The hijab has become an international issue, with a number of countries either banning it completely or only in specific cases, writes EMERITUS PROFESSOR SULEMAN DANGOR.
WE have recently been exposed to images of Iranian women protesting in the streets against being compelled by the state to wear hijab in public. This follows the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s ‘morality police’ for defying the ‘hijab law’. The protests spread to a number of towns during which women marched without the hijab, some even daring to cut their hair in public.
Police responded to the protests by beating marchers with batons and spraying tear gas and bullets into the crowd. Some protesters were injured and an unknown number killed. Besides dozens of protesters, at least 35 journalists, including Niloufar Hamedi, the female journalist who was the first to report on Amini’s story, have been arrested and detained since the protests broke out.
The hijab has become an international issue, with a number of countries either banning it completely or only in specific cases. Westerners oppose or criticise the hijab for several different reasons. Some see it as a manifestation of the oppression of Muslim women. Others, especially Islamophobes, consider the hijab as challenging the European or Christian ‘way of life’, a few even suggesting that Muslims want to impose shariah in their countries. However, a number of prominent non-Muslims have come out in support of Muslim women’s unfettered right to wear the hijab.
The following is a list of countries where the hijab is banned either completely or conditionally.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: wearing the hijab is banned in courts and other judicial institutions.
Canada: the wearing of religious symbols by public servants in positions of authority in the Canadian province Quebec is prohibited.
France: all religious clothing and symbols (including the hijab) are banned in schools but not in universities.
India: Some schools in India do not allow girls to wear the hijab in classrooms but it is not banned in the country.
Kazakhstan: in 2018, the government proposed a ban on people wearing headscarves, niqabs and other similar forms of clothes in public.
Kosovo: wearing the hijab in public schools, universities and government buildings has been banned since 2009.
Kyrgyzstan: Some schools barred Muslim students donning headscarves from attending classes in 2011, 2012 and 2015.
Russia: The hijab is banned in schools and universities in two regions – the Republic of Mordovia and the Stavropol Territory.
Uzbekistan: In 2012, the government banned the selling of religious clothing, such as hijabs and face veils, in the market.
Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab see it as an expression of their Muslim identity and consider the ban as a denial of their fundamental rights. They point to the hypocrisy of those countries who do not prohibit the wearing of the cornet by nuns but object to the wearing of the hijab. Interestingly, nuns wear the headdress ‘as a symbol of purity and modesty’.
According to the overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars, the Quran and hadith clearly indicate that women must cover the head and the whole body except for the face and the hands. Probably most Muslim women in Muslim majority countries and a substantial number among Muslim minorities wear the hijab. Either the men in the immediate family require their women to wear the hijab when leaving the home or women themselves choose to wear the hijab.
If a country makes it mandatory for women to wear the hijab, it could penalise them for violating the law by, for instance, paying a fine. There used to be only three Muslim countries which compelled women to wear the hijab: Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan. Since 2018, women in Saudi Arabia are no longer compelled to wear the hijab.
The question is whether a male parent, husband or sibling can enforce wearing the hijab. According to many scholars, a father can make it mandatory for his daughters to wear the hijab. Likewise, the husband can compel his wife to don the hijab. Another opinion is that a man has no jurisdiction in forcing a woman to wear the hijab. If he is in some position of authority over her (such as a husband, father or brother), he should admonish, request, advise etc. the woman to wear the hijab but none has a right to force a woman to adopt the hijab.
Will the protests against the compulsory wearing of the hijab in Iran spread to Afghanistan? In my view, women in Afghanistan may succeed in convincing the Taliban not to enforce wearing the burqa but will continue to wear the hijab.
While it is not surprising that the challenge to the mandatory wearing of the hijab is receiving support from non-Muslim women, it is likely to receive the blessing of Muslim women who do not wear the hijab. However, it will not deter women who believe that wearing the hijab is compulsory.
It will be interesting to see the outcome of the protests by Iranian women. Already some protesters have been enrolled for ‘proper education’ about hijab. Will the state eventually relent or impose harsh sanctions or restrictions for defiance by the women?