MENA: That's Not Hijab!

This Ramadan, several campaigns encouraging women to wear, or correct their method of wearing hijab, have been launched. Two such campaigns–in Iran and Palestine–have sparked conversation amongst a subset of bloggers.

Campaigns encouraging women to wear hijab are nothing new; two years ago, Global Voices author Tarek Amr reported on one particular campaign that seemed to upset Egyptian bloggers.

"Woman without hijab is like a chair with three legs," reads this poster

The Iranian campaign, which has its own website, complete with online store, sparked ire from Nicole at Muslimah Media Watch. The blogger writes:

If you still haven’t figured out that wearing black chadors will save your worldly soul and that wearing lipstick and heels will get you sent to the hellfire, Iran’s “Cyber Group for Promoting Chastity and the Veil [Ifaf]” is here to clear that up for you. They are sponsored by the Iranian government and have a sleek website where you can view their posters, buy t-shirts, and brush up on hijab laws in Iran!

Digging into the meat of the campaign, she continues, referring to the poster at left:

“A woman without hijab is like a chair with three legs” is the most incomprehensible of the posters for me, both visually and textually. Why three legs? Because we as women are somehow incomplete without hijab? Lacking in a solid foundation? Because we can’t be used to sit on? Clothes can do all that? Really?

The blogger concludes:

Muslim women have always had their Islam judged by their clothing and appearance. True, we live in scary times. However, the lot of Muslim women has hit a new low when people find it necessary to launch an expensive ad campaign to make sure we know exactly what we are supposed to wear.  To drive the point home and blur the lines even more: ”Having little or no haya (shyness/modesty), is a sign of dark-mindedness, not intellectualism, is a sign of ignorance not civilization” So don’t forget, sisters, being a blushing Muslimah is critical to being smart and civilized.  And you can’t have haya in heels and lipstick!

Reader Rochelle comments on the piece, saying:

I think this campaign demonstrates what I’ve been trying to articulate for a long time: that compulsory hijab IS a big deal in Iran. I think a lot of us get so fed up with the obsession over hijab in the west that we assume that Iranian women don’t care about it or it’s not as big of a deal on the ground in Iran as in western perceptions of Iran. But to that argument I respond by saying this: if the hijab isn’t a ‘big deal’, then why does the Iranian government spend a ridiculous amount of of money, energy, and human resources on enforcing mandatory hijab? Clearly there is something big at stake here.

In Palestine, the campaign is aimed at women who already wear hijab, but who are wearing it “incorrectly.”  Lebanese blogger Rita Chemaly shares a photograph of one of the campaign posters, which she received from a friend in Palestine (at right)

"So that your hjiab is proper," reads the poster

The blogger comments:

it seems that this campaign is going in Palestinian streets.

in lebanon, we are used to see people wearing the veil in a more modern look.

even a more fashionable look.

according to this campaign, wearing sexy outfits with a headcover is not enough, and it is changing the meaning of the veil.

the veil is not intended for the hair, but it is a social identity, were fluid and large clothes are needed.

what is your opinion about this matter?


  • It’s interesting to see the different shapes of patriarchy:

    The “religious” approach to not only being a good Muslim woman, but a “complete” and “authentic” one, is brought up here by wearing Hijab. But that’s just the Iranian government and it’s always to easy to figure out their discourse.

    What I find alarming, though, is what the Lebanese blogger said: “in lebanon, we are used to see people wearing the veil in a more modern look.”

    So wait, thousands of Shiaa women in southern lebanon and in Dahye in Beirut are not considered Lebanese or are they not considered modernly-looking Lebanese that she practically chose to eliminate them completely from her “Lebanon”?

    Notice how “modernity” always comes up in discussions about Islam, Hijab and Niqab. It is “modernity” that made women’s rights organizations and “intellectuals” in Syria support the Niqab ban.

    It was also the question of “identity”-also brought up by the lovely modernity; while the Iranian government is trying to emphasize its identity by enhancing “one image” of “authentic” Muslim women, this Lebanese blogger is doing the same by selectively characterize Lebanon and Hijab according to her universal understand of modernity.

    In Syria too, arguments like “this is not Syria but a foreign-Wahhabi-influence”: also serves in essentializing so-called Syrian identity and history.

    And don’t get me started on how “modernity” and “identity” are used in US against building that Islamic center.

    It’s amazing how “modern” people often get as dictator and patriarchal as fucked up governments like the one in Iran. Yet, “modernity” is rarely addresses in these contexts.

    • I’m glad you commented, Razan; I felt the same way after reading Rita’s post…that she had ignored an entire subset of the Lebanese population.

      I find it particularly interesting how some people can use similar arguments against “modernity,” while others (usually those who rule the media) use it against those who are viewed as being non-modern.

      Thank you for your thoughtfulness, as always.

  • Ammanite

    I’ve seen that second poster up for some while now here in Jordan. I first saw one of them at the University of Jordan almost a year ago I believe.

  • Very interesting campaign and conservative. While in Syria makes new laws about alchohol and government banned hijab in universities, in other countries like Lebanon, S.Arabia,Iran this process is with minus sign.

  • Ahmad

    “Three legged chairs”..what a lousy cliché!

    The author obviously suffers a severe case of limited-imagination:

    Their attempt to visualise the unfitness of non-hijab in a way which they hope to be witty and intriguing is just another in a series of failure:

    They had better advocate proper armour:

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