Muslim women choose to wear the hijab as a way of showing self-control, power and agency.
The hijab (a scarf wrapped tightly around the heads by Muslim women to conceal every wisp of hair), popularly called the veil, is an ally of an empowered modern Muslim women and shouldn’t be equated with backwardness. The hijab expresses a translational form of Islamic feminism that has been marked by the entry of women into all public spheres of Islamic life, including formal religious learning.
Muslim women choose to wear the hijab as a way of showing self-control, power and agency. For many well-educated Muslim women, wearing a hijab offers a way to take control of their bodies and challenge the ways in which women are subjugated by patriarchal values.
Veiling was once an armoury of the poorer classes. Today it is the mascot of the most enlightened Muslim girls who are pursuing prestigious careers in top class universities. A woman can wear a hijab as a sign of modesty, yet still embrace all of the rights and opportunities enjoyed by Western women.
Prophet Muhammad said, “Every religion has a chief characteristic and the chief characteristic of Islam is modesty.” In Islam, modesty is a virtue for both men and women. The Arabic word for modesty is hayaa. The interesting thing about this word is that it is linguistically related to the Arabic word for life (hayat). Muslim scholars believe that there is an intimate connection between the two terms. Modesty, it is said, is the virtue that gives spiritual life to the soul. This connection between spiritual life and modesty exists because the virtue is not just about outward appearances; rather, it is tolerance first and foremost about the inward state of having modesty before God —meaning an awareness of divine presence everywhere and at all times.
For women who observe hijab, it is a path that helps in preserving their moral chastity and coming nearer to their Creator. It is a means to inculcate modesty. It’s a badge of their womanhood, representative of their resilience as females in a world determined to control every aspect of their being.
Hijab is a way of ensuring that the moral boundaries between unrelated men and women are respected. In this sense, the term hijab encompasses more than a scarf and more than a dress code. It is an instrument for engendering morality and chasteness. But at the same time, hijab cannot be used as a marker or benchmark to judge the morality of a Muslim woman and her “Muslimness”. The purity of her spiritualism and chastity of her character is more important than the moral value of her hijab. For instance, if a Muslim woman was wearing a scarf but at the same time using bad language, she would not be fulfilling the requirements of hijab.
The most sobering words come from Michelle Obama which she shared when she addressed hijab-wearing students as the first lady of United States: “Maybe you read the news and hear what folks are saying about your religion, And you wonder if anyone ever sees beyond your headscarf to see who you really are, instead of being blinded by the fears and misperceptions in their own minds. And I know how painful and how frustrating all of that can be. But here’s the thing — you all have everything, everything, you need to rise above all of the noise and fulfill every last one of your dreams,” To be fair, there’s nothing veiled about the hijab.