SPECIAL SERIE – Hijab : “The Veil-Hidden Wonders” [Part 2 – in United Kingdom]

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*Study written by Mahum Javed

A woman in hijab is like a Pearl in a shell

Hijab is an Arabic word and basically means ‘a covering’, in addition to a sense of protecting and keeping safe, the ‘veil’ being the English/Western narrative. The main purpose of the veil is guard the aspects of something that one wants to keep from harm’s way. It is human nature to shield something treasured to one’s life, just like the valuable pearl sitting in a protected shell embedded in the middle of the ocean. The pearl, being safe-guarded inside the casing is but a stone that can be used for jewellery or other such means. Yet how valuable can one say this item is to human life. Far from any measurable price indeed, human life is far more sacred.

Our creator has instructed for women to be treated with respect and love, yet we see Christian teachings from Saint Paul saying,

« Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil (1 Corinthians 11:4-16).

How upsetting would it be for women to shave their heads, losing their femininity and to completely get rid of their womanly features? Covering in the sense of not bringing shame on a family isn’t what wearing the veil signifies. These types of teachings have misguided individuals on its true meaning of shielding ones attraction for the long term. On the other hand, Islam teaches that wearing the veil is to guard the femininity of a woman, to protect her beauty from evil looks and desires others may have for her. Allah has beautifully said,

‘’O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful’. (Holy Quran: Chapter 33, Verse 59).

Whether it is her long hair or hour-glass-figure Islam has made it easy upon women to feel harmless from the evil of this world and its desires without reducing them to utter shame. Things we gift, items we keep close and secure like money and expensive accessories, exotic food that we eat such as bananas, pomegranates and oranges, are all covered and preserved, so why can’t women have the choice to be well-kept also?

In this day and age the media and fashion eye are misleading at times where bare legs and see-through clothing has become the norm. A low and disrespectful impression is given to other individuals with such clothing and the behaviour that comes along with it. Yet the veil protects a female from unwanted attention especially from the opposite gender, most importantly having the freedom to choose who she wishes to display her beauty to. Allah speaks,

“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”, (Holy Quran: Chapter 24, verse 30).

With the veil, certain responsibilities are a given, such as abstaining from evil desires, not losing our temper, thus moulding one to become a healthier, respected and an improved human being.  Understanding philosophically and spiritually why women wear the veil, deciding to cover their bodies and why men may seem uninterested in pointless conversation, should come first before any judgement in the way they look/behave. To have a cleaner heart and body, to withdraw from behaviour disastrous to one’s health, to be at peace with our soul during self-reflection are deeper reasons to what the veil stands for. To keep something of value safe and hidden does not mean they are oppressed or restricted from everyday life. They are merely sheltered through-out the decisions of our short existence on planet earth.

Perception & Perspective

M. Javed 22-England, UK

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ― Stephen R. Covey, (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change)

Stephen R. Covey has quoted, one must listen to understand, than listen with the intent of merely replying (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change). Furthermore, upon understanding, interaction with people has also left me feeling grateful and blessed. Why? Because listening, questioning and researching has enabled me to understand people, their reactions to certain questions as well as their actions beyond their own experiences. A sense of ease and conformability is felt around me and others while in conversation with strangers. Although, these ‘strangers’ are fellow workers of the city and individuals on the high street: our exchanges being brief but open-minded (mostly) and their body language welcoming.

For the previous part of this special serieHijab : “In the Eye of the Beholder” [Part 1 – in France]

by Mahrukh Arif

While, (being my nature to question things) I wonder and firmly question: (philosophically, psychologically and socially) beyond the simple interrogatives of what? when? who? how? And why? Even after such degrading titles are given to women wearing the veil, individuals are still comfortable talking to us (covered women)? It may seem that the media has failed to convey the terrorist image of a woman in a veil or do the intellects of the city actually comprehend the meaning of being protected under the veil? Or is my wearing of the veil some sort of threat to individuals not wearing modest clothing? Are they talking to me because they are interested in knowing my views on why I wear a veil over my head and body? Most people ARE interested and lengthy talks regarding their views and my own. Or do they want to test me and find out whether I truly grasp the reasons of my beliefs and its commands? Living in a country where academia is valued hugely and the saying ‘knowledge is power’ greatly acts as a moral to live up to. Either way, all these questions should first and foremost be answered by ourselves (the veiled women) and then we can go ahead and explain to others of our reasons and rationale behind it.

I started wearing the veil about two years ago, very much influenced from a young age from my parents. Continuously, the same reply would exhale from my mouth, ‘I will wear it permanently when I truly understand why a female in Islam wears it’. My daily prayers were regular and heart-felt, however wearing the veil deemed challenging on a long-term basis. As mentioned before I questioned, researched and prayed most importantly for guidance and direction. In addition to this, previous life experiences had eventually helped me make the decision to wear the veil. Depending too much on worldly life and people within it had me question why I looked for kindness and appreciation in every single person that I encountered. Only our creator knows of our weaknesses, He is the knower of the unseen, the most merciful and the ever-forgiving. Alongside my journey I understood my weaknesses which is consequently uplifting, as being aware of what I was not good at aided my outlook and helped me better myself for future circumstances.

