“Female empowerment,” “influencer,” “hijabi vlogger.” You’ve probably heard these words from major corporations, politicians and celebrities quite often.
But are these words truly used to show respect and value to women? Or are there other motives behind it?
For example, American billionaire and major social media influencer, Kim Kardashian, is one such celebrity who rose to fame due to her sexual appeal, and has been integral in pushing “female empowerment.”
In fact, the past decade has witnessed the rise of many other media personalities who claim to promote an “ideal” lifestyle, which usually involves great hair, make-up and clothes.
Even ‘hijabi’ vloggers within the YouTube industry are now fully integrated into this ideology and lifestyle, competing to display their beauty for public approval in the name of “modest fashion.”
The industry, however, is naturally an environment where any hijabi YouTuber seeking to represent the true essence of hijab, which is to maintain modesty, shun all societal standards and to strive to please God alone, will need to work very hard against the tide to maintain her Islamic principles. It should, therefore, not be surprising to find some of the most famous hijabi YouTubers, with millions of followers, removing their hijab altogether, while ascending in the ranks of the industry.
In reality, celebrity culture is a social and political enterprise based on the superficial nature of capitalism, an economic and political system driven by competition and profit. It not only influences what we buy, but also politics, to the extent that celebrities have been used to promote politicians.
In this type of culture, people look up to celebrities to determine society’s trends. With the help of new technologies, such as internet and TV, they are merely used as tools to promote mass consumption.
In recent years, we have witnessed Muslim models being used to promote “modest fashion” campaigns, which are anything but modest. One can take the example of a female Muslim model who wore a Burkini (fully covered, but often skin-tight, swimsuits) in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, which was then displayed on the Sports Illustrated magazine— a magazine that has always glorified indecent images of women. L’Oréal, Vogue magazine, and several other businesses, have also done the same.
How capitalism uses women
If the true form of hijab were to be practised and manifested in society, both physically and socially, it would be an outright war on capitalism — the foundation of the economic and political system of most Western countries. It is therefore important to explore what capitalism really is, in order to understand why hijab, when properly practised by many, is naturally a threat to it.
This system seeks to maximize the amount of money generated, turning everything, even emotions and sexuality, into something that can create wealth. Because the capitalistic system is filled with the spirit of materialism and does not account for morality, it allows for various methods of generating wealth, regardless of how corrupt they may be. An example of this is the global pornography industry, which makes up an annual revenue of up to $90 billion.
This industry can’t exist in isolation from capitalism, and is linked to many businesses that we consider “mainstream.” For example, those who produce its content and distribute it make money, the bankers who finance the industry make money from interest on their loans, and those who produce the software that enable people to view the content make money, etc.
Since capitalism advocates maximizing pleasure gain, and morality is out of the picture, it should not be surprising that a woman’s sexuality is also merely an object under capitalism. The link between corporate interest and the objectification of women is clear through the advertisements shown on TV screens and billboards, since capitalism constructs women as both products and consumers.
Research shows that women either decide or influence up to 80% of purchasing decisions for goods or services so, as a result, they are the prime target in advertising and sustain the market profiting from women.
All of this is done in the name of “empowerment,” with adverts marketing women as “strong,” “independent decision and money-makers,” and as sexually driven beings, sending the message that consuming allows one to express their individuality. The reality is that the trends that sway societies, through the latest models and adverts, lead consumers to follow them blindly — even if it may drag them into debt and/or poverty.
Hijab, a form of resistance
Now, when the true concept of hijab is ingrained into a person, it serves to make them productive in all aspects of their life. This makes them a threat to capitalistic societies, which thrive on infatuating through consumerism, thus maximizing profit and distracting the masses from core issues, like government corruption and its societal effects.
Will unlawful entertainment industries and narcissism survive in a social environment based on hijab? Would pornography sell? Would people buy into the fake lives of celebrities and mass-consume cosmetics to fit the “ideal” unattainable image?
It is worth noting that those wearing the physical hijab today aren’t necessarily mentally in line with its concept. They may wear it, but still serve the capitalistic agenda by blindly following the latest trends in consumption. The motivation becomes the lower instincts, the desire for self-worth, beauty etc, since these instincts will naturally be sought after and followed if they are not blocked by morality and rationality.
The reality is that while society has made it seem difficult to abide by God’s given laws, it is out of His supreme care for the human being that the laws of Hijab have been ordained. This is because hijab ensures that the wider society remains a place of productivity rather than the fulfillment of lower desires. Therefore, these desires need to be replaced with a growing understanding of the wisdom behind divine laws, which stem from God’s ultimate justice and the criteria for human flourishing.
Unfortunately, the wave and influence of capitalism is incomparable to those who understand, and are seeking to raise awareness of, the real concept behind the hijab. This is why the hijab has so far been unable to cancel this capitalist culture, as it can only be done if the mindset of the hijabis themselves develop in a way where the concept becomes strong, and thus practically manifested. This requires more awareness and campaigns so that we can create barriers which protect and prevent capitalism from gaining a grip, specifically on the minds of Muslims.
Secularization of hijab
While the aim behind capitalist structures targeting the hijab is to generate money from the large market segment of Muslim dress, it also seeks to gradually and indirectly demoralize the hijab. This is done without making it apparent that they are targeting and diverting it from its intended purpose. When they strip the holiness of hijab away from religious precepts, it becomes easier for Muslims to let go of their core principles.
In some ways, hijab in modern Western society is being targeted overtly, through state bans under European secularism, but it is also happening in more subtle ways through the American secular-liberal framework, which seeks to redefine hijab through individual autonomy. This is, in fact, a more powerful ‘liberalizing force’ than state intervention, since banning it tends to unify the masses around that issue of religious freedom. However, when Muslims are encouraged to defend the hijab on the grounds of choice, liberals have them internalize individualistic standards, making it less of a religious symbol and more of an aspect of one’s identity, freely shaped according to one’s own wishes.
A good example of this would be the first hijab-wearing woman to appear in an issue of Playboy magazine in 2016. Playboy was pivotal in the sexual revolution of the 70s, in what became the face of soft pornography for mass consumption. When the Muslim journalist was interviewed on Playboy, she praised the variety of individual fulfillment, rather than any kind of religious norm, quoting “live your life as your truest self and encourage others to do the same!”
It is clear that American liberal capitalism has absorbed Muslim celebrities to normalize the Western definition of hijab, while the true essence of hijab is not only lost, but labelled as “extreme.” Considering how female Muslim representation in the commercial industry is nothing short of competing for sexual appeal, It is not surprising that many young Muslim females today are struggling to adhere to the true form of hijab.