Is Hijab a choice? Is it mandatory? Why in Islam Hijab is essential for girls? What are legal provisions in India and other countries? We at Team Live Adalat have tried to understand and analyze this issue.
Wearing a Hijab is a commandment in Islam that is only restricted to women that is the reason that Muslim men use the religious doctrine to pressure women into wearing hijabs. Muslim men use religion as an opportunity to exert power over others. The Hijab as per the Islamic rules should not shape a woman’s body, it should not curve at the bottom and the chest. That is the reason we are sad to wear a hijab which is loose from head to toe. says Muslim women.
No, Hijab is not a choice for millions of women. It is an oppression, women across countries being subjected to murder, Rapes, lashes, public beating, acid attack, execution, and Honor killing for not wearing it. More than physical intimidation is the ever-dangling threat of severe censorship, boycott, and chastisement in family and society.
Every year on February 1, a growing number of Muslim women worldwide have started observing #NoHijabDay. The Voice is the struggle of millions who are subjected to the hijab and the burqa. Women like Taslima Nasreen, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Yasmine Mohammed, Masih Alinejad, Rana Ahmad, and Ensaf Haidar today openly champion the liberation of coming out of the hijab. Their numbers are growing faster than one can imagine, and silently.
On the opposite side, In India, there has been much outrage about a school in Karnataka which has reportedly previously disallowed girls from coming to class in hijab but now as per the latest reports, Muslim girls are allowed to attend the classes due to outrage. Karnataka Chief Minister and Education Department have issued guidelines for Uniform Dress Codes in schools and colleges amid the Hijab controversy taking place in the state. The department has stated that students can wear a dress which will not affect equality, integrity, and law & order but the Muslim girl student at the government-run Pre-University (PU) College for Girls in Udupi district is upset about the PU College’s action in denying her admission to the college because she wears a hijab. Section 133 (2) of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983 has been put into place by the state government which says a uniform style of clothes has to be worn compulsorily. The private school administration can choose a uniform of their choice and the CDC can decide on a dress code to be followed by students.
Following the expulsion of six students from a college in Karnataka’s Udupi district last month for wearing a hijab, the debate over whether educational institutions can impose a strict dress code that may infringe on students’ rights has spread to other colleges in the state. The issue raises legal questions about how to interpret religious freedom and whether the right to wear a hijab is protected by the constitution.
In the Hijab ban controversy, Karnataka High Court hears petitions by Muslim girl students. The petitions argued that the institutions are discriminating against the petitioners and other female Muslim students by denying them entry on the sole ground of them wearing a hijab. Wearing of the headscarf (not a burqa or veil) is an essential part of Islamic religion: Senior Advocate Devadatt Kamat It is an essential religious practice as prescribed by the Holy Quran. Kamat readout Quranic verse 24.31 on dress code which mandates that neckline should not be revealed to anyone other than the husband. Kamat further says the State cannot say what is an essential practice of religion and what is not. That is the sole domain of Constitutional courts.
Hijab : Symbol of Patriarchy
Fatima Mernissi, a Moroccan feminist scholar who did path-breaking research into the origins of the hijab and burqa, elaborately studied the occurrence of the Arabic word sitr in the religious texts and its various meanings, ranging from curtain to physical barrier to simple cover depending on the context. She also counted that on most occasions, sitr applied to men in various social situations and milieu.
She established how over centuries of male-dominated social order across Muslim societies, the sitr or covering came to be exclusively applied to women, leading to today’s understanding. She ably illustrated how patriarchy systematically distorted religious teachings and constructed myths leading to norms that confine women.
Women all over the world are demanding freedom to choose what not to wear.” Women are demanding that freedom shall be universal “If there’s a claim of freedom, this freedom should be universal. “This should include the freedom to choose what to wear, but also the freedom to choose what not to wear.” There should be not a double standard while talking about freedom.
Global Campaigns by Women for Freedom from Hijab
“In our early days Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa,” he said. “It is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We are definitely going to ban it.”
