In 2013, an activist holiday called World Hijab Day was foisted upon us. Its organizers proclaimed, “The idea behind WHD is to invite non-Muslim women and Muslim women who don’t normally wear the hijab to ‘step in to the shoes of a hijabi for one day.’”
Over the past 10 years, World Hijab Day has steadily grown from a minor social media event into the World Hijab Day Organization, a well-connected 501(c)(3) non-profit “committed to dismantling bigotry, discrimination and prejudice against Muslim women,” as its mission statement announces.
But in the wake of Mahsa Amini’s brutal murder by Iranian morality police for the crime of improperly wearing her hijab and the return of mandatory head coverings for the women of Afghanistan, who in their right mind will dare celebrate World Hijab Day 2023?
As I pointed out in 2020, World Hijab Day founder Nazma Khan chose Feb. 1 for her event. It is the same day that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran in 1979 from his French exile to inaugurate the Islamic revolution.
Like it or not, the hijab has become a symbol of oppression in the Islamic Republic of Iran, especially the oppression of women. It would be particularly tone-deaf to celebrate that symbol in 2023 while the Iranian government is arresting and killing women who are protesting the mandatory hijab and the men who impose it on them.
Most of the protesters have been unknown faces, anonymous women throughout Iran burning their hijabs in social media videos. But some public figures have put everything on the line to protest the hijab.
In October, Iranian rock climber Elnaz Rekabi competed without a hijab in the International Federation of Sport Climbing championships in Seoul, South Korea, in what was widely interpreted as a gesture of sympathy for the protests at home. But then she returned to Iran, issued a probably-forced apology and disappeared. In December, the mullahs demolished her family’s home.
Iranian chess player Sara Khadem competed without a hijab at December’s International Chess Federation Championships. She is currently living in Spain, wisely avoiding the fate of Ms. Rekabi, though her family remains behind and threatened.
With such heightened public awareness of all things hijab in 2022, who will have the audacity to celebrate World Hijab Day 2023? Three categories of celebrants come to mind: Islamists, progressives and gullible non-Muslim women (with some room for crossover).
Islamists who are men will celebrate. Maybe “celebrate” is the wrong word. They will exalt in their power to force women to do whatever they want them to do.
In Afghanistan, where women are forced to cover their hair and face and cannot leave their homes without a male guardian (those caught doing so are flogged in public), the Taliban will gloat on World Hijab Day.
On Christmas day, the top man at the Taliban’s Ministry of Higher Education tweeted a lecture in which he explained, “We are Muslims and we claim an Islamic system. We are obligated to force women to wear the hijab.” Coming five days after he had banned women from attending universities, he boasted that the world could do nothing to change his government’s decision.
“If they impose sanctions on us, drop a nuclear [bomb] on us [or] have any other plan, we are still compelled to implement the commandments of our religion,” he asserted. “The hijab is commanded by Allah’s book. ‘O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believers’ women to veil themselves.’ This is commanded by Allah’s book.”
A Boston politician named Tania Fernandes Anderson will surely celebrate World Hijab Day 2023. On Oct. 19, in a bizarre speech to her fellow City Council members, Anderson proposed that Sept. 23 be named Hijab Day in Boston. She chose the date, she said, to honor Mahsa Amini, who was born on Sept. 23. In her warped thinking, Anderson believes this would decrease “Islamophobia” against women in the United States who, like herself, wear a hijab. The backlash against her silly proposal was immediate and fierce (especially on social media), and in the end, the Boston City Council instead named Sept. 23 an official Day of Woman, Life and Freedom—an echo of the slogan associated with the protests in Iran.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul will also celebrate World Hijab Day 2023. Last year, several months after she took over from Andrew Cuomo, she named Feb. 1 Hijab Day in New York. A video of her proclamation is featured prominently on the World Hijab Day Organization website where Hochul, along with New York State Sen. Roxanne J. Persaud and State Assemblyman David Weprin (Democrats all) are listed as World Hijab Day “endorsers.” This Feb. 1, as the elected governor, maybe Hochul will wear a hijab, or “hee-job,” as she pronounces it.
The progressives who celebrate World Hijab Day also call themselves feminists, but they are really cultural relativists. They express their low expectations of non-Western cultures by excusing purdah (forced female seclusion) and other forms of misogyny as “just their way.” They signal virtue by veiling themselves for a day, but then take off their Gucci scarves with impunity, unlike real women in Iran and Afghanistan and even some in the West.
Instead of celebrating World Hijab Day this year, we should celebrate its opposite, or as close as we can get to it—something called amameh parani or “turban throwing“ (or “tipping”). This phenomenon began in Iran in late 2022 as protesters grew more confident and their performative acts of rebellion against the ruling clerics grew bolder. Easily identified by their robes and white or black turbans, the “pious” members of Iran’s valeyat-e-faqih (guardianship of jurists) are the issuers of fatwas, condemners of freedom, killers of fun. The act of tipping off, or grabbing and throwing, their amameh (the Shia turban) signifies both defiance and profound disrespect. It is in some ways comparable to an Arab using his shoes to beat a foe, as the revelers in Baghdad did to a statue of Saddam Hussein on April 9, 2003 and an Iraqi journalist attempted to do to George W. Bush on Dec. 14, 2008.
What better way to celebrate Feb. 1, 2023 than to see the mullahs hounded in the streets? Their youthful tormentors have the power to make their lives uncomfortable, perhaps even make them feel as scared and vulnerable as Mahsa Amini must have felt in her final hours.
Rather than celebrating World Hijab Day next week, say a prayer instead to the deity of your choice that the number of turbans tipped, grabbed and thrown throughout Iran on Feb. 1 will far exceed the number of hijabs worn for a day by progressive women cosplaying victimized Muslima in New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles.
A.J. Caschetta is a Ginsberg-Milstein fellow at the Middle East Forum and a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.