By Sunday O. Ajayi
01 March 2019
The word hijab is pre-Islamic, from the Arabic root H-J-B, which means to screen, to separate, to hide from sight, to make invisible. In the modern Arabic language, the word refers to a range of women’s proper dress, but none of them include a face covering. Veiling and segregating women is much older than the Islamic civilization, which had its start in the 7th century CE. Based on the images of women wearing veils, the practice likely dates to around 3000 BCE. The first surviving written reference to veiling and segregation of women is from the 13th century BCE. Wearing Hijab a type of veil was once practiced by Christian, Jewish and Muslim women, but, today, it is primarily associated with Muslim and it is one of the most visible signs of a person being a Muslim. There are many different type of veil, depending on customs interpretation of the Quran, ethnicity, geographic location, and political system.
These are the most common types, although the rarest of all is the BURQA. The Hijab is a headscarf that covers the head and upper neck but exposes the face. The Niqub (reserved mostly in Persian Gulf countries) covers the face and head but exposes eye. The Chador (mostly in Iran ) is a black or dark coloured coat that covers the head and held in place with one’s hands. The Burqa (mostly in Pashtun Afghanistan) covers the whole body, with crocheted eye openings. The Shalwar Qamis is the traditional outfit of South Asia men and women, regardless of religious affiliation, consisting of a knee-length tunic and pants. Wearing or not wearing a Hijab is partly religion, partly culture, partly fashion, and partly political statement most of the time, it is a personal choice made by a woman based on the intersection of all the four.
Although the Quran doesn’t explicitly say women should be veiled or secluded from participation in public life. Oral traditions say that the practice was originally, just for the Prophet Muhammad’s wives. He asked his wives to wear face veil to set them apart, to indicate their special status, and to provide them with some social and psychological distance from the people who came to visit him at his various homes. Veiling became a widespread practice in the Islamic Empire about 150 years after Prophet Muhammad’s death. In modern societies, being forced to wear a veil or Hijab is rare and recent phenomenon. Until 1979 Saudi Arabia was the only Muslim – majority country that required that women be veiled when going out in public. And that law included both native and foreign women regardless of their religion. A retired Nigeria Nurse from Saudi Arabia, claimed that wearing of Hijab in that country was more health reasons than religion. She said not only in Saudi Arabia sand always “lodged” on peoples’ necks and behind the two ears. She alleged that the authority in Saudi Arabia saw that women were more opened to diseases than men else that law in 1979. In Iran, the Hijab was imposed on women after the 1979 Islamic revolution, when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power.
Ironically, that happened in part because, the Shah of Iran had set rules excluding women who wore Hijab from getting an education or government jobs. But, when the Ayatollah came to power, women found that they had not gained a right to choose, but rather were now forced to wear Chador.
Three main Islamic religious text discuss veiling in the Quran completed in the mid-seventh century CE and its commentaries (called Tafsir); the Hadith, a multivolume collection of brief eye witness reports of the saying and doings of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers, considered a practical legal system for the community and Islamic jurisprudences, established to translate the law of God (Sharia) as it is framed in the Quran. But in none of these texts can be found specific language saying that women should be veiled and how. In most uses of the word in Quran for example, Hijab means “separation” similar to the Indo-Persian notion of Purdah. The one verse most commonly related to veiling is the verse of the Hijab, Sura:33:53. “Believers do not enter the house of the Prophet for a meal without waiting for the Prophet proper time, unless you are given leave. But, if you are invited enter and when you have eaten, disperse, do not engage in familiar talk, for this would annoy the Prophet and he would be ashamed to bid you go, but, if the truth, Allah is not ashamed. If you ask his wives for anything, speak to them from behind a curtain. This is more chaste for your hearts and their hearts”.
But, in most Muslim countries, women have the legal freedom to choose whether or not to wear Hijab, and what fashion of Hijab they choose to wear. However, in those countries and in the Diaspora, there is social pressure within and without the Muslim communities to conform to whatever the norms, the specific family or religious group has set in place. For sure, women do not necessarily remain passively submissive to either governmental legislation or indirect social pressures, whether they are forced to wear or forced not to wear Hijab. Many women wear Hijab as a culture specific to Muslim religion and as a way to reconnect deeply with their cultural and religious women. Few African-American Muslim adopt Hijab as a sign of self affirmation after generations of their ancestors were forced to unveil and be exposed on the auction block as slaves. Some simply wish to be identified as Muslims. Others say the Hijab gives them a sense of freedom, liberation from having to choose clothing or having to deal with a bad hair day. While some choose to wear Hijab because their family, friends and community wear it, to assert their sense of belonging.
On the other side, some women choose to stop wearing Hijab after engaging and studying the Quran and recognizing that the Holy Book does not explicitly demand that women should wear Hijab. A few others choose to stop wearing Hijab, because the Quran’s rule modesty says, “don’t draw attention to yourself” and wearing Hijab sets you apart. Some women reason, they can be modest without the Hijab. While modern day Muslim women believe the Hijab is a distraction from serious issues like poverty, domestic violence, education, government oppression and men marrying underage girls issue. They also believe that, the wearing of Hijab does not make a woman a good Muslim, like the hood does not make a Nun in Christianity.