Minister for public security Sarath Weerasekera , Sri lanka
“In our early days’ Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa,” he said. “It is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We are definitely going to ban it.” The wearing of the burqa in the majority -Buddhist nation was temporarily banned in 2019 after the bombing of churches and hotels by Islamic militants that killed more than 250. Even Muslim-majority nations like Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Tunisia, Morocco and Lebanon have outlawed burqa and hijab by various degrees. Egypt and Syria have long banned the face veil for girls in universities. MP and journalist Farida el-Shoubashy is about to introduce a bill in Parliament to ban the niqab across Egypt.
Iran : Three women have been charged with ‘inciting prostitution’ for not wearing veils and sentenced to 30+ years in prison
Iranian women’s rights defenders Monireh Arabshahi (Center), Yasaman Aryani (Left) and Mojgan Keshavarz (Right) have been detained in Shahr-e Ray prison, outside Tehran, since April 2019. Three women held in custody for “disrespecting compulsory hijab,” or the so-called Islamic dress code, have been sentenced to a total of 55 years and six months.The three had been charged with “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” “propaganda against the regime,” as well as “encouraging and preparing the grounds for corruption and prostitution.”
Yasaman Aryani, a 24-year-old Iranian woman, wanted to make change and ended up being sentenced to 16 years in prison for campaigning against forced veiling. She’s currently in Section 2A of the notorious Evin Prison. This is the area where people are typically held in solitary confinement, interrogated by the Revolutionary Guards and denied access to their lawyers.
In November 2021, A Yemeni model who was arrested by Iran-backed Houthi rebels for 'violating Islamic dress codes' while on her way to a shoot has been jailed for five years.
Entesar Al-Hammadi, 20, was arrested in February at a checkpoint in the capital Sanaa over images that showed her without a headscarf in defiance of Yemeni societal norms. In 2021, Indonesia has banned public schools from making religious attire compulsory, after the story of a Christian student being pressured to wear a headscarf in the class went viral. The 16-year-old girl was attending a school that had a rule that all students had to wear the Muslim headscarf. The government has given schools 30 days to revoke any existing rules. Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country, officially recognises other religions.
With more than five million Muslim population, France is one of the leading countries in Western Europe with residents practicing Islam. As of 2019, approximately 31% of French Muslim women wear a headscarf (hijab or niqab) however, in France, the French Football Federation bans the wearing of hijabs in its championships while headscarves are also banned in schools and government buildings as religious symbols are deemed “conspicuous”.
For Muslim women in France who play sports professionally, this spells as trouble as it is asking them to necessarily choose between their passion – the sport they play, and their faith, causing a forcible wedge to intervene
Countries that have banned hijabs, burqas, full face helmets and balaclavas
Switzerland banned the ‘burqa’ in March 2021 after a far-right proposal to ban facial coverings won a narrow victory in a binding referendum on Sunday. The proposal was put forward by the same group that organised a 2009 ban on new minarets. The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed. While the bill is being touted as ban on Islamic system of veil and burqa, the proposal also aims to stop violent street protesters from wearing masks. “In Switzerland, our tradition is that you show your face. That is a sign of our basic freedoms,” Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and a member of parliament for the Swiss People’s Party, had said before the vote. Facial covering is “a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland,” he said. Muslim groups condemned the vote and said they would challenge it.
In Netherlands, a face covering in public can invite a fine of at least €150. The ban, which came into force in August 2019, applies to burqas, veils fullface helmets and balaclavas. The ban came into place here after 14 years of debate.
In 2011, France banned face coverings with “Law of 2010-1192: Act prohibiting concealment of the face in public space”. The act was passed by the Senate of France on 14 September 2010. The act banned wearing of face-covering headgear, including masks, helmets, balaclavas, niqābs and other veils covering the face in public places. The ban also included the burqa if it covers the face. The ban was highly debated in the public as people raised concerns over immigration, nationalism, secularism, security, and sexuality. The advocates of the ban said face coverings hindered the clear identification in terms of security risk and ‘forcing’ women to cover their face under Islamic practices was sexist and oppressive. Opponents of the ban said that it encroaches on individual freedoms and targeted Muslims for their beliefs.
