The subject of women veiling and wearing the hijab (headscarf) is a source of endless debates and controversy in this world and has been the topic of many news articles and blog posts in the past few months. While some countries like France, Belgium and Turkey are bellowing to make head scarves illegal - for identity purposes and for women's safety - Muslim women in those countries are in an uproar because they insist that wearing the hijab is their choice and is required by their religion. And in other countries like Iran where Muslim women are forced by law to cover, the veil has become a battleground where women are objecting and saying that it should be their choice whether to cover or not and that it shouldn't be dictated by the government. Oy vey!
So what is all the fuss about? Why do women cover in some places in the world anyway? And why is the West so uncomfortable with Muslim women wearing scarves on their heads and so adamant against women covering? In Islam, the religion clearly states that women should "guard their modesty" and to not make eye contact with men (lower their gaze). But Islam also clearly demands the same requirements for men. So why is it that women in religious countries are the ones who get these clothing restrictions placed on them for their protection while men are allowed to pretty much dress as they please? One of the reasons why women in Saudi Arabia all dress alike in black from head to toe is so that they will not draw unwanted attention to themselves from men. Yet even though women cover up and most of them even veil in KSA, reporter Afifa Jabeen wrote in this Saudi Life article about how Saudi women still attract gawks, gazes and forward advances from men who seem to be oblivious to the Islamic rule about lowering their gazes.
When I'm in the states, almost every day I have seen women wearing the hijab while driving, while jogging, while working, while shopping. But instead of making them less visible in the West, to me the hijab seems to make them stand out and actually attract more attention, which seems to be defeating the whole reason for wearing the hijab in the first place. While on the one hand wearing the hijab is supposed to ensure a woman's safety and protection, on the other hand, especially in Western countries, it is in fact seeming to do the opposite and makes her a target of suspicion, ridicule and harassment. This interesting interview of Dr. Umar Faruq Abdallah talks about women wearing the hijab in the West and the ramifications it can have. He also talks about how Muslim men are able to blend in better when they are in the West, while Muslim women can't if they wear the hijab.
I remember after 9/11 when we were living in Florida, seeing a Muslim woman in the grocery store wearing her hijab and thinking to myself how brave she was and what strong faith she must possess. Such strength! I smiled at her and said "Salaam alaikum." I could sense that she appreciated my gesture and it made me feel good. I'm of the opinion that people should be free to dress as they wish, within the realm of good taste and appropriateness. I recall being at a toy store when my son was maybe 4 years old. There was a woman shopper there wearing a skin tight very low cut top with her boobs hanging out - very tacky, not in good taste and definitely not appropriate - and seeing her dressed like that in front of my child actually made me uncomfortable. That kind of dress should be objectionable to people, not a woman wearing a scarf.
It's confusing that the West expresses disdain for the headscarf being worn by women for religious reasons yet other religions like Christianity have historically commanded women to cover their hair, but modern Christians have rejected this despite their religion. One would think they would have understanding and compassion for women covering their hair for religious reasons. Learn more about the history of the hijab in this article from 2006 that explains how covering the hair has been a source of contention and discussion for centuries.