The phenomena of wearing hijab and its influence
By Hafsa Ahsan
What do you see when you look at me?
Do you see someone limited, or someone free?
All some people do is look and stare,
Simply because they can't see my hair!
This anonymous poem made it into quite a few
inboxes around the world considering the extent to which it was forwarded. Entitled "Baby, it's all Good," it attempts to explain the age-old question of why some women choose to cover their heads and/or faces. Or in other words, why do women opt for hijab/niqaab? This is one question, which has also intrigued many of us as well. What is hijab? People have different definitions. For some, it is a head cover, while for others it includes covering of the entire body except the eyes and the hands. Where is hijab mentioned in the Holy Qur'aan? It is in the 59th verse of Surah Al-Ahzaab:"O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful."
What is interesting to note is that the concept of hijab is a universal one. It has been a
part of many cultures and civilizations throughout the world. Take the ancient Greek civilization. Women of the Greek nobility observed full niqaab, with female apartments in the house completely segregated from the male apartments. In the Roman civilization although the rules for hijab were lax, still there were very strict rules as to behaviour in public as well as in the family. Nuns following the Judeo-Christian tradition also covered themselves with the veil.
Today, hijab is existent in many different forms all over the world. What is the most fiercely debated issue is whether the covering of face is an obligatory part of hijab or not. I am definitely not the person to state something definite here or issue a fatwa. I suggest you do your own research and reading rather than speculate on the matter.
It is a sorry state of affairs that people do just
that--speculate too much about those girls and women who observe hijab, especially about their motives and problems. Let us now actually talk to and get the viewpoint of those people who firmly comply with the above verse. How did they make it into the hijabified clan and what difference did it make in their lives?
Fizza Hassan is an O'Level student at a reputed private school. She has been observing hijab since grade 7th. When asked how hijab made an impact in her life, Fizza had the following to say, "I became more confident after taking hijab, because before that I always felt very self-conscious, especially when I went out for shopping. I also learnt that there's more to life than clothes and accessories."
Ayesha Zehra Ali, a business student, was 12 when she started wearing hijab. Why did she decide to wear it? "A friend of my mum's explained the
verse on Hijab in Surah-Ahzaab, that's when I decided to wear it," she said.
How did hijab influence her life? She said, "Growing up in hijab was beneficial in a lot of ways as it naturally acts as a deterrent from committing a lot of inappropriate acts. I have recently observed this phenomena that wearing Hijab largely influences the way we think, especially when it comes making choices about the kind of company to keep and the gatherings to attend."
For Naeema Akram, the decision to start wearing hijab had more to do with her perception of it as an identity of Muslim women. Did she face any problems being one of the hijabified clan? "I didn't have to face any problems as such," she said and added, "Perhaps, when you take a firm decision on doing something, you don't really waste your time and energies on thinking about the hindrances that come or may
come along the way. By the grace of God, I wasn't condemned or looked down upon by anyone."
For Farah Khan, another business student, the road to hijab hasn't been all that easy. She started out taking niqaab in 9th grade and felt secure and comfortable after wearing it. However, when she started the university, she switched to hijab. Describing the change she said, "When I started taking niqaab, it was without much thought. I just felt irritated by the guys. So, it was an emotional rather than an informed decision. Since, my mother knew that, she wasn't very supportive of it. When I went for my interview at the university where I am currently studying, my parents and uncles told me to take off my niqaab. I speak in a very low voice and they thought that it might count against me. So, I did it. It was very awkward for me and I was really ashamed to face my old school mates studying in the same
Naureen Aqueel, who's in her first year at the university, made an informed decision after her O'Levels. She said, "That year, I did a summer course and took weekly classes, both of which were eye openers. I began to see things in an entirely different manner. I began to realise how we were all slaves to the perverted concepts of popularity, fashion and broadmindedness that the society had set out for us. As I learnt more and more, I developed a love for Allah Almighty and the Holy Prophet (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam). I believe it was this love for and relationship with Allah Almighty that gave me the strength to make this decision to take the hijab. It was indeed a difficult decision especially when no one in my family did it."
Deciding whether or not to wear hijab wasn't such a prompt decision either. Naureen had her doubts and fears.
"One thing people were really trying to scare me with was that I would have to do it forever and forever seemed pretty scary then," she said and added, "What if I can't carry on?"
So, how did she overcome those fears? "At my weekly class, I got an article by a revert who had addressed the same concern. The article said that you should take one day at a time, or even one outing at a time. The best thing is to keep your mind focused on what is immediately at hand. Allah Almighty will take care of the future," she said. "After I started taking the hijab, it was all very easy and not such a big deal I thought it would be. I feel more secure after taking the hijab, and I feel that people give me more respect. Now that I have covered myself, people can't judge me on my outer appearance. I feel more confident. I haven't started the niqaab yet but I want to Insha-Allah."
The above were the ladies who observe hijab. Let us now get the views of those who observe niqaab as well.
Ayesha Ashraf Jangda is an analyst at a reputable bank. She was very frank in admitting that she started doing niqaab to protect her sensitive skin. So how did her attitude change? "After two years of being a dubious person I realised that if I start doing it for the 'real' reason, that is, to get blessing from Allah Almighty, it would make me a better person," she said. "Hence, the gradual move towards taking up Hijab completely started. The more I read about it in the Holy Qur'aan and Ahadith, the stauncher I became."
