For Muslim women, donning the hijab is a sign of reverence, modesty and submission. However, many non-Muslims view the headscarf and modest clothing with confusion, even taking offence at what seems to be restrictive, antifeminist clothing. Since girls and women of all ages wear the hijab, questions may arise in the schoolyard or office about this quintessentially Muslim attire. The basis of Islam, the Koran, provides answer these questions.
The hijab has its roots in the Koran, the holy book of the prophet Muhammad. In the Koran, God states, "Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and adornments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands [and] their fathers."
In early Muslim history, women covered their heads with a scarf that still showed their chest, neck and ears. However, Allah later directed that women should cover all parts of the body except for the hands and face. Prominent Muslim scholars distilled these teachings into an easy-to-follow method that uses the scarf, or khimar, to conceal immodest parts.
Wearing the hijab is a major decision in a Muslim woman's life that signifies devotion to Allah, as well as a conscious intention to stay modest and innocent. In Islam, the hijab is also a sign of mindful submission to major male figures in a woman's life, namely the father or husband. The headscarf is a deterrent to unrelated men that forces evaluation based on character and morals, not her body. In Islam for Today's article, "Why Do Muslim Women Wear the Hijab?", teenager Sumayya Syed says, "I tell them that the hijab is not a responsibility; it's a right given to me by my Creator who knows us best. It's a benefit to me, so why not?"
However, both Muslim and non-Muslim women alike often question the hijab. To some, the headscarf and loose clothing cripple the inner development of modesty by concentrating on outer trappings. There is also the assumption by many that Muslim women often observe modest dress as dictated by the Koran, while Muslim men do little to adhere to their own sartorial recommendations.
Western feminists also see the hijab as a symbol of patriarchal control over women, and worry that female Muslims have little power over their own appearance. Hijab wearers can also come under fire from employers and employees alike for their garb, which can seem off-putting. Islam101.com says, "[Workplace] issues include unwanted touching or pulling on scarves by other employees, verbal harassment or subtle ostracism and denial of promotion."
Hijab is seen all over the world, especially in places with a high concentration of practicing Muslims. However, there is widespread pressure by some governments to outlaw the hijab altogether. In 2009, the French government introduced legislation against head scarves, with a large percentage of people voting to prohibit the garment. In the U.S., the headscarf is often a hot-button topic greatly debated by freedom of religion advocates. Other items of modest clothing that compose the hijab usually escape notice.
How to Wear the Hijab
The proper Muslim woman covers everything but her face and hands. "Around non-mahram [non-immediate family] men, a sister must cover all of her body except her face and her hands. The face is the circle of the face only and does not include the ears or any of the hair," according to Islamic information site Al-Muhajabah.
Other clothing should be loose and flowing, with few body lines emphasized by the cut or fabric. Shoes should also be modest and cover the feet, with some scholars allowing for sandals in warm weather. Head scarves must be opaque enough to hide hair and the back of the neck, although it's acceptable to use fun fabrics and bright colors.
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