Two weeks ago, an
Afghan woman carrying a baby in her arms and wearing a headscarf was
shot in the head by an American Latino while walking on a street in
Fremont, California. She died leaving six small children behind.
Next week, the women of Fremont, irrespective of religious faiths,
will observe a ‘Wear a Hijab to Work Day’ as a mark of
protest against the shooting.
illustrates what the Hijab has come to mean today. In a
world where Muslims are associated with terrorism and are the
victims of hate crimes, more and more young Muslim women are
adopting the Hijab as an expression of defiance and an
assertion of Islamic identity.
is usually discussed in the context of women. However, the Quran
clearly states in Surah Noor: “Say to the believing men
that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that we
will make for greater purity for them: and Allah is well acquainted
with all that they do.” (Quran 24:30)
The next verse
says: “...and say to the believing women that they should lower
their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display
their beauty and ornaments except what appear thereof; that they
should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their
beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s
fathers, their sons…” (Quran 24:31)
The Quran also
clearly states: “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth
stands out clear from error.” (Quran 22:56)
There is a
tradition of the Prophet where he asked the men to tell their women
to cover their heads. Islam is based on the love of God and the
Prophet Mohammad. Clearly, there can be no compulsion in love.
Everything in Islam is based on intent. If one starves all day and
does not intend to fast, the starvation does not give you the reward
of a fast observed in the name of God.
Similarly, if a
woman is forced into Hijab or one wears a designer turban
and coat to make a fashion statement, that does not mean that she is
adopting the Hijab.
The Prophet was
gentle, polite, and never used force with any man or woman. He was
often asked by his companions to define a perfect Muslim and each
time he replied, “He amongst you who has the best moral character”.
The essence of the Prophet’s teachings is a constant strive for
A woman must have
the right to choose her dress code. The banning of headscarves for
students in France is as oppressive as the Taliban forcing women
into purdah. Last year, seven states in Germany banned the Hijab
for teachers. In an attempt to be part of the European Union, Turkey
has banned Hijab for women in public institutions who are
on the government payroll. In each case, it is the woman who is
being used and has become the symbol of those who want to purify
Islam or demonise it.
states have openly called the Hijab a symbol of
fundamentalism and extremism. Muslims around the world see the
attack on Hijab as a continuation of the onslaught against
the Muslim world.
societies — from Egypt to Iran to Indonesia — many skilled
professional women wear the Hijab as a matter of choice and
should not be necessarily viewed as being repressive. The Hijab
is often a matter of culture and tradition. In rural and traditional
India, women, irrespective of their religions, cover their heads. In
the Muslim ghettos of India, they have little or no access to
education or jobs, their faith is all they have and they cling to
The metro mindset
now used to seeing almost obscene levels of fashion on film and
television confuses modernity with Westernization. My grandmothers
wore the burqa and yet they were very progressive. I have many
cousins who are work as architects, doctors and lawyers while
donning the headscarf and none of them are remotely oppressed.
What I find rather
appalling is Indians accepting the Western notions of modernity
while forgetting our own cultural legacy and notions of morality.
Skimpily clad women on the ramp seem to prove that India has arrived
on the world map. We have begun to view women who wish to cover
their bodies as signs of obscurantism.
media is importing Western vocabulary, expressions and biases
towards the Muslims. It is following the Western media pattern of
keeping the Muslims engaged in irrelevant issues. Sound-bite hungry
journos rush to procure sensational statements from self-proclaimed
heads of the community who present opportunities for dialogues on
the primitiveness of Muslim women.
attention from the educational, structural and economic issues that
millions of Indian Muslims face as a whole. The debate that should
be taking up media space is where India has failed its Muslims and
why is there gross under-representation of the community in every
field. The only place where Muslims are over represented are the
jails. We need to focus our energies on corrective measures.