Pro-hijab billboard campaign in Chicago

February 20, 2018 • 11:30 am

On the morning news, I heard a report that a Muslim group has put up pro-hijab billboards for six weeks on Interstate 55 and the Tri-State Tollway outside Chicago. Here are the billboards.

Note that they also appeal to Christians by saying that “Blessed Mary wore the hijab”. How do they KNOW that?  Yes, Mary is often depicted wearing a head covering, but, as you see below, sometimes her hair is showing quite a bit. It’s not really a hijab, unless you call any woman wearing a headscarf a hijabi.

Mary exposing her hair:

This woman would get arrested by the modesty police in Iran.

The billboards are part of a campaign to defuse bigotry against Muslims (well, only the ones wearing hijabs), and good for them. Anybody who attacks or disses, or insults a woman who wears a Muslim headscarf, or any Muslim garb, is reprehensible. That is true “Muslimaphobia.” But why did they have to choose a symbol of oppression, and request that we “respect and honor it”? No, I won’t respect it, though I won’t insult its wearers, either.

The religious reason for the garment, as we all know, is one that’s evolved after the Qur’an, since there’s no dictate in the Qur’an itself to cover your hair. And that reason is because Islam places the onus on women to avoid tempting men. Covering the hair is designed to prevent men from showing their uncontrollable lust, and that often goes along with other “modest” garments.  It is, in effect, a form of religious slut-shaming. It is not a sign of women’s strength; it’s a sign of submission to the will of men.

Yet those Western feminists who say, correctly, that it is the responsibility of men to police their own behavior, and that women can bloody well dress as they want, nevertheless not only remain silent about the hijab—a symbol of men’s dominance over women—but even extol it as a garment of virtue.  And so all the news I’ve heard about this has preached the message of the billboards.

Fine—it’s not the place of the news to remind people why the hijab exists. But we can do such reminding, and emphasizing that, in many places in the world, wearing a scarf or niqab or burqa is not a “choice,” not an “option.” Even in the West, where there are no laws mandating that Muslim women wear it, there’s no doubt that a type of social, familial, and peer pressure (including in Muslim schools) forces many women and girls to veil.

As WGN 9 reports:

The billboards are the first of their kind in the country, designed by a group called GainPeace, which encourages non-Muslims to call the organization and ask questions to gain a better understanding of why women wear the hijab. The billboards draw a similarity to the Christian religion where Mary is considered the mother of Jesus. She also wore a hijab.

The billboards are located on Interstate 294 near Interstate 88, and Interstate 55 and LaGrange Road.

Well, of course they’re not going to tell you the real reason women wear the hijab, because that doesn’t sound so good.

Here’s the CBS 2 ad I saw this morning, with the following video and an article:: “Chicago’s hijab billboard campaign seeks to educate“.

Note that the hijabi was harassed by someone trying to force her off the road, and others saying, “Go back to your country.” That’s bigotry, pure and simple. Never should we do that! But Sara Ahmed adds this:

“Wearing the hijab is 100% my choice. Contrary to popular belief, wearing the hijab in no way oppresses us.”

Well, perhaps it’s 100% “her choice”. I don’t automatically believe such assertions, even from someone in the U.S. What that means is that in the absence of any social pressure, or of people around her all wearing the hijab, she’d still wear it. And that’s hard to know. And of course wearing the hijab oppresses Muslim women: that’s why it’s there!

In another post, CBS2 notes this:

Dr. Sabeel Amhed of the group Gain Peace hopes the billboards will reverse negative stereotypes he says some people have about the hijab.

He says the clothing article represents honor, chastity and respect – not subjugation, as some critics may suggest.

Ahmed says the billboards also connect the hijab with similar clothing worn by the Virgin Mary, as a way to show the virtue of the hijab.

Insofar that it’s “virtuous” to wear the hijab, it’s a kind of artificial virtue forced on women by men. It’s the same kind of forced “virtue” that leads to honor killings. And it’s reprehensible.

Yes, wear the hijab if you want, but remember what it stands for. I will tolerate it; I won’t treat anyone wearing one as less worthy than anyone else; but no, I will not “respect” it—no more than I respect any other action that arises from superstition.

Finally, here’s Pliny the in Between’s take from The Far Corner Cafe:


52 thoughts on “Pro-hijab billboard campaign in Chicago

  1. I must admit it’s clever marketing to associate head covering with Jesus’s mom, a saint and near goddess in the Catholic religion.

    1. They couldn’t find anything better calculated to make me deride and ridicule the thing. The fact that the Catholics’ pet idol and phony virgin wore something vaguely like it is not any sort of recommendation (in my biassed view).


