For centuries, many have questioned whether women in Islamic countries are as free and liberated as their counterparts in non-Islamic countries. The world is awash with the perspective that the Muslim woman is one who has been enslaved and encased in a system that looks down upon her. Many are of the perception that the woman is forced by centuries old tradition and a conservative social doctrine based on sharia. The main issue under debate is whether these women in Western nations prefer wearing the hijab and the Burka on their own accord or whether they are forced onto these traditional regalia.
More and more emphasis has been placed upon Muslim women living in Western nations and the reason is because this will give the answer to the thesis question. It is true that in the fundamentalist Islamic states in the middle and far east, women do have a legal obligation and social pressure into wearing the Hijab and the Burqa. In contrast, women in Western societies do not face the same pressures and are therefore more free to choose whether they will wear the two articles of clothing or not.
By definition, both the Hijab and the Burka are headscarves whose main intention is to advance the fundamental modesty that conservative Islam places in women. They are required to cover certain body parts so as not to create arousal and excitement in men not unless it is their legally married husband. The main intention of this tradition is to safeguard the institution of marriage so that the man feels that his wife is well covered and does not reveal too much of her eyes, hair as well as hands and feet in some instances. Other articles of clothing employed for this sole purpose include the Al- Amira, Niqab, Shayla and the Chador which is predominantly in use in Iranian Society.
According to early Muslim scholar El Huindi, the origins of the word Hijab are not simple to deduce as one would think. As much as one would say that it is derived from the Arabic word veil or curtain, he argues that it drew a more symbolic meaning from the words of the prophet Muhamad who said to his disciples say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and adornments except what ordinarily appears thereof; that they should draw their head cover (khimar) over their bosoms and not display their ornament except to their husbands, fathers, and their husbands fathers, their sons, their husbands sons, their brothers or their brothers sons, or their sisters sons, or their women or the slaves whom their right had possess, or male servants without sexual needs, or small children who have no sense of womens pudenda and that they should not strike their feet to draw attention to their hidden ornaments.17. He argues that the word Hijab refers to a separation between good and evil or two things one of which is sacred and the other evil (Mohibullah and Kramer 104).
The Hijab debate has received sturdy momentum in the recent past with French President Nicholas Sarkozy leading a full-on onslaught on the traditional veil. In the year 2009, Mr. Sarkozy issued remarks that the Burka ought to be banned in France due to the fact that it was not in sync with French culture and was in its essence leaving other French Citizens feeling alienated. What started as a remark became a national and global debate soon cropping up in other Eurocentric nations as to whether they should limit and ban the use of the Hijab and Burqa.
Sarkozys argues that by abolition of the Burqa in public places, Muslim women will feel more incorporated and assimilated into French society. However, to counter this argument, one has to realize the fact that by preventing these women from wearing the Burqa, Muslim women will not be allowed to leave home by their husbands therefore alienating them even further and further. (Slavoj 3).
With these feelings on restriction coming out into open debate, the underlying message behind the information is the discrimination felt by women in Hijabs. Once the issue was put into deep study, it became clear that ever since the September 11 attacks on the American Pentagon and the World Trade Centre, Muslims are perceived differently and with less affection. Women in particular became very vulnerable to racial and Islamophobic slur from both people known to them as well as strangers. Many women admit that since then, they could feel a form of hostility aimed at them for no apparent reason. The words are clearly demonstrated in Hyders writings when the situation is portrayed as follows The various acts ranged from racist epithets, menacing looks, exposure to obscene gestures, and intentional avoidance, to more serious acts of prejudice such as direct threats, vandalism, and physical attacks. The perpetrators were both strangers and individuals with personal connections to the victims. Women experienced discrimination at a much greater frequency than men. This phenomenon can be attributed to the visibility of Muslim women who wear hijab, as was true of the majority of the women in their sample. Hijab "gave women away (Hyder, Parrington & Hussain 173).
Many Muslim women in the United States and other western countries advocate for and spot the Hijab in their dressing as a form of identity and belonging. Being far from home delineates them away from the desire to fit in and the pressures of doing so. In Western countries, they experience no pressure to appear like other women back in Islamist nations. Instead they see the Hijab as a strong form of identity. It is clearly their way of keeping in touch with their rich heritage and Middle Eastern origins. They strive to ensure that they appear unique and are in fact celebrating their origins and the rich cultural heritage from their homelands.
