Hijab- The space between conditioning and freedom for women

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By Laraib Fatima and Huda MD

Often regarded as a ‘symbol of oppression, domination and self–segregation,’ Hijab (headscarf) and Naqab (covering face and body), worn by Muslim women to cover their head and chest; have been a subject of contestation, in the recent past.

Considered regressive because of the notions which paint these practices in a negative light, Hijab and Naqab have courted constant scrutiny and criticism. Contemplating between their choices and forced rendition of Hijab has become an everyday dilemma for women. These discourses argue that Hijab and headscarf are a barrier for women because they confine her freedom and feminism.

NAVIGATING BETWEEN CHOICE AND COMPULSION

While Hijab is a personal choice for few women, some choose to wear it because of tradition. Hina Shaheen, who studies Hindi at Jamia Millia Islamia, says she wears Hijab because her parents wanted her to wear it. “They never forced me but since everyone else in my family wears it, I knew they wanted me to. They would’ve felt bad if I didn’t,” adds Shaheen. Donning a Hijab, especially in public, however, comes with its own complexities. In school, Shaheen was not allowed to wear Hijab. The school administration had made it clear. While she obliged to the diktats of school authorities, Shaheen continued wearing Hijab outside the school. Joining a University has made it easier for her. Her case highlights increasing discrimination Muslim women in India have to face because of their choice to wear Hijab.

Studying in one of Delhi’s top most University, women like Bushra Khan have a prerogative to question the idea of feminism. Bushra, a History student at Delhi University says, “I carry the Naqab as it keeps me safe from pollution and saves time to get dressed. I’m not religiously inclined towards it.” However, once she moves out of Okhla, a predominantly Muslim area, she feels at the receiving end. “I attended a conference at PGDAV College and a colleague asked me whether I was a Pakistani. This perception was probably because I was wearing a Naqab.” Bushra believes ignorance is the prime reason for general misconceptions related to the Naqab. “People are unaware that Naqab doesn’t only have religious connotations, but is culturally recognised attire.”

However, women like Afia are a victim of professional prejudice as corporate firms were unwilling to hire her, a woman in Hijab. Afia Kidwai, supervising analyst at E&W says, “If feminism exists for women wearing skirts, it should not differ for women with headscarf. Every time I step out there are people eying because my attire is different. Extra frisking happens at metro stations and airports.” Although, she feels that her headscarf has given her confidence in carrying herself the way she wants.

HIJAB AS A POLITICAL STATEMENT

For some women, Hijab is political and feminist. In today’s world it is increasingly imperative for women to comprehend their idea of identity and empowerment.

According to Wafa Khan, a student activist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, a stereotype about Hijabi women is that they don’t have any agency over it. “I wear headscarf due to religious reasons, but it has consequently changed into a political tool for me. I did political campaigning in the campus while wearing it.”

Muslim women feel that it is entirely a woman’s decision to wear Hijab which eventually becomes their agency too. “If someone is walking around in shorts, people are okay with it, then why not with Hijab. I am an opinionated woman and I feel it is empowering because it brings me closer to Allah”, she added.

As Wendy Doniger, American Indologist says, the modern fashion believes in the bare skin, in a woman who exposes herself. Heba Ahmed, a Hijabi activist and research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University tells us how the idea of modern clothing stems from western ideologies of liberalism and is a form of capitalism.

“The western civilization is based on the idea of the liberal self, where you are not attached to any community or religion. We have another system of wearing clothes, for example-the concept of ‘Haya’ (modesty).” says Heba.

Moreover, “I assure that I wear my Hijab while going to protests and discussions so as to assert my identity and send across a message that Hijabi women are conscious of their political environment and constitutional rights.”

ISLAMIC SCHOLARS ON HIJAB

Dr. Ishaque Mohammad, Scholar and HOD of Islamic Department, Jamia Millia Islamia, elaborates on the Quranic verses. “Hijab is not only a religious term but also includes abstaining from evil things. It could be used for anything that is negative in the spiritual sense.” He quotes from the Quran mentioning ‘Jilbab’, a loose full-length outer garment to cover the head which women are asked to wear when they step out. “The difference of the verses lies in the interpretation by people, while some feel that it is mandatory to cover your head and chest, others think covering your face is also important.”

