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When you’re too ‘woke’ for Allah

If your journey of self-discovery has led you to abandon basic Islamic obligations, you haven’t found yourself. You’ve only lost yourself to an airbrushed illusion.

In what is common enough now to be labelled a ‘trend’, another high profile hijabed influencer has removed her headscarf and ‘come out’ with her decision to the viewing, trigger-happy public. We know the drill by now. You’ll have those from the condemnation quarter, borderline relishing the public fall into such apparently open transgression. You’ll get the sarcastic querying over how once they had monetised their ‘niche’ of modest fashion, they ditched the cause. You’ll have the “I’ll love you no matter what” echoes supporting any and every move made. Above all and no doubt, you will also have the many silent onlookers who will be weighing up the scene in front of them and nursing their own insecurities around wearing the hijab in the first place.

As an absolute given, the ‘power’ one exercises when in the public eye can be a force for whatever you chose. At a time when there were few confident expressions of hijab-wearing women in the public domain, some influencers did a great service for young Muslim women unsure of their identity. Many were shown how you can be a visibly Muslim woman, while retaining your identity and perhaps a little bit of flair at the same time. Naturally, on the flip side of this, is the reality that the removal of your headscarf will have ripple effects through your community of supporters. Rightly or wrongly, you became a role-model. Rightly or wrongly, your actions will influence the decisions of your viewership (I mean, you aren’t called an influencer for nothing, right?).

No two people share the same journey, and this is actually what makes it all the more problematic when you take to a public platform to “speak your truth” about an issue related to a unanimous religious requirement. Your “truth” applies to nobody but yourself, but in its delivery, it will touch upon some common themes and topics familiar enough to the listening ear to be co-opted and reapplied into another context. Maybe that girl who was trying to keep her head down and get on with her work in an awkwardly hostile work environment. Maybe the young woman torn between her friends and the latest hype versus keeping up with her salāh on campus. Maybe that one who was feeling the weight of the stares on public transport or the judgment of every store clerk when walking into a shop. Your slow, steady decision-making process, now delivered to the public through a careful soft-focused lens could be someone else’s tipping point, at a time when they desperately needed stabilising.

The narrative of these post-hijab “coming out” videos seem to cover recurring themes. Couched in the language of ‘self love’, ‘speaking my truth’ and ‘being brave’ enough to ‘be who you truly are’ can leave you feeling like such radical introspection and apparent enlightenment caused them to outgrow Allāh altogether. A common motif of “we can reach the true meaning of modesty without a piece of cloth” is merely a trendy appropriation of “the letter of the law no longer applies, as we have embodied the spirit”; though the jury may still be out on whether either of those things have even been attempted, let alone achieved.

The focus on the self, the individual and the self-esteem movement which bolsters this hyper me-ism of today’s age, leads to this passionate interest of getting to know oneself, rather than getting to know one’s Lord. “Live for yourself and not other people’s judgements” is a barely concealed shorthand for “don’t care for any resistance” because the priority of the age now is the indulgence of the self we have constructed, leaving little room for the idea of a Divine authority, let alone difficult yet virtuous actions which aid you to His Pleasure.

When the Self takes centre stage, what could reign supreme over that? These aren’t the idols of yesteryear which required ritual sacrifice and an entrance fee for the privilege. This is the idol of the self-esteem movement, where carefully crafting the version of you which sits happily in your current mind-frame is inviolable. When the mood of the era cushions the path towards this, how regressive, restrictive and ‘not my truth’ is it to return to the basics of a creed steeped in timeless, not trendy truths.

If your journey of self-discovery has taken you down a celebration of your own self, far removed from being centred with Allāh, then know that the idols of every age will fall; even when they’re the ones of our self-perception we’ve carved in our very own minds.

Source: www.Islam21c.com

The views expressed on Islam21c and its connected channels do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation.

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About Zimarina Sarwar

Zimarina is a freelance writer and researcher currently based in London. She holds an MRes in Linguistics from Kings College London and her interests include language, spirituality, social justice and … a bit too much baking.

22 comments

  1. For me, the whole issue centres around how one came about wearing the hijab, why one chose to wear the hijab and why one is continuing to wear the hijab.
    The three questions above can be linked to Why am I a Muslim.
    Islam is not anybody’s heritage. It is Allah’s religion which He has perfected and chosen for who? The Muslims because it is a complete favour upon whom? The Muslims that He had chosen this religion for.
    No one does Allah a favour by being obedient to Him, He Allah does us favour by making us Muslims.
    Let us remember that there is no compulsion in religion BUT you can not say you believe and accept that there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah and Muhammad (saw)is His messenger and then choose what to abide by and what not to abide by concerning the compulsory acts of ibaadah because Islam requires the total submission to the Will of Allah.
    When you have agreed to be Muslim, your choice becomes Allah and His rails choice.
    Lastly, Islam and all its dictates is not IN VOGUE it is THE VOGUE til the end of times!

