Why I Wear Hijab

31 May

The Hijab, which is basically a cloth that covers the body except the face, hands and feet, is worn by the majority of Muslim women across the globe as a symbol of piety, modesty, as a representation of their Faith and above all, as obedience to God. Furthermore, the level of covering varies from country to country and from Muslim woman to Muslim woman. With a simple analysis, one can see that the level of veiling varies from country to country. I personally believe this difference lies in the various environments, level of religiosity, social status and culture Muslim women live in.

As a religion, Islam is the most misunderstood on the face of the earth. I don’t even think we have reached saturation point with the amount of misconceptions and propaganda spewed at it – especially in the West. More particular, the topic of women rights under Islam is always under scrutiny and therefore Muslim women are the usual scapegoats of any far-right Islamophobic propaganda.

Growing up in Britain I had learned to adapt to my environment without having to compromise the practices of my Faith. I am a practicing Muslim woman and so my Faith is very important to me. I was raised in a somewhat ‘’semi-conservative’’ family; my parents were never strict with my siblings and I with regards to moral values and ‘’sticking to tradition’’ but they knew when to put their foot down and when to be lenient. They wanted to teach us to recognise right from wrong by learning from our mistakes so that we learn to make a conscious effort to do the ‘’right thing’’ in whatever situation we find ourselves in. And I believe this was crucial to how I learned to adapt to living in a western country, where secularisation is the norm and without compromising my Faith and traditions.

I started becoming consciously aware of my Faith round about the age of 16. Prior to that, I was not ‘’practicing’’ Islam; I did not fast the obligatory fast during the month of Ramadan, pray the 5 obligatory prayers, and I wasn’t wearing the Hijab. I most certainly believed in one God and that Muhammad (PBUH)* was his final Prophet and Messenger. And that was about it.

It was whilst I was completing my GCSEs at school that I started to read books on Islam, question my existence on earth and put my Faith into practice. I started to pray the 5 compulsory prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan and, eventually, put the Hijab on. I wore the head scarf along with modest clothing. That was about 6 years ago and I haven’t looked back since. It took courage and patience to wear the Hijab not because I was reluctant to wear it – but due to living in a society where women aren’t accustomed to veiling, even though arguably, veiling is not an alien concept to western societies.

When Europe wasn’t secular, women would veil because this was the practice of the Virgin Mary – the mother of Jesus Christ. And despite post-modernism and the secularisation of the West, Christian nuns still adhere to this practice of the veil as a mark of Faith and piety.

”Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head” (Holy Bible; 1 Corinthians 11:4-16)

Therefore, the head veil is not an alien concept to ‘’western values’’ that the far right Islamophobic groups always claim it to be.

I was treated fairly differently prior to veiling. People stopped judging my appearance and physical beauty and instead started seeing the important things that matter – inner beauty, mentality, personality and character. I went through school and university without experiencing any heckling or flirting from boys. This was much appreciated as I wanted to be left alone to focus on my studies.

I am a bit of a fashionista and so I love clothes, shoes, handbags, jewellery and sparkly things just like any other girl in the world. I still purchase whatever clothes I want only this time, I know that there is a time and place for certain garments.

I feel happy, secure and modest in the level of veiling I am at right now – I don’t intend to cover my face because the niqaab is not obligatory and partly to the fact that I will probably end up working in the UK in a hospital after I complete my degree. Having said that, I do not believe the niqaab is a sign of oppression, backwardness or extremism as some ‘’Muslim liberal feminists’’ would have you believe. Au contraire, over the years I have met several Muslim women who cover their faces at university and they are all exceptionally smart. Therefore, the face veil has no effect on the IQ or mentality of a person.

The extremist is the one who obligates a religious practice even though it is not obligatory whilst the oppressor is the one who obligates someone to do something against their will when it is not obligatory for them to do so. People oppress themselves when they allow their minds to become void of any real intellect and knowledge, their hearts to become diseased with sedition, their sexuality to be exploited and capitalised on (this is equally true for men nowadays ) and their souls to be at the mercy of those who seek to exploit humanity for power and control.

Furthermore, wearing the Hijab has thought me to pay more attention to nourishing my heart, mind and soul instead of my outer appearance.

Islam is the most misunderstood religion on the face of the earth and women’s rights always seem to be under fire and under scrutiny by the western media, the far right groups, Islamophobes, so-called ‘’liberal Muslim feminists’’ and western feminists alike due to the misconstrued stereotypes portrayed by the western media about the lives of Muslim women. We are portrayed as weak, silent, inferior poor souls who need to be ‘’saved’’ and this means we are the usually scapegoats for warmongers who justify their invasion of Muslim lands under the false pretext of ‘’saving’’ Muslim women from wretched barbaric towel heads who beat us into silence and submission.  The Right wingers and feminists always centre their discourse on the Hijab when justifying their Islamophobia. How ironic that those who are against the exploitation of women’s sexuality are the same people who make the discourse on the Hijab their obsession thereby contradicting their objectives of fighting the sexual exploitation of women. They claim the Hijab to be oppressive, backward and regressive that prevents a woman from ‘’progressing’’ at all levels of society. The government might claim that it gives people the right to wear whatever they like but this has not stopped them from profiting from an industry that capitalises on sexuality of women. Think about it! You can’t open a single newspaper, magazine, TV channel and billboards without seeing a naked woman being dangled on a hook in front of a camera to lure men in to buy the product. Yet who controls these corporations? Who profits from them?

