The modest attire of Muslim women has become so commonplace, that hijab, the Arabic word used to refer to the Islamic dress code, is now commonly used in English. One of the most visible aspects of Islam, hijab is often the subject of controversy as well. Some view it as a sign of the subjugation of Muslim women, while some others see it as an obstacle to the integration of Muslims in Western society.

However, to Muslim women who practice hijab, it represents an act of obedience to God. It also represents a step towards freedom, i.e. freedom from being judged by their looks rather than their intellect.

Modesty – Required of both men and women

A common misconception about hijab is that it is mandated only for women. Hijab is actually mandated for both men and women. The difference lies in how they are required to implement it. The Glorious Qur’an says:

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands…”

[Al-Qur’an 24:30-31]

Both men and women are required to dress and conduct themselves in a manner that befits their dignity and is not the cause of temptation for others. Hair is considered part of a woman’s physical attractiveness. Therefore, covering of hair for the woman is considered essential to modesty of her attire, even in the Bible. This is the reason that nuns and orthodox Jewish women also cover their hair.

It is the outer dress of Muslim women which includes the head covering that is usually referred to as hijab. Hijab is not merely a covering dress, but more importantly, it is behavior, manners, speech and appearance in public. The headscarf is an outer manifestation of an inner commitment to worshipping Allah – it symbolizes a commitment to piety. Self or inner morality is what gives meaning to the external scarf.

The Face Veil

In the opinion of the majority of Muslim scholars, a woman should cover everything except her face and hands. The face veil however, is worn by some Muslim women, who either consider it a requirement, or wish to adhere to a higher level of modesty.

Hijab – A liberation

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A Typical style of Hijab worn by Muslim women

In a society in which women’s beauty has been commoditized, and where women often end up associating their self-worth with their looks, the hijab and its concomitant de-emphasis of physical beauty can be tremendously liberating. Muslim women wear the hijab out of obedience to God, while recognizing the immense wisdom behind His commandment.