Ayesha feels that in this day and age, taking niqaab is extremely testing. "I think the most testing time comes when you have to go to a family wedding function where all your fellow age group females are flaunting
blow dried hair and showing their freshly makeup faces."
Jawaria Ahmad, who's on an executive post in a company, emphasises that she simply cannot live without her hijab and niqaab. "It is a lifestyle but it is no way driven by culture. It's always been a religious practice," she says. "The real-life situation encourages me to do so. Some days ago an acquaintance of mine resigned from her job because her picture was secretly taken in the office by someone's cellphone and uploaded on an online social network with obscene comments. When I come to know about these horrible happenings, I feel blessed for my purdah. Even if someone (Allah forbid) takes my picture anyway, my identity would remain disguised due to my being veiled."
However, she feels that women who cover their faces, face undue discrimination. She said, "When I was interviewed in one of the top
advertising agencies, I was explicitly asked whether I would be covering myself in the office. And after my affirmation I was not contacted again. There could be other reasons for rejection; but I should not have been questioned for my purdah if the interviewing HR person had any regard for civil rights."
For Aruba Alam, a medical student, covering the face was a dramatic change. "When I just wore a headscarf some men still stared at me. After the niqaab, I felt sort of invisible because people automatically avoided my gaze, including some women. It was hard getting used to being ignored but I realised it was better this way," she said.
Another medical student, Farah Rehman, protested heavily when her parents insisted that she wear hijab. However, once she started wearing it, there was no looking back. She soon opted to wear the niqaab too. "I feel
secure, plus I don't need to worry how my hair looks. Plus when I am out shopping, I feel good. Even though nothing can stop those ugly stares but I've tried my best to minimise what others can see in me," she said.
Talking to all these highly educated and professional women gives the impression that hijab and niqaab is something that they have all opted for on their own. It wasn't out of any family or cultural obligation.
At the end of the day, hijab can never be imposed. It always has to be one's own informed decision because that's the only way one can be consistent with it. The next time you feel smothered because you think too many people are beginning to cover their heads and/or faces, try to understand their point of view and their reasons. These women may have covered their heads, but that's no reason why you should close your mind.
Myths about Hijab
1. Girls observing hijab have to be perfect:
No one is perfect. Don't judge hijabified people too harshly simply because you see them doing something, which you think is totally unacceptable like listening to music. For some, hijab means immediately switching over to good deeds. For others, the process is akin to going down a long road. Go easy on them.
2. Islamic scholars only sermonise on hijab:
There are more pressing problems in the Islamic world and I am sure there are many of us who have heard sermons on a
variety of issues. Just search the Internet and you'll discover the wide range of issues scholars talk about. But of course simply because you have only heard sermons on hijab doesn't mean that's all scholars talk about.
3. All females not observing hijab are immodest:
That is so not true. Hijab is entirely a personal matter ie, between a person and Allah Almighty. We are no one to judge anyone's level of modesty, using hijab as a criterion. And if we are doing that, and if we, by this behaviour, put someone who's contemplating hijab off it, we will be committing a grave error.
4. Where is hijab amongst designer abayas and scarves?
It's true that designer abayas and scarves totally undermine the concept of hijab, especially those which
come with laces and attractive colour combinations. But why should you blame the concept of hijab for this trend? It is entirely the doing of the person who is observing hijab. Again, maybe the person wearing such an abaya/scarf has her own reasons, so it's best not to speculate.
5. Wearing hijab Vs world problems:
For the life of me, I haven't been able to understand the logic of this statement that wearing hijab will not solve any problems in this world. The question is what possible correlation is there between hijab and issues like poverty and famine? The two are completely different. If you are saying that wearing hijab will not solve any problems, then by the same logic will NOT wearing hijab solve any? Of course not!
6. Wearing a hijab means you
shun all joys of life:
Why should you? You can still go out in the rain and enjoy yourself. You can still take long walks. You can still participate in sports. Why make things difficult? When you've covered yourself, it becomes easier to actively participate in everything without bothering about the onlookers. After all, you're not giving them anything to look at.
7. Hijabi girls look down on those who don't wear hijab:
Some do. Many don't. What's important to understand here is that hijab is a very sensitive topic. Sometimes when someone talks about it, we feel that they are taking a jibe at us because we don't wear it. That may not be their intention. So, give people the benefit of the doubt and think positively.
8. Wearing hijab means
you have to stay at home:
This myth should have been shattered by the stories of Ayesha and Jawaria, both full-time working professionals.
9. Wearing hijab won't stop men staring:
It won't. But at least you're not giving them anything to ogle on, not to mention you are putting a stop to all those statements that you are 'inviting' those stares.
10. Hijab is only for women:
Let me say this loud and clear. Hijab is for men too. And all those men who stare and ogle gravely violate the command of Allah Almighty to lower their gaze. That women 'invite' them to stare is a totally flawed statement. Guys, what's your test if every woman covers herself? Think about it! Life's never easy.