As the scriptures are comprehended in several ways, Arshad Khan, Islamic Scholar, states that Islam has never put any person under obligation. “Islam is a religion that allows one to follow whatever they wish too. Compulsion was never a part of Islam.”

With discourse around Hijab changing over the years, people have become more inclusive towards Hijabi women in public spaces. The traditional notions around Hijab and Hijabi women seem to rupture gradually, which is to say that wearing Hijab is a woman’s preferred choice and that surely empowers her.

14 thoughts on “Hijab- The space between conditioning and freedom for women

  1. You try to defend Hijab as much as you can but the truth is hijab is a symbol of women slavery & oppression. I ask you below question:
    1) You say hijab is never enforced on muslim women. Suppose, a 18 year old muslim girl who has been wearing hijab since long time, suddenly decides not to wear it.. what will be the reaction of her family members? They will certainly force her to wear. Also if any married woman decide to refuse hijab then husband will insist her to wear it. Its good if muslim woman has freedom to wear it or not. But this freedom is never practically exercised in muslim families.
    2) I agree that women empowerment has nothing to do with women dressing. But the main question still remains that why in India 50% muslim women are illiterate? Why they simply can’t read & write? Why less than 5% are graduate? What a pathetic situation of muslim women in India & al over the world.
    Hence, instead of defending this crime to glorify inhuman practice of enforcing Hijab, Islamic scholars & muslim families should encourage women not to wear it.

    1. A reply to Secular Hindu’s IGNORANT and ANTAGONISTIC comments:

      You say Hijab is a symbol of Oppression and Slavery! How? Just because A woman wants to be modest and unobtrusive in her appearance by adopting a modest garment, that’s the symbol of Oppression and Slavery? How do you judge that? What’s the Criteria for your foolish judgement?
      Is your thinking that the more a woman whores around, the more she sleeps with strange men ,the more she exposes private parts, THE MORE FREE AND CULTURALLY CIVILIZED SHE BECOMES!? Is that your standard? How ridiculous and Foolishly Unnatural and Utterly Backwards!

      Your First Question:
      Yes, a Hijab may be enforced by the family ,by the husband or by anyone having guardianship over a Muslim woman. There’s nothing wrong or immoral about it! Why!? Because the thing being enforced is for THEIR OWN BENEFIT. It protects and effectively shields a woman’s body from the lecherous and disgusting gazes of men. Don’t parents FORCE THEIR Children to adopt a certain behaviour just because parents think or know by experience that certain things are for their benefits or have adverse effects? Like parents NOT allowing children to drink Alcohol or smoke cigarette or even FORCING THEM TO HAVE AN EDUCATION? HOW IS FORCING CHILDREN TO ATTEND SCHOOLS OR COLLEGES ANY DIFFERENT FROM FORCING CERTAIN VALUES ON THEM? THEY ARE SAME…
      Yes, the concept of Hijab or any other islamic values Need to be explained to them. But If parents or guardians decide to ENFORCE that on THEIR Children , they’re well within the bounds of Morality and acceptability to do that. No bigot should have any problems with that.

      Another line of justification may be the societal norms which are FORCED upon people. They are expected to be followed whether people like it or not. Why? Society determines that they are for the benefit of people. Well this may be argued, but it’s undeniable that they are FORCED upon people. Examples include Traffic Rules, Prohibition of Nudity, Certain Behaviours etc Why is societal ENFORCEMENT never questioned but enforcement of divine values are always opposed? Double Standards and Hypocrisy.

      Islam is the DIVINE TRUTH. All it’s values, including Hijab, are The Truth and they’re absolutely for people’s benefits who follow them. Islam is Spiritually, Philosophically, Objectively, Morally, Naturally and Metaphysically SUPERIOR to any other way of life. And Muslims have certain and objective Reasons to believe that.

