• Maryam Isa-Haslett


Updated: May 3

Behind the veil (Hijab)

Contrary to the beliefs of many, the hijab has a long and rich history across many cultural traditions. If you were to travel through countries in Africa, the middle east, South Asia and South Eastern Europe, you would see a diverse range of hijabs with different colours, patterns and prints and a unifying factor far bigger than fashion itself – a modest woman, strong in faith. While many people outside the Islamic religions are familiar with the word hijab, there are many misconceptions around the veil and the meaning behind wearing it. There has been a focus on Muslim representation through making the hijab or modestly cool and pushing back against narratives of oppression, submission and prudishness, however Muslims consider anything that contradicts or confuses that narratives as a good thing, on the flip side, people are also concerned if this is staying true to the entire purpose of the hijab. To win the trust of Muslim women, brands also need to follow their halal values. Prepared to learn more?

The hijab is not just the scarf

Conflicting to popular belief, the hijab is not just the physical scarf that many Muslim women choose to wear over their hair. The Hijab in its entity is the belief that as a Muslim, one must try to diligently live every day in respect of GOD, with modesty, and show devotion to the religion. By wearing the physical scarf, it is one way of expressing one’s love for Islam. In this way, hijab can also be the way one act, thinks, and treats others, aside from wearing the physical scarf itself.

There are many different forms of hijab

The hijab comes in many forms and in many levels of covering one’s body as well. The shape of the scarf over the head differs from person to person. Some choose to cover their faces as well, and some only choose to dress modestly while still showing their hair. These are all forms of hijab, even if it does not look like the stereotypical one seen in the media.

The hijab also applies to men

Because the overarching meaning of hijab is to live one’s modesty with love for GOD, the hijab also applies to men. While not as well known outside the Muslim community, men also strive to wear the hijab both physically and mentally every day, the same as Muslim women. The man’s physical hijab however focuses more on covering the lower body and not the hair or upper body.

Who can Muslims take off the hijab for?

Putting aside extreme countries, Muslim women are not always forced to wear the hijab. Infact, most them choose to wear it and are in love with their hijab and are completely free to choose when and how to wear the scarf or take off for.

There will never be one uniform reason why Muslims choose to wear hijabs

Although there may be some general similarities to why Muslim women choose to wear the hijab, there will never be one overarching specific reason why that satisfies all. Muslim women choose to wear the hijab for countless different reasons, from personal to religious purposes, from interpretation of the Quran to fashion; the reasons behind every single person’s choice to wear the hijab will differ. But that is the beauty of it, that it is not a universal object that conforms everyone. Infact, it can express every person’s unique strength and belief system.

The Hijab is not oppressive or restraining

Although this misconception is slowly changing, the hijab is still too often equated with oppression. The hijab is in no way oppressive or restraining to the majority of the approximately 1.6 million Muslims around the world, and does not prohibit them from pursing their dreams, acting the way they want, dressing how they like, or marrying who they love. The hijab is far often a freedom of expression.

What the Quran says about hijab

Although there are many interpretations of what the Quran says about the hijab, the most common understanding comes from these verses:

“Says to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them”. (Quran 24: 31)

“O you prophet, tell your wives, daughters and women of believers to lengthen their garments. This is better so that they will be recognised and not harmed. God is the forgiving and Merciful” (Quran 33:59).

Understanding the hijab is understanding another form of feminism

Since the hijab can be so empowering to so many people, wearing the hijab has become an expression of feminism. Wearing the hijab can mean that they have freedom to choose how to self-express. Because a woman is using self-expression and not being forced to dress a certain way by societal pressures, many women then feel empowered and more equal to men because they are forcing people to judge them on their capabilities and not on how sexualised their bodies can be.

But why the hijab is empowering for millions of Muslims across globe

The important thing to understand about the hijab is that it is in fact extremely empowering for millions of Muslim women. The hijab empowers them with pride and love for their religion, and power of modesty also helps many feel stronger. Being modest means forcing people to judge you based on your mind and your heart, and less so on your face or body. This gives courage and self-esteem to many who choose to wear the hijab.

The Veracity about Hijab

1. Woman are not forced to wear hijabs

Some women choose to wear the hijab because it is a national tradition of their country of origin, or because it is norm in their local area, city or country. Others wear it to demonstrate their commitment to dressing modestly and for religious reasons. Like any item of clothing, some women wear the hijab for specific occasions, such as for family or community events, or during times of day but take it off at other times such as such as wearing the hijab to and from work but taking it off while working. A small minority may claim to be forced to wear the hijab. However according to many studies shows that Muslim women choose to wear the hijab as a way of showing self-control, power and agency.

2. You are not sexually oppressed

Many hijab wearers have said that they wear the veil not as a symbol of control by a man, rather to promote their feminist ideals. Many Muslim Women, wearing a hijab offers a way for them to take control of their bodies and to claims a stance that challenges the ways in which women are marginalised by men. For young Muslim women, research shows that wearing a hijab says a little about the likelihood of them having a boyfriend or participating in a sexual relationship. Indeed, some of these young Muslim women have said they would wear the hijab to give them more space to engage in such activities.

3. You are not more likely to be linked with terrorism

There has been negative coverage of Muslim communities since the 9/11 and 7/7 bombing, and ofcourse alongside government counter -terrorism policies in many western countries, has further demonised Muslims. Also, according to research by the British shows that government policies have resulted in Muslims receiving unjustified attention in airport clearance security, have shown creating extra tension and divisions. For some of the hijab wearers, the hatred towards Muslims communities forced them to stop wearing the veils after the terrorist incidents to minimise the chance of them experiencing racism. However, at the same time others started to wear the hijabs to show their commitment to their religious faith. The hijab therefore cannot be a fixed symbol but is a far more flexible and changeable and certainly cannot be deemed a marker of the perceived acts of terrorism.

4. Its not a west versus rest division

There are many different styles, colours, shapes of hijabs including different ways of wearing it. There is also a rising transnational Muslim fashion trade focusing particularly on younger women. In many respects, the hijab is like any other item of clothing with business marketing styles and brands to maximize sales. This global fashion trade transcends national and regional boundaries. It is about maximising the market rather than reinforcing divisions between the west and the Muslim “rest”. Rather than asking why a woman is wearing a hijab to reinforce difference, we should ask what high street store or online store she purchased her clothing from and what attracted her to this brand. For some wearers, this is far more pertinent and telling of their personality.

5. The hijab is not something to be feared

According to the report of anti- Muslim abuse of England, 75% of women who were visibly Muslim and more likely wearing some form of head covering are victims. Women were also more likely than men to suffer anti- Muslim attacks in certain public places, most of the perpetrators in these incidents were non-Muslim or white men, motivated by stereotypes. So rather than being feared, it’s more likely that women wearing hijabs might fear others. Muslim women wear the hijab for many different reasons all of which can change over time. This applies if the wearer is a community activist, a mother of young children or some or if not all. Any assumption that society attaches to the veil will never be right for each individual wearer, and it is for that very reason that we need to start changing the way we view it.

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