I thought I would adress this topic first and foremost because well, it is inevitable and I just want to get it over and done with. Sadly, the topic of the hijab is NEVER over and done with. The simple definition of the hijab refers to the scarf/headcovering worn by Muslim women. However, the hijab is so much more complicated than that. It is a deeply symbolic piece of fabric, with the threads of spirituality and morality woven tightly and reinforced culturally. The hijab is not only a physical veil that is meant to ensure modesty, it is also a metaphorical veil that dictates behavioral codes between the two genders in order to ensure chastisty.
Depending on the translation you use, the Quran (24:31) refers to the hijab as a garment that goes over a woman’s bossom (Yusuf Ali, Pickthal) and/or over her head (Shakir, Bakhtiar). I have talked to women across different cultures and they have justified covering or not covering based on their own interpretation of this specific verse. Of course, the prevailing culture largely dictactes whether a woman will cover her hair and how she will do it. The hijab spectrum is wide, from bandana scarves to a full out burqa. A woman in the West will most likely wear a hijab with a pair of jeans while those in Saudi Arabia will wear it with a black cloak (abaya). And depending on where she lives, a ‘covered’ woman will either be frowned upon or looked up to…the reactions are mostly geopgraphically specific. It is frustrating that whether or not a woman wears the hijab, there will always be a reaction. Some Muslims ostracize their Muslim sisters for not wearing the hijab, some non-Muslims (and Muslims) demean hijab wearers and label them as victims of opression. It is not suprising therefore that these reactions wear out many Muslim women, driving some to take ‘breaks’ from the hijabi lifestyle or abandoning it altogether.
In order to achieve a more peaceful society, we all need to develop a greater INTER-religious and INTRA-religious tolerance. Each one of us is a product of a unique interplay of childhood upbringing, education, culture, religion, and environment; let us celebrate that diversity.