Note: This opinion piece based on the views of the writer does not reflect those of the outlet.
As a Hijabi, I have heard a lot of negative comments, some from my own community.
The concept of a hijab extends outside of Islam. There are so many religions that have a mirror version of a hijab. In Christianity, nuns have a headdress, Jewish men and boys often have a kippah and Sikh men have a turban.
First, let us go over the terms you need to familiarise yourself with. Hijab means modesty; this includes both physical, and most importantly, internal modesty. Along with other Muslims, I believe internal modesty represents humility, compassion, and growth – the last one being my favourite word. I had been raised to believe that the modern concept of hijab is the one where a woman must wear a scarf to cover her head and chest. The hijab is not to be confused by the niqab, which covers hair, chest, and face. Each person must only don a hijab (head-covering) if they want to. The hijab (head-covering) is a choice, though at times society can heavily enforce the hijab onto a woman. To force someone or to guilt them into wearing a hijab will lead to some very unpleasant emotions and, I believe, leaves a stain on the person’s iman forever. The iman is a person’s faith and allegiance to Allah. Hijabis wear a headscarf, or something similar, around their head as a symbol of faith and modesty. Haram refers to something sinful, and Muslims must avoid it. Harami is the insult given to someone who is believed to have committed a great sin. There is a misconception that not wearing the hijab is haram. I have then heard many Muslims use this misconception to label non-hijabis as a harami – a very hurtful word that directly attacks a person’s faith. Please remember though, I am not an Islamic scholar. This belief that not wearing the hijab is allowed is a view shared by a small amount of Muslims.
Ready for the controversial bite, hijab also applies to men. Contrary to my upbringing, the idea of modesty is not restricted to one sex. Men must also be modest on the inside as well as on the outside. Just like women, Islam encourages both sexes to cover as much of their skin as possible. The emphasis is on encouragement and not force. To dress modestly is up to the person and not society. I prefer to cover up as this is how I feel comfortable and liberated – I am able to focus on my clothes and surroundings rather than my own body. Every change I make to my body- be it through shaving, squatting, slicing off my hair – is for me and me alone. Though my close family and friends can relish in it as well.
The holy Quran, being the central religious text in Islam, lightly touches on the idea of the hijab (modesty). Women “they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands…” (Holy Qur’an 24:31). This verse is referenced mainly by people when discussing a woman’s modesty. The verses in the holy Quran that advise women about covering themselves is not meant to oppress them but protect them from harassment. If you search qur’anic quotes about the hijab, you will not find much about a head covering. The biggest take-away from these famous qur’anic verses of Surah 24:30-1 and Surah 2:58-9 notes that the physical hijab is worn so that both men and women would not get harassed. Remember that the Holy Quran is also a historical text, so this protection may have been necessary as people get harassed for how they look and more. The coverings, at the time, made it difficult to identify a person as Muslim as it was also a fashion statement. Now the hijab (head-covering) is the most identifiable feature for a Muslim. During the pre-Islamic period, head-covering was fashionable, but not for modesty’s sake.
“The problem is not Islam, but society.”
It is society itself that tries to enforce this outward idea of hijab on women and not men. It is used by some to control women and dictate what they wear but allows men the liberty to dress how they deem fit. This is, and should never, be the case. Most of the time, this does not come from an Islamic standpoint but a cultural one. People use religion as an excuse to determine how a woman can act and dress. I have heard this before and I am sure you have as well – the problem is not Islam but society.
Not only do people use hijab to try to oppress women, but they also think the hijab is a sign of oppression. Hijab is a sign of faith and resilience. How a person goes about practising their faith is not anyone’s business, unless it harms others, which is very unlikely. A woman is in control of how she dresses and acts. The hijab can be anything. A sign of her faith in her community. A sign of her commitment to Allah. A way for her to protect herself or find her way to Allah. A hijab can be a man’s way of reclaiming their faith in Allah. A hijab can be a man’s testimony to the world of which God they believe and follow. Men may use the hijab to work on their independence, their personality and their connection to God’s creatures. A hijab may be used as a way for a person to be in control of who they are. All of the above and more is what hijab means to me.
Every Muslim girl (hijabi or not) has received a back-handed comment, which feels like a sucker punch—comments, which are very hurtful, cruel, and hypocritical.
“You’re not Muslim if you don’t wear it?”
“What’s the point of wearing it if you don’t wear it properly?”
“I can see your hair, just take it off.”
“It’s summer so you think it’s okay not to wear your hijab?”
“Take it off.”
No one should be questioned about how they approach their faith. If the hijab is about modesty and protecting women from men, then it is time to re-educate the way men are raised. Re-educate children to protect one another and that a woman’s body is made of more than flesh, bone, and hormones. Shaming a hijabi or a non-hijabi does not guide them onto the straight path; it pushes them away. People have to find their own way to Allah and figure out how they want to approach it.
Yes, the Quran often mentions modesty and encourages Muslims to cover up as much as possible. Yet, there is no clear line in the holy Quran stating it is haram not to wear the hijab (head-covering) or that it is a must. Yet most of the Ummah (Muslim community) will disagree with this. However, most Islamic scholars, with the education to back themselves up, strongly believe that not wearing the hijab is haram. A person can identify themselves as Muslims regardless of what they wear.