Growing up in an area where I was the minority had its ups and downs, but the one consistent question that followed me was about what I wore and the judgment behind that. I was always different, the one that stood out because I embraced a different faith than my friends. And the one thing that people couldn’t seem to get their head around, and it still seems to baffle them, is why I’ve got that ‘thing’ (hijab) on my head and whether it is something which is forced upon women in my religion. This common idea that in the Muslim community women are forced to wear the hijab has been heavily influenced by the likes of right wing media and news outlets. They couldn’t be more wrong. Hijabs are liberating. Just ask Muslim women themselves.
Let’s break it down and explain the reasons why many women choose to wear it. You heard me right. Believe it or not it is a choice women make every day, and every woman has their own reasons for doing so, religious and personal. The hijab is something which many women take as a part of their identity. It is a not just a way of practicing their religion, it is a symbol to show they are proud of their faith. It becomes a symbol of what they stand for as Muslim women.
The literal meaning of hijab in Arabic is barrier or partition. But in the religion of Islam it symbolises something else: a principle of modesty that extends beyond dress sense into behaviour. The hijab is not necessarily something that needs to be worn in front of everyone; family members are exempt as well as other Muslim women.
I decided to talk to Muslim women on why they have chosen to wear the hijab and its significance in their life and what it represents to them. Their responses had nothing to do with being forced into anything. They focused around the way it makes them feel in terms of spirituality and how it enhances their connection to God.
‘This is my spiritual connection to God and I believe it’s how God told women to dress in an appropriate way. But deep down, if I go further and become personal, I feel like the hijab is my shield and armour and protects me from wandering eyes because it literally protects my beauty and no one can see my hair or neck or chest which are attractive areas of a woman. So I feel liberated and in control of how much I reveal and who gets to see the more beautiful parts of me’ – Jumua Begum Abida
‘To me the hijab is a religious obligation which demonstrates my allegiance to God over societal pressures. I believe that mainstream representations of women are often degrading and my hijab counters this. It has made me comfortable in my own skin and expresses my identity as a Muslim women over anything else’ – Nazrin Bhadusha
‘I believe the hijab is firstly something which protects my modesty. But beyond that I think it is a liberating piece of clothing, for me especially, because it gives me the chance to take control over my body. Growing up wearing my hijab often brought about discrimination but that only made me stronger and it is something which I use as a method to teach others who ask about Islam.’ – Nahima Begum
‘First and foremost it is a commandment from God and it is the most significant way of honouring God with this devotion. It allows me to maintain my modesty, connection with God, my Muslim identity and lastly my freedom of choice’ – Sayda Begum
You know what they say about assumptions, so before you feed into the myth of the forced Hijab and try to liberate them by forcing them to take it off, try listening to what Muslim women say instead.