Hijab means “being covered.” Islam requires Muslim women to cover themselves in public and in the presence of a person who is not mahram (people or family who are allowed to see women without cover).

The word hijab is derived from the Arabic root hajaba, which means to hide from view or to conceal. Proper hijab (concealment for the Muslim woman) dictates that the entire body must be covered, although the face and hands should be exposed. As Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “If the woman reaches the age of puberty, no part of her body should be seen but this, and he pointed to his face and hand.”

Hijab has three roles that should be considered by Muslim women: it should be not form fitted, it should not be transparent, and it should not be attractive.

Hijab has many benefits for Muslim women as well as for the society that they live in. A Muslim woman is allowed to show her beauty only to her husband, to her family and to her women friends. It’s considered a way of preventing attraction. Because when a woman shows her beauty in public it attracts the attention of men and it can lead men to act inappropriately.

The hijab also promotes more respect from a husband to a Muslim woman, as he sees his wife being faithful only to him and he is then convinced to be faithful only to his wife.

The Qur’an also emphasizes that the hijab is a way of keeping society clean from abusing women. It’s mentioned in the Qur’an: “Tell believers to avert their glances and to guard their private parts that are purer for them. Allah is informed about anything they do. Tell believing women to avert their glances and guard their private parts and not to display their charms except what (normally) appears of them. They should draw their coverings over their bosoms and not show their charms except to their husbands” (24:30-31).

In the western world, Muslim women are seen as oppressed and passive. Most think that Muslim women’s rights are violated according to Islamic law. Wearing a hijab doesn’t make a woman passive because scarves cover the heads, not the minds, of Muslim women.

Hijab doesn’t mean inequality between men and women, as verses of the Qur’an and sayings of prophet Muhammad (PBUH) repeatedly state “…that no one will be judged according to gender, beauty, wealth, or privilege. The only thing that makes one person better than another is her or his faith and behavior.”

Islam respects women and does not allow them to be used as objects in public or through the media. Most people are concerned about women being used as sex objects, as in the western world today. But hijab saves Muslim women from this contemporary concern. Hijab equalizes all women and avoids concerns of artifice among women.

In contrast, it lets women focus on their spiritual, intellectual, and professional development and work comfortably in public spaces without being worried about their looks or concerned about the men around them.

Hijab has given the Muslim women freedom from constant attention to their physical parts, because their appearance is not subjected to public scrutiny. Their beauty, or perhaps lack of it, has been removed from the realm of what can legitimately be discussed.

Islam did not introduce wearing the burqa, veiling, and covering the face; it existed in previous cultures in India and the Arab world. The burqa came from Indian culture; in India the king’s wife used to wear a burqa to show respect for the kingdom.

In Islam, being clean and neat is described as half of the faith. Hijab also doesn’t mean to be untidy. Islam does not oblige women to wear a burqa or veil. The wearing of the burqa or veil is a cultural custom, not an Islamic mandate. Islam and the various cultures of Muslim countries have become mixed. Most of the restrictions are not from Islam, but rather from cultural customs sometimes wrongly justified under an Islamic banner.

I, as a Muslim woman, feel very comfortable wearing the hijab. For me the hijab means religious devotion, discipline, reflection, respect, freedom, and modernity.  I am pro-democracy because for me democracy means having choices in how to live our lives. I also support and promote mutual respect between Muslim and non-Muslim women. I want the world to treat Muslim women with the same respect they treat other women, from other religions and cultures who wear headscarves such as Hindu women, Jewish women, Greek women, and Catholic nuns. The assumption that wearing a hijab is oppressive should change from an oppressive idea to a liberating one.

By Emaan