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.