Munavara Ghauri, UK
Hillary Clinton, once the First Lady of the US and the former Secretary of State, recently admitted that she now always wears pants (trousers) to work after an unfortunate incident in her 40’s. During a state visit to Brazil in 1995, the former First Lady recounted that she was sitting on a couch when the Press were let in and took pictures of her unawares, which exposed her underwear. The pictures were then hijacked by a lingerie company that used them in an advertisement that featured on billboards and disrespectfully dubbed her as ‘First Lady of lingerie’. Thereafter, Clinton was hounded by photographers and admitted that she began:
‘…to have the experience of having photographers all the time – I’d be on a stage, I’d be climbing stairs, and they’d be below me. I couldn’t deal with it, so I started wearing pants(trousers).’
It is interesting to reflect that whilst the desire to cover-up by a high-profile politician and lawyer is deemed as perfectly reasonable and acceptable, it contrasts sharply to the negative attitudes and backlash Muslim women face for their dress choices. These choices are usually made to either demonstrate their faith or avoid sexualisation. Yet more often than not, the clothes of Muslim women are perceived as symbols of oppression.
However, the desire to cover-up appears an increasing trend amongst women. One example is that of the female German gymnasts at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, who opted for limb-covering ‘unitards’. Furthermore, the Norwegian Handball team preferred shorts over bikinis as their sporting uniform.
Elisabeth Seitz, one of the German Olympic gymnasts donning a unitard at the historic games said that their motivation for the move was:
‘…to show that every woman, everybody, should decide what to wear.’
It is then curious that this freedom to dress as one pleases does not seem to always extend to Muslim women. Currently, there are 16 countries where the Burka (outer garment covering body and face worn by Muslim women) is banned.
Indeed, there are constant and abhorrent examples of the coercion of Muslim women to dress in specific ways in certain countries such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Yet, if one scrutinises the situations there, it is more the consequence of regime policies rather than doctrinal requisites. Free will is a core value in Islam as indeed the Holy Qur’an states at its very onset in Chapter 2, ‘There is no compulsion in religion.’ Nor has it ever been recounted that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) took punitive action against Muslim women for their dress choices. It is thus frustrating for a lot of Muslim women when presumptions are made about the motivations for their wardrobes.
It appears that there is a subtle bias against Muslim women in the sporting world as well. Bangladeshi American Author, Anushay Hossain, reflects on the coverage of the German Gymnasts’ unitards at the Olympics:
‘As an American Muslim woman of color, I wonder: Why do we support the right of white women to cover but not of Black or Brown women to do the same?’
Hossain cites sports journalist, Shireen Ahmed, who focuses on the intersection of racism and misogyny in sports. Ahmed says:
‘Historically, hijab bans were implemented to ensure ‘safety’ for players and opponents. We know that this isn’t true.’
She also points out that at the Women’s World Cup 2019 which was hosted in France, French Muslim women who wore the Hijab (veil) were banned from playing, coaching, officiating or being part of the team in any way. Ahmed further expresses that she was not upset that people began to care for the Norwegian women athletes’ lack of choice at Tokyo 2020, but that there is a lack of rage for Black and Brown women.
Returning to former First Lady, Hillary Clinton, it is likely that there will have been a wave of sympathy provoked by her candid recounting of the harassment she endured at the hands of the Press. I too sympathise with the plight of high-profile women who wish to avoid objectification. However, it is time for people to acknowledge that the Muslim woman’s desire to cover-up is not an alien concept but a very real, natural and universal instinct.
No one would ever claim that the venerable Mary (as), mother of Jesus (as) was oppressed, although her images always depict her with her head covered as per the Jewish tradition of her time. It is why the Italian Minister of the Interior, Roberto Maroni, refused to allow a hijab ban in his country in 2012. Likewise, it is time to support and respect every Muslim woman’s choice to cover-up to the degree that she desires. Indeed, when she does so she may just be remembering the words of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) that:
‘Each faith is characterised by some moral quality, the characteristic of Islam is modesty.’
More recently, the Fifth Caliph and Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) reminded Muslims that the real beauty of an individual does not arise from their physical appearance:
‘Clothes and apparent beauty are insignificant. Real beauty is what Allah the Exalted grants…Beauty does not come from putting make-up on, dressing-up and wearing jewellery…beauty comes from wearing the raiment of Taqwa and raiment of Taqwa can be availed by those who, men or women, try with all their capacities and capabilities to fulfil their covenants of faith and trusts.’
Perhaps the only cover-up that needs exposure is the fallacy that physical validation is the only validation women need.
About the Author: Munavara Ghauri BA (Hons) Eng Lit, is married with 3 children and works as a School Librarian. She is currently serving as the Branch Leader for the Bournemouth Women’s Auxiliary Organization of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and is an Editor for the Women’s Section of The Review of Religions.
 The Times, ‘Photo of Clinton’s Knickers Turned her to Trouser Suits’ – James Callery, 07/09/22
 Holy Qur’an, Ch.2V.257
 M Z Khan, Wisdom of the Holy Prophet,The London Mosque, 1981, p66
 When every action in life is motivated by a fear of losing the Pleasure of God/Allah
 Responsibilities of Ahmadi Muslim Women, Compilation of Addresses by Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba), Lajna Imaillah UK, 2013, p64