Unraveling the Debate on Head Covering: Observing World Hijab Day

World Hijab Day, observed annually on February 1, encourages women globally to wear the traditional Muslim head covering and promotes awareness about the reasons behind its significance.

Established in 2013 by Nazma Khan, a New York resident of Bangladeshi origin, the day aims to address discrimination faced by women who wear the hijab. Khan, sharing her experiences in a TEDx talk, revealed instances of being derogatorily referred to as “ninja” or “Batman” due to her hijab. World Hijab Day seeks to inspire women worldwide to embrace modesty and exercise their freedom of religious expression.

However, it’s important to note that in certain countries, the wearing of a hijab may not always be a matter of choice. In places like Iran and Afghanistan, women are mandated by Islamic law to wear hijabs.

In May 2022, the Taliban in Afghanistan implemented a directive that obligated all women to don burqas, traditional Islamic attire that covers the entire body, leaving only the eyes visible.

In Iran, women who choose not to adhere to the regulations on Islamic attire risk imprisonment. The tragic case of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman sentenced to prison in 2022 for not wearing a hijab and who subsequently died in custody, led to widespread protests across the country.

One year later, Afsaneh Bayegan, a 61-year-old Iranian actress, faced a two-year prison sentence for opting to wear a hat instead of a hijab.

The narratives of Amini and Bayegan represent just a couple of instances in Iran that have prompted protests concerning the enforcement of Islamic headwear regulations.

Ruling Out Hijab

The situation takes a distinct turn in Europe, where several countries have enacted prohibitions on the wearing of the hijab in specific public settings. The European Union Court of Justice has affirmed that EU member states possess the authority to restrict the hijab in workplaces and public schools.

In 2022, the court granted employers the ability to ban the hijab in workplaces, citing the objective of maintaining a neutral environment. Belgium, for instance, has regulations prohibiting women from wearing headscarves or any religious symbols at work. A case in point involves a woman working in the municipality of Ans, Belgium, who argued that her employer’s prohibition on wearing a headscarf violated her religious freedom by aiming to uphold neutrality in the workspace.

France, in 2004, instituted a ban on the display of religious symbols and headscarves in public schools. French Education Minister Gabriel Attal has recently extended this to include a ban on young women wearing abayas, long, loose robes, at schools. In an interview with a French television network, Attal emphasized the goal of ensuring that students’ religious identity cannot be discerned merely by appearance in a classroom.

France continues to grapple with controversies surrounding the hijab, as evident in ongoing discussions about its potential prohibition during the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris. Unsurprisingly, such initiatives have triggered international opposition, notably from the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation.

Contrasting this, in Saudi Arabia, female bloggers are leveraging the internet to challenge stereotypes and counter misogynistic narratives related to the hijab. They are adopting modern approaches to styling the hijab, aiming to empower their Muslim female audience in the process.

Saudi Arabian blogger Amy Roko has challenged conventional expectations for covered women in Saudi Arabia through her bold comedic style and advocacy for women’s rights, amassing a following of over a million supporters.

Mira, a 19-year-old Arab Palestinian residing in East Jeru, shared with The Media Line that she does not view wearing the hijab as oppressive or mandatory. Instead, she sees it as a source of profound freedom and empowerment as a woman.

“I felt so much better after wearing the hijab,” she expressed. “I walk in the street, and I just feel more comfortable because I know that I am wearing modest clothing, and with time it just becomes a part of you.”

Elhan Nahhas-Dahoud, a lawyer and legal advocate associated with the Kayan Feminist Organization in Haifa, emphasized to The Media Line that women possess the right to express themselves and be represented, irrespective of their attire, background, or ethnicity.

“Women have the right to voice their opinions on various matters, including issues concerning minority groups or groups focused on women.

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