Alongside the few years in contemplating my vulnerabilities as well as my strengths ‘fashion & media’ had definitely crossed mind. Wearing the hijab/veil had somewhat become a trend-statement-setter for some women, where wearing immensely bright colours, heaps of make-up and tight-fitted clothing was standard in the big city. However, does this really portray the meaning of hijab and humility? From young ages, many females and myself  included are/were exposed to thin women in short, tight-fitted clothing on the television and bill-boards and now we see females wearing the veil in similar apparels? As mentioned before, the veil is much more than a piece of clothing and extends to mannerisms and behaviour such as being modest, being humble and (even if it is unintentional) not to flaunt your assets, all to avoid dangerous encounters in the future . These thoughts further lead me to dress in simple and modest attire, which gave me freedom, choice and respect amongst individuals and assurance that I wouldn’t need people to like me or judge me according to what I was dressed like, rather what is in my mind, the way I think and what I know, my opinions on worldly matter and what I can change with my perspective on matters rather than my body. Additionally, Islam has never stopped me from making a difference rather it has taught myself and others to read and learn what we do not know. The Holy Quran states:

Read in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clinging form. Read! Your Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by means of the pen; taught man what he did not know. (96:1-5). People started treating me differently than before, in a positive way and in a respectful way, especially the opposite gender. I also had the responsibility to be the best role-model for younger females which does prove to be difficult at times as we all need space for growth at any age.

Nonetheless,being ‘covered’ has never restricted me from voicing my opinions, from partaking in a sport, from learning, from being educated and from working in the city. It is the narrow-minded individual that has distorted the true meaning of ‘hijab’, it is the extremists who have no sense of peace and harmony. They have veiled the radiance of Islam and their women.

Conditioning & Questioning

In the least demeaning manner, being conditioned to believe in a religion from the day I was born probably makes me sound dependent and predictable.  Although, as it may make me sound like a doubtful and negative human being, it has always been an innate characteristic of mine to ask why, to question every aspect of the world and to find answers, as it is common universally to ‘want answers’ for the good and evil in the world. Thankfully, being born and bred in the UK, I would like to express my appreciation for my parents (from a Pakistani background) and this country for letting me question and exercising my freedom, especially my decision leading up to wearing the veil. Unfortunately, the West still hasn’t allowed Muslim women to wear the veil without misconceptions arising, without having even an ounce of fear from persecution if spotted in any sort of covering of the body. Their devotion to the creator has been falsely looked down upon and dishonoured. At the same time orthodox Jewish women and dedicated nuns of the Christian & Catholic faith all have the same teachings for women wearing the veil, their clothing is simply a covering of the body, the same principles applying for Muslim women also, yet the words ‘Islamiphobia’ and ‘jihadists’ have incorrectly been linked with the religion of peace that has left the unguided societies of the world lost and confused.

Law & Order

From only the post-world war era, the UK has been a very multi-cultural country although, only recently can we honestly say people have become more tolerant and accepting towards foreign ethnicities. The 21st century has brought about critical and free-thinking which has somewhat aided us in the West to practice the rights we have as Muslim women, and yet Muslim women had already been given rights regarding property, inheritance & casting opinions from the establishment of Islam (1400 years ago). Are people really aware of the wonders of Islam or have they been sucked into the world of the false media reports? Fortunately, the UK has been very progressive about the dress of Muslim women; however there are MANY sceptics within our governmental system that want to abolish the veil. Talks have been stimulating in a growing number of MP’s for many years for the ban of full face veils as well as all categories of headscarves in general.

In 2005, researchers and partner Rumana Begum from the Equality & Diversity Unit of Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council conducted asurvey about immigrant communities having the same ideas about ‘Britishness’ as the rest of the population. The survey was carried out and feedback was taken from first generation migrants (youngest aged 49 and oldest ages 86). The idea of ‘Islamic extremism’ taking control of Britain’s schools had startled the education system whereby the argument was backed by our prime minister David Cameron, as in his understanding the values of being ‘truly British’ were, ‘’citing freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions’’. Initially, with the desire to fit in the need for similarity comes into play within two of more cultures, but the search for diversity is seen within Britain and foreign cultures, especially in the responses of those first generation migrants.  All confidently addressing themselves as ‘’British Bangladeshi’’, ‘’British Pakistani’’ or ‘’British Indian’’, Britain had been their home from the very beginning and the fact that they knew and consistently acknowledged British values, they in turn had the freedom to practice their faith, having religious toleration, with additional principles such as the welfare state, respect for law and order and the monarchy. The reply from one Bangladeshi man after he was asked about what he valued about Britain:

“They have never questioned me about my religion, which I have been able to practice freely”.

On the other hand, regarding the issue of religious diversity, (campaigned in the British Social Attitudes Survey), when individuals were asked whether being a Christian was a vital measure of ‘Britishness’, only a measly 25% answered that it was, clearly acknowledging the diversity in people’s thoughts and perspectives. Therefore, tolerance as a measure of ‘Britishness’ has been emphasised greatly both by our prime minister and the first generation migrants of this hospitable country. If concepts such as tolerance and respecting the rule of the law has been taken into consideration from the Muslim communities and most importantly practiced then wearing the veil shouldn’t be talked about in parliamentary houses, the veil shouldn’t be a life-threatening piece of clothing; the veil should never hold a destructive image. Tolerance comes from both ends for a peaceful outcome.

To live in peace without attempting to understand, to question and to research every single branch of a faith is irrational. Associating absurd, illiterate reasons to specific attire and behaviour is what the fabricated televised system has distorted for us to believe in. Fortunately, in belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community I have learnt to be patient, open-minded and passionate to learn, acknowledging how collectively, talks and diplomatic debates will enable further freedom in the faith and this country. Living in the UK and working together with non-Muslims has left the public amazed at the tolerance and the consideration we have for other faiths as our own. Only with thoughtfulness and accurate broadcasted attention will more people in this country know the true meaning of the veil.

*Mahum Javed is an interior architecture graduate and used to expresses her views on social issues of cultures and faith.

Quotation :

Mahum Javed, « Hijab : “The Veil-Hidden Wonders” [Part 2 – in United Kingdom] », in: www.cultures-et-croyances.com, Folder : English Side – Special Serie, July 2014.

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