In recent years, a small piece of cloth has managed to cause quite a stir. The scarf that Muslim women wear on their heads is making headlines around the world.
When a small piece of fabric causes such controversy and conflict, wouldn’t it be easier to remove it? Why then, under such circumstances, do Muslim women wear scarves?
There are a myriad of reasons why. But the easy answer is because they believe God has made it an obligation for believing women.
In the Quran God tells the believing men and women to lower their gaze and to dress modestly. He (God) specifically addresses women when He asks them not to show off their adornment, except that which is apparent, and draw their veils over their bodies. (Quran 24:30-31)
It is the consensus of Islamic scholars that they make the wearing of hijab mandatory.
Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar do enforce a dress code.
However, for the majority of Muslim women around the world, to cover, or not to cover, is a freely made choice. God requires Muslim women to dress modestly and to wear the hijab in public and in the presence of men who are not close relatives.
More than a Scarf
Hijab is more than just a scarf. It is a term that covers a variety of clothing including scarves, but also a variety of different dress styles from around the world.
Many have cultural connotations such as the Pakistani shalwar khamis or the Afghani burqa. But whenever a Muslim woman covers “her adornment”, she is said to be wearing hijab.
The literal meaning of hijab is to veil, to cover, or to screen. Islam is known as a religion concerned with community cohesion and moral boundaries, and therefore hijab is a way of ensuring that the moral boundaries between unrelated men and women are respected.
In this sense, the term hijab encompasses more than a scarf and more than a dress code. It is a term that denotes modest dressing and modest behavior. For instance, if a Muslim woman was wearing a scarf but at the same time using bad language, she would not be fulfilling the requirements of hijab.
The majority of Muslim women wear the veil, to obey God, and to be known as respectable women. (Quran 33:59) However, in the last 30 years hijab has emerged as a sign of Islamic consciousness. Many women see wearing it as indicative of their desire to be part of an Islamic revival.
A Sign of Oppression?
They view it as a right and not a burden. Nor do these women regard it as a sign of oppression. Women who wear it often describe themselves as being “set free” from society’s unrealistic fashion culture.
Hijab frees women from being thought of as sexual objects of desire or from being valued for their looks, or body shape rather than their minds and intellect. No longer slaves to consumerism. It liberates women from the need to conform to unrealistic stereotypes and images dictated by the media.
Women wearing hijab have expressed that dressing modestly and covering their hair, minimizes sexual harassment in the workplace. The aura of privacy created by hijab is indicative of the great value Islam places upon women.
It is true that in some families and in some cultures women are forced to wear it but this is not the norm. The Quran clearly states that there is no compulsion in religion (2:256).
Women who choose to wear hijab do not make the decision lightly. In fact many women testify that they faced great animosity from their Muslim or non-Muslim families when they decided to cover. Across the globe there are numerous instances of women having to defend their right to wear the hijab.
Hijab can be a symbol of piety. It can be a sign of great inner strength and fortitude. A woman wearing hijab becomes a very visible sign of Islam.
While Muslim men can blend easily into any society, Muslim woman are often put on the line, and forced to defend not only their decision to cover, but also their religion. Nevertheless, women who wear hijab insist that the advantages far outweigh any disadvantage conjured up by media bias or general ignorance.