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Corrupting Hijab, Capitalising on modesty

Bint Assalaam 

Every Muslim woman knows hijab is compulsory. Whether she denies it, or gives reasons to make it less obligatory than internal goodness, or whether she tries to say that man has “misinterpreted” the obligations stipulated by Allah SWT in the noble Quraan. Deep down every Muslim woman knows hijab is compulsory. Aside from the technical discussion amongst scholars about hijab there is no disagreement that it is an essential part of our faith.

But, this is not an attempt to present the reasons why women should wear hijab. It is not an article intended to label women according to whether they practice upon the obligation or not. While we should enthusiastically encourage hijab and its merits, this is an attempt to clarify what hijab is not and a plea that we preserve its sanctity.

Hijab is NOT a headscarf. Even though the word “hijabi” has been coined to refer to a woman who wears the headscarf, hijab is not a headscarf. In fact there are a few other Arabic words for head shawl and head dress but hijab is not one of them.

Hijab comes from the root word hajaba (hajb) which means to veil, cover, screen, shelter, seclude and to keep from sight. The literal translation of Hijab is the cover, wrap, drape, or woman’s veil.

Like zakaah which literally translates as, to thrive or grow or be pure in heart, but is known to be translated as charity in Islamic practice, the purpose of this charity is for internal purification. Similarly, hijab is the cloth used for the purpose of covering the “satr” or “aurah” – areas obligated to be concealed, including the hair, from non-mahram men. This changes when a woman is in the company of her mahrams.

Many women are aware of the actual meaning, yet the misrepresentation of hijab continues to grow. The reduction of hijab into just a headscarf is popularised by colourful pieces that come in varieties of fabric and styles, and calendar events marked to highlight a significant cause.

Hijab and the obligation of “covering up” has become such a taboo topic that Muslim women take offense at the mere mention of it in a lecture. Take the analogy likening a woman in hijab to a jewel and an uncovered woman to a “stone thrown around”. Or the analogy of a woman without hijab being compared to an unwrapped sweet covered in flies. Both analogies are so misunderstood that it is enough to raise the ire of some Muslims.

The objective of both parallels is to explain hijab as being a means of protecting a woman from the ugly gazes of both men and women and a means of preserving her chastity and raising her honour.

They are not analogies that “reduce women to their physicality” or intended to insult. To call it an insult to the uncovered woman in fact reduces hijab as having no merit whatsoever and condones not adopting the hijab, because what matters “lies on the inside”. To claim that it “objectifies women”, that is it reduces women to mere objects, is a misconstruction of the analogy.

What of dressing revealingly, should that not be regarded a personal choice to reduce ones physical self to an object? Mindlessly, in words very similar to feminist language and Western ideals, we’ve begun to associate immodesty with the right to display and hijab as a choice to appear religious. Our skewed focus has us supporting and sympathising with the immoral and yelling at what is virtuous. Maybe because it’s easier to give in to propaganda and modernism just to fit in.

The hijab has been minimized to a cloth used to cover the hair and fashionably so. In reality the head scarf is being promoted as an accessory with countless different methods of wrapping. And often the result is a massive, colourful head display, defeating this aspect of hijab’s intended purpose.

But the corruption of hijab has moved beyond just the abuse of the word and the misrepresentation of what it stands for. With the rise of “Muslim fashion”, there is a global effort to strip modesty and hijab entirely of their meanings and merits.

Hijab-conscious fashion seems to be the answer to many young girls’ fashion woes and a profitable niche within the fashion industry. The term hijab-conscious fashion is an oxymoron of sorts. The two elements arecompletely contradictory making the term nonsensical and the initiative, opportunistic and capitalistic.

The obligation to dress modestly and appropriately does not restrict Muslim women in what they wear. A Muslim woman is still able to wear “fashionable” items depending on who she is surrounded by – as explained earlier. Is it such a disadvantage if hijab distances us from Western fashion culture?

Things are changing and an increasing numbers of Muslim women want to dress fashionably and “express their individuality” through clothing. Our focus should not be attempting to inject hijab into fashion. We should be addressing where we have fallen short that our love for hijab is lacking. We should address our lack of understanding of the obligations decreed by Allah SWT. We should address our vain need to be seen as individuals through dress.

The shift is targeted at young women, our future mothers, in an effort to empower them because clothing is alleged to empower a woman. Even this is devoid of what hijab stands for. In asking women to cover their bodies, Allah SWT uplifted women from being seen as objects and placed focus on what truly empowers them. Equalising Muslims, hijab is what gives importance to what is on the inside as is so often chorused to be what matters.

Some feel that hijab will make them look older than their years, or exclude them from marriage, or negatively impact their life. Perhaps because in their preoccupation with looking at what it could take away from them, they have not fully opened themselves to everything that hijab has to offer.

If future mothers are being targeted as part of a money-making initiative that could – over time – corrupt and change what hijab inherently means to the future Muslim women of the Ummah, who will be left to carry hijabon?

Hijab does give Muslim women individuality and does set us apart from others. It’s a declaration that we identify ourselves as Muslim. Our choice to be identified as a Muslim to others is an act of worship and an expression of gratitude for being blessed with Imaan.

Explaining that donning the hijab is an obligation to Allah SWT has sadly come to mean very little. To oblige means to do as (someone) asks or desires in order to please them. The beauty of hijab and obliging to its principle for the pleasure of Allah SWT is not about the physical. But hijab can only be accepted after it has been altered, adapted, adorned and completely abandoned.

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