These questions have been asked to me several times, in many forms. Does the wearing of hijab genuinely ensure Muslim women’s presumed social security? Or does it prevent Muslim women from performing their role in the society in this twenty-first century when women are becoming more empowered around the globe and contributing to their national economic progress. Because some people think this is what Muslim women are asked or forced to wear and they hide themselves under the veil as of other’s choice. Or because some people believe hijab puts an injunction on Muslim women’s outing from their home and participating in the economic affairs, for instance business or job. Recently another accusation has been made against hijab—religious extremist groups wear hijab.
Hijab is not just wearing of a veil or wrapping the head with a head scarf. Hijab is a broader concept that denotes a particular life style for women that conforms to a certain standard of modesty and privacy from the non-relative males. Outside the clothing hijab includes the way of communication, choice of words and other actions. Rules regarding Muslim women’s attire are derived from the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, and the traditions (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In the Quran, Allah states: “…They should not display their beauty and adornments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers… (a list of exceptions)” In one tradition, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is quoted as saying: “…If the woman reaches the age of puberty, no part of her body should be seen but this — and he pointed to his face and hands.”
The beauty of a Muslim woman lies in modesty. If Muslim women are modest, they do not draw undue attention to themselves. Modesty in dressing and interaction with others sends a message of honor and, in turn, the upholder receives respect which increases self-esteem. So there are personal rewards for modesty that many people overlook. Maintaining hijab helps us to be modest. If we feel our worth comes from our physical beauty then this false sense of security will last as long as we are young and outwardly beautiful. As age catches up with us, wrinkles and unattractiveness becomes part of life; will our worth disintegrate as our physical beauty has? It’s sad because many of us realize the modesty hijab provides when a good part of our life is over.
Furthermore, a woman who wears hijab liberates herself from the selfish desire to show off her beauty which leads to competition with other women around her. Modesty and covering help subdue this innate desire which exists in maximum women. With the hijab, a woman does not have to let the society define her by following society’s expectations of what is desirable. She no longer has to use her beauty to be recognized and accepted in her society. Such behaviour is very degrading for a woman. To me, by covering myself I am fighting against a systematic oppression against women where women’s bodies are being sexualized and objectified. This is a different form of empowerment. I think wearing hijab defeats the false western concept of beauty. To me covering myself is liberating. Hijab is my protection from all horrible things that society or media is throwing at me. Whatever others call me for covering I am satisfied with it because I have the control of my own body.
If I come to the question of choice, then I must say I have chosen this protective and decent life style for me. This may be true to some extent that some girls are asked to cover themselves by their family. What is wrong with that? Family bears the prime responsibility for the safely of a girl. When a girl is raped or harassed, she and her family suffer the most. So in turn, a family can claim some rules and life styles to be complied with from their children. This not only happens for hijab but also other aspects of life in which family imposes some decisions of it upon their children. For family imposed coverings, it often happens with the girls who are asked to wear hijab from an early age do not give it up as later they can realize how it is protecting them. On the contrary, it also often happens that several girls who are not told to wear hijab from an early age start wearing it willingly as they come to realize the significance of it when they progress in life.
If I come to the question, does covering ensure the presumed social security? I must say, of course. It protects Muslim women from the roaming eyes and unacceptable behaviour of men, not just Muslim men. Guess I am on a public bus standing and surrounded by several male passengers and returning home in the evening from my work. If I am not covered with a decent dress, in particular hijab, my body and beauty will be a lucrative target to some indecent and wrecked hearted male passengers. Some may seek a chance to touch my body and even some may follow me when I get down from the bus. Several rape incidents are happening in this way. On the contrary, if I am well covered I hardly become the target of wild sights of male passengers around me. Even sometimes people make mistake in guessing my real age when I am covered. I seem slightly older than my real age with the covering. That is an advantage as people often show respect for my misled age perception. I cannot force everyone to be decent with me and to be morally well taught. What I can do is I can keep myself within the safe zone. Covering protects women. The reference can be made from the statistics that shows the higher rate of rape in the western countries and lower rate of rape in the Muslim majority countries.
To the question of women’s participation in economic activities outside the home, Islam imposes no restriction. During the era of prophet and Caliphate, women used to work outside the home or even used to do business. Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, the wife of our beloved prophet Muhammad (PBUH), was a successful business woman in her own right. Her astuteness and business ability made her business one of the most widespread businesses among the Quraysh. She is the perfect example and role model for many of us who wants to get involved in the economic affairs maintaining hijab. Lady Falimatu ’z-Zahra’, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), was a beacon of light and a source of guidance for the women of her time. She faithfully stood by her husband, Imam ‘Ali, in his struggle for his right of caliphate, and strongly protested against the first violation of the right of inheritance for the daughters in Islam. Many such examples exist in the history of Islam where the rights of the Muslim women were ensured because Islam granted women those rights even if the existing society didnot.
To the accusation of hijab to be identical with terrorist groups, I must say this is a nonsense issue of debate. Hijab is in practice since the inception of Islam for around fourteen centuries, whereas terrorism is a twenty-first century phenomenon. In addition, there are several terrorist groups who wear traditional dresses such as pants and shirts, it does not lead to a debate that others should give up wearing of these dresses.
There is a misconception that only Muslim women are mandated for Hijab. There are similar—yet less obvious—requirements for Muslim men’s attire. Muslim men, for example, are prohibited from wearing silk clothing (except for medical reasons) or gold jewelry which may lead to showing off and self-admiration. A Muslim male is under strict instruction regarding his gaze (Hijab of the eyes) and code of conduct towards females. Infact, Allah addressed the believing men before he addressed the believing women regarding the Hijab of the eyes. In the Quran, Allah states in Surah Nur in the respective verses 30 and 31: ” Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty… And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty. This is better for them.”
Christianity—as Islam did—understood how important it is for a woman to wear hijab. The nuns are still wearing their own hijab and the society at large see this as a normal condition and appreciates them for their sacrifice and devotion to their creator. Whereas, when it comes to Islam all voices come against this holy notion. Western media often claim Islam is taking away Muslim women’s right of choice—how to dress or how to present herself to the society. It’s amazing how a society can tolerate a woman who go around with very little or no dress but find it difficult to tolerate a woman who covers herself by her own choice. Feminists and the Western media often portray the hijab as a symbol of oppression and slavery of women. Well guess what? I am a Muslim woman and Islam has given me the right to choose and I chose to cover myself. Because when I wear hijab, I feel safe and honored. Hijab is my identity and the almighty promised to honor me in this world and in the hereafter life. For a believer, a promise by the creator is more desirable than everything the world has to offer.
Allah says: “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” (Qur’an, 33:59)
From the above verse, we can see hijab protects and safeguards women from abuse and awkward situations by Allah’s mercy. So hijab is much more than a religious symbol. It’s the way of life for all Muslimah should adapt to. And Allah is AL-Wali.
The writer is undergrad student of CSE at the University of Dhaka.