The many hues of headscarves

Source: Huffington Post

BY Ayesha Malik, Contributor

Lawyer and Writer

Reading Amina Lone’s letter in The Times this Sunday calling for a ban on hijabs in primary schools took me back to the Book of Genesis wherein lies the first recorded instance of veiling for women, when Rebecca first sees Isaac and veils herself. This in turn took me to Mary, who having had an entire chapter devoted to her name in the Quran and having been described as exemplary for both men and women therein, has never been depicted in the Christian world without her head covered. In fact, as Alice Morse writes in, “Two Centuries of Costume in America,” that through the 20th century, Christian women abided by the biblical law that bade them to cover their head.

Yet, notwithstanding the existence of this diverse range of head coverings across different faiths, the question of the Islamic headscarf has always remained highly contentious. With it are tied the notions of oppression and subjugation of women, due in large part to the misplaced practices in certain Muslim-majority countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. These countries mandate the wearing of the hijab prescriptively, entirely in contradiction with the Quran, which although ordains women to be modest and cover themselves, prescribes no punishment for failing to do so. In no manner does it sanction the state or any other individual to take the charge of coercing women to wear the hijab, the verses in question in fact address men first and command them to “restrain their looks.”

The Quran does not require pre-pubescent girls to wear the hijab and yes primary school girls should not need to wear it as part of their uniform. Arguing this much is reasonable. However, Ms. Lone has unfortunately conflated the very specific question of primary school girls wearing the hijab to the wider issue of women covering themselves. She speaks of, “regressive practices” and “gender inequality” perpetuated by the existence of the headscarf. By brandishing every headscarf-wearing woman as oppressed and “unequal” to men in some manner, she paradoxically feeds into the same societal stereotypes she claims to be fighting. The larger question of the covering of women is far more complex and takes on many forms. To suggest that every hijab-wearing woman is oppressed is simply untrue. I have never felt my hijab an impediment, neither in the suburb of Pakistan where I was raised nor on the campus of Harvard Law School where I was educated.

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