Uncovering the Hijab

By Elyse Rosenberg (Correspondent)

Published: Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Updated: Sunday, February 22, 2009


It's a great learning about Hijab, that "you should wearing it with a big responsibility". I found this articles, about weeks ago but I forget where the source is. I share this story to you as a lesson (or in Bahasa Indonesia "hikmah") we could learn in our life (Editor).

For Melody Khalifa, Rutgers College senior and co-secretary of the Islamic Society of Rutgers University, the Quran is a key guide to how she lives her life as a Muslim woman.

The Quran - the sacred text of Islam - is revered as the word of God and was dictated to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel, according to Islamic belief.

Because of her belief in God, or Allah, Khalifa, like many other Muslim students at Rutgers, wears the hijab.

Hijab is another name for the headscarf worn by Muslim women to "guard their modesty," according to the Quran.

The Quran states women should not display their beauty to any male, except their husbands, closely related family members and children.

James Pavlin, part-time lecturer in the University's Department of Religion said most people define hijab as a covering over the hair and the wearing of loose-fitting clothes that cover the entire body.

"Typically, this means that the face and hands can be exposed," Pavlin said. "The face veil is not considered an obligation according to most scholars, but it is recommended."

Khalifa said she began covering with hijab in the summer after fifth grade when she was 11 years old.

A Muslim woman is not obliged to wear hijab until she has reached puberty, Khalifa said. "If a young Muslim woman is approaching puberty, there may be fear of evil or immorality," she said. "Wearing hijab is a means to prevent such harm."

Pavlin said one of the main arguments for wearing hijab and modest behavior is that a Muslim -man or woman - should not be distracted by flirtations.

"The need to impress the opposite sex through physical displays of beauty is not an issue," Pavlin said.

Khalifa said although wearing hijab is an obligation, she was never forced to do so.

She was encouraged to cover with hijab after being introduced to it at a young age by her mother who wears hijab.

Pavlin said most Muslim men do not force their wives and daughters to wear hijab, especially in non-Islamic societies.

"Nevertheless … many women recognize the importance and spiritual significance of the hijab, and wear it as an expression of faith just as a Muslim would pray and fast or abstain from alcohol," he said.

Not all Muslim women begin wearing hijab as young as Khalifa. Rutgers College senior Anna Sohail started covering less than three months ago on the first day of the fall semester.

"I knew I'd be coming to school and seeing a lot of people … it would be a good opportunity to start," Sohail said. "Looking around and seeing other girls cover, that would be support."

Sohail said her hometown is largely Jewish and Christian, and if she waited until graduation to cover, she wouldn't have the same support she has at Rutgers, where there is a large Muslim community.

She said the biggest misconception about hijab is that women who wear it are oppressed.

"A lot of girls are doing it because they want to," Sohail said. "I'm still free thinking. I'm not being oppressed in any way."

Pavlin said the idea that hijab is a cause or consequence of oppression is driven by Western biases.

Pavlin said in recent years, religious life has undergone a revival in Muslim countries. "The hijab is being worn by many women who see it as a sign of spirituality and as a means of taking their place in public life," he said.

Sohail said she is the youngest of three sisters and the only one to cover. "It was a little strange for the fourth daughter to start wearing hijab out of nowhere," she said, referring to the decision to cover as her own choice.

Hijab is about respect for women, Sohail said. "It's about them not being objectified and guarding one's modesty," she said.

Just as women wear hijab, men are told to lower their gaze. "There is no excuse for men to go out and stare at women," she said.

Sohail said wearing the hijab is an internal struggle. "Living in this society, it's not completely accepted," she said. "You have to struggle with yourself to do it everyday."

Even though she sometimes feels like she sticks out since Muslims are not the majority in society, Sohail said she feels good about wearing hijab.

"It's something I want to do and have to do," she said. "At the end of the day, you feel like you're doing the right thing."

Livingston College junior Amara Altaf also started wearing hijab recently.

"I started reading more about my religion," Atlaf said. "I didn't do it earlier because I didn't follow religion 100 percent. I didn't feel like it was my time to wear it."

Atlaf said after learning more about Islam, she decided to cover and started doing so as a senior in high school.

Altaf said she wears hijab because men look at women with a lustful eye. "Guys look more at a girl when her hair is out than when she has her head covered," she said.

When Atlaf began wearing the hijab, she said the biggest shock came to her friends, who knew she was all about her hair.

"Every morning I'd wake up an hour early to do my hair," she said. "Now I don't really care anymore."

But not all Muslim women wear hijab. Rutgers College junior Naureen Jaffery wore hijab during her second year in college but stopped after a few months.

Jaffrey said none of the women in her family wear hijab. "It was a big deal for my family for me to have started it on my own and be a pioneer in that aspect," she said.

She said her family never expected her to cover. "If it had been forced upon me, I would have never realized its significance and beauty," she said.

Jaffery made the decision to begin covering after discussing it with friends who did and didn't cover. "It was a huge decision but I had been anticipating it for a while, so it was not anything I wasn't expecting," she said.

While wearing hijab, Jaffery said she experienced both good and bad. "I felt people looked at me differently, that they judged me by my hijab before they really got a chance to get to know me," she said. "However, personally I felt much better as a person when I wore it."

In the summer before her junior year, Jaffrey began to have second thoughts. "I was not strong enough," she said. "It takes a lot of strength to wear it everyday all day and you have to be really prepared for decisions like those."

Jaffrey had an internship with the federal government at the time and did not feel strong enough to continue wearing it.

She said she plans on wearing hijab again in the future. "I need to be spiritually at that level though," she said. "I need to be sure that I will stick with it and live up to it because it definitely is a big responsibility."

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