Wednesday, May 09,
is a term that means "to veil" refers to a garment used by many Muslim woman
around the world, which comes with different types, forms and colors following
each cultural background. Fundamentally, hijab covers woman's hair and neck
though in some other places, it also covers the face as well. Some people
believe that hijab has some foundation in Islamic religion and some see it is
local tradition which is not from Islamic teaching. Some Ulama (Arabic
for Religious Leaders and prominence or Islamic scholars) say that hijab is an
obligation for muslim woman. But some other Ulama consider it only as a
symbol of modesty in which Islamic teaching proposes modesty as God's favor.
The history of hijab itself is not unique belongs to muslim societies, in fact
it is almost in every culture even in Europe and pre-Islamic Middle Easterners.
In Europe society such as Ancient Greek, it is used as garment wore by women
from prominent families to show their status, and in Middle East including
Israelis, it is woman's daily wear to protect them from the sun heat. Today,
many muslim women wear hijab to show their style and preference of modesty and
religious belief rather than just a traditional garment.
Typical hijab wear
Hijab comes in different types and names in
different culture. In Indonesia it is known as Jilbab and Malaysians call
it Tudung and it usually consists of headscarf to cover their hair, neck
and chess usually equipped with Maleyan (Melayu) people dress called
kebaya (in Indonesia) or baju kurung (in Malaysia). In other places
there are also Burq in Afghanistan, Abaya in Arab countries,
chador in Iran, and purdeh along with chader in Pakistan. As
an effect of cultural differences amongst muslim people, besides as observance
to religious belief, some women also wear hijab as a nationality, race and
cultural distinction, especially in multicultural mixed-up group of people. Many
Iranian and Pakistani women wear hijab with not fully covered hair, to show
their distinction with their Arab Muslim woman who cover their hair fully. In
some more conservative society such as people in Riyadh region in Saudi Arabia,
Hadramaut region in Yemen and in villages in Africa, their hijab is not only to
veil their hair and neck, but their full long loose dark colored garment called
Abaya along with niqab covering also their full body and face,
showing only their dark eyes. For those who's never get used to see them before,
they may look so frightening and threatening. In Afghanistan esspecially during
Taliban regime, women also cover their face with burq, with nothing even
eyes to show to the outside world.
Besides its function as traditional dress or religious observance, hijab also
serves as aesthetics wear out for woman. In Tunisia, amongst Bedouin tribes in
Kuwait, Southern Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other Central Asian
Muslim countries, its people own bright and colorful hijab, with very beautiful
and exotic pattern. Bedouin people in Kuwait, a nomadic Arab tribes reside most
in Arabian peninsula, is known for their beautiful colorful dress and garment,
tapestried by their own hands which they use to sell these beautiful garments to
nearby cities. In Egypt, many women in cities wear simple and practical
headscarf with beautiful colors and patterns along with ordinary casual dress.
Hijab wear in Egypt.
It's usually simple head scarf with beautiful motifs and patterns.
Controversy and Problems
Many western feminists claim hijab as a symbol of oppression by men against
women in Islamic societies, but many muslim women, especially who live in
western countries, explain they choose to wear their hijab by themselves without
persuasion or oppression, where most of them say it is more comforting and
protecting. But the claim about oppression somehow is true in some cases, such
as what happened with women in Afghanistan during Taliban regime, until now even
burq is still obligatory outside Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan.
In some places such as Saudi Arabia (especially in Riyadh), Iran and Southern
Yemen, the wear of hijab is enforced by government law or society punishment. In
Aceh, a distinct part of Indonesia where Islamic sharia law is
implemented, women must wear hijab as a requirement for modesty and whosoever
doesn't follow will accept punishment for tazir crime.
Despite there are muslim countries enforcing hijab wear, some muslim countries
also known to ban hijab or discourage women to wear it. In Tunisia, authorities
encourage women to wear modest dress inlines with Tunisian tradition rather than
hijab, the govenrment also prohibits the wear of hijab in government buildings.
In Algeria, most people claim themselves as Berber rather than Arabs and
discourage hijab to eliminate Arabic culture and propose more Berberic culture.
