As women in Iran have continued to remove and burn their hijabs in protest against the regime that killed 23-year-old Mahsa Amini in September, Western Islamists have been more outraged about the protesters taking off their hijabs than they are about the death of Amini in police custody. They also seem indifferent to the deaths of more than 300 protesters in the streets of Iran since mid-September. Such reactions are a reminder that the desire to impose hijab on women is evidently not limited to Islamic theocracies, but is also found in Muslim communities in the West.
Well-known Islamist Roshan Salih denounced the women as "Western stooges." Salih, who runs the British Islamist publication 5 Pillars, was among the most aggressive detractors of the protesters, claiming that the Iranian women opposing the regime were "insulting Islam" and that "Muslims all over the world are looking at [them] in disgust."
Salih's 5 Pillars published a series of op-eds on the hijab by Muslim women. One piece, written by Anjum Anwar, was titled "Message to liberals: I do not need rescuing from my hijab." Another took a more Islamist perspective, claiming that "[hijab-wearing women] are the flag bearers of Islam" and warning women who burned their hijab that they had also burned "the bridges that will lead them to the submission of desires in place of their Lord." In a third op-ed, activist Shabnam Kulsoom asserted that "Muslim women who disrespect hijab should not be "celebrated" and described the hijab as a "a magnet for attracting respect and repelling disrespect."
Islamist religious figures assented. Prominent Canadian imam Younus Kathrada criticized as "completely false" the idea that no one could tell someone else how to dress. Kathrada accused certain hijab-wearing women, who support the right of other women not to wear it, of sounding "like the rhetoric of the modernist 'scholars' who support the rights of people who want to commit sodomy and live contrary to the [nature] God created us upon."
Youssef Soussi, a Californian Islamist imam, explained that "the so-called [Muslim woman] who burns a veil/hijab in this [world] may very well be the reason why she burns in Hell in the [next world]." American Islamist Ismael Royer argued that the protests were evidence of "mental self-colonization." Meanwhile in London, the director of the Islamic Centre of England accused the protesters of being "soldiers of Satan."
Hardline Islamist Daniel Haqiqatjou, who runs the Islamist publication Muslim Skeptic, declared that not "mandating hijab is a crime against humanity" and claimed that "Islam protects" the "fundamental human right" of having a "modest public space free from promiscuity and harassment by the inappropriately dressed."
Haqiqatjou's publication, Muslim Skeptic, published an op-ed on the "Hijab Burnings in Iran and the Liberal Muslim's Hatred for Islam." The writer condemned liberal Muslims' "colonised worldview" as "the biggest hurdle" to the Muslim community's "attainment of the leadership of the world." A couple of weeks prior to the protests, Muslim Skeptic's regular contributor Bheria had penned a piece on "the Inevitable Failure of Political Shi'ism: The Secularization of Iran."
As for the Council on Arab-American Relations (CAIR), it published an op-ed warning that supporting women who remove their hijab but not those who put it on "translates into Islamophobia that risks perpetuating more violence against girls and women."
Others were busy attacking Muslim minority sects. Writer Talha Abdulrazaq, infuriated by Ismaili professor Khalil Andani's stating that there is no consensus that hijab is mandatory, accused Ismailis of "thinking it's OK to burn down mosques" and concluded that "hijab burning is nothing to [Ismailis] by comparison." Ismailis are a Shia sect of Islam that embraces an inward understanding of the religion and is reputed for its support of women's rights. The 48th Ismaili leader completely abolished the hijab for Ismaili women while encouraging their education.
Western Islamists are, of course, not in a position to legally impose the hijab on Muslim women but their reactions leave little doubt that they would gladly do so. Many Muslim communities in the West continue to be dominated by hardline religious figures who give women the "choice" to wear the hijab or be ostracized and go to hell.
Martha Lee is a research fellow of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.