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World Hijab Day - Another Tool For Islamic Proselytising?

Swati Goel Sharma

Feb 01, 2023, 08:17 PM | Updated 08:24 PM IST

A picture from Worldhijabday.com
A picture from Worldhijabday.com
  • Why the hijab seems to have become yet another method of inviting non-Muslims into Islam.
  • Today is World Hijab Day – an event that began as a social initiative in 2013 by a Bangladeshi Muslim woman against bullying she faced in American schools for wearing hijab, but over the years has got some official recognition.

    The New Year State recognised it in 2017, House of Representatives of Philippines approved it in 2021, and an event marking the day was hosted at the House of Commons. These recognitions however have been accompanied by objections from citizens. 

    The founder, Nazma Khan, started it on 1 February 2013 while living in the Unites States. Five years later, she started World Hijab Day Organization as a non-profit with a stated aim of “dismantling bigotry, discrimination and prejudice against Muslim women through awareness, education and empowerment”.

    Nazma has told the media in various interviews that while she was growing up in the Bronx area of New York City, she experienced a great deal of discrimination due to her hijab, with her classmates calling her ‘Batman’ and ‘ninja’ and even comparing her with terrorist Osama Bin laden after 9/11.

    Her critics however say that there is more to the event than the show of fight against discrimination.

    One, America is one of the freest societies, they say. Two, the day chosen for the event, 1 February, is of political significance as it was the day when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran from the French exile to launch ‘Islamic Revolution’.

    This movement overthrew a pro-Western secular monarchy to replace with an anti-Western Islamist theocracy and imposed the Islamic veil on all women as a tool to fight ‘Westernisation’. Khomeini made it mandatory for them to cover their hair with a headscarf and their body figure with a loose-fitting cloak in public at all times.

    To justify the imposition of veil, Iran’s first president after the Islamic Revolution, Abol-Hassan-Bani-Sadr, infamously announced that “scientific research had shown that women’s hair emitted rays that drove men insane”.

    As we write this, Iran has been witnessing heated protests on its streets by citizens against the imposition of hijab since September, triggered by death of a woman after she was taken in police custody for not wearing a strict form of Islamic veil. The protests have evolved to be a social movement against Islam theocracy. 

    World Hijab Day and Islamic proselytising

    This article however wants to take the readers’ attention to an aspect of this movement that has so-far been largely ignored. It seems to have become yet another method of inviting non-Muslims into Islam.

    In other words, World Hijab Day Organisation also seems to be working as a Dawah (Islamic proselytising) group.

    Take a closer look at its website 'www.worldhijabday.com'. It has sections called ‘Fast for Unity’ and ‘Hijab30’, among others. 

    The website describes Fast for Unity as “an open invitation to people of all faiths and backgrounds to observe fasting during Ramadan.”

    On the same website, Hijab30 is described as, “Every year during the month of fasting (Ramadan), women of all faiths are asked to don the hijab for 30 days in order to better understand the hijab.”

    Both these activities appear more like attempts at initiating conversion rather than fighting some form of religious discrimination.

    In 2021, there was an attempt by burqa-clad members of Jamaat-E-Islami Hindi to approach Hindu girls on the streets in Maharashtra's Nagpur city and convince them to wear the hijab in the name of solidarity with the excuse of 'Hijab Day'.

    The organisation also distributed pamphlets to the girls that cited a verse from the Quran to justify hijab. 

    A video of the incident was captured on camera by some men, one of whom was seen telling the organisation members that, “Next you will get their contact numbers. Then you will introduce them to Muslims and even get them married. There are the girls in the age group of 12 to 14 years and don’t understand such things.”

    The man, most likely, was referring to the pattern of cases where men from the Muslim community have been found to groom non-Muslims girls to trap them in relationships for their conversion or sexual exploitation.

    The pattern is commonly called ‘love jihad’, a term coined by Christian organisations in Kerala more than a decade ago to protest conversion of Christian girls to Islam through these means. Besides Christian and Hindu groups, those communities who have protested against ‘love jihad’ in India include Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Hindu tribals. 

    Eventually, police intervened in the Nagpur case and summoned the parents of the girls for taking an undertaking that no such action would be repeated in the future. 

    That this event had emerged in the wake of shocking revelations by the Uttar Pradesh police regarding aggressive Dawah activities through unlawful means, added to the public anger and perhaps the swift police action. 

    Beginning in June of 2021 (the Nagpur hijab event was carried out in September, probably delayed due to Corona-related lockdowns), the UP Police’s anti-terrorism squad (ATS) busted several large-scale Islamic conversion rackets in the state and adjoining Delhi. 

    The crackdown began with the arrests of Mohammed Umar Gautam and Mohammed Jehangir, who ran ‘Islamic Dawah Centre’ in New Delhi’s Jamia Nagar, which was allegedly involved in conversion of at least 1,000 people to Islam including deaf-and-mute children from a child care home.

    As per the UP ATS, when they probed the bank accounts of Islamic Dawah Centre, an accounted Rs 57 crore was found.

    In another breakthrough a few months later, they arrested Kalim Siddiqui, who the ATS said was the “kingpin” of major Dawah activities in North India.

    The UP ATS said in its various press releases that Dawah groups, in order to convert people to Islam, used various unlawful tactics including instilling fear of hellfire in their hearts, bribing them with money or land, and threatening them with dire consequences if they did not convert.

    Since these major arrests, various big and small Dawah modules have been busted by the police. The most recent was a conversion racket at Prayagraj’s Magh Mela, a Hindu religious event, where a Muslim cleric and two new converts from the Hindu faith were found to be selling books vilifying Hindu beliefs and promoting Islam.

    The group was also noting down the contact numbers of the visitors to their stall to approach them for conversion later. In their official statement, the Prayagraj police said the cleric was receiving money from Abu Dhabi for the Dawah activities. 

    Returning to the subject of this piece, here is a question we must ask the World Hijab Day enthusiasts: Will they similarly wear bindi or tilak or fast for Navratri in solidarity with Hindus given that Hindus are facing terrible atrocities in Islamic countries in the Indian sub-continent due to their religion? After all, in Nazma’s native country, those facing the worst form of religious discrimination are Hindus. 

    Going by the historical and current trends where a recital of Saraswati Vandana in schools triggers accusations of ‘Hindutva agenda’ and even violence by her community members, where observing Navratri or chanting Vande Mataram has been declared ‘haram’ by the Ulema, where a Muslim man chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ or participating in kanwar yatra invites slurs of ‘kafir’ and social boycott from his community, this seems to be a near impossibility.

    Why this one-way promotion of religious customs, then?

    Also read—February 1: 'World Hijab Day' or 'No Hijab Day'?

    Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.


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