The country’s Cabinet cleared a proposal in April 2021 to ban all forms of face veils in public places “due to national security concerns”. The move came at a time when the Sri Lanka government was urging people to wear face masks in public to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The government had, however, said that the move was only in the form of a proposal and there was no reason to implement it in a hurry.
Full-face coverings, including burqas, in public, are banned in Belgium since 2011. People violating the law can face a fine or up to seven days in jail. However, Belgium only has around a million Muslims and out of those, only 300 wear burqa or niqab.
In 2017, China banned burqas, veils and “abnormal” beards in a predominantly Muslim Xinjiang province in what it claimed was a “crackdown on religious extremism.” The ordinance, which also forced people to watch state television, focused on outer garments that covered full body, including the face.
In Denmark, the burqas were first banned in August 2018 months after validating the law in May that year. The law imposes a fine of up to €135 for offenders.
In Austria, the law mandates that people should make their face visible from hairline to chin, under the law known as Law against Wearing Face Veils. The ban has been in place since 2017. Violators of the law face a fine of up to €150.
In Bulgaria, the burqa ban has been in place since 2016 with violators facing a fine of up to €750. However, it has made exemptions for people playing sport, at work or in a house of prayer.
In July last year, European Union’s highest court upheld a 2017 ruling allowing employers in Europe to forbid women from wearing headscarves to work. The ruling was met with massive criticism and human rights activists and Muslim nations condemned the decision, saying it would encourage Islamophobia.
History of Hijab
It is critical to emphasise that the term “Hijab,” which is frequently used, does not necessarily refer to the scarf that Muslim women wear to cover their hair. The term hijab does not have this meaning in the Qur’an. The word “Hijab” appears seven times in the Qur’an, each time referring to the same meaning. “Hijab” refers to a curtain, a separation, a wall, or anything that conceals, masks, or protects something.
The verse that has been most often used to prove the “obligation” of veiling for women and that mentions the term Hijab is the following:
Quran 33;53— ” O you who have believed, do not enter the houses of the Prophet except when you are permitted for a meal… And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a separation (Hijab).”
As explained here, the Hijab applies only to the Prophet’s wives and fulfills a circumstantial requirement in order to respect the Prophet’s private life. Furthermore, it does not represent a specific clothing model in any way. The main goal of this requirement was to educate Arabs of that time to respect the privacy of people and good manners. As a result, it is clear that the term Hijab does not necessarily refer to the scarf that should be worn to cover one’s head. Any Islamic female dress has nothing to do with the Hijab. At the time of the Prophet, it was more of a symbol of separation between public and private life. Its goal was to turn the prophet’s wives into Mothers of the believers.
As a result, it is clear that the current terms “burqa” and “hijab” are not Quranic terms rather than made by Muslim culture.
At first, it is important to highlight the idea that the term “Hijab”, which is frequently used, does not absolutely mean what is supposed to be the scarf that covers the hair of Muslim women. Nowhere in the Qur’an has the term hijab reflected this meaning. And the semantic and conceptual interpretation of the Qur’anic term Hijab shows the opposite of what is supposed to be in reality.
The term “Hijab” is reiterated seven times in the Qur’an referring each time exactly to the same meaning. “Hijab” means curtain, separation, wall and, in other words, anything that hides, masks and protects something[i].
But the verse that has been most often used to prove the “obligation” of veiling for women and that mentions the term Hijab is the following: ” O you who have believed, do not enter the houses of the Prophet except when you are permitted for a meal… And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a separation (Hijab)” Quran 33; 53.
As indicated here, the Hijab concerns only the wives of the Prophet and meets a circumstantial requirement in order to respect the private life of the Prophet. Besides, it does not represent, in any way, a particular model of clothing. The essence of this requirement aimed, mainly, to educate Arabs of that time to respect the privacy of people and good manners.
It is therefore quite clear that the term Hijab does not absolutely refer to the meaning given nowadays as the scarf that should cover the head. The Hijab has nothing to do with any Islamic female dress. It is rather a symbol of separation between public life and private life at the time of the Prophet. It aimed to make of the prophet’s wives Mothers of the Believers.
