Is the religious headwear oppression or expression?
By Aleeze Asif, Contributor
The hijab seems to have become a symbol of oppression worldwide. What is it about a scarf over the head that is seemingly oppressive compared to a scarf around the neck? The vast majority of the people that oppose the hijab seem to do so because of what they think it represents. So what exactly does it represent?
Islam dictates that all women must wear the hijab as a representation of their modesty and an expression of their religious identity (Quran 24:31). With that said, one must keep in mind that symbolic representation is fluid depending on the constantly evolving social and cultural circumstances, as well as the frame of mind of an individual.
It is an unfortunate reality that many Muslim women around the world are pressured into covering their heads by their families, cultural norms, or even the law. Modesty should be a choice, not another obligation put upon women because of their sex. A large portion of Muslim women, however, wear the hijab by choice. From an individualistic perspective, the reason why is quite simple: the hijab represents whatever the Hijabi wants it to represent. Many women wear it purely for the sake of religious obligation. Others say it incites confidence, and empowers them. Think about it: in a society where almost every conceivable media outlet is guilty of objectifying women at some point in time, who’s to say the hijab isn’t an act of rebellion?
However, things aren’t as black and white when we analyze this religious practice from a broader sociological perspective. Islamic scripture and Hadith make it abundantly clear that the hijab is absolutely compulsory. The dictionary definition of discrimination is “different rules and standards for a sect of people established purely because of the way they are born.” Gender-specific decorums are the reason why women might be the only group in the “other” category who aren’t a minority. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to argue that the hijab is guilty of promoting the further social segregation of genders by creating double standards and solidifying archaic gender norms. A woman should never have to do anything just because she is a woman.
Many countries are seeking to have the hijab banned. France is seeking to ban the headscarf in public places, having already banned any garment that covers a person’s face, such as the niqab. Most Islamic scholars would testify to the fact that the niqab is not compulsory. Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently tried to ban the niqab, specifically at citizenship ceremonies, stating that it is “offensive” and it’s “not how we do things here.” There are legitimate arguments to restricting the niqab, as both Muslim and non-Muslim fanatics of either gender can use religious freedom as an excuse to hide their identities. However, it is profusely clear that that is not what Harper is concerned about. The fine line between expression and oppression is choice. Banning the niqab or hijab, however, is in itself a blatant violation of women’s freedom of expression and a person’s freedom of religion. How is telling women what they can’t wear any better than telling them what they can wear?
The hijab might have its problems in the grand scheme of things, but reducing all Muslim women to a stereotype is tremendously counterproductive. There is a place for the hijab in the modern society that is pro-choice when it comes to matters of an individual’s religious freedom. What a woman wears does not define her. It doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.