By Minna Jaffery
Lately, I have heard many misconceptions about Muslim women who wear the hijab that seem to be because of a simple lack of knowledge. To me, it seems pretty amazing that this religious mandate is still carried out today, despite the fact that many religious practices, such as this one, are considered outdated. Although I personally do not wear the headscarf, many of my friends and family members do, and they were kind enough to help educate me about this particular religious mandate.
The term “hijab” actually refers to the way a Muslim woman should carry herself, encompassing more than just the covering of the head. The concept of the hijab is one of modesty, which women are directed to preserve. In the same vein, they are instructed to be modest in the rest of their clothing, as well as their character. All this is to ensure the power of the woman, making the hijab a mandate that demands that a woman be taken seriously. Because a woman appears modest, she should be heard for her thoughts and ideas, not her appearance.
Then there’s the question of whether or not women are forced to wear the headscarf. In Islam, religious tenets are not supposed to be enforced; rather, Muslims are instructed to reserve their judgments on the actions of others and make choices only for themselves. In almost all cases, women wear the hijab because it is their personal choice to do so. Although every woman’s choice is highly personal, the basis of this decision is generally the same: to prevent themselves from being objectified. By wearing the headscarf and embracing the concept of the hijab, the woman is making a declaration of her faith.
Many Western countries have started imposing bans on religious dress, with France as a notable example. Although the argument for separating religion from state is definitely valid, the ban imposes on many personal freedoms. This religious ban does not specifically target women of the Islamic faith; it also applies to the wearing of large crosses. However, the headscarf is easily noticeable and thus, has become a subject of intense scrutiny. This ban prevents women from expressing their religious beliefs, and furthermore, it prevents them from dressing in a manner that they believe is modest and empowering. In this sense, the ban on religious garments takes away women’s freedom to express their religion in a very powerful way.
There is nothing wrong with separating religion and state, but there is something wrong with trying to take away symbols of empowerment and modesty. This especially rings true in a country with a Muslim majority, such as Turkey, where many women do wear the headscarf. By attempting to keep displays of religion away from the public sector, the government is effectively cutting down the size of the workforce, giving women less independence and fewer opportunities.
By creating bans on religious garments, governments prevent women from entering institutions that can help better their lives. This level of discrimination seems unfair and heavily outdated in an age in which tolerance and understanding are promoted. In essence, the hijab is a sign of empowerment, not oppression. The hijab represents modesty and power; women who choose to wear the headscarf are making a conscious decision that they want to be heard for their voices and nothing else. It is not a symbol of oppression or extremism, but rather one of progressiveness and inspiration.