Time, people, culture, society, and the environment we are surrounded by, can produce the formation of many perspectives regarding an issue that we see in today’s society. One of many controversial topics is Islam and the Hijab. Many questions and generalisations are often formed in the minds of many non-Muslims in regards to the concepts behind the Hijab through the influence of the media.
Throughout the years of conflict between the “West” and “Islam”, the media has strongly altered the minds of non-Muslims by negative exploitation of Islam, and Muslims, in particular on Muslim women. Misconceptions such as, “Are you bald underneath” “Do you go to sleep with that on?” to the association of “terrorism” that contrasts to what Muslim women believe the Hijab represents.
A common misconception is “the Islamic Hijab is something cultural, not religious”. The use of the word “cultural” is faulty when describing the Hijab as it implies that it is a result of customs and practices that are something separate from Islam. The cultural dress is referred to the ancient Pre-Islamic Era (Jahiliyah). It is the veil from the Pre-Islamic Era that is considered as “traditional” which stops women from contributing in society. On the contrary, the Islamic Hijab is not considered as an informal tradition, nor does it lower her self-respect. The Hijab is aimed at presenting women with poise and equality in society. An example of Pre-Islamic era in our modern world is the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban are a party who regard such activities un-Islamic for women, who are prohibited from exercising their primary rights. The Taliban have banned women from employment outside the home, apart from the health sector, and have terminated education for girls.
Prophet Mohammad (peace & blessings be upon him) said, “Seeking knowledge is incumbent upon every Muslim”. Even Henry VIII forbid women to study the Bible when the first English translations began to appear. It’s an irony although the Taliban jersey hijabs claim their guiding philosophy on women are in place to ensure the physical protection and self-respect of women, where as, many Afghan women have been killed, beaten and publicly hung. For many Afghan women fear of being severely punished by the Taliban is their main security concern.
Another misconception is “Muslim women have no right in Islam”. Islam gave women rights over 1400 years ago, which is still ignored by many Muslims and non-Muslims today. Firstly, Islam has given women the basic right to freedom of speech. In the early days of Islam, the leaders of the Islamic state regarding legal issues consulted women. Rights that were appointed to Muslim women since the beginning of time are only just surfacing for non-Muslims. In Islam, a woman is free to be whom she is inside, and protected from being portrayed as a sex symbol and lusted after. Islam praises the status of a woman by commanding that she “enjoys equal rights to those of man in everything, she stands on an equal footing with man” (Qur’an, Nadvi: 11) and both share mutual rights and obligations in all aspects of life.
Many women are treated in ways far from Islamic ideals, yet in the name of Islam. The Taliban is an example of a cultural and political name that has been branded with Islam. There is no freedom for women if they are imprisoned in their home in the name of the Hijab and Islam. Moreover, the veil of Islam is not associated with the veil of oppression.