Muslim women who veil are always preconceived to be uneducated, don’t carry university qualifications, don’t have jobs and therefore, they are assumed to be disengaged from society. We have been fooled into believing that Hijab is the problem that is holding Muslim women back from progressing and innovating. Unfortunately, failed Muslims who are trying to ‘’reform’’ Islam to fit orientalist-backed agendas have used this notion to their advantage. As a result, the only progressed Muslim women we see in the media are without Hijab, further propagating the false notion that if Muslim women want to progress, they need to get rid of the veil. This scenario is constantly being imposed on Muslim women everywhere, from the East to the West.

‘’Man in early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved, he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I’m wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilisation that man has achieved, and it’s not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is a regression back to the ancient times’’ – Tawakkul Karman (Noble Peace Prize winner dubbed the ‘’mother of the Yemen revolution’’ when asked by western journalists why she wears Hijab and how it is not proportionate with her level of intellect and education)

Women will progress at all levels of society when they are encouraged to exploit their intellect and pay less attention to their bodies. Encourage them to become the best lawyers they could be, the best politicians they could be, and the best doctors they could be, the best scientists they could be and so on. Encourage them to excel in the fields that serve humanity, where their expertise is needed. This is what true progression looks like.

A crucial point that most people (including Muslims) fail to grasp is that Muslims, particularly those living in contemporary societies, are not precisely monolithic in their application of modest attire. Although the majority of Muslims consider the Hijab to be compulsory (including myself), this does not mean that all Muslim women cover the same way. The level of veiling, style and colour varies from country to country. In Pakistan, women wear the Salwar kameez, which is a long sleeved knee length dress accompanied with wide full legged pants. This comes in various colours and patterns and girls wear it according to their taste. In African continents, Muslim women cover in long traditional kaftans accompanied with a head piece that matches the kaftan. In the Arab Gulf countries, women use the Abaya (a cloak like dress that is worn over the garments) and a head scarf. These are usually black with or without patterns, sequences and decorative. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, women go one step further and cover their faces with the niqaab as well as their hands and feet. In my native country, Libya, adolescent girls either wear modest outer garments which constitute a long loose skirt or loose trousers with a loose long sleeved top accompanied by a head scarf. In the case of older women, a Jilbab, which is very akin to a long coat but a little thinner in material, is usually worn over the clothes accompanied with a head scarf. The Abaya is also worn amongst adolescent girls and women. In Iran, women wear a Chador which is a one piece cloth (usually black) that goes over the head completely covering the body and feet.

You will find the veiling of Muslim girls and women living in Western countries also varies according to their country of origin (how women cover up back home) and according to how the girl grew up accustomed to how her mother used to cover up. Some Muslim women wear the Abaya and head scarf whilst some wear loose modest clothing accompanied by the head piece, this is more so with young Muslim girls. And there are some women who go a step further and cover their faces in addition. Therefore, the vast majority of Muslims accept that modest clothing and veiling are obligatory, but how the choose to cover varies from country to country.  I’m certain that culture, societal status and position influence the degree of veiling.

To some extent, how much a woman covers up is in relation to the Madhab (School of Thought) she adheres to. The Wahhabi / Salafi ideology in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, claim the face veil is compulsory, whilst other Madhabs say it is optional. The environment in which women are forced to cover up their faces, including their bodies and hair, is one in which the government dictates to the public how to dress under the pretext of ‘implementing’’ moral values and usually countries where religious Mullahs are running the country. Therefore, it is essential to distinguish between women who are forced to cover up and those who do it simply because that is the interpretation of the Madhab they choose to follow. The majority of Muslim women make the choice to cover up because it is obedience to God so that we are seen as women of respect not to be harassed.

Additionally, I wear the Hijab because it is a symbol that represents my Faith and as an imitation of the women of God that preceded us such as the Virgin Mary.

I wrote this piece because I know that many non-Muslims do wonder why Muslim women cover up but are too shy to ask about it fearing they we might be offended. I’m also tired of some people assuming that Muslim women are forced to cover by their husbands even though most of us are not married. Quite frankly, the rhetoric spewed by Islamophobes that women’s rights under Islam are suppressed is outdated and boring. We are living in a time where our world has become globalised as though we all live in the same village. Cross cultural appreciation and dialogue is much needed, we need to close the television, throw away the newspapers and start doing our own research. When the media portrays a nun to be veiled because she is practising her faith whilst in the same breath alleges a veiled Muslim woman to be oppressed (even though they both cover the same body parts i.e. head and body), you know there is something very wrong here and it is imperative on you to question this hatred for Islam. It is the duty of every moral and conscientious person to seek the answer. To arrive at the truth. As Jesus Christ (PBUH)* said, seek the truth and the truth shall set you free.

*Peace Be Upon Him

~ Nusaybah Khalil

Read more about Nusaybah here

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