In the UK, Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim MP for Labour, is campaigning to be the mayor of London. In recent news, comments from an interview with him stated, ‘Questions need to be asked about why Muslim women wear hijabs’. Now at first glance, I thought this must have been quoted wrong. After all, being Muslim, surely Khan knows that for some Muslim women wearing the hijab is a part of their faith? So I continued to read. Comments such as, ‘In London, we got on. People dressed the same,’ made me think that although Khan may be happy to conform to certain sartorial norms to be considered “the same”, others may not. It portrays Khan as almost whitewashing London.
I have yet to visit a part of London where people dress the same. From fashionistas setting their own trends, to the pockets of London where traditional dress from different countries billows on the streets in bright colours in local markets to London’s Brick Lane which calls itself, ‘A microcosm of London’s shifting ethnic patterns’. In fact, in London, you are unlikely to stand out as you may do in other parts of the country which haven’t seen as much ethnic diversity as the Capital. Just because Khan chose to ‘dress the same’ (which is a lot easier for a man than it can be for a Muslim woman who believes that hijab is part of her religious dress code), doesn’t mean that he should be promoting conformity and Britishness in this way. If Khan wants to dress “the same” as the majority that is his prerogative, but that isn’t the case for everyone whose dress, traditions and cultural nuances form a part of their lives and that doesn’t mean they are any less British. In a poll conducted by ICM Research, ‘86% of British Muslims feel a strong sense of belonging in Britain, which is higher than the national average.’ Khan ignores this when he argues that choosing to wear certain clothes is evidence of a lack of belonging: ‘What you see now are people born and raised here who are choosing to wear the jilbab or niqab. There is a question to be asked about what is going on in those homes.’ This statement indicates that something dangerous may be happening if women choose to wear Islamic or cultural dress, which is irresponsible given Khan’s platform to represent British Muslims. It also confuses what I think Khan’s point might be, which is that some women aren’t choosing to wear the hijab and that it can sometimes be imposed on women as a result of societal or family pressures. If this is the case, then it needs to be separated from discourse that lumps all discussions on Islamic dress together.
The critique I offer is about the presentation of Khan’s comments in the article, and the presentation of Khan’s comments simply reinforce the message that British Muslim women who choose to dress a certain way are not ‘British’. It also ignores the alternative narrative of female Muslim women who see wearing the hijab as empowering. It also does not account for women who use Islamic dress as a statement of rebellion. Dressing a certain way has long been used to assert identity or control over parental or societies pressures to conform.
By commenting on how Muslim women choose to dress Khan has yet again reinforced the stereotype we are often fed by UK politicians, who like Khan echo that they are ‘worried’ about women. I find this condescending when it comes without exploring or at least acknowledging the alternative narrative. Khan also says that he wouldn’t want his daughters to grow up anywhere else in the world, because in the UK they, ‘have protection, the right to wear what they like’. Perhaps they wouldn’t feel that way in a hijab considering Islamophobic attacks in the Capital have risen 300% on women who choose to wear Islamic dress. So it seems that for Khan all is good if you don’t stand out, if you “dress the same.” It is a shame that this is the message that is being portrayed because if there is one thing I love about London, it is its celebration of diversity, whatever you choose to wear.
Source of header image