World Hijab Day -Wearing the Hijab should be about conviction, not coercion

World Hijab Day
by Farah Ahmad

Wearing hijab, a head covering worn by many Muslim women, has lately caught the public’s attention with intense headlines.

In 2013, ‘World Hijab Day’ was initiated with the objective of raising awareness and breaking stigmas around the wearing of the hijab.

Some may question who, in their right mind, would dare to celebrate World Hijab Day, particularly, when women in the Islamic Republic of Iran are burning their hijabs and protesting the mandatory hijab and following the brutal murder of Mahsa Amini by the so called ‘morality police’ for wearing her hijab ‘too loose’.

The resistance was even more noticeable when the Iranian rock climber, Elnaz Rekabi appeared without her hijab at the Asian Championship in South Korea and when Sara Khadem also chose to not wear her hijab at the International chess tournament in Kazakhstan as a sign of support for the protests back home. The Iranian soccer team also refused to sing their national anthem before the opening match at the FIFA World Cup. The rage is understandable as the Mullahs try to legitimize their oppression under the name of religion.

While the Holy Quran teaches that modesty is a virtue that applies to both men and women as: “Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes” and for women “that they draw their head-coverings over their bosoms” (Chapter 24: Verse 30-31).  There is not a single verse in the Holy Qur’an that declares a punishment for a Muslim woman who does not cover herself.  It is, after all, a personal choice and should be worn out of conviction, not coercion. It is outrageous that these so-called Muslim leaders fail to see the fundamental principle of freedom of choice “There is no compulsion in religion” (Chapter 2, Verse 257).

History has shown that protests, in fact, occurred in the opposite direction. For instance, in 1936 under regime of former leader, Reza Shah Pahlavi, Iranian women protested against the ‘headscarf ban’ imposed at that time. Similarly, today in the Karnataka state in India, students are banned from wearing the hijab in classrooms, which is also being contested by female Muslim students.

It is apparent that the issue is not the hijab.

In both instances, whether banning the hijab or forcing women to wear it, it is being used as a tool by men who want to retain power over the state. Decisions such as “dress code” should be left to the individual. “In a multi-cultural civilized society, we should aspire to be equal rather than identical without interfering and disrespecting the individual’s choices,” says Farah Ahmad. “I stand in solidarity with women in Iran and in India as I believe in freedom of choice.”

Unfortunately, Canada is not unaffected either following the passing of Quebec’s Bill 21,  which prohibits the wearing of religious symbols, including the hijab, by teachers and other government employees. This demonstrates that, despite the multiculturalism that Canada takes pride in, there are elements of Islamophobia. Hopefully, however, the recent Federal appointment of journalist Amira Elghawaby as Canada’s special representative in combatting Islamophobia, will bring about positive change.

Just because the hijab has been misused by extremists, it does not justify that the meaning of hijab has lost its essence. One could say, just because the Ku Klux Klan chose the cross as a symbol of their racism, that Christians should distance themselves from the cross. Abuse does not prohibit use. More importantly, it is a duty of women who choose to wear the hijab to restore its true meaning and wear their hijab with pride.

There are many stereotypes and misconceptions on how the head covering is viewed. It is not simply a head covering, but comes with “tremendous responsibility.  It is a reflection of a belief that follows a way of life with inner morality, humility and modesty in behaviour, manners, speech, character and appearance in public.

For those who wear hijab, it symbolizes a commitment to piety that defines surrendering to none but God/Allah and can often be a difficult decision.  A misconception is that Muslim women are forced to wear hijab when, in fact, it is a very personal and independent statement of freedom and is a path that empowers freedoms from social pressures, from the need for social recognition and from an obligation to want to please others.

There are always two sides to most stories, this is the story of hijab and those who choose to wear it.  Hopefully, it will give some perspective for understanding the complicated situations in Muslim countries and where we can potentially find a middle ground living in the multicultural society of Canada.