Head covering is still a significant practice in many religions in the world including Catholicism and Orthodox Judaism. The practice of covering the head plays a central role in the Islam religion. Islam is one of the most popular religions in the world. It began as a small faith community within the region of Arabian Peninsula. The community came to be under Prophet Mohammed who established it in Medina between 570-632 CE. The religion spread from Medina to other regions within the Arabia Sea which includes the Middle East, Saharan and sub-Saharan African region and Asia. After its establishment in the various societies in the Arabia Sea, it continued to spread to more regions such as Europe. Before the growth of the Islam faith from Medina to other regions in the seventh century, the use of scarves and veils of different colors and designs was customary in different cultures across the world.
As the Islam faith was growing and spreading through the different cultures, it was able to adopt some of the local head covering customs while also influencing others. Some of the Islamic states such as Iran adopted the concept of women covering their heads recently. Within the country, the veil is known as a chador and it covers the entire body. The custom of veiling within the Islamic faith is greatly criticized by the world in general. People argue that the custom is forced on the women, therefore, they do not cover their heads and bodies by choice. Contrary to this argument, women born of immigrant Muslim parents in the west defend their tradition by stating that veiling is a personal choice as the veils are symbolize piety and devotion. To Muslim women, veiling is part of their religious identity and a form of self-expression. The Hijab custom within the Islam faith is considered to be a symbol of the faith but contrary to that, the introduction of Hijab took place way before Prophet Muhammad established the Muslim faith and began preaching about it.
Traditionally, the Hijab which is also known as veiling was an indication of a person’s social status. Women that worked on the fields were able to afford the Hijab. As a result, the Hijab was viewed as a symbol of high social status hence it was a representation of the women’s privileged lifestyle. It is important to understand the meaning of Hijab, why some women wear it while others do not, the misunderstanding surrounding it and also the criticism facing hijab-wearing women.
What is the Hijab and What does it Mean
The meaning of Hijab is dictated by various aspects that differ from one person to another. In respect to the Islam faith, the Muslim women take great pride in wearing of the cloth. There are various reasons behind the women’s decisions to wear Hijab. One of the reasons is due to their belief that God dictates they wear the cloth as a means of obeying his commandment on modesty. As a result, these women wear Hijab due to personal choice. It is made after puberty and they use it with the intention of illustrating their devotion to God.
The Hijab is in the form of a headscarf in combination with a non-revealing and loosely fitting clothing on top of their normal clothes. According to Rehmani (2016), the women who voluntarily wear the Hijab state that the veiling is a means of eliminating focus on their sexual and physical appeal. Additionally, the women argue that it is a form of resisting the western consumerism concept whereby a lot of energy and money is used in keeping up with the constantly changing fashion trends (Mansson, 2014). They deem these trends as limiting for women as they focus on maintenance of their physical appearances as becoming hostage to the fashion industry. According to an interview conducted on three women for the Beacon article, they were asked what the Hijab meant to them. In their responses, there was one commonality which is that Hijab was a symbol of empowerment to them and they considered it to be a part of their identity. They further stated that if they did not wear the Hijab, they would feel like a part of them was missing. According to Lujain Al Ali who has majored in civil engineering, when she makes attempts to take off the Hijab and go into the world, she feels headless. For her, failing to wear the Hijab strikes a weird feeling (Rehmani, 2016).
According to Nathira Osman who is also a student stated that wearing the hijab makes her feel like she belongs. This is because she aims to emulate older women who inspire her and also wear the Hijab (Rehmani, 2016). The women collectively agree that Hijab is a form of modesty. Osman states that the Hijab should be viewed in the same way as not covering the body is perceived. In this case, women have the right to expose their body therefore as a Muslim woman, she also has the right to cover up her body. Lastly, Nawal Oumar who is a nursing student argues that the hijab changes the perception that people have (Rehmani, 2016). This is because the Hijab makes it possible for the public to judge them based on their character and personality rather than their physical appearance.
