The Hijab Can Only Be A “Choice” If Women In Iran Are Also Given It!

The hijab is considered a 'choice' in most of the west, and celebrated as such. But is it really a choice until it is mandatory for Muslim women in many other parts of the world?

The hijab is considered a ‘choice’ in most of the west, and celebrated as such. But is it really a choice until it is mandatory for Muslim women in many other parts of the world?

Since a recent discussion on Facebook (or many that have happened) in this context, divided a lot of my fellow sisters there upon the Hijab as a choice, allow me to put up a few words.

The post I mention (or any of the hijab posts on social media, for that matter) divides women into two sections. One calling out the practice as patriarchal. And another calling the post Islamphobic.

As a Muslim looking at it, let me say it’s nothing but refreshing to see both these groups of women.

  • The one calling the practice patriarchal is representative of Muslim women in Iran.
  • The one calling the post Islamophobic is representative of muslim women in the USA.

Both the women are fighting for different women and everything about that makes me happy. So thank you. No matter what your stand is.

I write this to highlight a couple of things that are never pointed out.

Quoting from the Quran

Let me start by the verse in the Quran where directing men and women about hijab is mentioned. Note that hijab for men is indeed mentioned before hijab for women.

ALLAH says (interpretation of the meaning):

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Tell the believing men to
reduce their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do.

Surah An-Nur [24 : 30-31]

The next verse of Surah Noor, ALLAH says (interpretation of the meaning):

And tell the believing women to reduce their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.

Surah An-Nur [24 : 31]

Since the interpretation is clear and open to conclusion, I shall not explain anymore in context of these verses.

How hijab is brought into Muslim women’s lives

These are the 5 major scenarios where hijab and the debate about it being a choice or not comes in.

Becoming the identity through habit, not choice

Hijab has been obeserved in the families they are born into. So girls are put under hijab from as young as 7-8.

It becomes their identity more as a habit than choice, because they don’t have any women in their families as non-hijabis. So they conclude their family upbringing as hijabi and are fearful of treating it as a choice.

Out of fear, not choice

Hijab has been observed in the families they are born into. They are put under hijab from childhood. They somehow realise its not an element they want to keep when they grow up.

They oppose it. They are threatened into wearing it. They wear it more out of fear now than a choice.

Privileged upbringing where they are ‘given a choice’

Hijab has been observed in the families they are born into. They are put under hijab from childhood. They want to stop wearing it.

They oppose it. They are given their right. They quit wearing it. (This is a privileged upbringing.)

Highly privileged upbringing – non-hijabi family

Hijab is not observed in the families. They aren’t made habitual to it since childhood. They don’t pick it up even upon learning about hijab and its importance in Islam.

They remain non-hijabi muslims forever. (Highly privileged, including myself.)

Born in non-hijabi family, but make an ‘informed choice’

Hijab is not observed in the families. But they grow up and learn its importance. Decide they would want to pick it up too.

Turn hijabis after having a non-hijabi upbringing.

Forced to after marriage into hijabi family

There is one more case where non-hijabis upon marrying into hijabi families are forced into it, and they usually don’t oppose. It becomes their identity more out of a marital bound than a choice.

None of the women mentioned above have any lesser chance of being molested than others based on their hijab choice. Even if it’s said in order to get the non-hijabi women to accept hijab. Its never going to work.

Women in burqas are raped
Women in bikinis are raped.

The debate on whether the hijab is oppressive

Now, whether or not hijab is oppressive is purely subjective and honestly shall always remain debatable. (Hijab is never going out. Not now. Not a hundred years later.)

I say this because NOW Hijab is more about being ‘accepted’ as a muslim.

Islamophobia has made women (however their hijab came into being) question their right to live amongst non-Muslims, which is pushing them more than ever to make sure their hijab is seen as a choice and not oppression. Which is why the west has Hijab days. Which is why countries that want to empathise with Muslims get their non-Muslim women to wear hijab to show solidarity.

This is all very nice and applaud worthy until you see the other side of the coin. The side that doesn’t get the air.

Where the hijab is ‘mandatory’

A lot of Muslim countries make it mandatory to wear hijab. None of the above situations mentioned fit here. Nobody gets a choice. Your family doesn’t get a say. You don’t get a say.

You want to live here? Cover yourself.

You want to live somewhere else? Get a male guardian to sign it. Does your male guardian sign? Never.

You want to live here ? Cover yourself.

Iran is the country that is the most oppressive when it comes to women’s hijab rights. Women have died. Women have gone to jails. Women have been thrashed in public. By women.

Women are still fighting.

For a quick summary of the revolt that the Iranian women have been performing for decades here’s an article you should read.

Now both these women have the same issue but with different context.

Both are fighting for hijab.
One for. One against.
One for privilege. One for choice.

The problem with considering a tool of oppression like hijab a ‘choice’

The only problem is the women fighting for the privilege are used as examples for the women fighting for choice. Iranian women have been shamed into believing they are lesser Muslims because the Muslims living in the west are fighting to embrace it.

The whole issue gets a lot more aggressive when the fight for it in the west is majorly for curbing Islamophobia. I don’t deny Islamophobia isn’t real. But to pick something that is used as an oppressive tool somewhere else as a means to a glamorous “hijab as a choice” is where my problem lies.

And let me state Hijab is majorly an internalised practice. Like mentioned above, its more often made habitual than choice. You make it a choice depending upon your privilege. So whether you are fighting for it/against it depends whether you reside in the USA or Iran.

Capitalisation of hijab – a fashion statement?

Also, a lot of hijab today is capiltalised.

The industry of veils and burqas is a lot bigger than ever, and a lot more expensive. Nobody wears the hijab as per the Quran – loose fitted and should not make one’s figure noticeable. (except maybe in some parts of the gulf). The scarfs, the burqas, the hand gloves. Everything has become more of a fashion statement lately.

I do not say this without knowledge. I have seen first hand the markets and the customers. Burqas, in its true essence, are to be worn to distract any attention that may come your way. Burqas now have become so dazzling with zari and embroidery, that it’s drawing attention to them, which ultimately nullifies the whole cause.

Overall, hijab will always remain a very debatable topic to muslims themselves. I don’t imagine the non-Muslims would ever agree on one idea of hijab.

My take?

“I will not stand with the women in the USA calling it a choice until the women in Iran are given it.”

A version of this was first published on Facebook.

Image source: Unsplash

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About the Author

Tarannum Nazma Shaikh

Tarannum is a feminist who is currently pursuing her CA. She loves to read, write, and watch movies. Cooks rarely, eats more than regularly. And is always trying hard to behave her age. read more...

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