Sunday, March 24, 2013

To Veil or Not to Veil

There seems to be an unequivocal misunderstanding regarding Muslim women and the veil within the western context. Islam as a religion is 1400 years old but the values and traditions hold true to this day, one of which is the issue of hijab or the head scarf. The discourse surrounding this issue is generally dismissive and unsympathetic. The hijab and niqab has continually been portrayed as a tool to oppress and control women. We see examples of this in places like France where the face veil has seen much controversy and was ultimately banned in the public arena. In Canada, it was also banned from being warn at poll stations in Quebec and in 2011, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced new rules that would ban the wearing of face coverings when taking the citizenship oath.

Although there are women who have been made to wear hijab against their will that is not a true reflection of the teachings of Islam or how most women feel regarding Hijab. The vast majority of women, especially women in the west, don the hijab out of modesty and respect for themselves. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him said: “The best of you are those who are the best to their women," [at-Tirmidhi] and thus it is incumbent upon all Muslims to actively seek equality among the sexes and treat their women with the utmost respect. Addressing the issue of women’s rights and feminism are crucial components of Islam, so where does all the confusion come from?

People have often taken it upon themselves to speak on behalf of Islam and Muslim women everywhere stating their views about this ‘oppressive, patriarchal piece of cloth’,  The irony in all of this is that many of these people identify as “feminists” (and I use that term loosely regarding such women). Feminism, an ideology that is meant to empower women, create equal opportunity for women, and break down the patriarchal forces that preside has unfortunately been co-opted by western influences of what a liberated woman should look, dress, and act like. The opinions of your average Muslim women are often silenced. Were you to ask a young Muslim girl today if she chose to wear the hijab she would most definitely say yes. She would be proud of her hijab because it represents self-respect and dignity. It represents liberation from society’s standards of beauty. It represents the freedom to choose what part of her body you get to see. Wearing the hijab is a choice and women have valid reasons for doing so. To reduce Muslim women to submissive and demoralized creatures who cannot think for themselves is an insult to our intelligence. The hijab gives us our sense of security, it is our sense of confidence. 

Muslim women everywhere are tired of having non-Muslim women (and men) tell them what makes them happy. As people who identify as feminists and are supposed to be working towards the inclusion and liberation of all women, how is alienating women who wear Hijab accomplishing such things? We are only doing ourselves a disservice when we allow differences to become barriers between progress. We all face the same challenge of patriarchy as women, but to take away her right to dress as she pleases, does that not equate to the same oppression as patriarchy? How is coercing a woman out of wearing her hijab any less oppressive than coercing her into one?  

This is not to belittle women who do not wear hijab nor does it make them any less Muslim; ultimately it is a choice. Women are judged for showing skin just as much as they are for covering it. The judgemental actors at play create unhealthy relations between people. It is often said that ignorance breads fear, so let us rid ourselves of this irrational fear of the unknown. The key is to move passed these judgements and to work together to create a cohesive and inclusive society free of ridicule. 

Post By: Arshia Lakhani

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