Tell a lie long enough, it becomes the ‘truth’.
The word ‘hijab’ appears in the Quran 7 times. Not one of these is in reference to women covering. Nevertheless, Muslims all around the world, whether they speak Arabic or not, talk about ‘hijab’.
‘Hijab’ is Quranic Arabic for ‘barrier’ although it is commonly used for the veil/scarf and translated as ‘covering’, ‘concealing’ or a ‘curtain’. This is an idea which has been propagated, most likely for centuries, by the predominately Arab male Muslim clergy. A clergy, which has objectified women as much as the Western world has sexualised them. Two sides of the same coin.
After spending years of my life researching women’s issues in Islam, a journey which has taken me places both physically and psychologically, I realised that out of the Quran’s 6235 verses, only 2 are about how women in general should dress in public. That’s around 0.03% of the Holy Book. An indication of how much of a Muslim woman’s faith is about her dress.
One (33:59) tells us to cover ourselves so we are known as Muslims. The other (24:31) that the chest and legs should be covered – the legs covered in a way as not to reveal what is beneath the covering. That’s it.
God tells Muslim women to cover their bodies so that they are known as Muslim women (The culture at the time of revelation was one where people often exposed themselves). Sadly, the majority of Muslim women are unaware of this and wear a headscarf and often a cloak and a face covering (they believe) to safeguard their beauty. That is because they are basing their opinion on the commonly accepted term ‘hijab’ for how they should dress.
I chose the path of Islam, learnt Classical Arabic and am memorising and studying the Quran. I have worn a scarf, a jilbaab (cloak/robe) and even a niqaab (face veil). Based upon God’s word, I now wear modest clothing. My religion is founded upon my own research and studies. I ask all other Muslim women to do the same.
Language and thought are strongly connected. When we use the word ‘hijab’, there are obvious connotations. We are making the whole issue about sexuality. Women become a temptation needing to be tempered, with the potential to lead men astray. It is a term founded in culture. A term that serves the needs of men as it then leads to further arguments that women need to cover their bodies with cloaks (jilabib), their faces (niqaab), and even infringes on their civil liberties (e.g. working, sports, going out/travelling without a male relative). Frankly, it reduces women so that they end up not having a voice or in extreme situations, even a presence.
I believe that we need to stop using the word ‘hijab’. It is a baseless concept. Women regardless of their religion are not defined by men and the word ‘hijab’ is doing exactly that. It leads to Muslim girls as young as 5 years being ‘sexualised’ when they are shrouded in a scarf and sometimes even a cloak. It is a term intertwined with cultural expectations involving shame, honour, and purity. A means by which a woman’s piety can be judged.
Many a Muslim will argue for ‘hijab’ claiming it is not just for a woman’s body but for her character and the way she interacts with the world. I argue the exact opposite. Dressing modestly, based upon evidence, brings religion to the forefront while kicking sexualisation firmly into the background.
We are more than our bodies. It’s time to move forward and it’s up to us as Muslim women to lead the way.