A R C H I V E S
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Traditional headscarf represents more than women's|
|10/24/02 at 01:03:25|
[img] http://media.dailytexanonline.com/vimages/shared/vnews/stories/s-3db65249e1163-34-1.jpg [/img]
Hala Imam, a Plan II junior, studies for her Arabic class at the Texas Union. The headscarf is a physical representation of the Muslim faith, but is also a "way of life."
Faith: Taking A Closer Look
Traditional headscarf represents more than women's submission
By Esther Wang (Daily Texan Staff)
October 23, 2002
Take a look at the photo of the girl wearing a hijab. What do you see? Many would say a Muslim woman. Some, a symbol of female oppression. But take a closer look, throw your preconceptions to the side of the road, and you may be surprised at what you find. It may not be what you expect.
Hijab commonly refers to the headscarf that Muslim women wear, shielding their hair from sight. But it is much more than a simple piece of cloth - it is a way of life, not only of dressing, but of behaving as well.
"It's is not just a scarf. You have hijab of the heart, which is modesty of the heart, just trying to cloak yourself in chastity and goodness all over," said Ameena Ashfaq, a Plan II senior and devout Muslim.
Hijab is not only an internal expression of faith, but an external statement as well. When a Muslim woman dons a hijab, she becomes a visual representative of Islam, said Najla Abdurrahman, a biology junior. That ambassadorial role comes with certain obligations.
"You definitely think twice before you do certain things because how you present yourself to the world is how [people] view Islam," said Abdurrahman, who has worn a hijab since she was 12. "I need to present it in a good light."
Indeed, many view the wearing of a hijab as a radical statement of faith. And with good reason - the headscarf, usually a neutral black or solid color, is often the first thing you notice about the woman who is wearing it. It draws the eye and invites questions. It can even frighten those who don't understand what it symbolizes.
Some in the Western world interpret the hijab as the ultimate symbol of female submissiveness and repression.
In many Islamic fundamentalist governments where harsh laws forbid a woman to even go outside her own home and command that she wear a hijab or risk death, the characterization rings true.
But for the vast majority of Muslim women, the hijab is not a symbol of oppression, but their liberation from false ideals that judge women only on their sexuality and physical appearance.
"The thing about hijab is that it puts you in a position where it's not about the way you look; it's about your mind, about what you have to offer," Abdurrahman said. "It's incredibly liberating - you have no idea. It lets you be yourself."
The practice of women veiling themselves has a long been a tradition in many societies, whether Islamic, Christian or secular. Catholic nuns veil themselves and references to female veiling can be found in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Veiling in today's culture can also be suggestive of seduction and mystery.
But in terms of veiling as a widespread practice, Islam is unique.
Whether or not Muslim women are commanded to wear a hijab has been a controversial topic for centuries. Many claim that the instructions in the Qur'an are vague and open to interpretation, just as similar guides in the Bible for women to cover their heads are equally vague. Most Muslims, however, do not dispute the fact that the Qur'an demands modesty, and for many, that takes the shape of a hijab.
The meaning of wearing a hijab has evolved over the years as the times have changed and has come to mean many things, said Faegheh Shirazi, professor in Middle Eastern languages and cultures. She wrote The Veil Unveiled: The Hijab in Modern Culture and also teaches a class called "Veiling in the Muslim World."
"To a Muslim in the past, the veil symbolized a cultural tradition, a mode of clothing, part of a national costume, or simply adherence to Islam and a religious obligation," Shirazi said. "In more recent times, veiling has developed into a much more sociological complexity."
In many countries, such as Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, the hijab has taken on political significance, she said. In Iran, for example, veils of different colors can indicate a woman's political beliefs. Turkey, in its attempt to become a secular state, has barred women from wearing a hijab while attending college.
For young Muslim women in the United States, Shirazi said, wearing a hijab has become a political and religious statement of their own.
"There is a new movement among the Muslim youth in America, making a connection with their Islamic heritage," she said. "Veiling themselves perhaps goes beyond the normal boundary of its religious experience. It is the pride of belonging to a larger community of Islam and a badge of religious cultural identity."
Gazala Kamran, an undeclared liberal arts sophomore, made the decision to wear a hijab two years ago to reaffirm her religious faith. It was a decision she does not regret.
"I think it was just to remind myself of my obligation, what I am supposed to do, to not get lost in the world," Kamran said. "It changes your lifestyle."
The decision to wear a hijab, with all of its attendant ramifications and complex social meanings, is an intensely personal one. Many Muslim students, like Kamran and Abdurrahman, choose to wear a hijab; many do not.
Some may interpret it to mean simple modesty in dress; others take it to the extreme and hide their entire bodies from view.
Don't think that modesty is a dictation only women are supposed to follow, however - Islam also requires men to do the same.
"In Saudi [Arabia], there's almost the same dress for men and women, and in Pakistan, men grow long beards to have the same sort of modesty," Ashfaq pointed out. "You can't forget that men are also really stressed to be modest too, and some people think that men would have to cover their heads as well. Men take it upon themselves, men will wear caps when they pray."
Despite the perception that Islam oppresses women, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States. And for every male convert to Islam, there are four women who convert, Ashfaq noted. That fact alone should raise some questions about the role of women in their religion, she said.
To answer those questions and to dispel false ideas many hold of Islam, Ashfaq and the Muslim Students Association have been holding classes this semester titled "Islam 101." The class focuses on the role of women in Islam.
"There are a lot of misconceptions about Islam, and one of the biggest things that people don't understand is women's stance in Islam," Ashfaq said.
The simple fact that women in America are freely choosing to don a hijab should point to its liberating nature, Abdurrahman said. She understands why some people might look at countries such as Afghanistan and Iran and say the hijab is a tool of repression.
"But when you see people living in a free nation and wearing hijab, that says something," Abdurrahman said. "I wouldn't do it if it's oppressive. I do it because I love it."
|10/24/02 at 01:08:52|
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board