April 20, 2019
Yasmine Mohammed is an Arab-Canadian human rights activist, college instructor and writer.
Yasmine was raised in a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim family in Canada. At the age of nine, she was forced to wear Hijab and she was sent to an Islamic school. When she was only nineteen years old, she was forced into marriage with an Al-Qaida operative member. After marriage, she was beaten and raped by her husband. Finally, she succeeded to escape from that marriage. She rebuilt her life, went to university and now she advocates for the right of women living in Muslim countries.
Yasmine defines herself as an atheist now, and in her book “From Al Qaeda to Atheism: The Girl Who Would Not Submit”, she tells the story of her life.
Yasmine is inspired by the Iranian women’s movement against compulsory Hijab. This activism has met with criticism by others who, pointing to the controversies surrounding US Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar, argue for an urgent action against Islamophobia.
In an interview by Farzad Seifikaran that follows, Yasmine outlines her ideas.
How did you start the fight against the forced Hijab and why?
Yasmine Mohammed: My initial inspiration was Masih Alinejad’s campaign called #MyStealthyFreedom.
As a nine year old girl, I was forced to wear hijab and I hated it. Decades later when I finally had the courage to remove it, my family threatened to kill me and disowned me. I understand the dehumanizing effect of being forced to wear this tool of modesty culture. I intimately understood the subjugation of the hijab and so I wanted to help other women and girl in their struggle-to let them know they’re supported in their decision to fight for their freedom. I didn’t have support. I was all alone-it was before social media-and I never want a single girl to feel as alone as I did.
Why do you think that fighting against Hijab matters?
Y.M.: Hijab is a physical representation of the subjugation, dehumanization, and oppression that many women living under Sharia endure. It’s just one of the many tools used to keep women controlled. It is the first fight in a long fight of expanding second-wave feminism into the Islamic world. Women there want to be liberated from rules dictated by patriarchy just as women here do.
What problems did you come across while fighting against compulsory Hijab? Do you still face these problems?
Y.M.: The main problem is misunderstanding. People in the West are completely misinformed about Islam. They think hijab is just ‘cultural clothing’, they don’t understand that millions of people from thousands of cultures wear hijab. It is religious clothing. People from all those countries do not share a culture-they share a religion. They don’t speak the same language, eat the same food, or share any historical background other than Islam.
Another problem is the idea that all Muslim women love the hijab and want to wear it. This is ridiculous. If they were forced to wear it-would they love it? Of course not. Why do they assume Muslim women would be any different?
You are opposed to forced hijab and supported the “No hijab Day” campaign. As the forced hijab is unacceptable, is the forced unveiling of it unacceptable too? Wouldn’t it be better if the hijab was totally optional and women could decide for themselves as they please?
Y.M.: Of course. If women are choosing to wear it as adults, that is their right. I am against it being forced on young girls or on adult women.
After the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iranian women have been suppressed for forty years, and hijab has become mandatory for them. But they have always tried to fight against It. One of their newest non-violent struggles is called “Girls of Enghelab Street”. What do you think about the Iranian women’s struggles against hijab?
Y.M.: Iranian women have always impressed me. I think they are the strongest women on the planet-by far. I think they will win in their quest for freedom. Good luck to any one who tries to stop an Iranian woman from reaching her goal. They are fearless warriors.
Do you think Iranian women will win?
Y.M.: I have no doubt.
Do you consider the struggle against Hijab in Islamic countries like Iran a political issue?
Y.M.: In Iran, politics and religion are intertwined as their law follows Sharia, just like in Saudi Arabia. In many other countries, the religion and politics inform each other as well-that is dangerous. We need to strive for secularism-a separation of mosque and state. There should be no countries using a 1400 year old book to inform their laws. Laws should be dynamic and should be changed as we learn more. How can a society ever progress if it is making laws based on ancient books?
As a woman who was able to remove Hijab and now fights against it, what is your message for Iranian women?
Y.M.: My message is: keep fighting, my sisters. You will win your freedom. You might have to pay a high price, but whatever the cost, it is worth it. Nothing feels as good as freedom and there is no price too high to pay. You have my admiration, respect, and love. And you have millions of us behind you cheering you on!