  2. From the whois record for

    Name: sabeel ahmed

    Organization: sabeel ahmed

    Mailing Address: 8959 BRONX AVE. Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), SKOKIE IL 60077 US

    Phone: +1.8478586680

    I guess this reduces to: who is the ICNA?

  3. Ok, we’re quite sure that the Biblical tales are apocryphal. We also know that religious requirements for women’s clothing are part and parcel of the suppression of women. So don’t jump on me for that.
    However, even a quick bit of research shows that married Jewish women who lived during the period of the turn of that particular millennium covered their hair. Your photo of Euro-Mary notwithstanding.

    1. Yes, and modern Orthodox Jewish women sometimes cut their hair short and wear wigs (also a sign of “modesty”). What is your point? Mine was that Mary wouldn’t be a good hijabi, even if she did exist (according to the pictures, which are all made up).

      1. My point is simply that according to Jewish practices married women of the day covered their hair as a religious practice. If Mary existed, she most likely would have been a hijabi.

  4. I’ve seen similar sorts of arguments saying things like “Women in Christian lands also wore them” with pictures like that. In reality, just like men, women wore head coverings to protect their hair, since they didn’t have powerful chemical shampoo like we do today.

    I’ve never heard of a time in the West where a woman would be stoned to death for failing to cover her hair. The only time I’ve heard of any punishment in that regard would be some very strict Christian sects that would punish you if your head covering was too fancy.

    1. “I’ve never heard of a time in the West where a woman would be stoned to death for failing to cover her hair.”

      One frequent proof used against witches, before they were convicted and burnt, was that they didn’t wear the veil. The lack of wearing head covering (the veil) was used as part of the justification for some of the worst witch hunts in European history.

      1. Can you cite a source on that, because I’ve NEVER heard that one as one of the tests of witchcraft, and I’ve seen quite a few. There were some times when the definition of witchcraft got awfully loose because the townspeople just REALLY didn’t like someone, but not wearing your scarf is one I’ve never read.

    2. Well, not just to protect their hair. It was the cultural norm in many parts of the UK, well into the 60s, for women to wear a headscarf when they went out. My mother and grandmother both did; my mother-in-law, who was born and lived in Lancashire, wore one most of her life.

      And of course no stones; but, certainly in the 50s, a certain amount of tutting and tooth-sucking (mostly from other women).

      Cultural norms are not always, or necessarily, religious.

      1. Of course, and it was the same for men and hats. Right up until the 50s, it was common for men to wear hats at all times when outdoors. I think the scarf trend lasted a bit longer than the hats because the hats were more inconvenient. When men go inside, they have to take the hat off, and then what do they do with it? A scarf, on the other hand, can be pulled down or folded into a smaller size.

        1. The before-and-after on hat-wearing (and the big dent in haberdasher’s hat business) came with JFK’s bareheaded appearance at his inauguration parade in January ’61.

      2. Not so sure about that. I grew up in Manchester in the sixties/seventies in a catholic Irish enclave and headscarves were worn more as a fashion affectation and protection against the blustery winds and drizzly rain which is literally the only weather you get there.

  5. My own group, the Peoples Interplanetary Mobilization for Peace, Love, and Sensitive Language (PIMPLSL), is contemplating a campaign to bring back the wimple. According to Wiki: “A wimple is an ancient form of female headdress, formed of a large piece of cloth worn around the neck and chin, and covering the top of the head. Its use developed in early medieval Europe. At many stages of medieval Christian culture it was unseemly for a married woman to show her hair.”

    At one point, we also planned a campaign in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to put up billboards popularizing the wearing of the yarmulke, the Star of David, or the crucifix. But then, for some reason we lost contact with our agents in each of these countries.

  6. perhaps it’s 100% “her choice”. I don’t automatically believe such assertions, even from someone in the U.S.

    I wouldn’t believe any such assertion. But then again, “100% your choice” is an unreasonable standard to reach in any society. Free speech used offensively. Getting the stink eye. Work dress codes. We’re never totally free of social coercion. But when the social pressure on a woman to wear a hijab is not more than the social pressure on me to wear a tie, and it’s less than the pressure on teens to eat dishsoap (when did that become a thing?), I say we declare victory and move on.

  7. “Blessed Mary wore the hijab” — ’cause there’s nothin’ like Christian iconography from the Middle Ages for historical accuracy.

