Ever since Apple released their “app store” (an online store for downloading additional software for the iPhone and iPod Touch) there have been a number of ‘gag’ applications. These applications are designed solely for amusement with minimal or no functional value. They are often created to fool others about the iPhone’s functionality. Some of these applications show the device as a fake x-ray machine, others imitate common household items such as virtual bubble wrap. Apps like these cater to the thousands of customers who love going to others and saying “hey, look what my phone can do.” I never paid much attention to these trivial applications, at least not until I came upon iHijab.
I personally find the mobile software space to be fascinating, especially the iPhone’s app store. There are new innovative Islamically centered applications released on the app store every day that can considerably improve Muslim lifestyles. Sophisticated applications like iQuran and iHadith may be the best and most effective ways to read our religious texts digitally. iPray is the easiest way to check prayer times and find the direction of qibla, it even uses the iPhone’s GPS and compass capabilities to customize timings and direction specifically for where you are. Zabihah Halal uses GPS to display nearby masjids, halal groceries and halal restaurants with reviews and ratings from thousands of users. It’s a very exciting time in the mobile industry and the best applications are yet to come. To make sure I’m always up to date, I always browse through the iPhone app store to see what’s new.
When I came upon iHijab while browsing for new applications I was immediately intrigued and installed it to check it out. The application allows you to choose different styles of hijab that you can place on top of pictures from your photo library. You can zoom and move around the picture you choose so that the person’s face fits the hijab, it’s not perfect but it’s pretty close to faking the look of a hijab. The creators of the application, Fishbone Consultancy, describe the app on their website as follows:
*** Surprise everybody with these photos. ***
This identity filter for your iPhone enables you to change your friends’ clothes to a hijab or burkha within seconds.
• Easy to use Hijab Photo Frames
• Change your friends’ identity within seconds
• Automatically Twitter Hijab Pictures
• Automatically put pictures on Facebook
• Automatically email Hijab Pictures
• Choose between 14 identities
• High resolution
Take pictures of your friends wearing a Hijab or Burkha. It works very easy: just open iHijab and choose a picture frame. The Hijab will be displayed as a layer over the iPhone’s camera so you will see the results directly!
The High-Resolution pictures can be emailed, twittered, placed on your facebook wall or saved into your iPhone photo library, all with one click!
The hijab selection screen, shown to the right, shows the different types of hijabs you can choose. This is where I started to become suspicious, I had no mixed feelings about the application up until I saw this screen. As you can see, some of the photos have ridiculous facial expressions and odd backdrops. Is this making fun of Muslims? I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt but I couldn’t get over some of the thumbnails for hijab selection. Take for example, the one with the White House in the background on the far left in the second row. What is the purpose of this picture? It shows the man in the hijab clearly mocking the camera while in front of the White House of the United States. Is this implying that Muslims criticize the U.S. government? And what about the hijab selection in the top right where the man is under a camel?
Okay Tareq, slow down. I realized I might have been over reacting and I looked for others opinion. I brought the application to my Mother, explained it to her, how to use it and asked her what she thought. “This is so stupid” she said. I asked “Why? Do you find it offensive?”. She replied “Yes, it’s just stupid”. “I asked what if it were an application showing cowboy hats? There are many people around the world that wear them as a part of their culture.” She still felt uncomfortable about the application but couldn’t specifically say why.
I then brought it to my sister, I showed her the application and let her use it. In minutes there was a picture of me in a hijab and giggles all around. She loved it! She didn’t find the application offensive and took it as a joke, she saw no considerable attempts at real mockery.
What started to really intrigue me was not the application itself but rather how people viewed the symbol of the hijab. The application description said nothing about Muslims or Islam, was it really targeting us at all? Is the hijab not much more than a piece of clothing but a sign of modesty and respect? This application could simply be a look into a world that is unknown to many people, it could be seen equivalent as an application that dresses one in a Japanese kimono or an Inuit snow jacket. Would that be offensive? Then again, the hijab is also a very prominent symbol to represent Islam. It is used in marketing to symbolize and stereotype Muslims as much as long black beards and salwars are.
I wanted to see more views on the application so I started looking at customer reviews and ratings on the app store. The average rating was 2.5 stars of 5 star with most ratings being 1 star. Here are some of the reviews:
horrible app – Crs1unnot
“not only is this tasteless and racist, but it’s NOT FUNNY. it’s not about being politically correct, it’s about not being an a-hole. I hope this app is swiftly removed”
A bit racial but fun – Hadi Saeed
This application is a bit racial in a way but it doesn’t matter that much since it is only an app.
Great up!!! – y4j
BIG CHEESE – NORWICH917
A LAFF RIOT ..!!!!
Again, mixed thoughts. I was still confused and I didn’t know whether I found this application offensive or not. I guess there is nothing wrong with the idea but the selection screen really bothered me. I left the application on my to-do list to review for ProductMuslim and decided I should give it some more thought. The next time I opened the app store I noticed there was an update for it. The description of the update was: “new hijab overview screen”. I installed it and the only change was the selection screen now with attractive women with normal smiling facial expressions. Now why did they do this? It was the only change in the update so they must have considered it significant enough to alter.
The selection screen has changed, shouldn’t my mind now be at ease? I still don’t know. As I mentioned, evaluating my view on this application has more to do with the hijab than the app itself. I realized I’m trying to understand what the symbol means to me. Is it offensive because I’m being defensive? Would I raise this question if it was a religious symbol from something other than islam?
What do you think? Do you find this application offensive? If so, why? Ask others around you, I think you’ll be surprised to hear so many mixed reviews.
Looking forward to hearing what you all think!