Why Do Some Muslims Wear It And Why Not
Despite the fact that wearing the Hijab is a custom in the Islamic faith, not all women wear them. Muslim women have a different perception of the Hijab as stipulated by their religion. In this case, for some women, the Hijab is not an obligation in their religion while others perceive it as a means of visibly identifying with the Islamic faith (Hopkins & Greenwood, 2013). For some women, they consider the Hijab as a means through which they can illustrate their social and political alliance with the countries to which they belong. They also aim to challenge the prejudice expressed by the western debates concerning the Arab world.
Additionally, Muslim women choose to wear the Hijab as a means of challenging the western feminist perception that women who wear Hijab are oppressedv(Al Wazni, 2015). Similarly to Hijab wearing women having their reasons for wearing the cloth, those who do not wear it also have their own reasons to justify the choice.Women that do not wear the Hijab acknowledge the principles of modesty that are stipulated in the Qu’ran but also view the obligation to wear the headscarf as a cultural interpretation of the principles. They believe that the values attached to wearing the Hijab by the Muslim customs are achievable through other means. they believe that in the past the Hijab enabled the Muslim to participate in the public society without attracting attention, however, that concept is not applicable today as wearing the headscarf in the westernized societies attracts more attention hence contradicting the initial intention (Hamzeh, 2012). They also believe that wearing of the Hijab alongside other external practices have taken an inappropriate position in the practice of the religion.
As a result, they opt to focus on their internal wellbeing and their spiritual connection with God. Despite the fact that women who don’t wear the Hijab are judged by society, the majority of the Muslim women hold the opinion that wearing the cloth is a personal choice. Plenty of the Muslim and Arab women who have contradicted wearing the Hijab are often at the forefront of advocating for the right to make their own decisions in wearing the veil.
Misunderstanding of the Hijab
There is a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding the wearing of the Hijab. Some of the reasons behind the misunderstanding are the western feminism and also the global issues that are common in the Muslim regions. To the public, wearing the Hijab is considered to stand for the oppression of the Muslim women and the consequent lack of freedom on their part. This misconception holds a great deal of significance to the Muslim community as it has resulted in the political and social backlash of the Islamic nations. This requires providing more information to facilitate understanding the meaning behind wearing the Hijab and tackling the concern from a feminist perspective.
Most of the people involved in criticizing the custom are not aware of its origin or the role it plays within the Muslim communities (Chowdhury, Elmetwally & Bakar, 2017).The lack of knowledge is the reason behind perpetuating the stereotype of Hijab wearing women. The wearing of the Hijab came into existence over fourteen hundred years ago when the Quran revelation was received. It revealed that wearing the Hijab was a means of protecting the women’s modesty and protecting the way other people perceive them. In this case, the people judge them not because of their appearance rather because of who they are and their character (Chowdhury, Elmetwally & Bakar, 2017). The purpose of the principle is to teach the women to focus on each other’s character, moral standing and unbiased interaction rather than allowing their physical appearance or sense of fashion to influence socialization.It is critical to note that the misconception of the Hijab is not only propagated by the non-Muslims rather it is very common within the muslim communities.
Proper understanding of the concept to eliminate the misconception goes a long way in facilitating observation of the Islamic law and deriving maximum benefits from it. For a Muslim woman, wearing the Hijab is not their most significant defining aspect rather it is the most visible. With Islamophobia increasing day after day within the western societies, it has led to the distortion of personal and broad practice on the part of the monolithic perception of the Islamic woman (Ishiaku). According to a MIC article, there are seven misconceptions on the Hijab. One of the misconceptions is that a Muslim woman’s choice to wear the Hijab is decided by the Man. The media has propagated the concept that wearing the Hijab is a tool of oppressing the woman, however, choosing to wear the cloth or not is a religious decision by the woman involved.
