Muslim women globally seek to be free from the hijab and burka. In India, it is the other way. Radical religious fanatics push for the regressive dress code.
- While the extremist Islamists – jihadists came to claim the link between hijab and Islam, women and girls have made attempts to free women from this barbaric tradition.
- There is no law in the Indian constitution mandating a code of conduct for women as in the case of the Iranian theocracy.
- Islamic countries are distancing themselves from repressive practices and in a democratic country like India, Muslim girls are bound by these practices owing to radical individuals and entities.
- Muslim intelligentsia, scholars and the leadership seem to have their own girls and women in insisting on Hijab or depicting it as part of Islamic practice.
Why’s it that there’s so much furore on the headgear, face cover or someone covering his or her body partially or in full? Incidents reported in the last few weeks on Hijab in particular across the world seem a lot more disturbing from humanity and civilizational perspective.
The big question that continues to taunt the Islamic world was how 22-year-old Mahsa Amini from Sagrez in Iran was murdered by Iranian police on September 13 for allegedly not covering her head in full.
And, thereafter the repression unleashed by the Iranian government that made wane attempts to justify the broad daylight murder of Mahsa Amini is rather appalling and inhuman.
Iranian President Sayyid Ebrahim Raisolsadati otherwise known as Ebrahim Raisi seems to have gone overboard to justify the brutal murder of Mahsa Amini. The claim from the Iranian administration seems to be that Hijab was mandated by Islam and there’s no way anyone can be free from the Islamic tradition of covering the head from top to toe with a Hijab and a burkha.
While the extremist Islamists – jihadists came to claim the link between hijab and Islam, women and girls have made attempts to free women from this barbaric tradition. Otherwise, how would one explain several nations mostly run by Muslim leadership discarding the black robe and hijab that suffocated the women and girls over the ages?
Even the slightest signs of disobedience led to severe punishments and physical torture in detention centres commonly known as re-education run by the ruthless morality police.
Mahsa Amini was on a trip to Tehran with her brother Kairash when the morality police hitherto known as Gasht-e-Ershad abducted her on the Shahid Haghini expressway. As per reports, Mahsa Amini was brutally beaten in the van and later on Vozara Avenue. As per reports, outside the detention centre, Kairash witnessed women taken inside that screamed for their lives. Mahsa Amini collapsed and slipped into a coma and succumbed to beatings three days later.
Under Iran’s sharia (Islamic) law, imposed since Ayatollah Khomeini took the reins in 1979, women were bound to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise their bodies. Even the slightest signs of disobedience led to severe punishments and physical torture in detention centres commonly known as re-education run by the ruthless morality police.
Muslim women the world over including Iran have periodically campaigned against Hijab which has nothing to do with Islam in the strict sense. Women reportedly first took to the streets against Hijab in Iran weeks after Khomeini’s arrival decades ago.
India was no exception to such anti-Hijab protests till December 2021 when six girls ebbed by the jihadists entered the Udupi government-run pre-university college in the Indian southern state of Karnataka swearing hijab to classes. Most interesting is their indoctrination that claimed hijab was part of their religious practice. When they were turned out of the classrooms for not complying with the college uniform rules they argued for freedom to practice their religion and the attire associated with it.
Unlike many of their counterparts in dozens of countries, these girls wanted to wear a Burqa and Niqab covering their full body and a face veil concealing the uniform and identity of the student. The girls went to the Karnataka high court demanding to wear hijab on the campus premises.
There is no law in the Indian constitution mandating a code of conduct for women as in the case of the Iranian theocracy. Instead, protected by the “Right to Live with Human Dignity” under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, there are absolutely no legal restrictions on Muslim women in India wearing the hijab or even the burqa in public.
One needs to acknowledge that an institution has the power to impose a dress code on its premises. The freedom of a woman to wear whatever she pleases does not supersede an institution’s authority to decide a dress code for its registrants. The rule was applicable to any public or private office space, not just colleges. It also applied to hotels, dining establishments, places of worship, and other similar establishments.
Arguments that wearing the hijab was an essential practice in Islam may not hold water. Hijab has roots in Persian and is known as ḥajaba or the veil in Arabic. In Quran, the hijab is termed ‘Khimar’ which means curtain or partition in the literal or metaphorical sense. Khimar originated from the trilateral verb ‘khamara’ which again means ‘ghatta’, to conceal, hide, or cover something. Quran Surah al-Ahzab, verse 53 said, “Let them wear their Khimar over their juyub” referring to their chest. Allah instructed the believing women to bring the fabric to their front by drawing Khimar over their chests, as a covering.