After the collapse of Ottoman Empire, Kemal Attaturk the founder of Turkey
Republic banned hijab and disallow women with hijab from attending school. After
Iran revolution in 1978, Soeharto regime in Indonesia stopped books,
literatures, musics and entertainment from Egypt, disallowed Arab weddings and
banned hijab and enforced hijab women to take off their hijab in academic
requirements, in response to prevent the influence of Islamic revolution in
Critics of hijab at most point out at some cases that the wear of hijab are
enforced, and most societies that enforce hijab are usually the societies that
oppress and tend to discriminate women. They point out some cases of honor
killing, a tradition that lives amongst Middle Eastern and Central Asian
countries especially amongst people in villages that the male member of a family
of a woman must kill her if she disobeys or violates moral codes with focused on
woman's sexuality including adultery, disgrace for virginity honor (even when
she is a victim of a rape) and the way of how woman should dress. In big cities,
a woman who is not virgin can never get married and those who have money to
afford plastic surgery usually will have to secretly surgically re-"virginize".
But those laws don't apply to men of which men just simply can do anything they
want. These moral codes which is so sensitive for Muslims and considered being
the main reason of the oppression toward women are mostly around women's
sexuality. Even now some scholars believe that the one and only reason why many
Muslims especially in Central Asia and Middle East hate the west is that people
in the west are premarital sexual tolerance. They believe Muslims are sexually
And all those oppressions and unfairness to women started from hijab. In this
point of view, Hijab becomes the symbol of oppression toward women by men as an
attempt to repress their sexual urge. Hijab becomes obligatory for women, rather
than men to control themselves.
Other critic on hijab is more centered on the disintegration of people. Hijab
women are viewed to refuse the integration with mainstream culture, getting
along with native people and view them as the inside danger. Despite the fact
many hijab women comes from different cultural background, ethnicity and race,
and even many native white women embracing hijab, people tend to see all hijab
women as Arabs from the dessert who live in tent, riding on camels, dusty,
dirty, uneducated and love hijacking planes and killing innocent people, even
when most Arabs don't live that way. This stereotype is growing wide, one of my
friend who happens to wear hijab was taught how to use electric switch to turn
on/off the lamp by her American acquittance when she was in Texas.
The supporters of hijab usually see these acts and judgments by westerners as
"Islamic Phobia" and "Cultural Imperialism". They see western people as those
who are never far from imperialism and to grind other culture. The act to ban
hijab in public schools in French for example, is seen as the act to eliminate
other cultures and a new form of imperialism. Other hijab supporters use
democracy value that guarantees the freedom of people to think, to speak and to
choose, including to choose about the way they dress. Believing in democracy is
also believing in their right to wear dress the way they want including hijab.
Another problem arises later then is many westerners converting to Islam and
wearing hijab, such as Sultaana Freeman, also embrace radicalism and refuse to
just even unveil their face for ID-Card. This may sharpen the image of
stubbornness, inflexibility and stupidity of Muslim society in whole.
But problems faced by hijab women are not only coming from in western society,
but also from their own society, where most muslim countries even of which
people are proposing hijab, is hardly allowing hijab women in entering some job
fields which can be entered by non-hijab woman. It includes appears on TV, like
being News Presenter for example. Rania al Baz who's perhaps one of the first
hijab woman appears on screen as news presenter on world class TV station Al
Jazeera, must face long and hard way to become hijab woman on screen and
surprisingly she was a Saudi woman. (But sadly her personal life wasn't too
good. She was beaten by her husband to near death----unsolved problem that seem
to be very common in Muslim countries).
Rania Albaz. A hijab
woman presenter from Jeddah, KSA.
Another problem is that, hijab can not guarantee that they will be completely
safe from sexual harassment. The fact is that more than 60% of hijab woman
living in Muslim countries must deal with sexual harassment almost everyday in
public places such as in Taxi, airport, gatherings, etc, even in Muslim's most
holiest place like Mecca. Many of my women friends experienced bad sexual
molestation in Mecca even when they've been covered and it was not in some place
like bars or cafe, it was in holly religious place where people should behave.
In many cases of my friends, their fears and disgusts and disappointment in the
meaning of hijab are expressed in the taking off their hijab and abandon it
Today, many fashion designers embrace cultural fashion especially from eastern
countries including Muslims. Hijab now has become not only a religious dress,
but is also a modern Cultural Fashion Style. Many designers design these kind of
garment for the sake of woman's beauty along with bikinis, tank top, underwears
and all accessories for woman's beauty. Hijab now may mave become one of so many
commodities to satisfy consumerism behavior.
It seems like hijab itself has so much meanings. The interpretation depends on
each person as individual, and the real problem on hijab is not on hijab or
religion or culture, but it lies on the paradoxical nature of human being. Once
again, it's all about us.