Hijab is a contentious topic in both the West and the Muslim World. Is it a sign of captivity for women? Or is it a sign of women's liberation and modesty? Why is it that no one asks the ladies who chose to wear it? Is it merely a matter of cultural difference (ethnocentrism or xenophobia) that it is considered oppressive? Many people believe that wearing veils or hijab oppresses and discriminates against women, whereas few people see it as a sign of women's safety or liberation. These are the two points of view maintained by the West and Islam.
Hijab is a pre-Islamic word derived from the Arabic root h-j-b, which refers to screen, separate, conceal, or make invisible. Many misunderstandings and disputes have resulted from the disparity between one-dimensional portrayals of the 'Hijab' in many public debates and the diverse, complex reality of 'veiling' practices. In comparison to other articles of clothing, non-Muslim and Muslim men and women's interpretations of the symbolic meaning of the 'Hijab' appear to be unusually diverse and contentious. However, it is crucial to remember that in addition to serving basic tasks like comfort, warmth, and protection from the sun or rain, every piece of clothing has a symbolic value. Many people face daily problems when it comes to interpreting and negotiating dress regulations, and Muslim women are no exception.
Social norms and expectations vary according to cultural, geographical, and social circumstances, and they are frequently subject to change over time and between generations. Anthropological, sociological, historical, and psychological approaches to the study of apparel and attire recognize the unique significance accorded to headwear in cultures worldwide as a strategic marker of position, ethnicity, social cohesion, political affiliation, contemporary tastes, and ethnic, national, or group affiliation. Clothing has also been emphasized as one of the most gendered parts of material culture. The 'Hijab' provides visual and tactile manifestations of political, social, and religious ideals, gender concepts, and practised religion as a form of headwear and apparel. The study of how this contentious garment is interpreted and worn can reveal much about the complex relationship between fashion, religion, and culture.
Women start wearing the Hijab at different ages depending on their culture. Wearing a Hijab is restricted to married women in some countries; in others, girls begin wearing it after puberty as a rite of passage signifying that they are now adults. Some people begin at a young age. Some women stop wearing the hijab once they hit menopause, while others wear it for the rest of their lives.
Quran and the Islamic Perspective on Hijab
The Quran commands both men and women to dress and behave modestly. World Hijab Day was inaugurated in 2013 as a result of the efforts of Nazma Khan, a Bangladeshi immigrant to the United States who had been humiliated because she wore a headscarf. She decided to organize a day where Muslim and non-Muslim ladies could try on the hijab. According to sociologist Rachel Rinaldo, Indonesia has seen the rise of a new generation of female religious leaders who are reading the Quran in a way that is liberating for women over the last three decades.
According to the Islamic worldview, wearing a headscarf is a commandment of God. It is a symbol of purity and modesty, with nothing to do with male dominance. Hijab gives most Muslim women a sense of empowerment. It is a personal choice to dress humbly in God's eyes. Hijab is a veil used by women to conceal their beauty and maintain their modesty. Hijab does not oppress or degrade women; on the contrary, it liberates them. Women are also required to wear a hijab to cover their heads. As a result, Muslim women must wear the hijab as a commandment from Allah.
Many people now believe these beliefs are solely given to women in Islam to protect them from males, which gives men power and oppresses women. However, the Quran also draws certain principles for men. When it comes to women, men are taught to lower their gaze and treat them with respect. In fact, in the Holy Quran, this advice for men comes before the ones for women. The hijab fosters not only physical modesty but also a strong focus on one's emotional and spiritual self. It serves as a visible reminder to women, encouraging them to be internally modest, moral, and respectful in their speech and conduct. Their faith and identity are strengthened by wearing the hijab. Khadija, Ayesha, Fatima, and many other prominent women who were fighters, accomplished businesswomen, and academics may all be found throughout Islamic history. When you read their stories, you will witness courage, dedication, honour, and intelligence, but never oppression or timidity.
The Hijab: From a ‘Western Perspective’
The West's critical challenge to Muslims characterizes Muslim women as oppressed and suffering at the hands of men in their households, preventing them from participating in public life and having little or no economic power. Many orientalists have examined how women wore the hijab for a variety of reasons, ranging from political protest to economic necessity. Hijab was seen as a barrier to women's advancement in the West. The majority of people (in Western countries) feel Muslim women are oppressed and have an inferior status to men. Turkey is an example of a country that replaced the Arabic alphabet with Latin script, abolished the caliphate, modified the dress code, and pushed women to wear European clothing, among other things. The hijab is viewed in the West as preventing women from receiving education and jobs, restricting their travel outside the home, and limiting their social involvement. In the West, a hijab-wearing woman finds it difficult to get work, and if she does, she often has to work harder than her male counterparts.
Some argue that the hijab is repressive because it is tied to a system that aims to control and subordinate women. According to them, the hijab has been used to oppress women, whether by a parent forcing his American teenage daughter to wear the headscarf or by an ISIS group punishing, even killing, women who depart from their burka dress code. Both are using patriarchy, which has the potentially deadly consequence of others labelling a whole religion as fundamentally restrictive and misogynistic.
Burqas, which cover the woman's whole body and head with a crocheted or mesh opening for the eyes, are optional among Pashtun ethnic groups in Afghanistan. The burqa was the traditional garment of respectable women of all socioeconomic classes in pre-Islamic times. However, after the Taliban seized control in Afghanistan in the 1990s, it was widely used and imposed.
