Perceptions on the niqab, also known as the face-covering, lie on a spectrum. Some countries have banned it, while other cultures have encouraged it. Some women believe it represents them, others think it erases identity. One thing we're sure would get a unanimous vote is the fact that different media forms should stop sexualizing women, and that includes niqab-wearing ones.
Muslim women have had many battles to fight. For some, the confrontations start at home. Other times, the conflict extends to societies on the outside. Western cultures seem to feed on the idea of "liberating" Muslim women. Different messages manifested in music videos, superheroes, TV series, or films perpetuate the idea that Muslim women are in dire need of saving. They also spread the idea that Muslim women want to live the life of a Westerner. Who's better at saving them than a white western male, right? Wrong. A thousand times wrong. This idea is further exacerbated when it's a hijabi or niqabi woman in the picture.
You would think French Montana, who has Moroccan origins, would be more aware of such narratives and representation in various media forms. Instead of battling them, he is reinforcing them in his latest album trailer "MONTANA."
In the album trailer, Muslim women in niqabs can be seen sitting beside the rapper on both sides. At some point in the video, they appear behind him. The niqab-wearing women cross their legs in polished red knee-high boots, suggesting Muslim women can be "sexy" despite their modest clothing. Kind of reminds me of the "sexy abaya" Halloween costume. The abaya, hijab, and niqab are all traditional pieces of modest and conservative clothing, so such representation completely tarnishes that image. Such images dilute their significance as well. Instead, they insinuate that women who dress modestly are forced to do so and that in reality, they are awaiting someone to help them unleash their sexy side. Such depictions also suggest that women are inherently sexy, but that their clothing hinders that potential. When will we stop being represented as sexy beings in need of a liberation movement?
We are not oppressed individuals. Yes, some Muslim women have had it more difficult than others, but generalizing and placing Muslim women inside a box is the real tool of oppression. Montana's self-titled album is meant to be a homage to his roots and Islamic upbringing. However, he does so on the backdrop of Muslim women.
The rapper attempts to display Muslim women as "party-goers" and "free," as if that's the only definition freedom entails. In a tweet explaining the video, the rapper writes:
"You don't have to change who you are. You can bring people into your own world."
This seems to be his way of telling Muslim women that they can be themselves. Or does Montana mean their sexy selves? Or does he mean Western selves? Muslim women are tired of such messages - that usually come from men - that describe them as being limited due to their faith. The niqab, hijab, or one's faith does not restrict one's expression of identity when they're worn out of a personal choice, not an obligation of the faith.
The face-veil is especially customary in parts of the Arab Gulf countries. However, contrary to common belief, it is not a requirement by law, not even in Saudi Arabia. In recent years, Saudi women have worked up the courage to speak up against the kingdom's customs and traditions, which limit most women's personal freedoms. It's not the piece of clothing that restricts women, it's traditional views and laws that are to blame.
In a video released in 2016, a number of Saudi women sought to change the idea that "niqab is synonymous with oppression". Titled "Hwages," which translates to "concern," the music video garnered over 27 million views since it was first released in December 2016.
"May all men be erased as they've hurt us psychologically," the women repeatedly say in the song's chorus.
Internet users couldn't help but comment on Montana's video and failed attempt to "free" Muslim women. Instead of presenting the world with an authentic representation of niqabis, the rapper fetishized and romanticized a portion of the Muslim community.