Men, tell your wives, sisters, and daughters to get ready. Women, make sure you are prepared. It is almost time to celebrate another World Hijab Day!
That’s right. On February 1st, women all over the world will post pictures of themselves wearing the Islamic head-coverings on social media. Yes, even non-Muslims will join their sisters in choosing to wear a garment that is compulsory for women in several countries while claiming that it is for the sake of freedom.
Recently, the World Hijab Day Twitter account posted a message encouraging followers to submit pictures of themselves wearing the veil with a caption explaining how they are “free in #hijab.” The organization acknowledges that the garment is widely seen as a “symbol of oppression and segregation,” but they hope to remove some of the stigma associated with the article of clothing. So, the question is: Does wearing a hijab enhance or limit a woman’s freedom?
What Is World Hijab Day?
World Hijab Day is the creation of a New York activist named Nazma Khan, who immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh at age 11. According to the group’s website, Khan created the movement to “foster religious tolerance and understanding by inviting women (non-Hijabi Muslims/non-Muslims) to experience the hijab for one day.”
“Growing up in the Bronx, in NYC, I experienced a great deal of discrimination due to my hijab,” Khan writes. “In middle school, I was ‘Batman’ or ‘ninja.’ When I entered University after 9/11, I was called Osama Bin Laden or terrorist.” She goes on to explain that she decided the only way to end discrimination was to ask her “fellow sisters to experience hijab themselves.” Thus, this annual tradition began in 2013 and has so far reached 145 countries, according to the website.
Freedom and the Hijab
The organization’s recent tweet received a significant number of responses, mostly from people who disagreed with the celebration of the hijab. These individuals brought up the fact that many women in Islamic countries are compelled – either by their governments or societal pressure – to wear the garment on a daily basis.
Here are some of the responses:
@RonHunter12: “The REAL Handmaid’s Tale.”
@The_Equalizer: “It’s like freedom in shackles.”
@Stegian67: “Just imagine a black man claiming his right ro [sic] wear chains and inviting orhers [sic] to do the same…”
While the responses were overwhelmingly negative, there was at least one person who didn’t have a problem with the hijab itself. “Forcing women to wear hijab is oppression and should be fought. But a vast number of women choose to wear Hijab,” he wrote. “They should be given the freedom to exercise their choice.”
In Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Gaza Strip, women are required by law and social pressure to wear either the hijab or the burka – a garment that covers the woman’s entire body. In these countries, women are subject to brutal punishment if they are not wearing the correct apparel. So, who is right? Those who choose to wear the hijab? Or those who believe that women who don the veil are enslaving themselves?
The answer is that both positions are wrong. Khan’s organization might mean well in trying to address discrimination against women who consciously choose to wear the hijab, but they ignore the fact that millions of women do not enjoy the freedom to choose what they want to wear.
On the other hand, those who believe that choosing to wear the headscarf is a form of self-oppression are not considering the fact that the garb is a part of Middle Eastern society and that many women desire to express their culture in this way. Indeed, it is not only Muslim women in the Middle East who wear the hijab – some Christian women choose to wear it as well.
If a woman wants to wear the hijab, she should not be stigmatized over her free choice. However, those who do choose to wear the garb should also consider those who do not have the choice not to wear the hijab. This is one of the main points of contention that many have with the Western feminist movement: They have no problem attacking the “white supremacist patriarchy,” but when it comes to the oppression of women in Islamic countries, they remain silent.
The answer to any of these arguments is always freedom. People who love freedom should encourage others to make their own life choices while fighting for the rights of people who do not enjoy the same liberties.
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