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According to Reuters, scores of Muslim women in London are signing up for self-defense classes because of a rise in Islamophobic-based attacks. I support this idea and personally think that all women should be required to take classes such as these in middle or high schools.
What I don’t much care for is the whimsical spin the organizers are putting on this. Muslim women are learning to protect themselves? Let’s make a joke out of it! The author, Amil Khan, reports that the self-defense classes are named after a combination of “Ninja” and “hejab”—i.e., “Ninjabi.”
I have a question: would the idea of ninjas come up if these women did not wear niqabs and were not Muslim? They’re not taking karate, just basic self-defense. So what does that have to do with ninjas? Nothing, other than the fact that some of the women wear clothing which only shows their eyes.
I don’t know about other geographical regions, but in the U.S., niqabis are sometimes derisively nicknamed “ninjas” because only their eyes show similar to Hollywood ninja costumes (on urbandictionary.com, definition #25). This is not cool, nor is the morphed nickname of the classes.
The picture that accompanied the article is an illustration of the offensive undertones: they chose a niqabi, rather than a hejabi, with the picture, most likely to emphasize the “ninja” or “Ninjabi” aspect. I think that pictures of hejabis would have been just as effective; or, even better, pictures of these women actually in the self-defense class! I know the article said that no men were allowed, but perhaps they could have set up a special photo op or something.
I was incredibly surprised that the Muslim women themselves did not find this offensive. According to the female non-Muslim self-defense instructor Dee Terry, “The ladies love the Ninjabi thing. It gives them a good giggle.” (shrug) I guess.