There is another verse that mentions a term that stands for the scarf. This verse says: “… And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not to expose their adornment (zinatahuna) except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers (Khumurihina) over their chests (Juyubihina) and not to expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons” Quran 24;31
The term Khumurihina (plural of Khimar) stated in this verse refers to the scarf that women used to wear in the Arabian Peninsula and in all the other civilizations at that time.
The Qur’an invites the believing women to fold their scarves (Khimar) over their chests (Juyubihina) to cover the upper part of their busts when they are in public. In fact, the classical commentaries report that the Arab women of Mecca used to uncover their neck and upper chest. For this reason, the Qur’an invited the believing women to fold the sides of the Khimar over their busts.
The majority of Muslim scholars and exegetes agreed that the believing women must cover their hair by putting on a Khimar and leave only their faces and hands uncovered in the presence of men who do not have a direct family relationship with them.
Since there is a difference between Hijab and Khimar, we have the right to ask why do we keep using the term Hijab for what has been named in the Qur’an scarf or Khimar?
This error is currently made unwillingly and mostly reproduced unconsciously, but it is worth mentioning that this semantic shift was not made innocently or casually throughout the history of the Islamic intellectual production.
The semantic shifts are usually the result of incorrect translations and interpretations and socio-cultural factors, which aimed at one point in history to create “made-to-measure” concepts to serve the political interests. And this is what happened with Hijab when it was imposed on Muslim women by inserting it willingly in the register of Islamic body ethics.
When we go back to the origin of the term Hijab, which means to “hide” or “separate”, and notice the changing process that it has undergone to bear the name “scarf”, we have the right to wonder if this concept was given this double meaning to religiously justify the isolation of Muslim women.
The “Hijab” was imposed on Muslim women as a way of “separation” in order to show them their place in society, and exclude them, in the name of Islam, from the socio-political sphere. Thus, replacing the Khimar with Hijab means to confuse different and opposing semantic and conceptual fields in order to endorse, in the name of Islam, the exclusion of women from the sociopolitical space behind a curtain!
Indeed, to substitute the Khimar with the Hijab is to confuse two different registers. While Khimar remains, according to the Qur’anic vision, a sign of women’s social visibility, Hijab undoubtedly symbolizes their relegation to the private space.
In fact, the first Muslim women put on the Khimar as part of the Qur’anic message of liberation and a symbol of dignity. This global vision and the holistic approach of the spiritual message of the Qur’an are important and even essential to understand the deep meaning of these verses.
It is not the Khimar -that existed before revelation- which is important, but rather its new meaning and the context in which it was revealed. The Khimar, according to its original meaning of women’s liberation and as a symbol of their participation along with men in the socio-political space, was therefore gradually replaced by the other Qur’anic concept of Hijab to prevent women from participating in the social field.
By considering Hijab as sacred and disregarding the Islamic vocabulary of Khimar, a new Islamic social code is invented to endorse the separation of men and women.
By “veiling” women, they will lose all the rights acquired at the advent of Islam. And the “veil” or Hijab will remain the single powerful indicator of the deterioration of Muslim women’s legal status, since they will be secluded and excluded from the public space, in the name of this symbol.
Finally, the confusion between Khimar and Hijab is politically delicate and serves, above all, the interests of different ideologies including radical Muslims, supporters of the official Islam of states, and the modern Islamophobia which joyfully criticizes the “veil” or Hijab considered today as the banner of Islam.
Unfortunately, the whole Qur’anic ethics seem today to be reduced to women’s dress and body, to the way they should be covered, the color, thickness and uniformity of the dress … However, given that the Qur’an did not insist on a specific clothing or appearance for women, it would be very simplistic to analyze the few verses on the dress far from the guidance of the spiritual message about the global body ethics for both men and women.
The Qur’an invites both men and women to behave with “decency” and “integrity”, both physically and morally. The Qur’an does not legislate a strictly religious “uniform” as it is shown here, and the first spiritual message did not intend to stipulate rigid or “fixed” dress standards once and for all, but rather to “recommend” an “attitude” or an “ethic” regarding the body and soul.