According to Hyder et. al, there are two reasons as to why Muslim women wear the Hijab as a strong indicator of their identity. For starters, they want to dispute the perception that people have of women believing in Islam as being oppressed and enslaved. These women therefore seek to prove to the whole world that it is possible to be a dedicated Muslim woman in Hijab and still be wildly successful and independent in their careers. They also vehemently dispute this view by making an extremely strong argument that women in Islam are very happy and enjoy freedom within their marriages. The message is clearly nailed home since these women prove using their lives as perfect examples of the harmony and bliss they experience in their lives which is a stark contrast of what other people perceive their marriages to be (Hyder et. al 173).
Another reason why Muslim women struggle to maintain their identity is so as to register their discontent with the sexual innuendos perpetrated in Western societies. They view these as markedly immoral and therefore strive to ensure that they are neither associated nor are they part of these sexual norms that have taken root in the name and banner of progress and liberalism. In this light, lies the notion and argument put forth by these women that the Hijab is also their way of distancing themselves from the Individualism and materialism that ultimately plagues Western social behaviour (Hyder et. al 173).
It also became apparent that a major motivation of Muslim women to embrace Hijab in the United States was to act as a positive ambassador of Islam. Many women claimed that the major reason they wear the Hijab is so as to show the world all the beautiful things about Islam. They argue that by embodying its peaceful and well intentioned nature, other citizens of non-Muslim belief would see it in different light. They therefore strive to use their good nature to fight racism and discrimination within the highly fragmented and discriminative societies they lived in.
Professionalism also emerged as a strong reason behind the embracing of the Hijab by women especially those with a working -class background. Many women who wore the Hijab to work claim that they love it because its modesty makes them seem very professional and mature. They claim that by covering up, they enable their colleagues at work to focus on the task at hand and avoid petty, minor distractions of a sexual nature which might crop up in instances of too much body exposure. That is the reason as to why they proudly embrace the Hijab, leverage on it together with their excellent work ethic to earn the respect of colleagues both male and female.
Religious belief and adherence to religion is also one of the reasons Muslim women in Western countries still stick to the Hijab. They are not extremists in belief but rather are of the opinion that it is just the right thing to do since it is in the Quran especially in the Surat al Nur. It is this doctrine which strictly forbids women from exposing their Awrah (body parts that should not be seen in normal circumstances) to Non- Mahram (men who do not qualify under non-marriageable relatives). It is these view that inspires such Muslim women to embrace the Hijab and rather not due to social and familial pressure (Solihu 29).
From this reason, it then becomes apparent that a majority of women wearing Hijab living in Western countries are motivated by their desire to be deeply in adherence to religion. They intend to emulate the behaviour exhibited by the Prophets wives. Of prime interest to their hearts is achieving Taqwa which means existing in a pious state of fulfillment in the belief in Allah (God).
Feminism also played a key role in the promotion of the Hijab as a preferential mode of dressing. By itself, feminism is a complex subject with varied complex meanings and interpretations. According to research by Al Wazni, majority of Hijab wearers in the United States comprising of both native vis a vis immigrant Muslims as well as born Muslims compared to converts, the Hijab is a powerful tool of the feminist agenda. According to these women. The Hijab empowers the Muslim woman and gives her an identity of her own. She Is therefore able to undertake a life knowing full well that she is equal in education and opportunity to her male counterparts. The modern Hijab wearer therefore feels that she has the freedom to choose her life style independently and be respected for that (Al Wazni 329).
Body image reinforcement was also highlighted as one of the key motivations behind the embrace of Hijab among Muslim women in Western society. According to Al Wazni, wearing the Hijab makes women less conscious of their body therefore giving them confidence to face other endeavors without having body insecurities. The reason behind this is that the Hijab masks the body image therefore permitting little room for either positive or negative body image (Al Wazni 329).
Self-esteem is indeed a psychological and emotional need in all individuals and one that is very necessary to achieve a happy and successful balance of life. Women in Islamic societies have always been of the opinion that wearing them Hijab makes them special. It is this thought that makes them develop an analogy that compares them to diamonds due to their precious nature. In the words of one Hijab wearing girl, Hijab is restoring the lost status and respect of women, which is not otherwise possible in a society with ills and insecurities (anonymous, personal communication, May 28, 2010). (Fayyaz and Kamal 29). They develop a strong and charming mentality of themselves which by itself endears them to be valued and cherished in their societies.
It is safe to come to the conclusion that for a majority of Muslim women living in Western Countries, wearing the Hijab is a free choice rather than as a result of social and religious pressure or familial obligation. They therefore love and enjoy wearing the Hijab and have not been forced upon it c...
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