Within the Islam community, the decision to wear the Hijab has always been the woman’s choice and never a man’s decision. The ongoing guilting and shaming the two in both communities contribute towards clouding the power of Muslim woman to make their own choices (Ishiaku). The second misconception is that women who wear the Hijab are religiously conservative. This misconception is extended by non-Muslims who feel entitled to comment on the women’s choice of dressing especially in events where it is not necessary such as political gathering. This misconception lacks basis given that there is no way of determining the belief system to which the Hijab is connected. The choice and styling of the headscarf are mainly influenced by culture and also a person’s belief hence lacking any religious attachment (Swami, et al, 2014).
Another misconception is that the Hijab is anti-feminist (Chowdhury, Elmetwally & Bakar, 2017). A lot of people believe that women that wear the Hijab can in no way embrace feminist belief. This is propagated by the media through the portrayal of the Hijab as a characteristic of domination and oppression. These misconceptions have constantly been countered by the Muslim feminists who state that the choice to wear the Hijab does not translate to being voiceless nor is it’s a means of being oppressed.
Attacks and Backlash on Hijab Wearing Women
Islamophobia is a common phenomenon within the United States especially after 9/11 as such to them the Hijab is synonymous with Islam. Some of the Muslim women make the choice of appropriating the stereotype and wearing the cloth as a way of announcing their Islamic identity and proclaiming their faith. However, some women have been assaulted as a result of the association. Islamophobia is defined as a notion that has negative connotations of Islam faith and Muslims and it results in discrimination and negative attitudes towards them. It propagates fear of the Muslim followers and also facilitates negative perception of the faith. It is due to the negative depiction of the Muslims that contributes towards the controversial issue of Hijab in western societies and also in the media (Hebbani & Wills, 2012).
A lot of people lack the knowledge to enable them to reason why Muslim women choose to wear the Hijab. These leads them to connect the decision to wear the Hijab to oppression as a result of the presumed sexism within the Muslim communities. There is Islamophobia in connection to wearing the Hijab, whereby in the western societies it is synonymous with terrorist. As such the western societies are quick to propagate Islamophobia by depicting wearing the Hijab as a sign of oppression and also terrorism (Latiff & Alam, 2013). The attacks on women wearing the Hijab increased since September 2001. The women are tortured through physical and verbal attacks as they go about their business such as collecting their children from school. Majority of these reports are not reported to the police due to the fear that the law enforcement will not take any action due to the underlying bias.Statistically, Canada has lower crimes rates against Muslim women compared to the United States and the United Kingdom. In 2006, a Muslim woman wearing the Hijab was assaulted in the University of Toronto.
In 2011, a Muslim mother was assaulted with her children while at a mall when the perpetrator yelled at her to leave the country and return to her country. In 2013, two women wearing the headscarf and the Hijab were physically assaulted where the 17-year-old woman was punched in the nose until she bled. In 2015, a pregnant Muslim woman was assaulted by teenagers who pulled her scarf and led her to fall. These are just some of the example of Muslim women being assaulted as there are many more who get attacked due to their personal choice to wear the Hijab (Rahmath, Chambers & Wakewich, 2016). To sum up, majority of the Muslim women make the personal choice to wear the Hijab. For them, it is a religious principle that enables them to maintain modesty and testify to their religious faith. When the women wear the Hijab, it symbolizes the Islam faith and also the concept of being a Muslim. Unfortunately, this is coupled with a lot of hate and misconceptions. The western societies and the media portray the Hijab as something that Muslim women should be ashamed of due to the underlying misconception that it is forced on them.
On the contrary, to the Muslim women, the Hijab is a symbol of empowerment, freedom, women right and also equality. It is a means of liberation of the women that increases their confidence but also put the society in the right path of not viewing the women as an object of desire. Through the Hijab, Islam religion is able to propagate sexual equality where it makes it possible for the women to participate in the society without being negatively judged or getting favors as a result of a man’s desire and perception of their physical appearance.