Navida Sayed, London
Over the last decade the hijab has become one of the most widely discussed and controversial topic not only in the West but also in Muslim societies. The covering of the head has also been debated among some Muslim scholars and they have joined in the debate on whether or not the wearing of a headscarf is required of Muslim women. Before we discuss what some scholars are saying we will see what led to this debate. [i]
Recently the topic of hijab came into the spotlight through social media platforms. Some European governments have introduced legislation against wearing the full face Hijab. In pursuit of their own political agendas some of the Western countries repeatedly intervene and attempt imposing and elaborating a dress code about how Muslim women should dress in the name of secularism, as a result this is dividing societies rather than uniting. It leads to backlash and hatred against Muslim women in hijab. This has resulted in many with little awareness of Islam to identify Muslim women in hijab either with terrorism or as oppressed women in desperate need of liberation from their hijab. Sadly all the negative media propaganda and recent hate crimes against Muslim women in Hijab has resulted in some Muslim women to turn their back on wearing the veil and forming countercultural statements.
Women choosing to walk away from the hijab as feminists or because of modernity actually believe that the hijab is ingrained in culture rather than faith. They pander to the arguments of those who erroneously believe that Muslim hijab wearing women are brainwashed into saying they are wearing it out of choice and they are not forced to wear it. Activists are taking the removal of the hijab to a whole new level, from videos and blogs on how to remove the headscarf to linking the headscarf as an out dated cultural practice. To further confuse matters some Muslim males opposing the headscarf have jumped on the bandwagon too, they quote five so-called high profile Muslim Scholars as an authority who issued a fatwa on – ‘The Permissibility Of Not Wearing The Headscarf’, I will only touch on some of their points here.
The first is Khaled Abou El-Fadl ‘ who critiques the predominant Muslim position of viewing the khimar (veil) as a piece of cloth that covers the head and face or just the head. He argues that if the headscarf itself causes women to stand out and put them in the way of harm and if uncovering the head is not considered socially immodest or licentious then it would be permissible for Muslim women to not wear the headscarf.’
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi also shares the opinions of Khaled Abou El-Fadl, Ghamidi and his affiliate Farhad Shafti that ‘the khimar (veil) was neither a religious act nor did it pertain to modesty.
Abdullah Bin Bayyah ‘argues that hardships allow for uncovering of women’s body parts or hair in public.
In relation to the wearing of the headscarf Bin Bayyah’s student Hamza Yusuf mistakenly asserts that ‘the laws are there to serve human beings, we are not there to serve the law. We are there to serve Allah, and that is why whenever the law does not serve you, you are permitted to abandon it, and that is actually following the law. … The law is for our benefit, not for our harm. Therefore, if the law harms us, we no longer have to abide by it.’
The late Shia cleric, Ahmad Ghabel deemed as an authority on Islam, ‘argued that the head covering was not obligatory but recommended, he also said there was no consensus as to whether hair constituted parts that must be covered.’
The fifth person the late Nasr Abu Zayd argued ‘covering of body parts and the hijab are subject to socio-cultural norms and therefore are changeable and not fixed. He opined that both are not legislated by Islam but are rather specific to the Arab culture.’[ii]
Citing the above-mentioned individuals as authorities on Islam is misleading. Deliberation on their arguments in detail is for another time. In a nutshell as scholars of Islam they are all inaccurately asserting with authority that Islam does not require women to cover their heads with a headscarf especially in countries where they may be facing discrimination or persecution because of their headscarves. However the real and only authority on Islam is the Holy Qura’n. In Islam, modesty and chastity are very important tenets of faith, and are achieved through establishing certain codes of behaviour and dress. It is said in the Holy Qur’an:
‘And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts, and that they display not their beauty and embellishments except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head-covers over their bosoms…’ (Ch.24:V.32)
The veil is a word used generically, which could refer to Hijab, Burqa, Niqab, headscarf or outer garment used to cover the body. Because Islam is a global religion there is no specific or compulsory dress for all Muslim women. Each country or community adapts its cultural dress code to observe the Hijab in accordance with Qur’anic instructions. In essence, this does not mean that the Hijab stems from cultural dress in fact the beauty of Islam is that it allows women to adapt their cultural dress in accordance with teachings of Islam as mentioned in the above verse of the Holy Qura’n. Observance of the veil is definitely part of a Muslim woman’s faith, as it is clear from the Holy Qur’an.
Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab in Western countries do not struggle with any kind of inferiority complex or dilemma about whether or not they should wear the hijab. They do not feel constricted or objectified instead they feel confident and empowered. The Hijab establishes dignity and respect for women, so that they are recognised in society as individuals who are respected for their intelligence and personality rather than for their physical appearance. For Muslim women having the right to choose what to wear including the hijab is the most liberating and empowering choice of all.
[i] HuffPost Canada. (2017). 5 Muslim Scholars On The Permissibility Of Not Wearing The Headscarf. [online] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/junaid-jahangir/islam-wearing-hijab_b_14046520.html
[ii] HuffPost Canada. (2017). 5 Muslim Scholars On The Permissibility Of Not Wearing The Headscarf. [online] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/junaid-jahangir/islam-wearing-hijab_b_14046520.html