Can the hijab be a symbol of freedom?

No matter how freely one choses to wear a headscarf, it remains a paradoxical symbol.

Cinzia Sciuto
Cinzia Sciuto MicroMega, Italy
Source: MicroMega
Can the hijab be a symbol of freedom? - NewsMavens
Girl in hijab, PixaBay

Why this story matters:

Since 2013, countries all over the world celebrate World Hijab Day. The initiative was launched by Nazma Khan as a way to promote wearing the hijab -- and also the niqab and the burqa -- but also to combat criticism of religious head coverings, branding it as Islamophobia.

Supporters of World Hijab Day deny that all women who wear the veil are oppressed, and defend their choice to wearing the hijab, often resorting to the very Western and individualistic argument of "everyone is free to dress as they please". But reducing the issue of the veil to a matter of fashion is ridiculous and offensive to its wearers. The veil is not worn as an accessory, but because it has meaning. And even if women freely choose to wear it, it still symbolizes a woman's duty to be modest, as we read on the site of World Hijab Day.

And in any case, this "freedom" is contextual. On the instagram profile of World Hijab Day, one of the photos that promoted the event featured a very young child in a hijab: what freedom will there ever be for a child growing up with a headscarf? To choose freely one must be in a free environment, and wearing a headscarf since childhood is certainly not a free environment. There is even a consensus among hijab-wearing Muslims that there should be a ban on headscarves for underage girls.

There is no doubt that some women choose the hijab without any external constraints, but to use it as a symbol of freedom itself and to create a day to celebrate is paradoxical at the very least. Especially as long as there are women who are forced to wear it -- by law, like in Iran and other countries, or otherwise -- and as long as young women are accused of immorality because they do not wear it, as long as there little girls being told that their hair will burn in hell if they don't cover it.

Details from the story:

  • In 2013, Nazma Khan launches the idea of World Hijab Day "in recognition of millions of women who choose to wear the hijab and live a life of modesty".
  • The initiative has had some success and has spread all over the world. However, it has also been highly criticized as an initiative to support political Islam.
  • In 2018, human rights activist Yasmine Mohammed launched a counter-campaign #nohijabday "to support brave women across the globe who want to be free from the hijab. Women who want to decide for themselves what to wear or what not to wear on their heads. Women who fight against either misogynist governments that will imprison them for removing their hijab or against abusive families and communities that will ostracize, abuse and even kill them"

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NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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