Saturday, November 22, 2014

I Am Not Oppressed.

Since I'm already annoyed, I've decided I'd let out my anger in the form of a blog post, on a topic that really gets me heated.

Check this out: (click to enlarge)

It's a list of books featuring covers of girls donning Hijabs. That fact in itself is completely fine (yay for intercultural awareness!) but check out the list yourself, and scroll through the covers. Notice a pattern? Most of the girls are either wearing a Hijab (hair covering), Niqab (Hijab with face covering, but eyes show), or a Burqa (complete body covering) and are depicted as being despondent, miserable, and oppressed. Many, dare I say most, of the novels cover the topic of child marriage or something of the like, normally written by a Western author.

Look, I'm not going to deny that some parts of the Middle East treat women horribly, with no fear of consequences under their corrupt governments (ahem which were instilled by the US ahem). But I won't get too deep into politics; there are people far more well-versed in the matter than I will ever be. 

I am a Muslim, and I wear a Hijab. No, I wasn't forced to by my parents, neither do I feel confined by a piece of cloth. When I see books portraying Muslim women donning headscarves, I'm overjoyed. But when I see that
  1. it's written by someone who clearly isn't from that part of the world
  2. it talks of how oppressed girls are and how evil Muslim men are
I begin to have my doubts. There is nothing wrong with speaking out against disgusting actions, such as abuse, but when ALL books about Muslim women only discuss their utter misery behind their Hijabs, then we have a major problem. The deplorable things that occur in these Muslim countries are not as widespread as the media would make you think, and the image of a meek, submissive Muslim female does not represent all women.

The prominence of "Save Me!" Muslim women covers is only reinforcing the stereotype that we are in need of saving, that we are living in an environment where we are denied basic rights, that we are subjugated by our husbands/brothers/fathers etc. In reality, we are women, and we can stand up for ourselves.   
From a slide in the presentation "Translating for Bigots."
"I am oppressed" book covers | Source
^^Look at those exotic, kohl-lined eyes! So original! -_-

I am sick and tired of books that are supposedly meant to represent Muslims, but only succeed in making us feel alienated. Where are the books on how empowered wearing a scarf feels? Or about standing up to injustices under these so-called "Islamic" countries? Where are our Malalas?   

It's sickening how much this trope is focused on and how much other, equally important topics are ignored. Why did this begin to bother me only now, when the trope has been in use since the 90s? Two things: one, I stumbled across that Goodreads list, and two, an incident occurred on Twitter that really fired me up. 

A fellow book blogger, the very well-known Hafsah Faizal from IceyBooks, was harassed on Twitter only because her profile picture shows her wearing a Niqab.

Ignorance is fun!
More WTFery:
And this:
How to be a complete idiot 101:
Go Hafsah!

Whoever this guy is, he is undoubtedly an attention-seeking troll. But his "opinion" isn't so ridiculous for some; you'd be surprised the amount of people that would be nodding their head in agreement while reading these obnoxious and racist tweets. See, that is exactly the problem. The way Muslims are portrayed everywhere--in media, films, TV shows (hello, Tyrant), books-- all play a part in shaping the understanding of something the average Joe wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise.

I mean, seriously, can you think of one popular show/movie that actually tries to portray Muslims accurately instead of as a confining stereotype?

I do know that the abundance of "Save me!" Muslim women book covers do not heavily contribute to the negative opinion of Islam, but it does play a role. And as long as publishers continue to publish books on the generic "oppressed Muslim women" with the mandatory "I'm-crying-and-I'm-wearing-a-Hijab" cover, then this issue will never have a chance at dying out.    

We're more than headscarves. We're more than symbols of oppression. We deserve our place in literature, and not as the oppressed girls, but as human beings.


  1. Ugh this is something that really bothers, no sickens me. I was born Muslim, but I'm only half Iranian and I choose not to wear a scarf, but I respect and understand why women CHOOSE to. Unless, in some cases , like u said the govt makes them (which the U.S. instilled those governments!!!!) it's really annoying and that list bothers me too.
    Sharing this post. Best way to destroy ignorance is by sharing the truth and your story. :)

  2. Thank you! Muslim women on book covers isn't really common in YA, it's mostly autobiographies and adult fiction. Hopefully the trope doesn't spread to other genres >.>

  3. Exactly! No one should be forced, and everyone should respect a women's choice on whether or not to wear the scarf. Ugh, don't even get me started on those so-called "Islamic" governments. -_-

  4. ...yeah. Of ALL the books I've read recently, only one I can think off offhand isn't hijab-focused in that the hijab is a problem or "Help, I am so different" isn't the focus of the novel, and that is IN THE GARDEN OF MY IMAAN. That's a pretty terrible batting average when it comes down to it. Indeed, ugh!

    Thanks for speaking up.

  5. "Ugh" is closest to the noise I make whenever I think of this.

  6. Exactly; that's the crux of the issue that we need to overcome. Thanks for commenting!

  7. Your points here are great! I've noticed the covers of a lot of books that have muslim characters have always been portrayed negatively and thats upsetting. I'm not a muslim nor do I claim to know anything about being one but I've always thought that the message portrayed in these books would seem offense and would leave the wrong impression to non-muslims on the religion and life choices of muslims.
    I had no idea that Hafsah was being harassed by people like that its horrible! Its so said that people can't see past something as so silly as the person being different than you. The world would be such a dull and pointless world if we all did and believed the same things!
    (sorry for responding to this post so long after you have written it)

  8. Thank you so much for pointing out this issues! You took the words right out of my mouth. You have an amazing way of writing. I look forward to read more of your posts. :)

  9. Great post. Who the hell does that guy think he is? One of my friends is Muslim, and she wears a Hijab (ha, I didn't know it was called that. Now I do). According to her, wearing a Hijab has nothing to do with oppression and more to do with modesty. She doesn't exactly love wearing it (she says it makes her look weird. I disagree), but she does wear it out of respect to her culture and family. In my country, most Muslim women are respected because of how modestly they dress. Why make the Hijab such an issue?