Ironically, in nations where Muslims are not the majority, making a personal decision to wear the hijab is often difficult or perilous, because the Muslim clothing is seen as a threat by the majority. In diaspora countries, women have been discriminated against, insulted, and attacked for wearing the hijab, probably more frequently than they have been for not wearing it in majority Muslim countries.
Row over hijab in Karnataka: 2022
A controversy about school uniforms was reported in the Indian state of Karnataka at the beginning of January 2022, when some Muslim students of a junior college who wished to wear hijab to classrooms were denied entry on the grounds that it was a breach of the college's uniform code. The disagreement extended to other schools and universities across the state over the next few weeks, with Hindu students holding counter-protests by demanding to wear saffron scarves. The Karnataka government issued an order on February 5th declaring that if policies exist, uniforms must be worn compulsorily and that no exceptions can be made for the wearing of the hijab.
Several educational institutions have vehemently denied entry to Muslim girls wearing the hijab, citing this mandate. On behalf of the aggrieved students, petitions were filed before the Karnataka High Court. Due to protests and disagreements over the wearing of the hijab, the government closed high schools and universities for three days on 8th February. The High Court issued an interim ruling on February 10 prohibiting all students from wearing religious garb. When schools reopened on February 14, the interim ruling of the high court was implemented in all Karnataka schools and colleges, with students and staff being required to remove hijabs and burqas outside the school gates. The court issued its decision on March 15, 2022, after a hearing that lasted roughly 23 hours and spanned 11 days, upholding the hijab regulations. The hijab is not an essential religious practise in Islam, according to the court. The Karnataka High Court judges who handed down the hijab decision were given Y-category protection, and two people were arrested for making threats.
Officials in nations such as the United States and Pakistan, as well as Human Rights Watch and figures such as Malala Yousafzai, have criticised the enforcement of dress regulations by educational institutes, which prohibit the wearing of the hijab. Politicians such as Arif Mohammad Khan, Aditya Thackeray, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and activist Taslima Nasreen defended the ban.
Wearing a Hijab can be Empowering and Liberating
It is not always clear how a woman negotiates both personal choice and the concern of gendered Islamophobia when deciding to wear a Hijab. Wearing a hijab can be a religious act for some Muslim women today, representing their allegiance to God. However, Muslim women's dress is not solely about religious observance. It has been embraced as an expression of identity in the past – and the present. Wearing a head covering is the most obvious – and misinterpreted – a manifestation of Islam in the West. Muslim women cover in a variety of ways, from wearing a face veil or niqab to wearing a headscarf or hijab to cover their hair and upper body. And, like Muslim women, these come in a wide range of colours, styles, and fashions that are influenced by location, time, and trends.
The hijab provides a sense of independence to many women. They do not have to worry about keeping up with the West's unrealistic, narrowly defined concept of beauty—long, rich hair, a size zero figure, and flawless complexion. If their hair and body are covered, they won't have to compete in the tiresome daily race to appear flawless. However, this kind of liberation only goes so far; it cannot account for the existence of hijab-wearing women in Western, Islamophobic communities on its own.
True liberation is spiritual. When a Muslim woman covers her hair or body because she believes it is what God requires of her and that by doing so, she will draw closer to her Creator, she experiences an incredibly pure form of liberation—the kind that comes from seeking only to please one's Creator rather than society, family, friends, co-workers, or strangers. She no longer yields to social pressures or expectations, seeing herself solely responsible to God. She even refuses to succumb to her whims and impulses. In this sense, a hijab-wearing woman who acts freely is the most emancipated of all women. The self-assured, contented, and covered woman flies in the face of those who see Islam as oppressive, causing cognitive dissonance. The Muslim woman, dressed modestly, questions our society's dress norm today.
Women are announcing to the world that their femininity is not for public consumption. They are taking charge of it because they do not want to be a part of a system that oppresses and marginalizes them. They want to be recognized beyond their gender and religion. They have a fresh realization of their 'self-identity' as a result of wearing the hijab. Women's empowerment is not a theological monopoly; they truly believe that a non-Muslim lady could do it if she desired.
While hijab is a choice and a form of expression for some women in the West, it is a sign of tyranny for many women in Iran's authoritarian society, robbing them of their most basic human rights and the dignity to wear whatever they want. Islam considers the liberation of women fundamental, and it views modesty, good character, and good manners as the means to that liberation. In Western culture, the veil has a variety of meanings. A Christian nun in a veil is considered a symbol of true religion, purity, and peace, but a Muslim woman with a hijab is seen as a symbol of women's oppression. As a result, the west's double standard is attempting to generate misunderstanding and confusion about Islamic ideas. Hate speech and hate crimes have invaded Western cultures to such an alarming degree that many Muslim women now feel unable to fully experience the liberty that is so closely linked to religious freedom. Women's emancipation through extreme feminism and liberalism has backfired, causing more disasters and suffering in a world dominated by men. In modern civilization, a woman is only entitled to honour and respect to the extent that she can perform the functions of a man while displaying her maximum beauty and charm to the public. Women should be accepted in society based on their character and behaviour rather than their outer appearance. The hijab represents many things to the several women who choose to wear it in a world as diverse and changing as ours. The hijab is political, feminist, and liberating for many Muslim women. It is becoming increasingly essential for many women who choose to wear it.
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