Recently, the Hijab has become a topic of interest for people all across the Western world. It is seen as unfair, and cruel, a depravation of rights for women and something that they are forced to do because of their culture and religion. Where does the hijab come from? What exactly are the social implications of this traditional garb, and how do modern Muslim women interpret and feel about this seemingly antiquated tradition?
The hijab came to be when Islam was born in the seventh century, in the Arabian Peninsula. Hijab literally translated means “curtain.” Before the birth of Islam, scarves and veils were common in other religions, including Catholicism and Judaism. While critics of Islam argue that the hijab is something forced upon women in the Islamic world, many immigrants and daughters of Islam around the world see it as a choice that symbolizes devotion and piety.
Different Types of Headscarves:
The hijab is the most popular veil in the West. It covers the head and neck, and is worn by many Muslim women in the Arab world and elsewhere.
The niqab covers the entire body, leaving an opening for only the eyes. These veils are less common outside of the Muslim world, and are most prevalent in the Gulf States. These veils in particular have become a point of contention politically, with some politicians seeking to ban them entirely.
The chador is a full length shawl that covers the entire body of the wearer, leaving the entire face visible. This type of veil is entirely black, and is seen mostly in Iran.
The burqa is a full body veil that covers the entire body and face as well. There is a mesh screen over the eyes, and it is commonly worn in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Under the Taliban regime from 1996-2001, the burqa was required by law.
The Qur’an is not clear on the requirement of veiling. While the teachings of the Qur’an do call for modesty, wearing a veil is not specified as necessary. Statements in the Qur’an refer to the wives of Mohammed veiling, but it is unclear whether this just applied to the prophet’s wives or to all Muslim women. The veil was a way to “control male sexual desire,” and men were also encouraged to be modest in dress, by covering themselves to the knees. The veil itself predates Islam entirely, and was utilized by women in various religions. It was seen as a symbol of class, with women of the upper class being able to afford to veil their entire body, and those of the lower classes only being able to cover their heads and necks or nothing at all.
In March of 2017, the EU’s highest ranking court ruled that companies had the right to ban religious symbols from the workplace, a ruling that was targeted specifically at the hijab and it’s many variations. Businesses claim that projecting an image of religious and political neutrality is what they are trying to accomplish through the ban, but many see the ban for what it is; thinly veiled religious discrimination.
The controversy surrounding the hijab is confusing to say the least. Whereas it can be seen as a way to oppress women, there are many women around the world who wear it by choice, who do not feel forced to wear it, but choose to. After reading about the law passed in the EU regarding “religious symbols,” I do feel that is the wrong way to approach this religious custom. It is religious discrimination to tell someone that they cannot wear something central to their personal faith, and will lead to disproportionate discrimination against Muslim women. I wonder, are these companies telling their Christian employees to take off their cross necklaces?