      Your Second question:
      Illiteracy of Muslim Women has absolutely nothing to do with Hijab or Islam. It’s a cultural and social Malady which needs islamic solution. There’re countless Muslim Scholars in Islamic History and also in Contemporary World who love Islam and cherish it’s values including Hijab. Islam is the Solution to the Maladies the world faces today INCLUDING the Illiteracy Problem. It’s Values provide a Fertile Ground For Progress, Development and Advancement , Both Spiritually and Worldly. Islam is the ONLY religion Which has emphasized heavily on seeking knowledge. The First Verse Revealed To Prophet Muhammad (SAW) began with the word READ.

      1. Point 1: “Is your thinking that the more a woman whores around, the more she sleeps with strange men ,the more she exposes private parts, THE MORE FREE AND CULTURALLY CIVILIZED SHE BECOMES!? Is that your standard? How ridiculous and Foolishly Unnatural and Utterly Backwards!”

        I request you to kindly explain the meaning of “whores around”? Also, do you mean that women who do sleep around with different men are whores and same goes for women who wear short clothes? Also, are you saying that the more clothes a woman wears, the more civilized she becomes? And this is not at all backwards? Kindly specify what is unnatural?

        Point 2: “It protects and effectively shields a woman’s body from the It protects from the lecherous and disgusting gazes of men.”

        Sheilds from whom? The uncles who rape their neices and nephews? The teachers who rape their students? The men who rape 2 month old as well as an 85 year old or who rape animals? Are you advocating that animals wear hijab as well? Are you saying that women who wear short clothes and don’t cover their head are asking for “lecherous and disgusting gazes of men” and that thought my friend isn’t unnatural or backward at all. Are you saying that it is always victim’s fault? Heavy loss of credibility here!

        Point 3: “Like parents NOT allowing children to drink Alcohol or smoke cigarette or even FORCING THEM TO HAVE AN EDUCATION? HOW IS FORCING CHILDREN TO ATTEND SCHOOLS OR COLLEGES ANY DIFFERENT FROM FORCING CERTAIN VALUES ON THEM? THEY ARE SAME…”

        Don’t drink alcohol before you’re deemed responsible. Don’t smoke cigarettes because they harm your lungs. Go to school, get educated because that should be the way of living. KNOWLEDGE, AS PER YOU RELIGION ITSELF, SHOULD BE THE WAY OF LIVING. , IF YOU’RE GOING TO GAIN KNOWLEDGE BECAUSE YOU’RE BEING FORCED PLEASE RE-EVALUATE YOUR REASONS TO EARN KNOWLEDGE. And wearing hijab and not smoking isn’t the same thing.

        I know I might not be as wise as you are and maybe that is one of the reasons I would want you to answer all the above mentioned questions, logically and not emotionally.

        1. I forgot to address your last point:

          “Not Drinking Alcohol and Wearing Hijab is not the same”.

          Apparently Yes but basically no. Why?
          You see certain things have adverse effects. So, how do we minimise or eliminate adverse effects of something?By adopting Countermeasures.

          The Countermeasure for Adverse Effects of Alcohol intoxication is Strictly Regulating It’s production, it’s sale and it’s consumption. And off course, organizing counselling sessions for alcohol addicts. They go hand in hand.

          The Countermeasure for DISCOURAGING and effectively blocking lecherous, unpleasant and wanton gazes peeping on women is adopting Modest Clothing (which is basically called Hijab in Islam) and imbibing sense of moral respectability in men. They go hand in hand. Islam, as a way of life, provides guidance for both of these inseparable approaches.

          You may argue that whether adopting Modest clothing by women is the only approach. The reply will be to Evaluate various approaches to solve this problem and see which is Most effective. I assert, the best approach is adopting Modest clothing.

          1. “The Countermeasure for DISCOURAGING and effectively blocking lecherous, unpleasant and wanton gazes peeping on women is adopting Modest Clothing (which is basically called Hijab in Islam) and imbibing sense of moral respectability in men. They go hand in hand. Islam, as a way of life, provides guidance for both of these inseparable approaches.”

