The Islamic headscarf: what are the religious rules on its wearing and why is it politicized? | SBS News
The hijab – or headscarf – is often seen as a highly politicized symbol and is now at the center of a revolt against hard-line Iranian officials.
Frustrated by the rules of the Conservative government, dozens of women risk their lives defying the authorities, burning their headscarves and cutting their hair in the streets.
Around the world, women are cutting their hair in solidarity with Iranian women protesting against the government after the death of Mahsa Amini. Source: AAP / ANP / Sipa United States
But that’s a different story in countries like France and parts of India, where women have continuously fought for their right to wear the hijab – but they are forbidden to do so.
So what exactly are the Islamic rules regarding the wearing of the headscarf, and why do governments make decisions about how Muslim women can dress?
What does Islam say about the hijab?
According to Dr. Iner, these verses have been read by many scholars to emphasize that Muslim women should cover their hair, neck and ears while wearing long, loose clothing as a sign of modesty.
Four Muslim women wearing their hijab walk through Jakarta. The way Muslim women wear their hijab differs depending on their cultural attire. Source: Getty / Goh Chai Hin
It is understood that Muslim women who wear the hijab should only reveal themselves to other women and their close male relatives – their fathers, brothers, husbands, uncles and sons related at birth.
But Muslims believe that a hijab is more than just a headscarf. It also encompasses the modest social conduct in which Muslim men and women are expected to behave in public. This includes their behavior, mannerisms and speech.
Why do Muslim women wear the hijab?
“I try to follow the guidelines my religion has given me on how to be modest and that’s my choice,” Dr Iner said.
Muslim students protested against the headscarf ban at the University College of Brussels. Source: Getty / NurPhoto
Shakira Hussein, an honorary fellow at the National Center for Contemporary Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, said the hijab for Muslim women “symbolizes their faith, symbolizes their modesty”.
“More broadly and particularly when it comes to a religious minority, it is a symbol of belonging to that community,” Dr Hussein said.
Should Muslim women wear the hijab?
“According to this interpretation, it is an obligation that one undertakes voluntarily. You can consider it an obligation, but it is up to you to do it or not,” Dr Hussein said.
“There are others who do not believe it is religiously obligatory but choose to wear it out of solidarity with other Muslim women as a statement of belonging to their religious community or as a stand against Islamophobia.”
Can women be forced to wear the hijab?
“Human beings are left alone to make their own choices. And if you do it not for the love of God but for the love of…your [country’s political] diet, that can be problematic,” she said.
“That’s not the divine point of view…It obviously dilutes the main concept of being a servant of God.”
So why are women forced to wear it in Iran?
In 1936, wearing the hijab was banned in Iran by then-ruler Reza Shah Pahlavi. A decade earlier in Turkey, the same decision had been applied. Dr Hussein said the women who came out were seen as a “symbol of modernity”.
Iranian women walk down a street in the capital Tehran, wearing their hijabs around their faces. Muslim women style their hijabs in different ways, depending on personal and cultural factors. Source: Getty / AFP/Atta Kenare
“It wasn’t that the government at the time was particularly feminist, it was just that having women wearing headscarves in public made the place look backward,” she said.
When the revolution took shape in 1979, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini imposed the hijab mandate to establish the “Islamic Republic”.
“It’s part of a larger context of imposing this form of religiosity on a society, as well as, of course, patriarchy and controlling women,” Dr Hussein added.
Do Muslim women have a choice to wear the hijab in other parts of the world?
In Karnataka, Muslim girls appealed to the Supreme Court after a ban on wearing religious clothing in educational institutions in February this year.
In France, women caught wearing the burqa in public risk a fine of 150 euros or the obligation to take citizenship courses.
It’s about controlling women’s bodies, but also trying to show the regime and the pillars of their government by instrumentalizing the visibility of women.
Dr Derya Iner
Dr Iner said women in Iran, France and India face the same struggle: “authority is trying to control our bodies”.
A woman supports her right to wear the hijab during a candlelight march to protest the ban on hijab in educational institutions in Karnataka, India. Source: Getty / Pacific Press
“At the end of the day, it’s about controlling women’s bodies, but also trying to show off the regime and the pillars of their government by instrumentalizing women’s visibility.”
“In Iran, women who take off the hijab are brave. In India, women who wear the hijab are brave. This is not a contradiction, it is resisting patriarchal hegemony and an oppressive state in both case,” Ms. Krishnaswamy said.