  2. Jazakillahu khair, this is so on point and that last line, SubhanAllah !

  3. Great article, I remember few years ago my wife watching Amena’s hijab tutorial videos and that was the push she needed to start wearing hijab herself.

    These taking-off-hijab videos will serve the opposite purpose and deceive many young impressionable Muslims that it’s OK to take off hijab on whim just like any other piece of garment or make-up.

  4. An excellently articulated, much needed and timely piece. Thank you for sharing – Look forward to more insha’Allah!

  5. My American sister has a message for you all. View the link below!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9XqYV-YKT8

  6. This article is beautifully written but i have to disagree on certain points.

    Wokeness and this concept of removing the hijab are very tenuously linked. I have not come across any hijabi influencer taking of Thier hijab and claiming to be woke, enlightened or doing the right thing.

    Wokeness in the general context refers to being aware of political affairs, not spiritual awareness.

    The focus of hijab as the head covering and physical material in this whole conversation worries me because hijab is a wholly holistic concept, on many occasions the influencers that remove Thier hijab do not lose Thier hayah in other aspects of Thier influence.

    We shouldn’t be blaming influencers for ‘influencing’ sisters thoughts on hijab but rather we should focus our attention to the society that rears them into not apprieciating its beauty, purpose and benefits. We cannot place the burden of this collective failing on the visual figureheads.

    Discovering the self is exactly what is needed to approach God, by understanding who you are and having an internal djihad against your ego and desires you are able to lift your imaan. We should not discourage this self discovery, and again we cannot blame these influencers for not using the tools correctly.

    • Maryam Abdullah

      Muslims should not be exposing their sins, and to remove your hijab is a sin. You can’t call that self discovery, from an Islamic perspective.

      And why should we not be blaming the “influencers” from influencing lol. That’s what they do hence their title? Everyone needs to take responsibility for their actions and the ripple affect it has. Especially ppl who love to be on a public platform showing off their fashion and make up.

      Where is the hayah in being like a hijabi model? Trying to look fashionable and beautiful for the whole world?

      • Thomas I Al-Yasha

        Islamic family culture has an opposite. The culture of fornication & bloodshed.
        They are two mutually exclusive forms of social organization
        We, Muslims, voluntarily submit to the blueprint established with the Holy Quran & Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad.
        We are content with that.

    • @Assia Hamdi

      You have completely missed the point of the article with your comment.

    • Zimarina Sarwar

      Assalamu alaikum Assia,

      Thank you for reading the article and for taking the time to offer your feedback, I really appreciate it.

      [Wokeness and this concept of removing the hijab are very tenuously linked. I have not come across any hijabi influencer taking of Thier hijab and claiming to be woke, enlightened or doing the right thing.
      Wokeness in the general context refers to being aware of political affairs, not spiritual awareness.]

      “Wokeness” in this context refers to the achieving of a particular ‘enlightenment’ and awareness which one feels liberates them from previous ideas or beliefs. It is definitely more commonly applied to political awareness and issues of activism, but it also does have an application when it comes to Muslims and their approach to their faith tradition.

      Much of the ‘post hijab’ coming out dialogue is around “embracing change” where change is seen as a neutral choice with no consequences either way, it is framed as ‘the right thing for me’ as it correlates which what I claim ‘is my personal truth’.

      Notice all the first person pronouns here- the discussion stems from the disposition of the self, not external reference points of divine authority.

      [The focus of hijab as the head covering and physical material in this whole conversation worries me because hijab is a wholly holistic concept, on many occasions the influencers that remove Thier hijab do not lose Thier hayah in other aspects of Thier influence.]

      Personally, I’d be very cautious in claiming any of us have achieved ‘hayah’ in the holistic understanding and application- we are all at different points on the spectrum when it comes to this. One thing which is quite clear however, is that you don’t aid your pursuit of hayah by removing the external expression of it and believe you will gain it through other means instead. The inner and outer expressions of hayah go hand in hand, they reinforce one another and are both essential.

      [We shouldn’t be blaming influencers for ‘influencing’ sisters thoughts on hijab but rather we should focus our attention to the society that rears them into not apprieciating its beauty, purpose and benefits. We cannot place the burden of this collective failing on the visual figureheads.]