            This is laughable. The countermeasures for blocking lecharous gazes ain’t Hijab! We need to teach the men in our society to respect women, hijab or no hijab. If a woman chooses to wear a short skirt, respect her and the same goes for saree, suit and lehnga. You have very easily mentioned here that the way to prevent eve-teasing is modest dressing, again, what about that 2 month old? How provocatively could she have dressed. I agree hijab could be your choice but just because you have speak, don’t just start speaking ill-logical, weird stuff that doesn’t make sense at all. If an alcoholic could be counselled why not an eve-teaser? Why do I have to dress modest so that you can look at me in a certain way. This is what is wrong with the thought process here. If you don’t want male-gaze submit to their ways of living and what is the guarantee that rape still won’t follow?

        2. Thanks for your questions. I have answered the objections of Troll NAMED “secular Hindu” Objectively And Logically not emotionally. If I had , the tone would have been different.

          Anyway, I’ll Try to answer your points one by one

          Point 1:
          Whore around is defined by Wiktionary as ” To regularly copulate with people that one is not in a relationship with.”

          Now, do I mean that women who sleep around with different men are whores!?
          Do I really need to mean that? Isn’t that the definition of A Whore as defined by dictionaries but this attitude of women and men alike is masked and basked by giving beautiful names like freedom,liberated, enlightened, modern etc. I don’t need to mean anything. The writing is on the wall.

          Do I mean the that more less clothes or shorts a woman wears, the more backwards she is ? In a sense, Yes. Why? On the basis of Objective and Cogent Criteria of Divine Truth. Just as liberals bash Hijab as backwards on the basis of Liberalism, I say wearing Hijab or adopting any other Islamic values is advancement and civilization on the basis of Divine Truth,Islam. The exact nitty-gritty of Rationale for my judgement is a lengthy topic to discuss, so I think my short answer suffices your short question.

          By unnatural, I mean behaving contrary to Divine Morality. Why do I say that? Because , The Creator of the Universe has stipulated Morality for Human Beings with which to live the Life on earth. If someone goes contrary to that divine Morality , that’s unnatural at the Least.

          Point 2: You read the point I made ,yet you’re behaving as if you never read. I wrote the purpose of Hijab Injunction, which was to shield a woman’s body from LECHEROUS AND DISGUSTING GAZES? GAZES!!!! I hope you know the meaning of that word. I never said anything you’re attributing to me like protection from rape etc. That’s not my main contention. You’re Strawmanning me by attributing things I never said nor are my main arguments. Re-read the comment.

          Do I advocate animals wear Hijab!? Off course No. Animals aren’t Equal to Human Beings. If animals are being raped, then maybe the liberalists need to reconsider the morality they are promoting. Let my liberal friends introspect.

          Do I say women who don’t wear Hijab or wear scanty clothes Call for lecherous GAZES. Not necessarily but it’s only Obvious that a poorly covered woman or a woman dressed to the nine WILL undeniably attract LECHEROUS Gazes as that’s the Nature of Gazes, that’s the nature of sexual attraction. That’s how humans have been created , specifically men in this case. How do we counteract the Gazes? It’s Impractical that we expect all men to control Their gazes but the Gazes CAN BE DISCOURAGED by adopting modest clothing, by adopting clothing that effectively won’t allow a lecherous gaze to peep through.

          I never Said that it’s victim’s fault or anything else. I never invoked Victim Situation. Again, you’re unjustly attributing things I never said. It’s boring.
          You’re attributing hypothetical things to me and bashing my credibility. How unjust and unwholesome!

          Point 3:
          Unfortunately, you never understood this my point. It was a reply to the objection that enforcement is WRONG.No it isn’t. Enforcement many a times is for beneficial purposes and for Stability in Society. Don’t we have the name Called Law ENFORCEMENT agencies? They are people who Ensure Laws are being followed by people in society. Isn’t ENFORCEMENT in this Legally and Morally Justified? It is. Without this Enforcement, there’ll be anarchy in the Society. It’s unhealthy and regressive for people to become anarchists.

