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Of The Visible And Invisible Hijabs In Our Society

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By Marva M:

“Well, I never supposed that you were brave enough to wear a hijab inside the department.”

“You know, the very sight of a woman wearing a ‘hijab’ hints at oppression”

“Why do you wear this thing in the horrible summer heat?”

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Photo Credit

These are some of the personal comments that I got in the beginning of my college life. It was problematic and incomprehensible. How could someone be judged and labelled as ‘oppressed’ on the basis of a piece of cloth? This provoked me to defend the hijab as my right to practise the religion of my choice. I re-visualized it as an expression of freedom rather than oppression.

But, why Hijab?

Why do I wear a hijab? I began asking myself. Why does Allah want me to wear a hijab? How does the hijab resist the male gaze? Women gaze at men as well, why don’t men wear the hijab to evade the female gaze? How does it reduce physical abuses, when humans get raped irrespective of space, time, clothing, age, gender etc.? Why does God want me to hide my neck and hair which are certainly his own creations? These are the questions that form a convoluted maze of thought in my mind.

That was the time when we went out to Marina beach, and some playful friends pushed me in the water. Drifting with the salty waves, my hijab got unpinned and floated away. I felt nude from head to toe. But nobody seemed to care; waves, birds, travellers, vehicles, vendors, friends, the setting sun – everything was alright. My hair rustled in the wind, my ears grew cold in the breeze, and I loved it. I stopped worrying about the pins and knots of my hijab. I realized that I adhered to the hijab only because I was so used to it that life seemed unthinkable without it.

Invisible hijabs – A separation to segregation

Different sections of Christian and Jewish women, especially the nuns, cover their heads partially or completely. Hijab, in its literal sense is a separation between two or more things. So, the segregation of spaces and time ranging from separate prayer halls to separate classroom seating are a form of gendered hijab. Our educational institutions wear a hijab, when it comes to gender bias. I still remember being scolded by my teachers for playing catch-me-if-you-can with my male classmates in class 6th during the recess. Our minds have become hijabs, which curtain bodies and minds, making us ignorant. We have a ‘sanskaar’ which is so uncultured that it does not socialize humans beyond gender roles.

In an institution like IIT Madras, heralded as a premier educational institution, there are partial restrictions for women entering the men’s hostels and messes, and men are completely banned from stepping into the women’s hostel area. But those who were worried about my hijab, seemed unconcerned about this social hijab. Why are certain hijabs questioned and criticized, while many others have been internalized and remain unrecognized? Isn’t it time we see beyond the frames of double standards and bias?

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  1. Tara

    One question- how do you know that God wants you to wear hijab? Did he appeared in front of you and told you that? Do you hear voices? And one thing more- don’t compare wearing head covering by nuns with hijab- nuns are women who resigned from normal life, they abide by rules of celibacy, they are devoted only to God and religion- and that was their own choice. Hijab is not the choice of a girl, even if it seems to you that you made this choice- it is the result of misogynistic and patriarchal culture of Arabian tribes from 7th century- plus hijab had a purpose to protect the body and face especially from heat and sands of the desert. Well, now we have 21st century and I suppose you are not living on the desert. Have you ever thought about it? Or the hijab narrowed your mind?

    1. Samana

      Islamic greeting of Salaamunalaikum :peace be upon you .
      In Chapter 24 known as an-Nur (the Light), in verse 30, Allah commands Prophet Muhammad as follows:

      قُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنِيْنَ يَغُضُّوْا مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِمْ وَ يَحْفَظُوْا فُرُوْجَهُمْ, ذَلِكَ أَزْكَى لَهُمْ.
      “Say to the believing men that: they should cast down their glances and guard their private parts (by being chaste). This is better for them.”

      This is a command to Muslim men that they should not lustfully look at women (other than their own wives); and in order to prevent any possibility of temptation, they are required to cast their glances downwards. This is known as “hijab of the eyes”.
      Then in the next verse, Allah commands the Prophet to address the women:

      قُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَ يَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوْجَهُنَّ…
      “Say to the believing women that: they should cast down their glances and guard their private parts (by being chaste)…”

      This is a similar command as given to the men in the previous verse regarding “hijab of the eyes”.

      This hijab of eyes is similar to the teaching of Jesus where he says, “You have heard that it was said by them of old time, you shall not commit adultery. But I say unto you, That whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.”1 So if you see a Muslim casting his/her eyes downwards when he/she is talking to a member of opposite sex, this should not be considered as rude or an indication of lack of confidence — he/she is just abiding by the Qur’anic as well as Biblical teaching.

      I hope Ur doubts are clear 🙂 have a nice day

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