Throughout the last decade, this religious accoutrement of the Islamic nation came to be a popular topic of discussion. Myself, being emerged in acquaintances, friends and a general entourage of people wearing the hijab, had a conversation with a friend.
She is from a middle eastern background and to my wonder, she explained that 40 or 50 years ago, women did not wear hijab in her community. It was uncommon to do that. Whether it was for western colonization, or other reasons, it is hard to say. As our conversation went on, she explained that her grandmother only started wearing the headscarf in her 50s or 60s, and her own mother as well who's started wearing in her 30s. My friend of course, started wearing it at an earlier age. There was no pressure from the family or the community. Thus, my question was: Do you find your society has regressed in terms of expression of religion, in that case? Due to my naivety, I was under the impression that if you adorned such a religious garment, it would be because of one's intent on becoming more conservative. However, she corrected me by stating; she believed that there was more freedom to express one's religion and to embrace it, considering that now she is wearing the hijab as her personal choice and her ability to communicate her beliefs to the outside world.
Needless to say, I was dumbfounded. Hence, I began my quest to better understand the decision to wear a headscarf.
Difference in headscarf
There are different types of headscarf. The three main ones are the following: the hijab, the nikab and the burqa. The hijab only covers the head to the neck. The Nikab covers the entire individual except for his eyes. In last, the burqa resembles quite the nikab, despite the eye slits covered by a mesh screen that allows women to see through.
The adoption of the veil first emerged in 13th century BC, long before the arrivals of monotheist religions. This was later absorbed into Islam.
It was named the “hijab” which either means “partition” or “veil” in Arabic. There are still many debates among scholars and leaders of the Islamic community, as to whether to cover a woman’s hair is a recommendation or an obligation. This concept is joined with modest dressing, which concerns both Islamic men and women. The two are required to be dressed in humility. Men are also encouraged to wear a rounded cap called the “taqiyah”, although it is rarely seen in western parts of the world.
Mainly after the 9/11 attack, there has been a lot of tension surrounding this topic. This has brought forth many to deeper embrace their religion and provided them with the ability to express themselves.
This garment, worn by women, has become a hot topic of discussion, within and outside the religion itself. It has gone as far as legislations being created in Quebec, to dissuade women from wearing the nikab and the burqa. It was not explicitly stated to target Muslim women, for the terms refers to not covering the face of any individual interacting in public sector. Even though Bill 62 is stated to be religion neutral, there will definitely be bias in its application since it disallows the wearing of nikab or burqa, while no other clothing apparel is going to be impacted.
It was stated that the issue is for security concerns. Hence, all public services will respectively be given and received by unobstructed faces. We can all agree that this is an important factor. On the other hand, Muslim women feel targeted and less accepted within the society if they wear this attire. Only 3% of the Muslim women actually wear a nikab. Ihsaan Gardee of the National Council of Canadian Muslims has stated that: “It seems like a made-up solution to an invented problem […] We don’t have a big issue right now with hordes of Muslim women in Niqab trying to work in the public service or accessing public services with difficulty”.
This bill was contested at the Superior Court level, and a temporary decision has been made to allow the women subjecting to be affected by this matter to continue to wear the misunderstood badges of their religion. This decision will await the guidelines that are yet to be established by the Quebec government or until a full constitutional challenge to the law is heard.
Comparatively to my friend, many wear the headscarf willingly for religious reasons. As they grow up, they decide to conserve more and more modesty in their attire. Moreover, it is their way to express their freedom of religion and to be closer to God. As in any other diaspora, there are those who abuse and force the inferiors to assimilate to their beliefs; this cannot be denied. Nonetheless, it would be erratic to simply assume that when one wears the headscarf it is because she is being oppressed or forced into this habiliment.
Many women refer to being liberated once they had the choice of wearing the hijab. It gave them an identity and purpose. The last thing many of these women want, is to be judged for how they look. They want people to see it as a symbol of their character and how they treat others. Moreover, they underlined that this identity has been ingrained in them and can not ever imagine taking it off.
On the other hand, there are plenty who have decided to take the hijab off. Many indicated that they did not feel safe. This stems from the misunderstanding of society and how they stereotype women who harness a headscarf. For instance, a woman was spit on in the subway and felt that her scarf made her a target. Another brought up aspect, is that they do not feel up to the level of modesty required to wear the scarf; therefore, they were not wearing it properly. In that case, they are targeted by their own community who judges them for not living up to the expected standards. Others have disclosed the difference between how their peers treated them when they wore the scarf and when they were not wearing it. While wearing the scarf, many used to approach them with preconceived idea of who and what they had to be. This makes a difference in their daily lives. However, even though they are removing it because of social pressure and burden, these women all share the certainty of wearing their headscarves again.
This simple piece of clothing holds a lot of importance within and outside the Islamic community. It has played a big role in our history, no matter which ethnic background we come from. It has shaped many legislative, political and judicial views. The tension between freedom of religion and security has played its own parts within the Quebec region and the future of fundamental rights are still undetermined.