          Forced into Education: Many Children Are at unease to go to schools. They find it boring. But that’s counterproductive. So, parents have every right to FORCE Their children to go to school and as well ensure that they know the worth of education. It happens over a period of time.

          Alcohol and Cigarette: Only Advices never work. Laws should be in place to ensure certain prohibitions. A combination of advice and law enforcement is productive and stable for the Society. But ENFORCEMENT is indispensable.

          Never Said I am educated because I was forced to.
          And yes,my example mainly applies to children(FORCED) unwilling to go to school. But Seeking Education Should be Incentivized generally. I concede that I may have poorly worded this point of mine(in original comment).

          My main contention of third point is ENFORCEMENT IS NOT ALWAYS Wrong or immoral.

      2. Why is my reply laughable? Just because you say so? Labelling an argument as weird or illogical is NOT A REPLY TO IT! By far you have failed to provide any cogent or rational or rather logical argument. You seem to Just assume that things will fall in place automatically or we have to Just accept liberal values without proof or evidence or questioning it. That’s really weird and illogical stuff. I ain’t give it a damn.

        You seem not to carefully read my comment. You’re constantly shifting goal posts. My defense here is of Islamic Values and specifically hijab. I’m not arguing about the rape probelm that exists in society. It requires another long-drawn-out discussion with regards to root causes and the solution.

        “Teaching men to respect women” Didn’t I say just that when I wrote “Teaching Men or imbibing in them MORAL RESPECTABILITY” How much clear should I be… !?
        But Countermeasures need to be comprehensive to be successful. You just can’t counsel alcoholics and leave alcohol production , sale and consumption remain UNREGULATED and then expect the adverse effects of alcoholism to vanish in thin air! It’s a foolish countermeasure to be honest. You might have read I said ,”They go hand in hand’.

        So, the effective Countermeasure will be to adopt Modesty and imbibing MORAL RESPECTABILITY. I don’t say you have to dress in a certain way Just so that I can look at you in a certain way. But that modest attires should be adopted UNDERSTANDING the nature of UNDENIABLE SEXUAL ATTRACTION. You can’t deny the reality and expect Idealism. You must understand reality and expect practicality. And the REALITY is that Women’s PHYSIOLOGY(Physicality) is alluring to men. That’s the Nature of Creation of human beings. Or even evolutionarily that’s the case if you believe in evolution Doctrine.

      3. What’s the guarantee that rape won’t follow?
        No can guarantee that. That’s why we have laws put in place to punish rapists. But only laws are ineffective. Don’t we see the failure of laws in many countries!? Why they fail ? They fail because they are a part of countermeasures NOT solutions themselves. The comprehensive solution to this problem would be ADOPTING MODESTY, IMBIBING MORAL RESPECTABILITY AND HAVE LAWS TO PUNISH DEVIANCY OR INFRACTION…

  2. No hijab?? A choice?? Try that in Iran or Afghanistan? Women are imprisoned or killed because of no hijab. Get real!!

    1. @Gail Griffin,

      No, women are not imprisoned or killed because of not wearing hijab. The Hijab is system for men and women in Islam, and its mandatory. So shut your filthy lying hole, American trash. Lets get real. You’re typical American low life white trash. Your obsession with hijab is a mere extension of your hatred of Islam and Muslims. Muslims worship God, a concept which animals like you could never hope to understand. What else can be expected from whites who are global terrorists? Who the hell are you to question us? It’s your white secular godless culture which exploits women and turns them into whores. Is it any surprise that white women and those influenced by them become whores, used and abused and kicked to the curb when you’ve outlived your purpose? In fact, why is that death, destruction and decay follows wherever whites go?
      You westerners are dirty hypocrites of the highest order. You’re a cancer, and we are the chemotherapy.

  3. Thanks for your questions. I have answered the objections of Troll NAMED “secular Hindu” Objectively And Logically not emotionally. If I had , the tone would have been different.

