By Aazeen Kirmani
As soon as I came across a news piece about Jokha Alharthi winning the Man Booker the first thing I noticed about her was her hijab. I had never read her any of her work before nor even heard of her. I had no idea who she was except that in the picture in front of me was a hijab-clad woman who had won the prestigious Man Booker.
Every time a woman hijabi ends up on the top of her game hijabi women (including me) all around the world get a shot in the arm. After been humiliated, stereotyped and even attacked, merely for dressing up the way we do it is therapeutic when a woman holds her hijabi head high and shuts up the detractors of hijab.
Jokha’s victory reminds me of a particularly vile image showing a horde of hijabi women heading in one direction and a non-hijabi emerging from their midst with a book in her hand and moving in the opposite direction. What that picture conveyed was that hijab was a tool of oppression and an antithesis of enlightenment. The picture was circulating widely on the internet sometime back and was a favorite with every anti-hijab bigot.
It would be interesting to see how the bigots now react to a hijab-clad woman bagging the Man Booker.
I have never quite understood how a humble piece of fabric manages to perturb so many people and that too to such an extent. What is it that apparently enlightened people don’t understand about a woman’s right to cover herself as she deems fit?
For many a woman, of course, hijab is a cultural inheritance rather than a choice but then cultures too have the right to be. What’s wrong in a practice even if it is completely rooted in culture as long as it does not hurt anyone?
School books often equate hijab with sati and club the two together under the tools of women’s oppression. Although this should never have had to be explained, as matters stand, it’s might be useful to state explicitly that unlike sati, hijab does not kill. Whereas sati (yes it’s still in practice at some places) takes away the right to life hijab confers dignity to existence.
And if you ask what’s so dignified about covering up then any woman would tell you that there is immense dignity in not being judged on the basis of bodily figure and physical assets. There is great dignity in not been viewed and treated as an object of lust by men whose hearts are diseased and who are ever increasing in numbers.
As for hijab being a hindrance in progress, there are hijabi doctors, hijabi educators, hijabi artists, and hijabi scientists to refute that claim. Then there has been Tawakkol Karman for some years, of late there has been Ilhan Omar with her brave voice and now there is Jokha Alharthi with Man Booker.
The hijabis are here not just to stay but to conquer the world.