Hijab : Customs, Traditions and Attitudes

Palki Sharma Upadhyay

While most of us can have a subject of our choice, many cannot. Currently, the topic of ‘Hijab’ has become controversial in this regard. Some months ago, the Karnataka High Court banned the use of Hijab in educational institutions. There was plenty of controversy over it. Since many Islamic organisations did not accept the decision of the Court, they filed a petition in the Supreme Court. Accepting the petition, the Court issued a notice to the Union and State Governments to present their views in this matter.

Some women are being forced to wear Hijab. Some women wear Hijab by themselves, some women use Hijab all the time, while some wear it only while praying. Some women wear it as an identity of their religion while others wear Hijab as a tradition in their family. Has Islam said that Hijab is compulsory or is it a creation of the political class in Islam ? Is it a symbol of devotion or oppression ? Some of these are controversial questions that are repeatedly asked. Hence, this article.

1. What is Hijab ?

The word ‘Hijab’ appears 8 times in the Quran. Each time it refers to a ‘veil between two things’, and the principle behind this is spiritual, not about the stitching of the garment. When dealing with the person of the opposite sex, Hijab is considered as a symbol of decency and modesty. This principle applies to men as well as women. The essential reason is that all Muslims should behave modestly, and their dress should be modest and not suggestive of the sexuality of men or women.

2. Complete control of men over Hijab rules

Most Muslims think that the rules about Hijab apply only to women. If we look at religious and history books, their interpretations or rules or laws are always dominated by men. These include scholars, intellectuals and clerics. All of them consider themselves as protectors of Islam and nurturers of women. Most of them have interpreted the words in the Scripture in a way that suits them.

3. There is a difference of opinion in Islamic countries about the Hijab

There is a wide difference in belief in variety of literature on Hijab. Some scholars say that Hijab is not an important part of Islam. Wearing Hijab is not one of the 5 principles of Islam. It is a matter of personal choice. If it was compulsory for women to wear Hijab, it would have been clearly mentioned in the Quran. In the year 1936, Reza Shah Pahlavi (who ruled Iran), issued a fatwa that women should not wear burqa. The women who wore the veil were beaten.

In 1979, the Islamic Revolution took place in Iran and women were forced to wear the Hijab. Women who did not wear Hijab were beaten up and were put in jail. In 1924, Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk banned women from wearing the Hijab in public institutions. But then Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lifted the ban. Thus, banning and lifting of the ban on Hijab continued in various parts of the world.

4. Different types of body covering for women in Islam

In Islam, women have been prescribed different ways of covering their body.

A. ‘Khimar’ covers the hair, neck and shoulders completely, but leaves the face clear.
B. ‘Burqa’ covers the entire body and has a grille over the face.
C. ‘Niqab’ covers the face, only revealing the eyes.
D. ‘Chador’ covers the head and body and is a full-length semicircle fabric that is down to the ground.
E. In another form (of Hijab), only the head and neck are covered with a cloth.
In most parts of the world, the garment worn over the head and around the neck is called ‘Hijab’. Most Muslim women use the Hijab in terms of nationality, social status, economic status and religious beliefs.

5. A survey conducted in Islamic countries explains the mindset of society about the use of Hijab

In 2014, Pew Research Center conducted a survey in 6 Muslim-majority countries. What clothes should women wear, should they be allowed to wear what they want – These were the questions in this survey. To this, 56 per cent in Tunisia, 53 per cent in Turkey, 49 per cent in Lebanon, 47 per cent in Saudi Arabia, 27 per cent in Iraq and 22 per cent in Pakistan answered in the affirmative to the second question. These statistics give an idea about the attitude of the society in these countries.

6. Viewpoint on Hijab depends on education and environment

In 2015, a referendum was held in Iran on whether it should be compulsory to wear Hijab or not. Respondents were classified on the basis of their educational qualifications and where they stand in terms of overall achievements in life. Among the educated women, 51 per cent said that Hijab should not be mandatory, while 61 per cent of uneducated women said that it should be mandatory to wear Hijab.

In developed areas, women said that Hijab should not be compulsory, while Hijab was considered compulsory in underdeveloped areas. So, it can be seen that the attitude towards Hijab depends on education and environment.

7. Society pressurizes Muslim women to wear Hijab

In some Muslim communities, it is binding for women to wear the Hijab, because people around them insist on Hijab and condemn the women if they don’t wear it. It is said in such societies that a woman who wears Hijab is like a wrapped and untouched ‘piece of candy’. It is also said that Hijab is used to demonstrate individual religiosity.

8. Western countries banned Hijab saying that it is a hurdle in practicing the western culture and a threat to national security

In some countries the Hijab is considered a threat to national security. In most western countries, the Hijab is seen as a hurdle in practicing their culture or creation of a parallel society. The people in western countries think that if Muslims live in their country, they should live and look like them. The people in western countries expect Muslims to dress like they do in their country and follow their culture. Hijab also creates a safety issue. If the face is covered, it becomes difficult to recognize a person. Therefore, wearing Hijab is considered dangerous in many western countries. As a result, 12 European countries have banned the Hijab in one form or another.

In France, Belgium, Austria, Netherlands and Switzerland all types of Hijabs are completely banned. Germany, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina have a partial ban on Hijab. All these countries say that the Hijab has no place in the world. Critics call it ‘fear or hatred for Islam’ (Islamophobia). They highlight the examples of incidents in London, Vienna, Paris and Berlin, where Muslim women who wore Hijab were attacked and their Hijab was torn off.

Muslim women living in western countries justify wearing the Hijab citing their religious identity and cultural unity as the reasons. Due to this, some companies have been promoting Hijab in their advertisements. A picture of a girl wearing a Hijab was published in the campaign ‘Back to School’ by the organisation ‘Gaps 2018’. Hijab is sold by ‘Nike’, an Online clothing retailer.

9. Injustice is done to thousands of Muslim women around the world when they are forced to wear Hijab

On the other hand, if we consider thousands of Muslim women, the Hijab is not an option for them, it is forced upon them. These women are threatened with punishment if they do not wear Hijab.

Women who do not wear Hijab are not given prominent positions in companies. At times, women have been killed for not wearing Hijab. In some cases, women who don’t wear Hijab are killed by unknown people or by their parents or by fanatics. In many parts of the world, the Hijab is being used to increase the pressure of fanatic Islamic groups and to impose restrictions on women.

In 2017, some women in Iran decided not to wear the Hijab. They protested on this, but the Iranian Government took strict action against them by arresting more than 40 women and fining many. So, this movement died down. Even now, violence against women continues in Iran. Whether they wear Hijab or not, attacks on Muslim women continue in Iran.

Muslim women are suffering the consequences of the religious, cultural and political war brought about by the issue of wearing Hijab.

If the religious angle given to the Hijab is eliminated, it is just a piece of cloth. Ideally it should be like – if a woman feels that Hijab is her identity, then she should wear it; and if a woman does not want to, then she should not wear it. This is possible but it doesn’t happen, because the world thinks that it is their prerogative to decide what women should do in the matters related to religion, clothes, abortion, being alone, being friends with men, choosing their own partner.

– Palki Sharma Upadhyay (Former Managing Editor at WION; Abridged from and credit : Website of ‘WIONews’)

Muslim women are suffering due to the religious, cultural & political war brought about by the issue of wearing Hijab !

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