Topless Jihad, Muslimah Pride, and A Guide to Muslim Head Coverings

topless jihad day

The Internet is abuzz in reaction to a recent protest dubbed “International Topless Jihad Day”  by the Ukranian feminist group, FEMEN.  The protest was in response to the treatment of a Tunisian woman, Amina Tyler after she posted a topless photo of herself with the words “my body belongs to me” and “fuck your morals”  written on her bare skin. Tyler received death threats, and her subsequent condition is difficult to determine. She is not responding to requests for comment by the press, and this comes after she expressed fear for her life to news agencies. Some people question whether or not she is being held captive, but we couldn’t find conclusive evidence of her well-being.

FEMEN’s founder, Inna Shevchenko, cites Tyler’s photographic protest and her maltreatment as the inspiration for “International Topless Jihad Day.”  Women assembled sans clothes in front of several mosques across the world, claiming that their vitriol for Islam is an expression of solidarity with Tyler.  The group’s protest was not favorably received by all Muslim women, and sparked the online counter-movement called “Muslimah Pride Day.”

Women participating in Muslimah Pride Day took to the Internet posting pictures of themselves wearing various head coverings, with signs like the one below:

Muslimah PrideHowever earnest the attempt by FEMEN was, it ignored the very women it claims to care about. A great article in Jezebel explains that:

FEMEN needs to recognize that Muslim women do in fact have agency, and the idea that Muslim women are helpless, passively indoctrinated by the alleged evils of Islam, and desperately need of Western feminist help is oppressive and orientalist. Patriarchy is not specific to Islam — although there are inarguably extreme and truly saddening examples of misogyny in the Muslim community, patriarchy is a global issue. Furthermore, feminism is not only a Western institution — to assume that Muslim women need someone to “speak for” them is insulting to all the grassroots political organizing and activism that Muslim feminists have done.

We sincerely hope that Amina Tyler is safe from harm for her expression of resistance, and we hope that FEMEN takes the concerns of Muslim women into consideration when it plans its next protest.

Amidst all of the issues surrounding Amina Tyler’s safety, FEMEN’s protest, and Muslimah Pride Day, we asked ourselves, and a few people around us, do you know what hijab means? Can you tell the difference between a burqa, niqab, or hijab? The resounding answer was “no.” We responded to this the best way we know how, with research. The information below is sourced from the Internet, which means it’s fallible. If you see something that is incorrect, please let us know and we will fix it!

What is hijab?

According to WiseGeek, hijab is the Arabic word for “cover.” More broadly, hijab refers to codes of modesty in Islam, and there are various prescriptions and proscriptions depending on your region and gender. Hijab is often used in reference to headscarves, such as the one below:

Hijab Scarf


A niqab is a type of veil that covers a woman’s face, but not her whole body (not to be confused with a burqa). The niqab is worn in several places, including: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, UAE, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, India, some parts of Israel, southern provinces of Iran, and other areas with sizeable Muslim populations.


A burqa is one of the most concealing garments Muslim women wear in public. It covers the woman entirely, usually with a mesh cover in front of the eyes:

Burqa vs. Niqab

Image via BBC News

This series of protests illustrates how interconnected we all are, and at the very least, we should know the difference between burqas, hijabs, and niqabs. We hope the illustrations clear up some of the confusion about various traditional garments in Islam. If you have noticed any errors in our descriptions, please let us know via the comments section or our contact form.

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