HIJAB VS. FEMINISM- poles apart or of one mind?

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By: Nihan Junaid

In the eyes of the western world, save a few, the word hijab triggers an immediate negative reaction. Amongst the many baseless accusations is a distinct one which claims that it “opposes feminism”. Such allegations can most definitely be pronounced unjustified if one only takes the time to closely scrutinize the situation at hand. For instance, in every standard dictionary, or even Wikipedia for instance, the definition of “feminism” would resemble this- “Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women’s rights.” It can be observed that this definition, does not oppose the general idea of Muslim hijab. The word “hijab” refers to the modest Muslim styles of dress in general.

The Arabic word “hijab” literally means curtain or cover (noun). According to Islamic scholars, hijab is given the wider meaning of modesty, privacy, and morality; the words for a headscarf or veil used in the Qur’an are khimār (خمار) and Jilbaab(جلباب), not hijab.

One of the major misconceptions about hijab that it is an obligation forced upon the Muslim woman by religion and male family members. This is definitely not true as in most cases; it is the sole decision of the woman herself to adopt this unique way of dressing. Hijab is a way of protecting oneself and ensuring their privacy. It is based on the idea that women are not just show pieces and thus ought not to parade their physical beauty for all to see. Thus women who adopt this decide that they won’t dress as if they were for sale and would rather be evaluated on the basis of their intelligence and aptitude rather than on the futile basis of external beauty.

Sumayya Syed, 16, says that parents or men have nothing to do with it. In fact, she astounds people who ask by saying that every woman should have this form of liberation. Syed maintains that when a woman is covered, men cannot judge her by her appearance but are forced to evaluate her by her personality, character, and morals. “I tell them that the hijab is not a responsibility, it’s a right given to me by my Creator who knows us best. It’s a benefit to me, so why not? It’s something every woman should strive to get and should want.”

Then again, Islam granted women independent rights way before western world did. Muslim women had the right to own individual property and inheritance rights way back, 1400 years ago while in the west the women were allowed a share in inheritance and the right to own property only in the 20th century. They were allowed to have the final say in the issue of marriage and were free to make their own decisions. If they felt that they were not satisfied with their marriage, they were free to dissolve their matrimonial ties. In fact they were given every right, and in some cases, additional liberty in accordance with the time. Then it is highly baseless to label the muslim woman as “oppressed” just because her religion directs here to conduct herself in dignity and humility in public.

On the other hand sexism is a societal evil very much prevalent in modern western society. For instance, lyrics to popular songs reflect the view that women are used for decoration purposes only. For instance, in Timbaland’s video for “Carry Out” featuring Justin Timberlake, The women in the video are projected into stereotypical roles as servile beings. “You’re looking fine,” is the first thing that is said directly to the females in the video. Certain lines in the lyrics, such as “I’ll take you home, let you keep me company” are particularly offensive to feminism. Such phrases clearly suggest that women are viewed as nothing more than pieces of property or like pets.

Now is the concept of hijab against feminism? You decide.

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