February 1: 'World Hijab Day' Or 'No Hijab Day'?

February 1: 'World Hijab Day' Or 'No Hijab Day'?

by Arshia Malik - Wednesday, February 1, 2023 12:31 PM IST
February 1: 'World Hijab Day' Or 'No Hijab Day'? Image for representative purpose only (Wikimedia Commons)
  • As Iranian women struggle for their democratic rights and the Afghan women reel under the diktats of the Taliban, the global civil society will have to decide who they want to support—World Hijab Day or No Hijab Day.

Hijab is a headscarf or veil worn by some Muslim women as a sign of modesty and religious observance. It covers the head and neck and is often accompanied by loose-fitting clothing.

The hijab is a highly debated and contested cultural and religious symbol, with interpretations and attitudes towards it varying widely among different countries and communities.

In some societies, it is seen as a sign of oppression and is banned or restricted, while in others it is seen as a choice or expression of religious or cultural identity, while in some it is mandatory wearing and not sporting it can get the women killed, arrested, lacerated, or mutilated.

The hijab is a highly debated and contested because it represents different things to different people and can symbolize both empowerment and oppression, depending on one's perspective and cultural context. For some, the hijab represents religious devotion, cultural identity, and a sign of modesty.

On the other hand, for others, it is seen as a symbol of patriarchal control and oppression of women, as well as a representation of political and religious extremism.

Additionally, the hijab has become a political issue in many countries, with debates and controversies surrounding its use in public spaces, educational institutions, and the workplace. These differing opinions and interpretations have led to widespread debates and controversies, both within Muslim communities and between different cultural and religious groups. 

There are several countries where the hijab has become a political issue. In France, in 2004, a law was passed banning the wearing of religious symbols, including the hijab, in public schools. This led to widespread controversy and debates over the role of religion in the public sphere and the limits of religious freedom.

In the late 1990s, the government of Turkey introduced restrictions on the wearing of the hijab in universities, leading to protests and debates over the role of Islam in the secular state.

After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the wearing of the hijab became mandatory for women in Iran, leading to ongoing debates and controversies over the role of women in society and the extent of religious freedom.

The repression and mandatory veiling eventually culminated in nationwide protests in Iran when on 16 September 2022, 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, also known as Jina Amini, died in a hospital in under suspicious circumstances. 

The Guidance Patrol, the religious morality police of Iran's government, had arrested Amini for allegedly not wearing the hijab in accordance with government standards. The Law Enforcement Command of the Islamic Republic of Iran denied the reason of her death but eyewitnesses, including women who were detained with Amini, reported that she was severely beaten and that she died as a result of police brutality.

Amini's death resulted in a series of protests, in which she became the face and symbol of a new Iranian Spring. Some female demonstrators removed their hijab or publicly cut their hair as acts of protest, Western celebrities and social media influencers copying them in solidarity. 

Iran Human Rights reported that by December 2022 at least 476 people had been killed by security forces attacking protests across the country.

Amnesty International reported that Iranian security forces had, in some cases, fired into groups with live ammunition and had in other cases killed protesters by beating them with batons.

The debate over the hijab continues in other European countries such as Belgium, where in 2011, a ban was introduced on wearing full-face veils, including the burka and niqab, in public spaces.

In The Netherlands too in 2019, the Dutch parliament proposed a ban on the wearing of face-covering clothing, including the burka and niqab, in some public spaces. 

Likewise, India too was embroiled in the hijab debates since a year ago when in December 2021 in Udupi, Karnataka, some students decided to demand the right to sport the hijab inside the classroom. Soon, it snowballed into a matter of public order, whereby classes were disrupted by those in ‘solidarity’ with the hijab-donning students.

The Karnataka government, by an order dated 5 February 2022, banned wearing clothes that disturb equality, integrity, and public order in schools and colleges. The petitioners then demanded justice from the Karnataka HC, claiming that hijab was an ‘essential religious practice’.

On 15 March 2022 the High Court dismissed petitions, saying it is not a part of essential religious practice in the Islamic faith. Several pleas have been filed in the apex court challenging the HC verdict and the debate rages on. 

So, this 1 February, 2023, the organisers of No Hijab Day will be again clashing with those who advocate World Hijab Day in solidarity with Muslim women vs those who believe in freedom of expression, the right to life and dignity and the right to live as they deem fit without religious coercion.

As Iranian women struggle for their democratic rights and the Afghan women reel under the diktats of the Taliban who have banned women from educational institutions and workplaces, even some public spaces, the global civil society will have to decide who they want to support - World Hijab Day or No Hijab Day.

Arshia Malik is a columnist and commentator on social issues with particular emphasis on Islam in the Indian subcontinent.
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