We have all heard about the “Hijab and Niqab Debate” in Europe and all the ridiculous arguments against the Hijab. I believe one of the main causes behind this issue is that the Islamic faith, traditions and culture are widely misunderstood in Europe (and in North America) and that the hijab is a symbol that represents something foreign, in this case a religion, culture and a people, that is already associated with fear and violence. At the same time the “Hijab Debate” as brought out Europe’s xenophobia, racism and their fear of religious and foreign traditions.
What Is A Hijab?
In simple terms a hijab is a head scarf that a Muslim woman wears to cover her hair when in public or in the company of men who are not close relatives. But hijab means much more. Hijab deals with everything from clothing, behavior and demeanor to help keep modesty. One should also keep in mind that modesty should be kept by both men and women. Hijab is the principle of modesty.
The Qur’an says,
“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.” (Qur’an 24:30).
“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 (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms…” (Qur’an 24:31).
“O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested.” (Qur’an 33:59).
While Qur’an tells Muslims that they should all be modest, and in the case of men that they self control their thoughts, looks and emotions towards other women, the Qur’an also gives a vague outline of what hijab should be for a woman. The first step towards hijab is that a woman should keep in check her emotions for the opposite sex just like men are commanded to do. Second a woman should not show her beauty to those people who are not close relatives and should cover her beauty and jewelry except for what ordinarily appears. This usually means that a woman can leave her face, hands and feet uncovered. Second women are told that they should wear outer garments to protect themselves from being attacked by other men and to distinguish themselves from those who are not Muslim. The outer garment in this case is a jilbab or jalaba: a loos fitting gown that covers the whole body or a cloak covering the neck and bosom. All in all a hijab is not meant to be oppressive but was created to help keep women modest and more importantly to protect them from being molested or attacked by men. This was common in pre-Islamic Arabia and by creating hijab and modesty God was protecting women from unwanted harm. The hijab has also been used to emphasize a woman’s intelligence instead of her looks as well.
What’s Wrong in the Hijab Debate
There are several arguments being made in the hijab debate in Europe. The arguments come from native born, non-Muslim Europeans who have little to no understanding of Islam. These people are just as ignorant as very vocal anti-Muslims in the United States. On top of this Muslim women in Europe have little voice when debating out these issues. It is all most as if the governments know what is better for Muslim women when they know little about their religion, beliefs or life styles. The arguments being thrown around are
1. The hijab oppresses women and is a symbol of their oppression.
2. The hijab is forced on them by their male relatives.
3. It challenges the Western idea of feminism and that the hijab reminds western women of their past oppression.
4. Hijab doesn’t allow Muslim women to integrate into European society.
5. The hijab is a tradition that challenges Western European traditions.
6. The hijab is a religious symbol and should be banned to allow for a more open society.
The first argument against the hijab assumes that all Muslim women are oppressed and that all Muslim men are oppressive towards women. This is a social and cultural stereotype of a certain religion, culture or ethnic group that is no always true. By having this mind set European society is creating racism that targets Muslims, women, men and people from North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. By stereotyping Muslims society is creating an us verses them situation that brands Muslims as the “others” and as not being or being capable of being European. This is dangerous because it is creating the idea that Europe is of one cultural type and skin color (white).
The argument also assumes that all women are oppressed because they wear the hijab and in some cases the burqa. As explained above the hijab is not a symbol of oppression but is a symbol of respect for women that encourages one think about a woman’s intelligence rather than her looks. Another thought to consider when talking about hijab is that many Muslim women choose to wear hijab of their own free will and is not always forced on them it is the same as a non-Muslim woman choosing what she wants to wear on a daily basis. Also Muslim women who do wear hijab see the hijab as liberating because they don’t have to worry about their looks and what they look like. On the other hand a woman or teenager who wears short or mini skirts and wears revealing clothing is not always liberated because she is constantly worried about her looks and how men view her. Playing to men’s tastes is not always freedom and is only playing towards their sexual desires or ideas. If a Muslim woman is oppressed because she wears hijab then a non-Muslim woman who wears revealing clothing is also oppressed. If hijab is forced on a woman then a non-Muslim woman who is forced to wear revealing is oppressed as well.
