The Hijab, the Oppressed?


“She’s oppressed”

“It’s to help the male’s because they can’t control themselves”

“They are scary. They make me feel unsafe when I cannot see their face”

“What if there is a bomb underneath?”


No matter your opinion, feelings or thoughts… I only speak to ensure we have an educated foundation to form an opinion. In this day, media can become our only viewpoint and our desire to know or experience for ourselves has become apathetic, resulting in increased fear and tension. There is a large chasm between an opinion and having an informed stance. Our ability to assimilate with those who are different than us is poor. We live with irrational judgments, associating Muslim women citizens with ‘fear’ and not as a comforting mother, a lover, a friend… but fear, terrorism and uncertainty. Or as my fears, “but what if I say or do something wrong.” I mean there is pig, in gelatin, in chocolate! It’s my hope to bring more compassion and understanding to… the scarf. Who knew such small fibres interwoven delicately could create monumental fear and change the ways we connect with human beings? It says a people without knowledge and understanding with crumble so let’s take a walk in her… hijab.


This is my friend Sharifah. Isn’t she beautiful?




I love her and she has become a close friend of mine. I’ve never had such a wonderful friendship with a Muslim (and I don’t even like identifying her as “Muslim” she is who she is … and more). But I’ve only had Muslim acquaintances – yes, Muslims can associate with their own for many reasons. But I’ve wondered, why do they wear it? I mean, on a hot humid day… surely their God would understand? For many, they feel it is their next step in devouting their lives to Allah. But not every woman is the same, nor does every woman wear a hajib. On this tour I sensed diversity in Islam through the diversity of styles of the headscarf.

In Malaysia it was common to see the hijab and clothing that covered elbows to ankles. Many hijabs were one piece of cloth that you pulled over the head with a tough outer brim that shaded the forehead. One lady who no longer associates herself as ‘fully Muslim’, doesn’t wear the hijab or conservative clothing. She says it’s possible to feel discriminated against if she didn’t adhere to expectations.


During winter in Turkey, it was hard to differentiate Muslims from those who just needed to keep their head warm! I questioned would all people dress this conservatively usually? I personally loved their style the most. Men and women wore long winter coats to just below their knee, boots and headscarves varied.

Some young women wore silk scarves and enhanced the hair bun. Westerners put ‘glamour’ in our hair, so do they! Women sometimes wrapped an extra scarf underneath to give more volume while others, mainly the elderly women, wore one and made a knot underneath their neck.

In Spain, a predominately Catholic community, I didn’t see many Muslims dressed in traditional dress. At the Madrid train station I noticed two women, one was our student and the other one looked like this (see photo below). In Granada, the Imam said that women generally wear the hijab by choice and they love it, although the hijab was more worn like a turban.



In Morocco it seemed like most mums and older women wore a headscarf (or hijab) with a Djellaba – a simple gown with a hood attached. Ones without a hood are called Kaftans, and were quite fashionable. No other country we visited wore these, so I assumed it was cultural. The university professor said, “you can’t take Islam from Morocco or Morocco from Islam”. Nomads (Sahara travellers) wore turbans for practical purposes – it is a desert! Many young educated people chose not wear Islamic clothing saying their personal relationship with God was not defined by cloth. This appeared to be common thought across every place we visited.


What does the Quran say?

I’m not a Muslim theologian but one perspective of the Quran speaks about modesty (Quran 24:30:31), just as the Bible in 1 Timothy 2:9. In many countries, for example Pakistan, their tradition dress isn’t actually a niqab, but the shalwar kameez. Some hadiths however (written by people after the prophet) enforce modesty in the form of a hijab while all main schools of Islam (madhhab) mandate the veil.


Comparison found in this story

What do statistics say?

The percentage of those who say their lives reflect the hadith and sunna (following the prophet’s example through stories)

  • Central Asia, Turkey = 33% a lot, 43% a little (Net 76)
  • Southeast Asia, Malaysia = 50% a lot, 36% a little (Net 76)
  • Middle East-North Africa, Morocco) = 28% a lot, 53% a little (Net 81)

Regarding oppression and equal representation regarding women, that is evident everywhere – not just within Muslim culture. Pew Research Centre data (The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics & Society Report 2013,  pg. 102) states that Muslims in many countries surveyed, favour a woman’s right to choose whether to wear a veil in public. This thought is dominant in Southern and Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Southeast Asia, Turkey (90%) and Morocco (85%) with fewer in Egypt (46%), Afghanistan (30%), Nigeria (30%). In Malaysia 77% are supportive of women’s rights to choose. Although there is a sense of having a “right to choose” however there could be a peer sense that you should. Countries, in order to have “freedom” and secularism, have banned the veil altogether (e.g. France). Is that the way to go if we value freedom? At the end of the day, what is it really about? Personal faith, social justice… so let’s “get over the hijab”.


Muslims, just as they are diverse in expression in wearing a hijab, are diverse people and Islam is more complex than we understand. As with Christianity, so are the diversity of expressions of faith. Maybe, we could look to understand women with hijab as a human beings and not bemuse guilty of ‘judging a book by it’s cover’. Why do we do that?


Many, including recent Refugee arrivals and new university students, may not have Muslim friends to journey with … but I’d encourage us to smile, see the woman – the feminine heart who has similar struggles and challenges to all women. Our choices reflect who we are, their choice to wear a headscarf reflects what…. to them personally? We should find out. Your greatest adventure could be with the girl in the hijab. Mine was. We need to be our sister’s keeper.





Dalia Mogahed expresses her personal story of “What do you think when you look at me?”at a TEDTalk. It’s worth the watch!


Feature photo found here.


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