Column: Muslim Women & Observing The Hijab

February 9, 2016

[Opinion column written by Shabnam Jheengoor]

World Hijab day, an annual event celebrated on the February 1st, was founded by New York native Nazma Khan in 2013. ‘Hijab’ refers to the headscarf worn by Muslim women. The goal of this event is to foster dialogue and understanding regarding the wearing of the hijab by Muslim woman with the aim of ending the discrimination that comes with wearing a hijab. It is a day where non-Muslim women are invited to wear the hijab for a day to experience it.

While the event itself is a laudable initiative, it is somewhat distressing that the need for such an event was felt by Muslim women. This speaks of the high level of judgment, rudeness and sometimes violence that Muslim women face due to their hijab. The hijab evokes strong fears and anger in some individuals who associate it with extremism and radicalization.  ‘Terrorist’ and ‘extremist’ are  angrily hurled at the woman wearing a hijab. Due to her hijab, the woman is viewed as a hate-filled oppressor.

Others view the hijab as a sign of the woman’s submission to her husband or male relatives where it assumed that the woman has been forced to wear a hijab. The woman is now the oppressed who must at all cost, be liberated from the monstrosity covering her hair.  Sometimes the oppressor, sometimes the oppressed, when will we be seen as individuals with our own will and choices?

It is true that some Muslim women are forced into the hijab and Muslim women who choose not to wear the hijab are harassed and face violence in some Muslim communities. Nevertheless, banning the hijab and discriminating against Muslim women will not solve these problems.

Shabnam Jheengoor 160204

The antidote to these issues is a true understanding of the Islamic teachings of modesty which origin from  the Holy Quran. The Holy Quran dedicates a whole chapter to Mary, mother of Jesus [peace be upon him]. Indeed, she is the only woman who is mentioned by name in the Holy Quran: “And God cites as an example of those who believed, Mary, the daughter of Imran” [Holy Quran, Ch. 66:V 13]. Mary is deeply honored and respected in Islam and seen as the ideal example of a believer.  Her modesty and simplicity were evident not only in her speech and conduct but also in her dress.

Even today, statues and paintings of Mary depict her with her hair covered. Muslim women desire to imbue the same spirit of modesty as Mary in every way, in thoughts as well as dress. The hijab is neither a sign of submission of a Muslim woman to her husband and male relatives nor is it  a means of honoring and preserving the dignity of her family. For a Muslim woman, the hijab symbolizes her aspirations to achieve the same closeness to God Almighty that Mary was fortunate to be blessed with. The hijab is a sign of her submission to the Islamic teachings of modesty and ultimately, to God Almighty.

However, this spirit of modesty cannot be forced on a woman.  And neither is it limited only to women. In Islam, men are also required to be modest in their thoughts, conduct and dress:

“Say to the believing men that they restrain their looks and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well-aware of what they do.” [Holy Quran, Ch.24:V.31]

After this verse, women are addressed:

“And say to the believing women that they restrain their looks and guard their private parts and that they display not their beauty or their embellishment except that which is apparent, thereof, and that they draw their head coverings over their bosoms, and that they display not their beauty or their embellishment save to their husbands…” [Holy Quran, Ch.24:V.32]

There is  no mention here of men forcing women to veil themselves or punishing those who don’t.

The Worldwide Spiritual Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, addressing an audience of 30,000 people last year in the UK firmly stated: “Men should remember that they have not been given powers to police others and should restrain themselves. It is not for them to cover the heads of women from outside [ie non-Muslim women]. Men are commanded to restrain their eyes; they should fulfill their own obligations. There is not even a commandment to forcibly cover the heads of Muslim women let alone non-Muslim women. “

Thus, Muslim men cannot force unwilling women into the veil or hijab.

Observing the hijab or veil is a Muslim woman’s choice. Coercing a woman into wearing a hijab or pressuring her to remove her hijab are both morally reprehensible acts which disempower and disrespect women and snatch their rights to exercise their will and choices.

- Shabnam Jheengoor, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Bermuda

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Comments (3)

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  1. serengeti says:

    In Iran exposure of any part of the body is punishable by 70 lashes or 60 days in prison. Not to mention the punishment of death by stoning for any woman ‘convicted’ of adultery. And, by the way, any woman raped against her will…still death by stoning.

  2. hmmm says:

    “Thus, Muslim men cannot force unwilling women into the veil or hijab.”

    If a Muslim man is forcing his wife against her will, what avenues of complaint does she have?

  3. fsbob says:

    Ahhhh the religion of peace.