      This issue is not about the individual influencers themselves, they are actually the point of least focus here. They will come and they will go. In a few years, the scene will change and the ‘character’s of today will long be forgotten and replaced with another breed of ‘relevant and on trend’ influencers. It is what they represent and the narrative which they peddle which must be recognised and resisted, and that is what this article attempts to call out.

      This is not an issue of blame or even hinting at accountability. It is recognising a simple and uncontroversial truth, by definition you have named yourself an “influencer”. The clue is in the title. Whether it is right or wrong that these people were regarded as role models is not the focus of discussion. The reality is they do and have influenced the decision-making of their viewership, which is exactly how they built the grassroots community of supporters which they did. Actions have consequences, this is a simple fact.

      [Discovering the self is exactly what is needed to approach God, by understanding who you are and having an internal djihad against your ego and desires you are able to lift your imaan. We should not discourage this self discovery, and again we cannot blame these influencers for not using the tools correctly.]

      I’m really very grateful you have bought this point up and this is a critical issue to address, jazakillahu khayr.

      Knowing yourself is absolutely essential to knowing God, as the old adage goes “He who knows Himself, knows his Lord”. What does this ‘knowledge’ of the self entail in this context, however? It is to know ourselves for what we are, servants of Allah with a myriad of physical, spiritual, mental, psychological and practical needs. We must know ourselves so we can critically reflect on our spiritual state and call our selves to account (muhasaba).

      Knowing oneself means we have those honest conversations with ourselves on what our personal challenges are, and how to remedy our current spiritual weaknesses. This is true ‘self disovery’ and something essential for our spiritual journeying to Allah.

      The ‘knowing oneself’ as it is applied in the social media world isn’t about having these kinds of difficult, internal introspections however. It is unfortunately a lot more shallow, superficial and contingent on the current mood of the time.

      It is nafsi and centred around what “my heart feels is true”, whether or not that inclination takes you closer to Allah’s pleasure or further away.

      This kind of ‘knowing oneself’ becomes a form of ego-centrism and if left unchecked, can fast fall into things like vanity, self-amazement (ujub) and even narcissism.

      We don’t take the language of difficult spiritual struggles and wrecklessly reapply them into alien contexts.

      And this ‘semantic bleaching’ is exactly our issue today.

      We take terms like ‘modesty’, strip it of it’s traditional understanding in a Shari’ sense and blow open it’s definition. Rather than conditions of modesty being something stipulated by Allah and His Messenger, it is now a free-for-all for anybody to decide what their subjective, personal definition of modesty is and apply that to themselves.

      Everything is valid. Everything should be celebrated. I feel it so it’s right.

      This isn’t our deen, this is nafs masquerading in the language of pseudo-enlightenment.

      Again, I appreciate your insight and hope this helps.

      Zimarina

    • I agree that the article is beautifully written and I am grateful to sister Zimarina on articulating important issues that I can point my daughter towards, especially since Muslim ‘influencers’ is an area that I don’t really delve into.

      However, I do agree that there is sometimes a problem with the way that certain terms and understood and used. Wokeness is one of them, and there have been plenty of heated debates and articles written on the different usages of the word. Another word that seems to be largely misunderstood is ‘identity politics’.

      My own understanding of one reason why people regress in their religious commitment is linked to the issue of putting yourself in fitnah (trial). Sisters who have a public platform in which it is difficult for them to heed the following advice of Allah Ta’ala are on a very slippery slope:

      “If you fear Allah, then do not be soft in speech [to men], lest he in whose heart is disease should covet, but speak with appropriate speech” [al-Ahzaab 33:32].

  7. Very well written

  8. Fantastic article, brilliantly written. MashaAllah keep up the good work.

  9. Julie Amal Rashid

    Maa’sha’Allah very nicely put sister, spot on!

  10. Great read, very timely and interesting to think about. But I think the title is very misleading!

  11. Amazing article,

    Bārak Allāhu Fīki

  12. Azmina Thanda

    Absolutely spot on Allahumma barik laha

  13. Fatima Barkatulla

    Beautifully and powerfully articulated. Jazakillahu Khairan Sister Zimarina.

    • We need more sisters to be vocal and articulate, not all sisters who are confident are influencers. Many sisters are intelligent, inspiring that need to have s voice in the community.

  14. I think it’s very important for everyone, in particular the young, to know that the only people we should see as role models are those who Allah has given us a role models. To see influencers as such, is taking a massive risk. This also brings about the issue of intention; why are you wearing the hijab?for Allah or because of an influencer.the later can create a shaky basis which can crumble easily.

  15. JazaakiAllahu khairan.

    A powerful, timely and well written article.

    I very much look forward to reading more from sister Zimarina.

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