    Anyway, I’ll Try to answer your points one by one

    Point 1:
    Whore around is defined by Wiktionary as ” To regularly copulate with people that one is not in a relationship with.”

    Now, do I mean that women who sleep around with different men are whores!?
    Do I really need to mean that? Isn’t that the definition of A Whore as defined by dictionaries but this attitude of women and men alike is masked and basked by giving beautiful names like freedom,liberated, enlightened, modern etc. I don’t need to mean anything. The writing is on the wall.

    Do I mean the that more less clothes or shorts a woman wears, the more backwards she is ? In a sense, Yes. Why? On the basis of Objective and Cogent Criteria of Divine Truth. Just as liberals bash Hijab as backwards on the basis of Liberalism, I say wearing Hijab or adopting any other Islamic values is advancement and civilization on the basis of Divine Truth,Islam. The exact nitty-gritty of Rationale for my judgement is a lengthy topic to discuss, so I think my short answer suffices your short question.

    By unnatural, I mean behaving contrary to Divine Morality. Why do I say that? Because , The Creator of the Universe has stipulated Morality for Human Beings with which to live the Life on earth. If someone goes contrary to that divine Morality , that’s unnatural at the Least.

    Point 2: You read the point I made ,yet you’re behaving as if you never read. I wrote the purpose of Hijab Injunction, which was to shield a woman’s body from LECHEROUS AND DISGUSTING GAZES? GAZES!!!! I hope you know the meaning of that word. I never said anything you’re attributing to me like protection from rape etc. That’s not my main contention. You’re Strawmanning me by attributing things I never said nor are my main arguments. Re-read the comment.

    Do I advocate animals wear Hijab!? Off course No. Animals aren’t Equal to Human Beings. If animals are being raped, then maybe the liberalists need to reconsider the morality they are promoting. Let my liberal friends introspect.

    Do I say women who don’t wear Hijab or wear scanty clothes Call for lecherous GAZES. Not necessarily but it’s only Obvious that a poorly covered woman or a woman dressed to the nine WILL undeniably attract LECHEROUS Gazes as that’s the Nature of Gazes, that’s the nature of sexual attraction. That’s how humans have been created , specifically men in this case. How do we counteract the Gazes? It’s Impractical that we expect all men to control Their gazes but the Gazes CAN BE DISCOURAGED by adopting modest clothing, by adopting clothing that effectively won’t allow a lecherous gaze to peep through.

    I never Said that it’s victim’s fault or anything else. I never invoked Victim Situation. Again, you’re unjustly attributing things I never said. It’s boring.
    You’re attributing hypothetical things to me and bashing my credibility. How unjust and unwholesome!

    Point 3:
    Unfortunately, you never understood this my point. It was a reply to the objection that enforcement is WRONG.No it isn’t. Enforcement many a times is for beneficial purposes and for Stability in Society. Don’t we have the name Called Law ENFORCEMENT agencies? They are people who Ensure Laws are being followed by people in society. Isn’t ENFORCEMENT in this Legally and Morally Justified? It is. Without this Enforcement, there’ll be anarchy in the Society. It’s unhealthy and regressive for people to become anarchists.

    Forced into Education: Many Children Are at unease to go to schools. They find it boring. But that’s counterproductive. So, parents have every right to FORCE Their children to go to school and as well ensure that they know the worth of education. It happens over a period of time.

    Alcohol and Cigarette: Only Advices never work. Laws should be in place to ensure certain prohibitions. A combination of advice and law enforcement is productive and stable for the Society. But ENFORCEMENT is indispensable.

    Never Said I am educated because I was forced to.
    And yes,my example mainly applies to children(FORCED) unwilling to go to school. But Seeking Education Should be Incentivized generally. I concede that I may have poorly worded this point of mine(in original comment).

    My main contention of third point is ENFORCEMENT IS NOT ALWAYS Wrong or immoral.

  4. I think a woman wearing a hijab is very confident in who she is. Yes everything is covered up. So what. At least she’s not showing all of her body parts!!!! . Nowadays most not all women leave very little to the imagination. Literally everything is out!!!

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