ICYDK: Lent is the six-week period between Ash Wednesday (the day after Mardi Gras, which is of course the last day of debauchery and excess before the start of Lent) and Easter in many wings of Christianity. It’s supposed to be a time of prayer and repentance in preparation for the Big E, and many Christians commit to fasting and/or the sacrifice of certain luxuries to better appreciate the temptation and the suffering of Jesus and his sacrifice (or something. Stories vary). This can come in the form of giving up alcohol or a favorite snack food, kicking a bad habit, praying more, doing volunteer work, or… other stuff, apparently.
Jessey Eagan, a white Christian woman living in Peoria, Illinois, told the Christian Post that she is wearing the hijab for 40 days so that she can “love other people who are friends, strangers and enemies.” Eagan has taken to documenting her journey on #40DaysOfHijab; she has also given multiple interviews to national news sites about what she’s learned so far. Eagan’s troubling attempt to promote diversity also includes using makeup to “darken” her complexion before going “out into the community.”
(Eagan has since said that she does not, in fact, intend to darken her complexion.) Eagan records her experiences over the 40 days of Lent on her blog; reactions from Muslim women have varied. Read breakdowns of the dangers and limitations of “hijab tourism” by Nashwa Khan at RH Reality Check:
Thousands of Muslim women who live in the United States wear the hijab and face discrimination because of it—yet non-Muslim women are praised and heralded for donning it for a single day or month. This approach diminishes the experiences of Muslim women and reinforces the idea that stories from their perspective are not as valuable as stories from non-marginalized people. It strips us of autonomy while not authentically showing our nuanced and multiple truths. In turn, incorrect myths or stereotypes about Muslim people are perpetuated, because we are not given the platforms to speak up for ourselves.
That said, you also do not have to wear the hijab to face oppression as a Muslim in the West. Efforts like Eagan’s effectively limit the Muslim female experience to those wearing hijab, and the hijab itself to a simple piece of cloth. In reality, the hijab is a complex and multifaceted aspect of Muslim faith that has changed meaning for many Muslims over the years.
And Ala Ahmad at the Daily Dot:
While well-meaning, these examples show that more weight is given to privileged outsiders while ignoring the voices of members of these communities who can speak first-hand to their own struggles. After Lent, Eagan will no longer be a “Muslim,” [white journalist John Howard] Griffin’s skin changed back into its former white complexion, and Banksy eventually left Gaza.
However, Muslim women’s identities aren’t an experiment, and it does them no favors to offer them solidarity while implicitly reinforcing their own marginalization.