Hijab: An Open Letter to the World

Dear masses of the human race,

With due respect, I request you to hear me out and to read this letter with an open, unprejudiced mind.

Catholic nuns wear veil as a symbol of holiness. Sikhs wear a peculiar turban. Kippah is the skull-cap worn by Jewish men. In Hindu society, women often cover their head on entering religious places and follow it traditionally as a sign of respect in front of elders. European women of the Middle Ages wore different varieties of veils in the form of hats, wimple and head-scarves. Depictions of Virgin Mary (Hazrat Mariam), mother of Jesus Christ show her veiled. Muslim women wear veil - hijab - which is modest dressing. So, what is this hue and cry about Muslim women’s hijab? Why is the world making noise?
Feb 11,2004: MPs vote overwhelmingly to ban the Islamic headscarf and other religious symbols from state schools.
June 7, 2011: Iran women’s soccer team thwarted by hijab ban. Iran’s women’s team was correctly prevented from playing a 2012 Olympics qualifier wearing Islamic head scarves, FIFA claimed.
Sep 1, 2011: American police officers in the state of New York clashed with Muslim individuals protesting an arbitrary ban on hijab at an amusement park and arrested at least 15 protesters. The incident occurred when one woman, Entisai Ali, protested to police officers over the amusement park’s headscarf restriction.
27 September 2011: Bishkek - A ban on the wearing of headscarf at schools sparked outrage in Kyrgyzstan, with human rights activists condemning the move as denying Muslim girls one of their basic rights. Many Muslim students were either forced to remove their headscarves or go home if they refused to take them off.

December 08, 2011: Eight Kazakh female students at a university in northwestern Kazakhstan say they will sue school officials for not allowing them to attend classes wearing head scarves.

School and university students wearing hijab in Turkey constitute the biggest front of the fight against hijab ban in public sector and educational places in the country. The hijab-wearing university students, in particular, hold daily gatherings in front of their universities and try to gain their right through lawful means.

Perhaps we are going to times benighted; to the Dark Ages because from the Ancient to Middle Ages to perhaps just a few years ago, women were free to wear a veil and it was not only admissible but was considered a mark of modesty and propriety in some traditions, while a virtue of prestige and nobility in others. The veil which was permissible and acceptable by various traditions and religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and glorified in their religious scriptures, has become an idiosyncrasy for Muslim women, a note of oppression and subjugation of Muslim women. Muslim women are perceived as dimwitted and obtuse with no intelligence and maturity of their own and inspite of their protests around the globe that hijab is their choice, a momentum of forced liberation can be witnessed.  We are labelled as oppressed and discriminated against from times primitive and, therefore, it is the duty of our Western empathizers to liberate us and to make a choice for us, because being feeble-minded, the Muslim woman cannot distinguish right from wrong.

When I say that the hijab I wear liberates me, you either smirk at me or look at me with pity - pity at a persona naive and simple-minded. Islam requires both men and women to cover certain areas of their bodies out of modesty.

How do I feel wearing Hijab? I feel empowered, respected and dignified. When people talk to me, they concentrate on what I say and not how I look. People talk to me for ME and not for my appearance. I feel seen for who I truly am - a human being. When I wear hijab, I feel that perhaps I reflect some glimmerings of modesty of Mother Mary, the holiness of nuns. Its like living in a church everyday. I feel pure. Hijab requires purity of character - to live a principle-centred life based on humility, modesty, honesty, love, compassion and kindness and to elevate oneself with a conscious endeavour.

So, please do not prejudice. You respect the veil of a nun for her holiness and modesty and perceive the veil that I wear as a symbol of subjugation and injustice. Islam does not provide for oppression of woman. I am free to choose. Hijab is my choice. I am liberated. Your truly,
Wajiha Mehdi
 a follower of equality and liberty for all,  a girl who wears Hijab

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-29 February 2012 on page no. 2

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