­sive struc­tures in play.

First it was mul­ti-nation­al co-oper­a­tions monop­o­lis­ing on our dress code and mak­ing it acces­si­ble only to the 1%. And now it is Play­boy telling us that suc­cess comes hand in hand with sell­ing our­selves short. Get­ting ahead comes at the expense of our moral code and, above all, there is no space for Islam in the West – well, not the orig­i­nal one any­way. Only a reformed and ‘mod­ernised’ ver­sion is wel­come, where man is God and God is con­fined to the home, tucked away on a book­shelf or fold­ed away neat­ly in a cor­ner.

A Muslimah’s empow­er­ment comes with being empow­ered to serve God. It does not lie in the accep­tance and val­i­da­tion of man. It does not lie in the asser­tion and illu­sion of free­dom and choice. And it most cer­tain­ly does not lie with Play­boy.

It is, of course, dif­fi­cult to be heard. And it is even more dif­fi­cult to have a voice. It is true that it is dif­fi­cult being a Mus­lim and, yes, it is dif­fi­cult being a woman. But we can­not scream for free­dom at the expense of the only thing that keeps us from the chains of objec­ti­fi­ca­tion. We can­not scream for free­dom and tie our­selves down to these oppres­sive struc­tures of patri­archy, believ­ing this to be our deliv­er­ance.

For the sis­ters who are hold­ing it down, fight­ing for their right to be hon­or­able in the eyes of God, strug­gling to con­tain the back­lash of “Play­boy mag­a­zine fea­tures hijab-wear­ing woman for the first time ever”, deal­ing with men com­ing out in droves to con­demn, try­ing your best to artic­u­late your point with­out com­ing across as ‘judge­men­tal’, ‘extreme’, and ‘intol­er­ant’, I know you have had enough. So have I.

I am tired; tired of hav­ing to see the Mus­lim woman exploit­ed time and time again; tired of see­ing any woman exploit­ed, at that; tired of hav­ing to fight the bat­tle of try­ing to reclaim the Hijab; tired of try­ing to live by Islam and being attacked by the ‘tol­er­ant’, ‘mod­ernised’ intel­lec­tu­al. I am tired of being forced to take my voice and my reli­gion back into the home and tired of priv­i­leged young Mus­limahs dis­re­gard­ing what elder gen­er­a­tions vehe­ment­ly fought for, what schol­ars of the past ded­i­cat­ed their lives to, what we are fight­ing for; our right to be unapolo­get­i­cal­ly Mus­lim. Unapolo­get­i­cal­ly a believ­er. Unapolo­get­i­cal­ly sub­mis­sive to our Lord. And unapolo­get­i­cal­ly unlike you.