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New Site Showcases Bodies of Ex-Muslim Women Who’ve Ditched the Hijab

A recently-launched Tumblr photo project is aimed at “Celebrating body and fashion for those who have broken away from Islamic modesty norms.” The Ex-Hijabi Fashion Photo Journal was begun “Because bodies are a joy and not a shame.”

More from the bio:

Featuring ex-hijabis with awesome hairstyles and tattoos and piercings. Ex-hijabis in bikinis and little black dresses and cargo pants and hiking boots. Ex-hijabis who are femme and ex-hijabis who are butch. Ex-hijabis who are women and ex-hijabis who are men. Ex-hijabis topless and legsome and all decked out and minimalistic and with long hair and buzzcuts and everything. EVERYTHING.

The project is the brainchild of an ex-Muslim woman who calls herself Marwa, and runs A Veil and a Dark Place. “I am an ex-Muslim, an apostate, an atheist, an escapee from the Middle East, a victim of both religious-based violence at the hands of my own family and the crushing Western war machine in my homeland,” she writes on her about page.

Each post will feature one woman who has thrown off the hijab, featuring her background, along with her feelings about the shift.

Marwa describes the transition as “from a life of obscurity to one where they can model and fashion their own bodies as they please.”

The debate over Muslim women’s wardrobe choices is obviously contentious. On the one hand many believe veil customs, and in some cases violently enforced laws, reduce women’s agency. In addition, Marwa contends that “Your body is awesome and not a shame!” In this she directly challenges the beliefs held by many in the Muslim community (and in the more fundamentalist Christian community under a set of ideas broadly described as “modesty culture” and “purity culture”). The set of beliefs include the idea that sex, and by extension women’s bodies, are shameful whenever they are displayed or enjoyed in the “wrong” context.

The veil and modesty and purity culture are also entwined with the idea that men are incapable of respecting women’s bodily agency or controlling their own thoughts if “too much” of a woman’s body is on display. These teachings lead many women to conclude that their bodies are shameful things which need to stay hidden. And they put women in the unenviable position of having full responsibility for maintaining chastity, keeping themselves from being assaulted, and even for what goes on in other people’s minds.

However, on the other side are accusations that those who oppose the veil are actually patronizing women who oftentimes take it up willingly and enjoy wearing it. And many accuse anti-hijab activists of “cultural imperialism,” for trying to force their customs down the throats of those who don’t share their values.

Further muddying the waters, some groups who want to liberate women from compulsory covering are also blatantly anti-Islamic. Examples include Femen. The feminist PR project gets attention for their causes, which include ending the practice of hijab wearing, by baring their breasts where it is illegal. They’re also on-record with some statements about Islam which many Muslim women find offensive.

Marwa seems aware of the tension, and which side she falls on, when she writes “I am a mostly-liberal seeking to oppose the liberal dogma that resists enabling useful critique of foreign cultures and societies for fear of being assuming, paternalistic, and hurtful.”

Readers can find Marwa’s story here. Those who wish to submit their photos and stories can do so on the submit page of the Tumblr.

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>> Cathy Reisenwitz is an Editor at Young Voices and a D.C.-based writer and political commentator. She is Editor-in-Chief of Sex and the State and a columnist at Townhall.com and writer for Bitcoin Magazine. Follow her on Twitter here.

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