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On a Quieter Revolution

April 25, 2011
I hope an e-book version of Leila Ahmed’s A Quiet Revolution comes out soon. For the meantime, this WSJ review will have to do.
This book talks about of the revival of the hijab throughout the world in general and the West in particular, emphasizing that it is a ultimately a means of liberation for Muslim women living in the West. Critics and responses to such perspectives are already making rounds in my thoughts, but that isn’t where my problem lies.
This review reminds me of how such discourses implicitly keep making the claim that taking on the hijab–especially in the West–is part of the politics of self-assertion in relation to one’s socio-political environment. I understand that this book is from a different discipline, and I do look forward to reading it. Inevitably, however, for every Leila Ahmed, there is an anti-Leila Ahmed who sees the hijab as an obstacle to assimilation. But even that’s not the issue for me.
I can’t help but take a humanities-driven perspective on such works. Is it that what the hijab is for me? A means of liberation?
This book will undoubtedly add to my knowledge about this dimension of the hijab, but I’m just not the sort of person to to find some kind of redemption or self-awareness from it. For one thing, I can’t feel all warm and fuzzy about the hijab being a good thing while knowing that there are just as potent and vociferous arguments that the veil is as a means of suppression.
I just don’t want to be in the middle of that discourse. The thought that I as a person am being looked at through this lens–whether in a positive or negative light–can even be aggravating to me. I personally take offense to being dumped in a box and categorized along with the thousands of faceless, hijab-clad women happily or unhappily whittling about in their lives. I’ve read Women and Gender In Islam and I have immense respect for the work Ahmed has done for Islamic feminism. But to me, it sometimes gets tiring to see historical/sociological/political study after study about something that to me is so intensely personal and so much more complex than such works make it seem. It reminds me of how, when it comes to religion, it’s so hard for me have such works appeal to me on a personal level. I’m sure there are as many different personal experiences with the hijab as there are Muslims, and I would love to see such experiences portrayed in more artistically-driven endeavors.
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