Battle of the Message Boards: Is the Hijab a Necessary Muslim Article of Clothing?

1 Apr

Booty Hijab?

I recently came across an article that details experiences of non-Muslims who wear a hijab for a day.

Though I appreciate the social experiment, it captures exactly what is wrong with how we educate both Muslims and non-Muslims about Islam. After having many conversations with feminist hijabis, as thought provoking as the exchanges may have been, I remain vehemently opposed to the position that the hijab should be universally accepted by Muslims. Don’t get me wrong, as a social conservative, I do believe there is a connection between attire, decency, and self-respect, but as a Muslim-American, I believe the focus should be on an individual’s right to choose faith. Praxis necessitates that a universal application of an unnecessary element of freedom will eventually lead us down a slippery slope that will subvert one’s ability to choose his or her own faith.

So here is the message board exchange I had with a few dissenters:

MUSLIM TEA PARTY: If the event’s sole purpose was to give participants the first-person experience of wearing an out-of-the-ordinary piece of cloth, then I’m sure they got their point across. Otherwise, I agree with dissenter. For most Muslims, the hijab is not a part of their cultural tradition. The Hijab is more Arab than anything else. As a South-Asian Muslim-American, it makes me sick to my stomach to see my forefathers’ open-minded culture being strangled by the limits of the hijab. The ‘requirement’ of a hijab is speculative at best; the true Islamic focus is based around moderation (whether a person chooses to wear hijab or jean cutoff shorts is a decision that should be made on the individual level WITHOUT the heavy handed influence of a few hijabis (or a few scantily clad women) and without guilt/sense of obligation). The focus should be on the confidence, inner-beauty, and moderation that one has whether she is wearing hijab or not. The hijab is a symbol that is rooted in the importance between control, self-respect, and the mind-body spiritual connection. The analysis is necessarily subjective, for Muslims believe that your actions can only be judged by their creator alone.
 

JIMMY: First of all hijaab is not just the piece of cloth that covers the head. It is about the whole of modest form of dress code for both genders. For women, Allah SWT adds one more requirement of “covering one’s zeenath” (check sura Noor). Most scholars agree that hair is part of woman’s zeenath or things that adorn her. It is we in the South Asia that seem to be carrying the cultural baggage and refusing to see the covering of our hair as part of our faith.

 SAI: The first thing that should be stated is that hijab is a personal, deeply personal, decision. Especially in this country and in this climate. People who state that it is arab culture rather than religious tradition are in gross error. Hijab as a whole (meaning modesty and properly covering the body as well as the concept of not ogling the opposite sex or participating in immoral behavior) is a basic tenet of being muslim for both men and women and that should be explained before people try the hijab for a day programs. It’s an opening for the conversation on the topic rather than an opening for the whole hijabi/non hijabi friction. Islam is a religion and not a culture and the sooner people understand that, the sooner they will have a real, open-minded discussion on the realities we face in the world. Many muslims don’t even recognize the difference between african/mid east/south asian culture (e.g. no women drivers, face covering, honor killings, female genital mutilation) and the religion that is islam. How can we expect anyone else to try to understand when we can’t even agree on whether hijab is a culture or religious tenet. It’s not just a head covering, its a way of living. It’s like putting on a shirt or pair of pants and the women who wear it view it that way. These are the things these programs should explain and the purpose for it. It should be more than a fun experiment; it should be an eye opening experience of what we go through daily. What is should not be is a platform for politically intended individuals.

 MUSLIM TEA PARTY:   The point Jimmy and Sai are making is exactly the problem with Islam today. Yes, there needs to be a sense of community and oneness. That does not mean everyone has to be the same, eat the same food, speak the same language, dress the same dress, etc. Throughout Islamic history, there have always been many different schools of thought, different scholars, and differing opinions. Of course the justifications for these decisions were rooted in religious interpretation, but just like any man based law, it is the individual’s experience in his or her locale that directs acceptable norms; historically, this holds true in Islam and to suggest that no adjustments are made for cultural variation is myopic at best. The hijab just happens to be one of many accepted norms (and its origin is in Arabia). It just so happens that a very conservative form of Islam has been subsidized by the rich oil barons in the Middle East. They have exerted their influence over tribal chieftains and poorer communities as a means of spreading their belief system and maintaining their religio-cultural dominance.
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