The Hamilton Spectator
Hijab stands for a belief in a way of life
The hijab, a head covering worn by Muslim women, has lately caught public’s attention with intense headlines. World Hijab Day was initiated in 2013 with the objective to raise awareness and break stigmas.
However, some may question who in their right mind would dare to celebrate World Hijab Day (Feb. 1) while women in the Islamic Republic of Iran are burning their hijabs and protesting the mandatory hijab. Not to forget the brutal murder of Mahsa Amini by the so called “morality police” for wearing her hijab “too loose” and punishing everyone who protested against the Iranian government. The resistance was noticeable when the Iranian rock climber Elnaz Rekabi appeared without her hijab at the Asian Championship in South Korea and when Sara Khadem chose also not to wear her hijab at the international chess tournament in Kazakhstan as a sign of support. And the Iranian soccer team refused to sing their national anthem before the opening match at the FIFA World Cup. The rage is understandable as the Mullahs trying to legitimize their oppression under name of religion.
The Holy Quran teaches that modesty is a virtue that applies to both men and women as: “Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes” and for women “that they draw their head-coverings over their bosoms” (Chapter 24: Verse 30-31).
However, there is not a single verse in the Holy Quran that declares a punishment for a Muslim woman who does not cover herself. After all, it is a personal choice and should be worn out of conviction, not coercion. It is outrageous that these so-called Muslim leaders fail to see the fundamental principle of freedom of choice “There is no compulsion in religion” (Chapter 2, Verse 257).
History has shown protest in the opposite direction. In 1936 under regime of former leader Reza Shah Pahlavi, Iranian women protested against the head scarf ban imposed at that time. Similarly, we can see today in the Karnataka state in India imposed a ban on students wearing the hijab in classrooms which is also being contested by female Muslim students.
It is apparent that the issue is not the hijab. In both instances, whether banning the hijab or forcing women to wear the hijab, it is being used as a tool for men preserving power over state. Decisions such as “dress code” should be left to individuals. I stand in solidarity with women in Iran and in India as I believe in freedom of choice.
Canada does not go unaffected after Quebec’s Bill 21 from prohibiting wearing religious symbols which includes the hijab by teachers and other government employees. This tells us that despite the multiculturalism our county takes pride in, there are elements of Islamophobia. The recent appointment of Amira Elghawaby as Canada’s new frontperson hopefully helps combat Islamophobia.
Just because the hijab has been misused by extremists does not justify that the meaning of the hijab has lost its essence. One could say just because the Ku Klux Klan chose the cross as a symbol of their racism, Christians do not have to distance themselves from the cross. Abuse does not prohibit use. More importantly, it is a duty of hijab wearers to take back its true meaning and wear their hijab with pride.
There are many stereotypes and misconceptions on how the head covering is viewed. It is not simply a formal scarf. It stands for a belief that follows a way of life with humility and modesty. Islam stresses the relationship between body and mind. Expressing modesty outwards helps to reflect modesty in speech, action and character. For hijab wearers, freedom defines surrendering to none but God. It is a path that empowers to be free from any social pressures, free from the need for social recognition and free from male gaze.