Judy is an MA English Literature student at Aberystwyth University. During Ramadan this year, she took the time to explain what wearing the hijab as part of her religion meant to her. I’m very excited to share her opinion as the first of this new series, ‘Words from Friends’, where I aim to publicise different voices about issues that are important to them.
Hi! I’m Judy, and I’ve been wearing the hijab for just over ten years now. As someone who was brought up in a predominantly white town, being young and wearing the hijab was challenging at times. I’d always have the feeling that people were staring at me or making comments behind my back. Though many women in the UK wear the hijab, we all encounter different experiences – both positive and negative. Instead of talking about my personal experience with the hijab, I want to talk about my opinions regarding modesty in Islam and the symbolism of the hijab.
A lot of people believe that the hijab is just used to veil hair from men who are outside of the female’s immediate family, but it’s so much more than just that. The term ‘hijab’ itself can refer to covering parts of the female body that conforms to Islam’s ideals of modesty. It’s not strictly about concealing yourself and it really isn’t a symbol of oppression, as commonly misconceived. Of around 6,000 verses in the Quran, only about 6 refer to the way a woman should dress or walk in public. Just for perspective, that’s 0.1%. The misconception is often from the media or conservative opinions, but in reality, our religion has so much respect towards women. Below are just a few verses from the Quran that preach the significance of women and the importance of a woman’s husband respecting her:
“O thou who believe! Thou art forbidden to inherit women against their will.” (Chapter IV Verse 19)
“…And thou shalt not treat them with harshness, that thou may take away part of the mahr thou hath given them, unless they commit open illegal sexual intercourse. And live with them honorably.” (Chapter IV Verse 19)
“O Messenger of God, among all mankind who is it that I am much obliged to glorify?” The Prophet answered, “Your mother.” “And then who else?” again the man asked. “Your mother,” again the Prophet answered. “And then who else?” the man asked for the third time. “Your mother,” still answered the Prophet. “And then who else?” asked the man for the fourth time. “Your father,” at last the Prophet said. (Sahih al-Bukhari)
Our religion stipulates that the hijab should start being worn by a Muslim before or when she hits puberty. In Islam, puberty is a sign that the child has developed a moral sense of right and wrong. The hair is something that really frames people’s faces and emphasises feminine beauty, and so the point of the hijab is not just for modesty, but it also encourages privacy from those who view women in a sexualised and immoral manner. An argument is that the hijab enables your beauty to be reserved for your husband; that is cliché and presents women as a commodity. I believe it is quite the opposite. Objectification is merely a misconception – a wife and husband should have utmost respect for one another, and the thought of only sharing your beauty with someone special is quite comforting. A husband is a lifetime partner and removing the hijab in front of your husband is a big step when it comes to confirming marriage and beginning your life with someone who respects you and values your beauty.
It’s not just the headscarf that a woman needs to wear in order to be modest. The religion generally specifies that women should cover their skin (apart from their face and hands) and wearing clothing that isn’t tight fitting, so to show off your figure. The whole purpose in general is just to conceal your form and be modest outside of the home. Men often sexualise women, and the hijab prevents this from happening. Many will argue that men should not sexualise women at all. However, the male gaze, and the female gaze, is ever present in society, and though non-consensual sexualisation and objectification is completely horrific and appalling, sometimes it is unavoidable.
The hijab generally prevents sexualisation from happening, as the feminine attributes of the body are concealed from the male gaze. Thus, a woman should only share her beauty with those who value her and care for her, and do not view her body as an object for male gratification. In the eyes of God, the hijab provides this modesty.
I’d now like to discuss the aforementioned theme of respect for women in Islam. The above quotes present how women are respected and appreciated in Islam, and how they are sometimes valued as superior to the male (see al-Bukhari’s quote). Though there is evidently respect for females, a lot of people, especially the media, will argue that the hijab or other forms of modesty are a sign of oppression. People often believe that a girl’s father will force her to wear her hijab, or that her husband will. Unfortunately, like with every religion, there are extremist and conservative individuals who will force these rules and expectations onto women. My heart genuinely aches for girls who have experienced any form of forced dominance and oppression. Often girls who have experienced lack of freedom and lack of choice grow up to rebel against Islam because they were forced into wearing the hijab, which leads them to despise the religion altogether.
However, in Islam, force is not encouraged at all. Islam literally translates to peace, and in the Quran, you will find many passages that dictate the necessity of freedom and liberty. I believe that Islam is about embracing things because you want to do them, and you believe in them. If you do not believe in something with your heart and soul, it will be almost impossible to do, so this explains why a lot of women end up not wearing the hijab, because often when they move away from their parents or get married, they experience more liberty and freedom of choice. Unfortunately, women who are forced into wearing the hijab are completely discouraged from the beauty and flexibility of Islam. This is why liberal individuals like me must share their experiences to debunk the extremist theories that exist surrounding Islam and the hijab.
I feel like a lot of what I just discussed wasn’t expanded upon. However, I truly hope you have learned just a little about what the hijab means to me and what it represents. In my opinion, the hijab is not a form of oppression when encouraged and embraced by the woman. It is only a form of oppression when she is forced into it for all the wrong reasons. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me! Though, I highly recommend checking out the below sources for more information on Islam and the hijab. And lastly, I would like to conclude that when researching Islam and the hijab, for the love of God please read scholarly articles or articles from reliable sources. The media is such a powerful tool against Muslims, and I urge you to educate yourself properly on the reality of Islam.
Thank you so much for reading – Judy xo
Info on freedom in Islam and forced conversion: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/no-compulsion-in-religion/
TEDx talk on what the Quran really says about the hijab: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_J5bDhMP9lQ
If you think you would like to talk about an issue, please drop me an email! I would love to hear from you: