The recent incident of tragic death of an Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, for not wearing the ‘hijab’ appropriately or in accordance with the strict Islamic dress code, has triggered massive protests from the Muslim women across Iran. Women were seen protesting by removing their hijabs. The incident has brought to the fore the pertinent question as to whether the mandatory wearing of such religious clothings do any benefit to the women and the society as a whole.
‘Hijab’ is a Persian word, derived from the Arabic term ‘hajaba’, which means ‘veil’. It is often worn by the Islamic women, who generally wear it as a head scarf to cover their hair and neck. It usually includes a face veil (commonly called ‘burqa’) meant to cover the face in order to maintain modesty and privacy. A piece of cloth that was once used as protection against harsh weather soon became a symbol of culture and orthodoxy.
Origin of Hijab
Hijab originated around 7th Century, even before the advent of Islam. Around 627 CE, ‘Darat-al-hijab’ phrase was commonly used which means ‘taking the veil’. It was used for Prophet Mohammad’s wives although experts disagree on the fact whether it applies to all women or only to the Prophet’s wives.
According to experts in Islamic studies, Quran does not describe the word as woman’s purdah, it actually means ‘curtain’ and has been mentioned around several times in the holy book of Islam. They are also of the view that wearing a hijab is not a part of the Islamic teachings.
Sura 33:53 of Quran states, “And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts.”
Veil became popular after Islam entered Persia and it gradually became a part of the Muslim culture . Many believed that purdah was used for both men and women, where women wore it to cover their full body to showcase modesty while men wore it to lower their gaze in the presence of women and curb their sexual desires.
A gradual shift came in the 1960s and 1970s when western clothing started dominating the Muslim countries. Although the liberation was not constrained for a long time, the situation changed soon after events, like the Soviet- Afghan war(1979-1989), origin of military rule in Pakistan and 1979 Iranian war. The Islamist influence in some of the Muslim dominated nations changed the scenario and this traditional Muslim attire made a comeback.
Countries that have banned Hijab
Hijab is a symbol of both religious and liberal rights of an Islamic women. Women wear it in different ways and styles depending on the countries they reside in or the community they belong to. Several nations worldwide have placed a ban on wearing hijab.
Let us have a look at some of them –
In 2004, France became the first country to ban religious garments and hijab in state schools and six years later the country also banned wearing full face veils in public.
The secular nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina have also banned wearing hijab in their courts and other institutions.
Since 2009, Kosovo has banned wearing hijab in public schools, universities and other government institutions.
Uzbekistan in 2012, banned the selling of hijabs and face veils in their markets.
In 2018, Kazakhstan banned wearing niqabs, headscarves and other similar clothes in public.
Syria and Egypt have banned wearing face veils in their universities to support the women academicia.
Other countries like Russia, Canada, Kyrgyzstan, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Srilanka and Switzerland have also put restrictions on wearing hijab in their countries.
Justification For Following Religious Dress Code
In the late 20th century, Hijab was revived in Egypt to reunite the Islamic faith. A movement called ‘Sahwah’ followed where the female leaders of the movement adopted an islamic dress that was a full-sleeved ankle length gown that was loosely worn with a head cover to hide the chest and back. This movement soon became widespread and the Muslim women started wearing it publicly to showcase their religious beliefs and condemn the western influences prevalent during that time.
Many Muslim women around the world term wearing their religious clothings as a positive way of displaying their cultural and religious beliefs. Although liberal minds of the same country, term it to be an obstruction in the way of a secular and sovereign nation.
An Iranian-American journalist, Masih Alinejad, an Anti-Hijab Crusader said that , “Hijab is the most visible symbol of oppression, we need to bring down this wall.”
Victims of the ‘Hijab’ Violence
The recent incident in Iran has sparked a worldwide row, after a 22-year-old Kurd woman was brutally beaten and attacked by Iran’s morality police. According to the local officials, Mahsa Amini was not complying with the country’s mandatory dress code, where all women have to wear head-covering hijab, a rule being followed since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The woman later succumbed to her injuries and died after three days of struggle in the state hospital. This is not a new case of hijab violence on the Iranian women; many such brutal incidents have occurred in the past also.
Bangladesh is a moderate Islamic country where wearing of Hijab for Muslim women is not compulsory but rather an individual choice. This was announced in 2010 verdict by the Bangladesh Supreme Court where it stated that, no one can be forced to wear religious clothes against their will. In February 2022, the Ad-Din Sakina medical College of Bangladesh made wearing hijab a compulsory dress code for the non-Muslim Hindu students. The decision was vehemently opposed by the Bangladesh Hindu organization ‘Bangladesh Jatiya Hindu Mohajote’.
The Karnataka hijab row has been linked by the Bangladesh Islamists as a way of protest against their so called demeaning of the Muslim women rights in India. They have threatened the Hindus living in Bangladesh with dreadful consequences if the Muslim students are not allowed entry with hijabs into their classrooms in neighboring India.
India being a secular nation, has embodied Freedom of Religious practices in article 25-28 of the Indian constitution. Although with respect to the security of the state, the government can put reasonable restrictions on such religious practices. In a recent 2022 verdict by the Karnataka High court ruled that wearing hijab “does not make up an essential religious practice in the Islamic faith”.
Everyone has the right to choose whatever they want to wear. No religious practice should come in the way of hampering the rights of any citizen. The incident in Iran has sent a signal to the world that ‘hijab’ should not be used as a symbol to curb the freedom of any women.