1. What is the hijab?
Hijab is an Arabic word that means veil, but you might simply know it simply as a “headscarf,” or more generally, as the practice of a Muslim woman covering her hair and body, with a few exceptions like face and hands. The burqa and niqab are different from the hijab; they refer to styles of covering that are extended to the entire body, including the face.
2. Why do women wear the hijab? How is the hijab empowering?
For many Muslim women, the hijab is worn out of a desire to fulfill a commandment of God. For others, it can also be an opportunity to outwardly express their Muslim faith. For still others, it’s a rejection of societal standards that constantly objectify and sexualize women.
3. Is the hijab only for women? Do men wear the hijab?
The act of veiling boils down to a desire to obey God’s command to embody modest dress and character. This command is for every Muslim—including men. While men may not have the obligation of covering their entire bodies, they too have specific requirements of dress and behavior that must be dignified and modest.
4. Is the hijab oppressive?
For centuries, Muslim women have been portrayed as veiled, secluded, and oppressed. This portrayal is not coincidental. By creating the story of the poor, helpless Muslim woman locked in an oppressive culture, one feels pity, sympathy, and outrage.
It’s these very strong emotions that have been used to justify military intervention and imperialism on a global scale for well over a century. That same imagery is used to deny Muslims political and human rights, as well as to justify racial profiling, deportations, and so much more on local and regional levels. Even when Muslim women speak up and voice their commitment to wearing hijab, their voices have frequently been silenced.
While there have no doubt been incidents where hijab has been enforced with the threat of violence, these inexcusable situations reflect a desperate attempt to clench onto religious symbols amidst political and cultural weakness and must be condemned.
5. How can we overcome the challenges of wearing hijab?
Some days, wearing hijab can be a struggle. But, when we remember our purpose in pleasing God and when we submit to Him despite the difficulties, we find a sense of liberation that nothing in this world can offer. Continue to strengthen your relationship with God and strive towards all that is pleasing to Him.
For those who do not wear hijab, express your support publicly and privately, and stand up for your Muslim sisters, especially when they face real challenges. And in the words of Roohi Tahir,
“There is no good in the condescending behavior that some may show towards those who do not wear it, nor the outright denial of its place in Islam. It’s a challenge, for some greater than others. But no challenge is without its due reward from the Lord of the Worlds.”
Muslim women both today and throughout history have created incredibly powerful legacies—from as early as the wife of the Prophet ﷺ, A’ishah (rA) in the 7th century, who was a critical voice of scholarship to women; to Fatima Al-Fihri in the 9th century, who funded and built the world’s first university; and to Nana Asma’u in the 19th century, a prolific poet and leader. Muslim women have not simply contributed to society at large despite their decision to cover, but by virtue of their Islamic values that have allowed them to focus not on how the world perceives them, but on how they can alter perceptions in the world.