Tea Time with Tagwa: My hijab is not oppressive, it is empowering

Illustration by Karly Andersen

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

Tea timers, Islamophobia is in the air. The nation of France is finding itself in yet another tug of war with the hijab.

A hijab is a cloth worn over a Muslim woman’s head to create a sense of modesty and protect against the male gaze. It is a tradition practiced by many Muslim women. It is also commonly known as the most identifying factor of Islam. To many people, seeing a woman in hijab always indicates a practicing Muslim.

For the French government, the hijab is a red flag. 

On April 2, members of the French senate voted on the “separatism bill,” which is comprised of roughly 51 parts, including these three:

  1. To ban the wearing of the hijab in public for those under 18.
  2. To ban burkinis in public pools.
  3. To ban the wearing of the hijab for those accompanying children on school trips.

While the bill has not officially gone into law, the vote reflects the majority of the French upper house. Many senators view this bill as a form of respect to the nation and its morals.

Apparently Islam and the traditions valued by its followers are stark contradictions to France’s morality. I guess suppressing women and restricting them from partaking in their religious practices is not outside of France’s moral scope.

This is not the first time France and its people have disrespected the hijab and its importance in Islam. In 2016, armed French police arrived on a beach after spotting a Muslim woman in a burkini. A burkini is a hijabi version of a bathing suit that allows Muslim women to partake in water activities while staying fully clothed. The French police demanded that the women remove her burkini and articles of her clothing. This came alongside 15 French towns banning burkinis from their beaches.

Again, in 2018, Mennel Ibtissem — a Muslim woman wearing the hijab — appeared on the singing show The Voice. While her voice wowed the audience and the judges, her hijab did not. Many French fans of the show began chastising her and verbally assaulting her through social media. These social media attacks slowly turned into a campaign for the removal of her from the show and she became an enemy of the French people. Eventually, Ibtissem left the competition.

The French government’s problem is not exclusively linked to the hijab; it stems from what the hijab represents. They have a skewed belief that the hijab is just another form of female oppression in Islam. By banning it, their white savior complex allows them to believe they are saving Muslim woman.

As a Muslim woman, let me debunk that narrative for you. You aren’t saving anyone.

I pride myself in my hijab. Sure, it is an indicator of my religion, but it is so much more than that. It is modesty. It is comforting. It is empowering. Most importantly, it is a choice. 

My parents never forced me to put my hijab on. In fact, both my sisters have refrained from putting it on. I chose to wear my hijab and I am proud to. It allows me to highlight my religion while challenging me to see what new styles I can showcase for the day. It invokes creativity and joy. 

Muslim women are not these helpless creatures that must be saved. Especially not by Western men who have no grasp on Islam. 

France’s obsession with the hijab is just another obvious and explicit charade of Islamophobia disguised as empowerment. And that’s the tea.


  1. The hijab may not be something you were forced to wear, but millions of women around the world are beaten or worse if they step foot outside their homes without it. It is a symbol of oppression, much like the Confederate Flag, a symbol of pride among white southerners, a “red flag” to many others.

    Your perspective is valued. So, too, is that of the French. They know full well the horrors of fundamentalist Islam. The hijab is a reminder of that. Those who do not like their stance, can go back to the Arabian peninsula.

    Arabs are not native to Europe, last I checked.

    • French Muslim women themselves are claiming to wear the hijab on their own accord. They are angered about their hijab being taken away rather than them being forced to wear it, so to even compare the hijab with the confederate flag shows me how out of touch with reality you are on this topic. In France, their displeasure of being forced to do without it seems to be far greater than their displeasure of being forced to wear it, suggesting that far more wear it on their own accord but feel like they are not allowed to. Or would you suggest otherwise?
      Let’s not ignore the fact that it is just as oppressive to prevent Muslims from wearing hijabs as it is to force them to wear it. By your logic, should their right to wear the hijab not be protected if it is oppressive to forcefully (by law or otherwise) remove it against their will?
      If France truly is a liberal society, why can’t Muslim women voice their disapproval of discriminatory laws and outright racism due to their heritage without being told to leave as a result? Doesn’t sound like freedom is valued in this case.
      But you are correct, Arabs are not native to Europe. Neither are Europeans to the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc. Should the European settlers of those lands return to Europe if the natives disagree with their values? Ha, of course not! Right?

Leave a Reply