On Hijabs, Feminism and Women in Islam

First and foremost — what is a Hijab? In a literal sense, it means “veil” or “barrier” but it is most commonly known as a headscarf.


It is used by Muslim women and is only necessary in the presence of non-related adult males. The Hijab is a symbol of modesty, privacy and morality. Although the Quran stresses modesty, it does not specifically require keeping our heads and faces covered. However, it was later found in Hadiths, a collection of traditions containing sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that the entire body should be covered, except for the hands, feet and face. The purpose of a headscarf is to shift the focus away from the physical appearance of a woman and instead focus on her character and value as an individual.

It is often confused with the Niqab, which is a cloth that covers the head and face, leaving only the eyes to be seen.



And the Burqa, which is a loose garment with veiled holes for the eyes and covers the whole body from top to bottom.



A lot of non-Muslims have criticized the wearing of Hijabs and argued that covering oneself is a form of oppression as it restricts and defies the rights of Muslim women.  But most women wear Hijabs out of will. And it is a common generalization that the religion is oppressive just because Muslim women are being oppressed by Muslim men. That generalization is false, they just happen to be Muslim women under a radical, patriarchal society controlled by Muslim men.

Maybe it’s hard to wrap around the heads of some people (pun intended), that Western culture isn’t the only norm. “Duh, obviously,” one might say. But why do some Westerners still think it’s bizarre for someone to want to cover themselves up? Yes, our cultures are different, but some people go as far as saying we don’t deserve to be treated this way or that we’re stupidly submitting ourselves and obeying the rules of men.

So, if wearing clothes that don’t cover your head, legs or arms is a choice, why is covering oneself not considered as a choice too? And that’s it, choice.

A right to pick what we feel is best for ourselves. Isn’t that what’s important? We may not look like we “respect” ourselves by covering the good stuff, as if suggesting that we think our bodies should be hidden and kept away, because that’s another way of respecting ourselves. While people are presently beginning to celebrate the human body by body shaming less, focusing on the different body types, showing off their curves, etc., I think we all need to realize that there isn’t just one way of embracing our bodies (most include the showing of skin). Yes, we can show how comfortable we are with how we look in public, but we also can appreciate our bodies when not.

Personally, I don’t wear a headscarf, and in reality, one’s intention is what is most important. The clothes we wear, the body parts we cover — they do not measure our faith. We aren’t forced to do whatever we find highly uncomfortable or what we aren’t ready to do, because insincerity and hypocrisy is never encouraged.

And it’s actually deeper than just a Hijab. Although it is assumed that Islam is a completely patriarchal, male-dominated religion, it isn’t entirely; it’s just the culture in different countries that make it seem that way. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was responsible for progressing the rights of women such as the right to work, to receive education, to own property, to divorce husbands, to reject a marriage proposal, etc.

Coincidentally, I came across a poem a few days ago that explains this. Here’s an excerpt:

Islam is not a religion that traps or enslaves me but rather a religion that liberates me

makes others view me as a woman and respect me.

Indeed, the status of women in Islam can never ever be equal to that of the western perception

the first person who accepted Islam was a woman

and the first martyr of Islam was a woman!

The Prophet peace be upon him said “Paradise lies under the feet of your mother”

How can you possibly say Islam oppresses me?

Tortures me?

Abuses me?

This has also resulted in many influential and notable women, such as Nursaybah bint Ka’ab, who fought in the Battle of Uhud in 625 alongside the Prophet and was a badass at that, cutting off the leg of a man with her sword who wounded her son. Or Fatima al-Fihri, who founded the University of Al Karaouine (now known as the University of Qarawiyyin in Fes, Morroco) in 859, the world’s first academic degree-granting institution of higher education. And Nana Asma’u, who was the daughter of the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, a poet, a teacher, a precursor of feminism in Nigeria during the early 1800s and still remains a revered figure there. So, I think it’s important to look into the contributions and actions of people in the past towards women’s rights, to inspire us and let us all keep progressing. Move forward.


All images obtained through Google Images.

  1. Your article is fascinating. But if it is a choice, symbolizing modesty, privacy and morality as you say, why were the men not encoueaged to wear such an article as well? (Even Something akin to a turban worn by Sikh men for example?)

    The perceptions of oppression are perpetuated by stories we hear such as the gang rapes of women in Tarirh Square or the poisoning of Afghan girls en masse because they’ve gone to school or the shooting of Malala. I know those are extremeist examples, but I wish there were fewer of them cropping up then there seem to be.

    1. Thank you. Actually, men are encouraged too but it varies between different parts of the world. The ‘Songkok’ is mostly used where I’m from, Brunei, as well as other Asian countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, some parts of the Philippines and some of Thailand). The ‘Kufi’ is mostly used in West Africa, the ‘Taqiyah’ in Saudi Arabia and the ‘Topi’ in Pakistan and India.

      They’re all basically just caps but they have different shapes, colours, purposes and meanings, and they pertain to different cultures all over the world. Just like the Hijab, Burqa and Niqab.

      Furthermore, a man’s “hijab” is more spiritual than physical. They are told to lower their gaze from women and not to look at them as objects, but instead with dignity and respect no matter what the woman is wearing; covered or not covered.

      Those examples are extremely unfortunate and sad, I too wish women would stop being treated that way but I feel like it’s important that everyone is aware of that otherwise we wouldn’t know about such atrocities happening around the world. But you should also understand that there are many other places with free Muslim women than in places where those things happen.

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