Another side to the argument to consider is this: there are many religions in the world that encourage women to wear a head scarf. Take for example a Catholic nun. Nuns wear a habit (uniform that includes a head scarf) and have their hair covered but they are not considered to be oppresses. The same goes for an Orthodox Christian nun and for Orthodox Christian women who go to church. They are required to wear head scarves as a sign of self respect and importance but many Europeans don’t considered these women to be oppresses. The same goes for an Orthodox Jewish women who wear a tichel or head scarf that goes along with long skirts (bellow the knees) and shirts who sleeves go bellow the elbow. Also Orthodox Jewish women wear more Muslim style clothing in lands where the population is mostly Muslim. So what is the difference? There is no difference. Muslim women are just a free as Western women.
The hijab is forced onto Muslim women by their male relatives. Mmmmmm…. Not always. There is a fine line between a woman choosing to wear the hijab of her choice and the hijab being forced on her by family members and by her community. When the hijab is forced on a woman, then it is oppression when the hijab is not forced on her then she is not oppressed. People also need to make the distinction between those policies in countries where various forms of hijab are forced onto women by law (Saudi Arabia, places under Taliban rule and similar organizations) and those places where it is not. Not every woman who wears hijab is forced to wear hijab and most women are not forced to wear hijab. If one is going to argue that the hijab should be banned because it is forced onto Muslim women, then revealing clothing should be banned as well because this is also forced onto women in unfortunate situations.
The hijab challenges the western idea of feminism and reminds western women of their past oppression. This argument, in my opinion, is just purely dumb and unintelligent. The hijab doesn’t offend me nor does it remind me of women’s past oppression. To tell you the truth the only people who find the the hijab reminds them of women’s past oppression if radical feminists who really don’t care about the views of religious women and view religion as oppressive. If the hijab offends feminists then why aren’t they calling for nuns to take off their habits and pulling tichels off of the heads of Orthodox Jewish women who are just going about their daily lives or walking into Orthodox Christian churches and pulling the head scarves off of women in the church and calling for their freedom? The fact of the truth is that this argument doesn’t have much ground and many people will brush it off as being overly sensitive and not being able to forget about the past. One could also argue that this argument shows the inability of radical feminists to control their feelings when seeing certain images and yet they say that men should control their sexual desires when they see women. Double standards, eh? If one were to look at feminist groups such a FEMEN, yes, that Ukrainian feminist that walks around naked, walking around naked is not personal freedom but only creates unwanted comments by men.
The hijab doesn’t allow women to integrate into European society. I see this more or less as European society not letting Muslim women integrate into European society or by making it harder for them to integrate into European society. Don’t see the source of this problem starting with Muslim women but as a problem starting with an intolerant European society that is not willing to accept those who are different than them or who have different traditions than them. European society likes to think that it is an open and accepting society but the reality is that it is not when concerning people from countries that have different cultures and traditions that foreign. Most know that Europe recently has experienced problems dealing with people who are not seen as ‘European’. In this category one can include the Roma, Muslims, Africans, immigrants and, in Eastern Europe, the Jewish. This has seen the call for to 0% immigration into Europe, the forced eviction of the Roma from Western European countries and send the Roma back to Eastern Europe where they have been oppressed for centuries. Because Muslims are seen as being non-European by European society, the society is making it harder for Muslim women to integrate into society because they are visibly different and have different ideals than most Europeans.
The above argument nicely leads the way into the argument that the hijab challenges Western traditions. My first question is this: How does the hijab challenge Western traditions? There are many religious traditions in Europe that encourage women to cover their heads. There are Catholic nuns, Orthodox Christian nuns, Orthodox Jewish women, some Catholic women and Orthodox Christian women who cover their heads in church. Funny enough these traditions don’t challenge European traditions. Yet again, Europe has always had this fear of religion and have mocked foreign traditions in their colonized countries. I am still confused about how hijab challenges Western traditions but it should not. This is just another intolerant argument that shows Europe’s lack of tolerance and open society.
The hijab is a religious symbol and should be banned to allow for a more open society. This argument clearly takes away one’s right to express their religion across all religions. While some people may think that this will create an open society, they are only creating a closed society that encroaches on people’s religious freedom to express their religious beliefs. Not only that, this argument is also telling people what they should wear. This argument is not liberating what so ever and instead confining by telling people what to wear. This not liberating women but is instead taking the rights away from Muslim women.
The hijab debate in Europe needs to be carefully considered and all sides need to have a voice and need to be heard. European governments need to carefully consider what human rights will be violated by banning the niqab and burqa as well as encouraging a better public understanding of Islam and Muslims as well as a betting understanding of religion and religious traditions.