Beyond the controversy: Dina Tokio and her hijab

Art by ROverhate via Pixabay.

Popular YouTuber and influencer Dina Tokio recently caused a stir amongst her followers by announcing she’s decided to stop wearing the hijab — and sure enough, the self-righteous people of the internet had to make their opinions known.

Countless tweets, Instagram comments and entire YouTube videos have been dedicated to debating her decision, especially given that Tokio’s platform was one built on the hijab and modest fashion. Her 1.4 million Instagram followers and 815,000 YouTube subscribers are a testament to her growing popularity in the blogging sphere of Muslim women. Viewers routinely followed her journey that highlighted modest fashion, makeup and hijab tutorials and everyday Muslim life.

I’m not interested in commenting on her decision — there are enough internet trolls to do that, and frankly, whether or not she chooses to wear the headscarf isn’t my business. The backlash Tokio has faced is instead indicative of a problem larger than herself; a problem of a society obsessed over policing women’s bodies — what they put into them, what they put on them and what they do with them.

Over the years, the hijab and other religious coverings have become politicized topics of this debate, as European countries like France, Germany and Belgium banned the niqab, a face-covering veil, in public settings. Quebec recently attempted to follow suit by banning the niqab for those “giving or receiving public services,” though that law was quickly suspended in court. France took its ban another step further by banning “burkinis,” or full-body swimsuits, on public beaches after far-right French politician Marine Le Pen argued they were “[Islamic] fundamentalist uniforms.”

“ [The burkini is] an act of submission of women from men to prevent them from living equally with others,” she said in a CNN Interview on the issue. On a side note, as a woman who wears the hijab, it’s always entertaining to hear comments about my own supposed oppression.

The myth that the state provides free reign to exercise personal religious freedom is slowly eroding. Bans on these forms of hijab are problematic, not only because they limit how freely we as individuals may practice religion, but also because they reduce important religious symbols to mere physical pieces of clothing. More often than not, my hijab and religion are morphed into larger political campaigns, manipulated to evoke fear, win votes or push for diversity.

Rather, to me, the hijab is an act of devotion to God — a physical signifier stating that I am a Muslim woman and proud to be one. It begs for people to judge me for my ideas, character and values, rather than my looks. Reducing the hijab to politicized pieces of clothing, as has been done before, strips them of this religious significance.

“Toxic Cult”

While I don’t condone discussing Tokio’s personal choices on wearing the hijab, I will defend those refusing to allow her to define realities about Muslim women. Following her announcement, Tokio posted to Instagram: “…This ‘hijabi’ community is starting to become a very toxic cult…”

Don’t get me wrong, people are entitled to their own opinions. But if you claim hijabis are a part of some obsessive toxic cult, your opinions promote the harmful homogenization of all Muslim woman as petty, entitled and vindictive. As is the case with with any minority group, it’s stereotypical to depict us all in one light based on the negativity put out by a few.

It’s homogenized views like these — especially coming from prominent Muslims themselves — that fuel hatred and Islamophobic rhetoric. It is only fair for us to speak out in defense of our community and we need to be wary of the stereotypes we subconsciously or consciously perpetuate that only work to tear down our fellow sisters.

Dina, I wish you peace and healing in your journey, but I also hope you realize your comments have very real repercussions in the lives of Muslim women and the perceptions people have of them. I hope you do not misinterpret clearing our names as hatred directed towards you, because you are undeserving of it — and so are we all.