Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hijab a Sign of Modesty and not a security Risk

Hijab literally means a curtain or cover; most of the Muslims refer this to also as three dimensional curtains that offer privacy. Though it is used mostly for the head scarf, it refers to the modesty and morality in our daily garb and also interactions with opposite gender. The word for the coverings used in Quran is Khimar (cloak) and Jilbaab (loose robe). In Quran it is stated
“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their khimār over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. (Quran 24:31)
Hijab equally applies to men and they are commanded to lower their gaze and dress modestly. Their interaction with women should be with respect.
The Hijab is seen in different ways in different parts of the world, the most visible or recognizable are the one with head scarf and long dress seen mostly in Arab countries, “ burqa” ( which covers the whole body including face) is commonly seen in South Asia and Afghanistan and “Chaddar” ( a large shawl covering the head) is mostly worn in Iran, South and South East Asia.
Over the years There has been much misunderstanding of Hijab among non Muslims. Mostly it is thought to be sign of “oppression”. Abuse of rights of Muslim women in different parts of the world; Muslim and non Muslim countries has nothing to do with Islam. Subjugation of women, mistreatment verbally and physically is a predicament for the whole human race, no matter what the faith or ethnic origin is. Denying a Muslim woman education or working outside the home is not dictated by Islam but a cultural practice albeit wrong one. This should not automatically label the dress of those women or their interaction with the society as being “oppressed”. Modesty and covering the head is not exclusive to Islam, this tradition of modesty was and is being practiced by Christian women (nuns) and many Jewish women. The illustration of Mary is always with head cover and is a sign of her purity and holiness. Nuns covering their heads are a symbol of modesty and submission to their God. Orthodox married Jewish women usually cover their heads (tallit) following their faith.
The paternalistic view of western societies and misunderstanding by many organizations unfortunately leads to wasted efforts in “helping women to get rid of this garb” rather than improving their quality of lives. We need to spend our efforts in improving the education of women in societies where there is subjugation of women due to lack of education and cultural practices. Choosing what to wear is a person’s right and we should leave that to the norms of society. Assigning a meaning of suppression to what is supposed to be sign of modesty does not lead to meeting of the minds and can lead to hindrance to the well intentioned efforts to help women in different parts of the world.
For Muslim women wearing the Hijab is part of their clothing; TSA members do “pat down” in selected cases, why can’t the same rule applied to head scarves. If there is still security concern the woman can be searched in a separate area by a woman TSA member. In many countries there are two separate sections at the airports and women are searched in privacy. It cannot be told how many times it crosses our mind when we see people being searched at the airports that we should also have private sections. It is stated at the airports “if you prefer to be searched in private please ask”. We are in a hurry at the airports and dread being taken to a different area and be delayed more.
In our diverse society we have to be very sensitive to people’s religious observances and cultural practices. Respecting someone’s beliefs is the cornerstone of civil society. We can work together to find a way where we do not offend anyone’s sensibilities and have a secure border.