For most Muslim women, questions around hijab are and have always been a reality. Will you wear it? If so, when? How? And why? If not, why not? What does that mean? In recent years, a lot of our discussions around hijab are filtered by the media, non-Muslims and sometimes Muslim men. We have seen depictions of hijabis and niqabis as the archetype of terrorism in different media outlets including political cartoons, gossip articles and others.
Similarly, we have experienced several policy-related debates about banning or accommodation of headscarves and face garments in countries like France, Spain and Canada. Finally, there is a plethora of Muslim websites where many male participants feel entitled to prescribe what the function of a hijab should be. However, seldom do we ask those women who decide to wear or decide not to wear the hijab about their experiences.
Many also do not trace connections between women’s intellectual, spiritual and emotional lives and their choices. Often, we are invited to see the hijab purely as a religious obligation, rather than to the whole woman who happens to wears it.
A short film by Betty Martins, I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This, hopes to fill this gap. The film explores the way in which hijabs and niqabs are connected to the lives of three women in the UK – beyond the religious. The three interviewees (two hijabi women, one niqabi woman) speak of their experiences with faith, community, professional accomplishments and their sense of being a “Muslim woman”.
Unlike other films, Betty avoids creating an archetype of Muslim femininity by telling deeply personal experiences that are portrayed as unique and individual, yet relatable. Similarly, the interviewees are not preachy, telling other women what they should wear and how they should be. They simply present their journey and transitions, not only in terms of clothing and garments, but in terms of their connection to Islam, their families, their friends and the broader community.
While I agree that there is much obsession around the hijab/de-hijab process (anyone who has decided to wear or stop wearing hijab or niqab can understand), Betty’s short film brings the discussion about Muslim women’s spaces, rights and choices to places where it has been hindered or manipulated by non-Muslims or by Muslim men. With her Brazilian background and experiences as a student in the UK, she feels that there is a need to discuss Muslim women’s choices in a healthier way than that propagated by some European politicians or Western media outlets.
Betty expressed her concern over recent depictions of Muslim women in Brazil. Here, the experiences of seeing veiled women are said to be “newer” and are being mediated by the language of Islamophobia. However, this is not unique to Brazil – veiled Muslim women are often said to be virtually “unknown” in several Latin American countries.
This definitive adjective is a way of “othering” since there are many other veiled women which are well known to Latin America: Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Amish, and Mennonite, among others. Betty bridges the experiences of veiled Muslim women in the UK to the broader context, whereheated discussions are happening now.
One question that remains to be answered is the experience of non-veiled women or those who have chosen to remove the hijab. This film does not explore such experiences, and my hope is that this will be her next project.
Aquila Style readers are invited to watch I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This, available for free (sign up required) until 14th September 2014 throughIndieFlix. If you have questions about the film or its production, please write them in the comments below. Filmmaker Betty Martins will address your questions in an upcoming video interview.
Originally published on www.aquila-style.com