With the recent hype in the media about headgear worn largely by Muslim women, I think it is important to understand the basic facts and perspectives of women who actually wear headgear. I often see and hear misunderstandings about the headgear, which are perpetuated through Islamophobic news sources. Headgear, is a representation of Islam, and as such has become associated with terrorism and has been banned in countries like France. Furthermore, individuals who choose to wear headgear are often discriminated against. Even at Colgate, I heard some guys label Muslim women walking across the Academic Quad as “towelheads.” I think it is misunderstanding and fear that leads many to label and impose ideas about what they think would “liberate” Muslim women.As Diamond Sharp clearly puts it in Bridging the Disconnect: Unveiling the Hijab and Islamic Feminism, “The common stereotype is that Muslim women are forced to cover themselves, and although that is true sometimes, the sentiment does not apply to the entire Muslim population… In countries such as Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, women are forced to wear it against their will and suffer physical violence, cultural exclusion, and even death if they do not adhere to the laws. Women in Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia must follow strictly enforced dress codes; the hijab is mandatory. In other countries, wearing the hijab is not required and is only encouraged and worn at will” (Sharp). Sharp’s essay does a very good job at providing an Islamic feminist perspective and demystifying the hijab.
Though the most commonly used term, the hijab is not the only form of headgear worn. The four most commonly worn forms of headgear are a hijab, chador, niqab, and burka, though there are several others. To start, here’s a breakdown of the terminology: A hijab is a headscarf that covers the hair, ears and neck. A chador is a full cloak that covers the body and hair. A niqab is a veil that entirely covers the wearer but has a small opening for the eyes. A burqa is a full veil that covers the head and body and has a screen-like cloth that covers the eyes but can be seen through.
Overall, it is important to recognize that for many individuals, wearing headgear is a choice which is often empowering and has deeply meaningful religious and spiritual significance. Rather than imposing preconceived ideas focused on what women are wearing, we should instead listen to what feminists within Islam, like Sharp, are saying. How can we move beyond discussions of head coverings to addressing the roots of inequality, the patriarchy and structural barriers enforcing inequality for Muslim women and transgender individuals?
Bridging the Disconnect: Unveiling the Hijab and Islamic Feminism