Anti-Hijab Demonstrations Target Prominent Female British Muslim Figure09 Feb 2020
On 1st February, a conference held in Sweden to mark World Hijab Day received aggressive backlash from a group of protestors who identify as ‘ex-Muslim’. The conference which took place at the Imam Ali Islamic Centre in Stockholm featured a panel of Islamic scholars and speakers who discussed the concept of hijab in the 21st century, and its position in the Western world.
Days prior to the event, TV presenter and public speaker Zahra Al-Alawi, one of the panellists at the conference, was bombarded with a sea of hostile messages and threats on several social media platforms. Some of the private messages read “take off your hijab” and “hijab is a sign of oppression.”
A public Instagram account posted a photoshopped collage of Zahra alongside images of topless women protesting as part of the radical feminist movement ‘Femen’, an organisation widely known for its controversial topless protests against institutions they deem oppressive to the freedom of women.
The caption warned that the event aims to ensure “Islamic patriarchy remains safe, and that hijab, the symbol of oppression and sexism against women, should be normalised in Europe.” There were even calls for public protest outside the venue in objection to the planned event.
Zahra said in response to the incident:
“It was shocking to be at the receiving end of such overt Islamophobic attacks. It’s not something I have experienced first-hand before. But it seems that there is a huge push by extremist groups to fight against anyone who wears or represents the hijab. You can’t claim to save a group of women from oppression by depriving another group of women of their basic rights.”
The panel also included Dr Rebecca Masterton, Director of Online Shia Studies, who wrote on Facebook in reaction to the attacks:
“If they really care about the oppression of women, how come they don’t campaign against the trafficking and forced prostitution of girls, who are forced to expose themselves against their will?”
The hijab, which refers to the Islamic practice of veiling or the head-covering worn by Muslim women, has gained global attention over the past few decades. In more recent times, it has become a contentious point of discussion across Europe, with many European countries enforcing restrictions upon religious symbols and attire in the public sphere. The hijab has been especially targeted, and transformed into a scapegoat amongst extremist and far-right groups as a basis for anti-Muslim hate under the guise of concern for women.
Aside from the demonstrations, which were contained by Swedish police, the event was described as a success with over 400 attendees, as well as official media outlets covering the conference.