Understanding the religious practice of women in hijab

CLOTHING is one of the fundamental needs of humans. Adornment with different types of raiment is ingrained in human nature and this is why man, from time immemorial, has always associated proper dressing with modesty and good upbringing. Nudity in whatever form is regarded as retrogressive and incompatible with the values of a civilised society. In fact, out of all the creatures of Allah (SWT), man is the only one honoured with the dignity of clothing as a form of beautification and protection from harsh elements.

As the Creator of man, Allah (SWT) holds the sole right to legislate on all aspects of man’s life including mode of dressing. In view of this, Allah (SWT) explicitly states how He wants Muslimahs to appear in public. Allah (SWT) commands in the Qur’an:

“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and protect their private parts and not to reveal their adornment except only that which is apparent and to draw their veils all over their chests and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s father, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers, or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons, or their (Muslim) women, or the (female slave) whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour or small children who have no sense of feminine sex. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful.” (Qur’an 24 verse 31)

The above indicates that Muslim women are expected to appear in hijab, a loose outer garment, when they appear in public. This Quranic verse is also an affirmation that the use of hijab is neither a regional nor cultural practice but a universal expression of Muslim women’s willingness to submit to the dictates of their Lord. Furthermore, the Quranic injunction is an indication that the use of hijab is part of the religious practice and expression of Muslim women. It is also a refutation of the insinuations in some quarters that the hijab is a means of oppression and subjugation. The notion that Muslim women are forced to use the hijab under a patriarchal system that subjugates its female folk is far from the truth because Muslimahs in hijab are covered by choice and not by force. The use of hijab does not in any way involve coercion but freedom; freedom to dress modestly as stipulated by Allah and to screen them from the hungry glares and gazes of men.

Although national and international laws recognise the right of Muslim women to use their hijab, they are daily persecuted and compelled to remove this garment of honour. Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change their religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public and private to manifest their religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”

Similarly, Section 38, Subsection 1 of the Nigerian constitution guarantees that every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (either alone or in community with others and in public or in private), to manifest and propagate their religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

This shows that it is an incontrovertible fact that the use of hijab is a right recognised by the law and whoever denies a Muslim woman this right, under whatever guise, has trampled on her fundamental human right to freedom of expression of her religious belief and teaching in practice and observance. It is disheartening to note that Muslim women are denied this right not only in Nigeria but also other countries across the globe. Due to Islamophobia and hijabophobia, Muslimahs face daily stigmatisation, ridicule and oppression simply because they choose to be different from multitudes of women who engage in wanton display of their beauty. These brave and courageous Muslimahs dare to be different and as a result they endure discrimination and persecution in a society which claims to recognise freedom of religious thought and belief.

This is a wake-up call to all that the discrimination against Muslim females in hijab in our schools, hospitals, campuses, NYSC camps and other sections of the society must stop. If other women in the society are free to dress as they like without opposition from any quarters, we wonder why women in hijab are the target of persecution and discrimination. We therefore state categorically that a Muslim woman’s right to cover must be respected by all.  We condemn in its entirety the hypocritical stance of some sections of our society towards the hijab. We rebuke in strong terms all forms of stigmatisation of women in hijab. We therefore advocate tolerance and understanding of the religious practice of women in hijab in different sections of our society.

Source: Al-Muminaat (the Believing Women) Organisation, Oyo State.

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