But it is really unfortunate that the first intention of the spiritual message of Islam is often neglected or completely ignored at the expense of a literal reading which keeps no more than “the obligation of wearing the Hijab” out of all the Qur’anic teachings about women! This contradicts the principles of the spiritual message and its spiritual ethics.
The question of Khimar or scarf is not part of the pillars of Islam, but rather of moral values, behavior, and relational ethics.
The religious faith is meaningful only when it is practiced without pressure. Therefore, speaking about the obligation of Islam to wear a headscarf or Khimar is spiritually unacceptable because the Qur’an said: “No compulsion in religion.” It is one of the main principles of Islam.
Reducing the whole global Qur’anic body ethics to the so-called “veil” is to stand against the same message. And this is exactly what happened in Islamic history by focusing on a woman’s dress, and the obligation to “hide” and “conceal “her body. As a result, this spiritual symbol has become a sign of oppression in the Muslim world.
It is therefore clear that the verses aim to encourage men and women to be free from and overcome materialism and codes of seduction of each era, which is a reflection of the dominant ideologies recurring throughout the history of human civilization.
The Qur’anic injunction calls upon men and women to behave with decency and respect as indicated in this key verse: “… But the clothing of righteousness (libass a-Taquwa) – is the best” … Besides, this verse solely highlights a concept that should be taken into account today in the chaos of ultraliberal consumption and exuberance.
Constitutional Provisions Regarding Hijab in India
Article 25(1) – “Freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise, and propagate religion.” It is a right that guarantees negative liberty, which means that the state must ensure that this freedom is exercised without interference or hindrance. However, the state can limit the right, as it can all fundamental rights, for reasons of public order, decency, morality, health, and other state interests.
A Muslim girl student has filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court, asking for a declaration that wearing a hijab (headscarf) is a Fundamental Right guaranteed under Article 14 and 25 of the Indian Constitution and an essential practice of Islam.
Supreme Court verdicts on religious practices over the years :
In Resham & Anr v. the State of Karnataka, recent Udupi’s case, The Kerala High Court refused to intervene in a school’s refusal to allow two Muslim girls to wear headscarves and full-sleeved shirts, citing the principle that “individual interest must yield to the larger interest.”
A single bench of the Kerala High Court held in Fathima Tasneem v State of Kerala (2018) that institutional collective rights would take precedence over the petitioner’s individual rights. Two young girls, ages 12 and 8, were represented by their father, who wanted his daughters to wear the headscarf and a full-sleeved shirt. The Congregation of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI) St Joseph Province owns and operates the school that refused to allow the headscarf to be worn. “Petitioners cannot seek the imposition of their individual right as against the larger right of the institution,” Justice Muhamed Mustaque held.
At least two petitions were filed in 2015 in the Kerala High Court challenging the All India Pre-Medical Entrance dress code, which stipulated wearing “light clothes with half sleeves without big buttons, brooch/badge, flower, etc. with Salwar/Trouser” and “slippers and not shoes.” Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) only made that rule only to ensure that candidates would not use unfair methods by concealing objects within clothes like a headscarf.
Even Armed Forces personnel are prohibited from growing hair, except for “personnel whose religion prohibits the cutting of hair or shaving of the face,” according to Regulation 425 of the Armed Forces Regulations, 1964.
Not only particularly targeting Muslims over hijab or beard, but The Supreme Court also ruled in 2004 that the Ananda Marga sect did not have a fundamental right to perform the Tandava dance in public because it was not an essential religious practice of the sect.
In 2016, a three-judge Supreme Court bench upheld a Muslim airman’s discharge from the Indian Air Force for growing a beard. The court basically ruled that growing a beard isn’t a requirement for practising Islam and no evidence has been produced in the court to claim the opposite.
In a case involving a Kolkata election, two women voters — a Hindu and a Muslim — petitioned the High Court for a religious exemption from the requirement of a photo identity card. “The system of purdah is alien to our soil and never existed during the period of Hindu civilisation,” the court said, dismissing the Hindu woman’s claim. The Muslim woman’s claim was also dismissed. “There is no express injunction about keeping purdah,” the court said, referring to Quranic verses on the hijab.