Amy Levin: What would Muslim drag look like? Something like this? Yesterday, the AHA Foundation shared a link on their twitter account to an article titled “Egyptian Women’s Group Calls on Men to Try the Veil.” Aliaa El Mahdy, an Egyptian university student, created a facebook page called “Resounding Cries,” which asks Egyptian men to post photos of themselves donning the hijab (Muslim veil). Since the launch of the page on November 1st, dozens of Egyptian men have heeded the call. Mahdy feels that it is unjust that only women are required to wear the hijab, which reflects the unequal status of women in Islam. She says:
For me, the veil is not a personal choice in Egypt, but the result of social and religious pressure. The girls I know who wear the veil do so because of their families or to avoid being hassled in the street. I don’t see why we should always dictate what women must wear and never what men must wear. Asking guys to put on the veil, if only for the time it takes to take the photo, is a way of saying to them ‘See how this feels!’
The other reason I launched this page is because society still considers women as sex objects. [83% of Egyptian women claim to have been victims of sexual harassment. Some women feel that the veil is a necessary form of protection against assault.] Many people, even on television, denounce the harassment of women in Egypt, but in my opinion this is not enough.
Mahdy says she has been “attacked and insulted” since the creation of the page and that many Internet users have cited verses from the Qur’an to refute her cause. “I realise that this is shocking for a conservative society like ours,” Mahdy said, “but I am not going to change my ideas because of that.” Of course, we have to be careful not to take Mahdy’s claims as representative of all, or even most women who wear the hijab. Scholars Lila Abu-Lughod, Saba Mahmood, and Joan Scott, among others, have all documented and argued ways in which women do not feel that wearing their hijab is a sign of submission, but can bring them closer to God, their community, and themselves.
Given that we respect women who choose to wear the hijab, it will be fascinating to see what comes out of this. According to the post, some internet users have suggested that the project be taken into Tahrir Square for a peaceful demonstration. Although the politics of the veil go back forever, one thing is for sure: the growing place of social media in public life both gives voice to and complicates representations of religious signifiers, such as dress. To return to the language of drag, we might question if men dressing in hijab is subversive because of Islam or because we have made the veil so incredibly representative of Muslim women.