Hijab: A personal reflection

07 July, 2011, Zeenah Adam

The hijab has become a powerful symbol of a culture and ideology that often seems at odds with ‘modern’ ideals. However, for Muslims, it is far more functional than symbolic. Interpretations of its purposes include modesty, an act of worship, and an expression of identity.

As a contribution towards modesty, it is acknowledging one’s body as a divine trust that must be protected and looked after until returned to its Creator. Covering the body allows a person to conduct their affairs with dignity, and clearly demarcates their public lives from their private lives. In this way, one’s body remains one’s private domain that is shared only with a trusted few.

As an act of worship, it can represent an individual’s journey in submission to God. As Muslim women existing in the crossroads of both the Islamic and Western worlds, the decision to wear the hijab can be a personal triumph in choosing to submit to God over public opinion. This can be a challenging decision to make, but is often rewarded with increased confidence and respect for oneself in trumping one’s own need for acceptance and approval from others. The belief that obeying God will lend you His blessing may also serve as a protective function when navigating through a world peppered with prejudice and misunderstanding.

Finally, the act of wearing one’s faith ‘on their sleeve’ plays an important role in affirming a Muslim’s self identity. For Muslims, religion is not seen as something separate from other interactions and endeavours that make up our daily lives, but is rather entwined and interconnected in every affair. Embracing religious identity is therefore an important part of affirming one’s entire identity, and can increase a feeling of ‘wholeness’ within a Muslim individual. To separate the outer elements of Islamic practices and store faith only within would be to ignore an important aspect of what it means to be a Muslim.

The concept of hijab, then, is not necessarily so alien to Western values. Dignity, self-respect, and the achieving of a stable, positive self-identity, are universal endeavours that exist in everyone. The only thing that may differ between us is how we seek to achieve them.