* Culture, Featured

Myth-busting Hijab: the Perspective of a Muslim Woman

"Next time you see a woman in Hijab, remember that it is just a woman with a covering on her head"

Maryam Qamarunissa, a writer from Pakistan, on Hijab and the misconceptions surrounding it

Hijab has become so much more than the symbol of modesty that it was supposed to be. It has been associated with ‘Muslim,’ ‘Extremism,’ ‘Outsiders’, and (need I say it?) ‘Terrorism.’ As a Muslim woman from Asia, I have traveled across the world to witness so many different cultures, yet I cannot say that it does not hurt when people judge me based on how I dress, particularly my Hijab. But I still believe that it is not a big deal, and that all the misconceptions surrounding Hijab can be resolved through simple discussion and widespread awareness.

The dawn of the social of the media, the ultimate human empire in the world right now, has begun effecting changes for good all around. Bullying, racism, sexism, and discrimination are all taking a solid hit. People are less afraid to live, dress, and speak however they want. Yet, without proper awareness and knowledge, the misconceptions build-up, and keep simmering just below the surface, which is a dangerous predicament.

To bust the myths and kick the misconceptions, I have compiled a list of common questions and doubt people around the world have expressed about the Muslim Hijab. As a disclaimer, I would like to say that all the facts mentioned in the article are based on my own understanding of general Islamic principles – some Muslim ‘cultures’ might have their separate traditions to follow.

What is Hijab?

Let us start from the beginning, shall we? Hijab is an Arabic language word, which means a ‘veil’ or ‘covering.’ Although the term has been around as long as the Arabic language itself, ‘Hijab’ took on religious meaning for Muslims when it was mentioned in the Qur’an (which is the Holy Book in the religion of Islam). The religion of Islam dictates that women take a ‘veil’ over themselves to protect them from evil.

I believe there are two main reasons why Muslim women wear the Hijab.  They do so to be closer to their faith. They also do so because they wish to dress modestly and not offer their beauty to men who are not family (with whom it is permissible to marry).

That is the religious reason for it. Yet, the cultures and society that we live in have no doubt attached multiple meanings to Hijab itself, and to women who choose to wear it. Throughout my travels, my conversations with non-Muslim friends and observing countless encounters of non-Muslims with other Hijab-wearing women have given me a better understanding of what drives these misconceptions, and how they are associated with a negative image of Islam in general.

Hijab is forced on Women

True Islam does not require the Hijab to be forced on women.  Undoubtedly, there are some parts so the world where women are forced into the Hijab, but they are places that withhold basic human rights from their citizens, and in no way do they represent the true Islam.   As a Muslim, I can attest to the fact that where there is compulsion, there is not true Islam. Even in the Holy Book, it is mentioned that there is no compulsion in religion. Not only would it be against the Muslim teachings but also against human rights.

Muslim women have no rights

Contrary to popular belief, Muslim women have a lot of rights, legal and metaphorical. Did you know that Islam was the first religion to grant a woman the right to divorce, the right to vote, and the right to work, nearly 14000 years ago? A Muslim woman is not compelled to take her husband’s name after marriage, she can initiate divorce proceedings if she does not like her husband, and cannot be forced into anything, especially marriage, without her consent. For hundreds of years, the West has witnessed amazing women rising and fighting for their rights, trying to gain equal status to men as is their right, while Muslim women already had them under Islam.

Women with Hijab are conservative

Just because a woman is wearing a hijab, it does not reflect her religious or political views. Just as all human beings are different, all women who wear Hijab are also different. There may be some who follow the Shariah (Islamic law) strictly, but most of the time, the women you encounter wearing Hijab are living their everyday lives just like you. Some may be off to work, some may have come from the gym, and some may be going to hang out with their friends at a café.

Muslim Women never take off the Hijab

Not only is this not true, but it is also absurd to think that. We do not wear a head covering all day, every day. At home, in private, and with friends and family, we do take it off. The Hijab is meant to make us modest and elegant in front of strangers, not restrict us. We do show off that beautiful head of hair to our family, style it a thousand ways, and go full diva for our partners.

Hijab is against feminism

On the contrary, I think Hijab all about feminism. Is feminism not all about women being given a choice over their own lives and bodies?

If we choose to wear Hijab, how are we anti-feminist? If ‘choice’ is what is it all about, then what if Muslim women choose to live modestly? Feminism is not defined by bikinis or burkas (head-to-toe covering); it is about empowering women to be who they want to be, with no pressure from men, or other women. And ultimately, hijab is also a personal choice of each Muslim woman.

Hijab is not modern

Again, this goes to the definition of modern in your book. Is not modernity to be dictated by freedom of speech, freedom of choice, and freedom of life? To say that Hijab is not modern is redundant in itself because Hijab is not based on science but beliefs. And while science may be universal, beliefs are personal, where differences should be respected. And isn’t the very sign of modernism accepting differences?

Apart from these misconceptions, there are some lesser-known facts about the Hijab that would increase the understanding of people regarding it and those who wear it.

Types of Hijab

Hijab is not just about the headcover, as many would believe. As I explained before, Hijab means a veil, and that veil is metaphorical as well as physical. With true Hijab, you have to put a covering between yourself and temptations. There is the Hijab of truth, so you do not get tempted by lies and deceit. The Hijab of the eyes hides them from indecent and elicit views. The Hijab of the ears, of the mouth, of the heart, are all concepts that are meant to purify the soul from temptation. So, while the head covering is the physical manifestation of the faith, the metaphorical hijabs are also required of Muslims to be better human beings.

Hijab for Men

Yes, you read that right. Muslim men are ordered for Hijab just like Muslim women, by ensuring modest clothing that covers the body, and lowering their eyes when they are faced with allure. The conditions that apply to the women refer to the men all the same. Both men and women are ordered to wear modest clothes, and avoid garments that are form-fitting. And in a society obsessed with looks, hijab gives Muslim women a chance to be considered for their minds rather than their beauty.

Hijab in History

Head coverings have been around long before Islam. Women were supposed to cover their heads with bonnets and hats for modesty in the British empire before the 19th century. In Orthodox Christianity, nuns still wear a full head covering that hide their hair. In Spanish and Latina cultures, head coverings for women are traditional in ceremonial events, dating back to the origin of the ‘wedding veil’ in Christian weddings. Asian cultures like Japan also have a history of head coverings like veils and large hats. So ‘Hijab’ is immersed in every culture.

I hope that a little more awareness, and a little more knowledge, will pave the way for a tolerant, respectful, and accepting world for people everywhere. Women especially have the affinity to create beautiful relationships everywhere they go, and the communities they can create are hard to parallel anywhere in the world.

Maryam Qamarunissa

Maryam is a student, mother and writer living in Pakistan. She loves travelling, reading and eating good food – as well as unveiling her creativity through writing.