    1. But Christian women moved with the times. They’re not still dressing like Mary, Queen of Heaven or any of the other queens since: Guinevere, or Matilda, or Lady Jane Grey, or Mary I, or Elizabeth I, or Mary II, or Anne, or Victoria, or Elizabeth II for most of her reign, or even the Queen of Hollywood(Marilyn Monroe)any more.

      Why aren’t Muslim women allowed to move with the times too? Although I respect their right to dress as they wish, it sickens me that they feel they need to cover themselves like that to please an imaginary being who will make bad things happen to them if they don’t comply.

  8. Interesting. I’ve seen a plausible hypothesis that the Marian “hijab” image is a post-event re-explanation of a clitoris/clitoral hood image from matriarchal religions.

    I make no comment as to the validity of the POV but it make more sense than claiming a 600 year later religion has any higher validity


  9. Brilliant Pliny the in Between cartoon.

    “Sweetie I believe you…I just don’t believe it”

    Hitchens used to say he did not doubt that people truly believe in what they believed, but he would have none of it. I do not doubt these people believe the hijab is empowering, but I don’t believe it is.

  10. Sometimes just minding your own damn business about what anyone else chooses to wear on his or her face or head or body is all the respect that’s needed, or warranted.

  11. The word “hijab” originally meant partition or curtain, and Wikipedia reports “Traditionally, Muslims have recognized many different forms of clothing as satisfying the demands of hijab”.

    So, I guess, Jesus’ mother Mary was wearing a hijab broadly construed!.

    Now that hijabs are starting to be a high fashion statement, it seems even more divorced from its original purpose. Hey, Nike has a “sports hijab”. A Stockholm fashion designer is doing hijabs now. A fashion model website says “Stockholm-based designer and fashion blogger Iman Aldebe designs modern hijabs, headscarves and veils with the goal of helping observant Muslim women feel stylish, unique and visible.“. This seems to make the hijab more of a badge/statement, antithetical to its original intent as a veil.

    However, a good example of the kind of real bigotry which these billboards are trying to combat is this story “Teacher Pulls Off Student’s Hijab at Fairfax County High School”

    1. Is it really? Students aren’t supposed to wear hats in school, so why should a hijab be different?

      “A lot of teachers do that,” another student told News4. “They, like, pull your hat off or take your hood off.”

      1. My point is that hats are not allowed, not in any k-12 school I’ve ever dealt with. You can’t wear a boater even though the rules don’t specifically name boaters. That being the case, why should calling a hat a hijab make a difference. That’s giving preferential treatment to a specific religion. If they allow hijabs they have to allow colanders and I bet they don’t.

      2. Religion gets a pass, particularly Islam. Rules are for everyone but religious fundies, particularly if they are Muslims. Yet people who do not want Islam are labeled as bigots.

  12. “He says the clothing article represents honor, chastity and respect – not subjugation, as some critics may suggest.”

    Translation : “He believes not wearing the clothing article represents dishonor, infidelity and disrespect – not emancipation, as some non-Hijabis may suggest.”

  13. Yes, its a free choice to wear a Hijab but the girls are told that other Muslims will think they are sluts or they will not get a good husband unless they wear one.

  14. I’m half tempted to call the number, just to see what they would say. I get the Mary bit though, clever marketing. Orthodox Christian women still cover heads when at church or the monastery, and I’ve known more than one who purchased their headscarves from a hijab website, because they had more stylish options. Strange times.

    1. Heh. On the other side of the coin, I saw my Pakistani Muslim tenants’ teenage daughters all dressed up to go out one Saturday night, and I’ll swear they got their very stylish outfits from the local Indian (Hindu) fashion emporium.


      1. That’s illustrating why the Pakistan/India/Bangladesh (and even Nepal, in a way) division is so awful – it is a religious thing – they do have a lot in common.

        Only recently here (Canadian cities) seem Pakistani and Indian food identified as different. In fact, a place near here (which I have yet to try) even advertises that it is both “Taste of India” and Punjabi, which no doubt makes some folks uncomfortable …

  15. 1 Corinthians 11:5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
    11:6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

    I don;t know if it is still kept up in anglican churches but certainly when I was a child no woman went to church without a head covering.
    Wiki says that various christian sects still require head coverings. Men must uncover their heads in church. equality anyone?

    1. What a weird God; creates women with hair then declares that hair to be offensive. Mind you, it also created many animals that were specifically an abomination unto itself.
      Seems to me that it deliberately set out to offend itself, so why disappoint it by covering up?

  16. Oddly, Christians never seem to show Mary at the age she was at when she allegedly gave birth to the haploid Jesus; 13 years old.

Leave a Reply