Khumurihina (plural of Khimar) used in this Quran verse refers to scarves that females wore on the Arabian Peninsula at the time. Given the clear distinction, justifiably one wonders why Hijab is used while Quran refers to it as a scarf or Khimar.
Subsequently, in verse 30 in chapter 24 and verse 54 in Chapter 33, Holy Quran asked both men and women to act with “decency” and “integrity,” both physically and morally. The Quran did not mandate a strictly religious “uniform,” and the first spiritual message did not mean to impose strict or “fixed” dress rules once and for all as propagated by Islamist fanatics but rather to “recommend” an “attitude” or “ethic” towards the body and soul.
Khimar versus hijab is not one of Islam’s pillars but rather relates to moral principles, behaviour and relational ethics. Only when religious faith is exercised freely can it mean something. As a result, discussing the Islamic obligation to wear a hijab or Khimar is spiritually and technically incorrect as the Quran states, “No compulsion in religion.” (256 of Al-Baqara).
Karnataka High court ruled that hijab was not essential to the religious practice of Islam and upheld the state government order on adhering to uniforms in educational institutions. The recent Supreme Court split verdict on Hijab and its reference to a larger bench has made the debate all the more intense.
Six Muslim girls who initially wore school uniforms as per rules did the U-turn on Hijab. It was not incidental but pre-planned propaganda by radical Islamists to create a fear psychosis among the Muslim population of India painting a dystopian picture that the current state of affairs against Muslims.
Those six girls were members of Campus Front of India (CFI), a notorious student wing of the radical Islamist outfit Popular Front of India (PFI). PFI and its affiliated organisations were banned in India. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) declared PFI as an unlawful association under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967. PFI and its other affiliates were involved in heinous activities, terror linkages, terror funding, hawala funding, inciting violence by hate speech and fabricated information, the gruesome murder of innocents and forced conversion.
Shamshuddin Tamboli, president of the reformist Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal (MSM) said that Burqas and Hijabs were regressive and patriarchal and not integral to the practice of Islam. Girls were forced to wear them due to conditioning and pressure from the family and community. The Mandal said that Hijab was a product of male-dominated culture and that education or awareness was the only way to triumph over the practice. The MSM was launched in 1970 as a Muslim reformist movement by the social reformer-writer Hamid Dalwai. There are provisions and restrictions for face covering or wearing a Hijab due to several reasons in different countries.
Shamshuddin Tamboli, president of the reformist Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal (MSM) said that Burqas and Hijabs were regressive and patriarchal and not integral to the practice of Islam.
For instance, in 2004, France imposed a fine equivalent to Rs 13,000 on those who wore the hijab. In 2012, President Putin’s administration in Russia banned the hijab in schools and colleges. Three years later, Belgium banned the niqab and Burqa in 2015. On the other hand, Bulgaria made covering of face illegal in 2016. Denmark adopted a law that prohibits covering the face in 2017. Those who violated this law by wearing a hijab were imposed a fine of Rs 12,000. The Netherlands government followed suit in 2019 by banning the covering of faces in schools, hospitals and some public places. All over Europe, face cover is generally banned. Switzerland went a step ahead with heavy fines and penalties for those that did not comply with the ban on hijab and face cover.
Even Islamic countries have banned hijabs and veils. In Syria where the Islamic State or ISIS has had considerable hold, the hijab was banned in colleges way back in 2010. Egypt high administrative court approved Cairo University’s decision to ban Niqab. Indonesia banned the hijab in school after a Christian girl complained of being pressurized to cover her head. Iraq banned face-covering and head scarves. Algeria banned women working in the public sector from wearing full-face veils.
In Kazakhstan children were barred from schools for wearing hijabs, Tunisia banned face coverings in government buildings, Morocco banned the production, sale and import of burqa in 2017, Uzbekistan banned Islamic clothing in the Tashkent market, Jordan Queen Rania al-Abdullah said Islam neither requires one to be practising nor to dress in one way or another, Tajikistan banned the wearing of hijab in schools, offices and public places.
Islamic countries are distancing themselves from repressive practices and in a democratic country like India, Muslim girls are bound by these practices owing to radical individuals and entities that brain-washed them continuously.
Muslim intelligentsia, scholars and the leadership seem to have their own girls and women in insisting on Hijab or depicting it as part of Islamic practice.
(The author is a specialist content writer at CIHS. This article was first published by CIHS to whom it belongs. Republished with permission)