Certainly, covering the head is an age-old traditional practice, across the world. The head covering cloth is referred to as Ghoonghat in Hinduism, Turban in Sikhism, and Hijab in Islam. Be it Lord Krishna, Devi Sita, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, or Prophet Muhammad, all have been depicted to have had their head covered. The traditional practice embraces the virtue of modesty and immaculacy in the aura of the practitioner.
Since the last few decades, people have not been able to delineate the difference between spirituality and religion. Strict enforcement of practice, specifically targeted at women, limits their authority.
The recent incident of debarring 6 college girls for wearing headscarves, in the Udupi district of Karnataka has yet again, spurred the debate, of, whether wearing a Hijab is obligatory in Islam. Later the Hijab row spread across the entire state of Karnataka and created social unrest.
It is crucial to answer a few questions now. Firstly, what essentially does hijab mean, and where in the sacred scriptures covering the head has been obligated?
As per the Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 4, Hadith Number 148, narrated by Alisha: “In the absence of lavatory, the wives of the Prophet used to go to the open place (Al- Manasi) to relieve themselves from nature’s call. Once it happened, Umar gazed and recognized Sauda Bind Zamaa, the wife of the Prophet, when she went to answer nature’s call at Isha time. It is in this anecdote that ‘Al-Hijab’, a complete body covering, excluding the eyes, has its first mention.”
In the above-mentioned scenario, if you really think, Al-Hijab could have been the best suggestion by Allah? Is not it morally inappropriate by Umar, to have gazed at women, when they were relieving themselves?
Moving ahead, let’s look into the Quran. Surah An-Nur Ayat 31 and 32, it is said to tell men and women (respectively) to lower their gaze and guard their chastity (Hijab of the eyes). Yet, again there is no reference to cover head.
India is a secular country and the Right to Freedom of Religion has been given exclusive articles Article 25-28, in the Constitution.
As per the verdict in the Shirur mutt case, 1954; the court held that the term Religion will cover all rituals and practices integral to religion.
Additionally, in case of threat to the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the State and compromised public order can put unreasonable restrictions. Moreover, if the prescription of school uniform is a reasonable restriction which students have to adhere to.
An Iranian- American journalist, Masih Alinejad, Anti-Hijab Crusader said- “Hijab is the most visible symbol of oppression, we need to bring down this wall.”
It is noteworthy, that Muslim-majority countries across the world are moving towards liberalization and are bringing changes in the lawsuit for example since 2019 Abaya or head covering is not required in Saudi Arabia. France, which is a secular country, in 2004, enacted a law that prohibits clothing like headscarves in public schools. Additionally, the country in 2011 brought a law, which has banned the wearing of a burqa or niqab in public.
Everyone has the right to choose whatever they want to wear. If there is no specific obligation in the holy scripture, a compulsion on a particular sect would certainly do no good rather than oppress them.
Right to education opens the door to all schools irrespective of caste, religion, and gender. Why would one need to wear religious symbols or clothing associated with any specific religion, which has not been made obligatory? The whole concept of uniform is uniformity, and equality among all the students.
A few argue that a ban on head covering would lead to a drop in the enrolment of girls in school. Wouldn’t it be best to reach out to the families and teach the holy scriptures and break all the shackles in the name of religion?