Now Reading
On Hijabs and Oppression

On Hijabs and Oppression

What Are You Wearing? 

By Emmett Pennington-Guthrie 

For women who voluntarily wear hijabs, covering up isn’t a symbol of oppression but an expression of Islamic religious belief. 

Islam doesn’t require the hijab; in fact, Islamic law doesn’t allow a man to force another woman to wear one. Instead, Islam makes it a woman’s decision whether to cover up, and in Muslim culture hijabs are seen as symbols of modesty and protection. [1] 

Hijabs certainly aren’t for every Muslim woman, which is why 48% of Muslim women in the U.S. don’t wear any type of covering over their head. [2] 

Still, for those who do choose to wear the hijab, it can be very personal and impactful. 

Particularly in the West where hijabs aren’t the cultural norm, some Muslim women may choose to wear them as symbols of identity in both feminist and anti-Islamophobic ways. 

Feminist Muslims may opt to wear the hijab because it is what they prefer, and wearing it means resisting the societal pressure to dress a certain way. 

“To assume a woman’s hijab was forced without asking her is to presume she views Western styles as ideal,” said Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a non-profit organization. [3] 

Ramadan at a Mosque in Oregon. The hijab is a representation of religious expression, as seen here. Photo by Aaron Pennington-Guthrie

Western feminism and Muslim feminism conflict here, because while the traditional Western feminist view is that women shouldn’t have to cover themselves in ways different than men, some Muslim feminists assert that it is a symbol of self-liberation to choose to wear the hijab in a society where that isn’t typically supported. [4] 

Additionally, there is the view that the hijab allows women to interact with society without being sexualized or objectified. 

As one Muslim woman said in a French study, “[I have] accepted hijab so that I can be appreciated for my intellect and personality rather than my figure or fashion sense.” [5] 

In this view, the hijab is seen as a good thing for feminism as it allows women to be equal in society by avoiding sexist judgements of appearance. 

Beyond the feminist aspect of the hijab is the anti-Islamophobic one. In Western cultures especially where Muslims are a minority, wearing hijabs or other forms of dress such as burqas may be a sign of cultural identity in a place where that culture isn’t always accepted. 

This aspect is important especially when considering that hijabs are banned in several countries including France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. [6] 

In societies where veiling is not the norm, standing out by covering up becomes a means of showing one’s Islamic identity. 

Bans like the one in France adversely affect the women who want to wear headscarves of their own free will and make it harder for them to express themselves as they want. 

Hijabs take on a role in expressing freedom of religion too when they’re restricted. For some Muslims, even Muslim women who don’t personally wear the hijab, having the freedom to choose the headscarf is a direct, personal part of freedom of religion. [7] 

See Also

Still, particularly in Western countries, the hijab may be misunderstood by people not in the Islamic faith. 

A poll on the Collegian Instagram account found that 29% of respondents believe women wearing hijabs, a type of head covering, to be oppressed. 

This view may be influenced by the fact that wearing a hijab is mandatory for women in Iran and Afghanistan, where there have been protests in recent years over said requirements. [8] 

Furthermore, there may be associations with the hijab and oppression caused by the fact that the Taliban, which currently controls Afghanistan, created requirements for the hijab at the same time as they imposed other restrictions and rules on what women can do in Afghanistan. [9] 

With this said, please note that hijabs aren’t exclusively worn in countries like Afghanistan. 

In the U.S. for example, a Pew Research poll found that 43% of the country’s one million Muslim women wear headscarves all the time. [10] 

References 

  1. Do Muslim women have to wear veils?. (n.d.). Al Islam. https://www.alislam.org/question/muslim-women-wear-veils/ 
  1. Khalid, A. (2011, April 21). Lifting the veil: Muslim women explain their choice. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2011/04/21/135523680/lifting-the-veil-muslim-women-explain-their-choice 
  1. Abbasi, W. (2017, March 15). Hijab becomes symbol of resistance, feminism in the age of Trump. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/03/15/hijab-becomes-symbol-resistance-feminism-age-trump/98475212/ 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Wing, A. K., & Smith. M. N. (n.d.). Critical race feminism lifts the veil?: Muslim women, France, and the headscarf ban. https://lawreview.law.ucdavis.edu/issues/39/3/articles/davisvol39no3_wing.pdf 
  1. Hijab is already banned in these countries, there is also a provision of fine in many countries. (2022, February 8). Hindustan News Hub. https://hindustannewshub.com/world-news/hijab-is-already-banned-in-these-countries-there-is-also-a-provision-of-fine-in-many-countries/ 
  1. Wing, A. K., & Smith. M. N. Critical race feminism lifts the veil?: Muslim women, France, and the headscarf ban. https://lawreview.law.ucdavis.edu/issues/39/3/articles/davisvol39no3_wing.pdf 
  1. Hijab is already banned in these countries, there is also a provision of fine in many countries. (2022, February 8). Hindustan News Hub. https://hindustannewshub.com/world-news/hijab-is-already-banned-in-these-countries-there-is-also-a-provision-of-fine-in-many-countries/ 
  1. Taliban arrest woman activist, her sisters for protesting against ‘hijab’. (2022, January 21). Outlook. https://www.outlookindia.com/international/taliban-arrest-woman-activist-her-sisters-for-protesting-against-hijab–news-44756 
  1. Khalid, A. (2011, April 21). Lifting the veil: Muslim women explain their choice. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2011/04/21/135523680/lifting-the-veil-muslim-women-explain-their-choice 

Photos 

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.