Hijab Hypocrisy: A Women’s Rights Issue
By Ayra Sultan, Sayyida Hasani, and Safiya Younas
Graphics: Mateen Bahai
The currency in Iran is the Iranian Rial, Switzerland uses Swiss Francs, France uses Euros, and India uses Rupees. However, a long sought-after societal currency is currently in high demand: the dual-sided coin of a woman’s right to practice her religion as she pleases. More specifically, we refer to a Muslim woman’s right to decide whether or not she wants to wear a hijab.
It seems to be a distant part of our history, but government supervision over women and morality policies has blossomed into a reality. The rights of minority women have always been relegated to a second-class standard that seems to favor certain cultures while disrespecting others, especially when it comes down to a woman’s right to wear whatever she chooses.
Controversies relating to the hijab have sparked many anti-hijab campaigns in different areas of the world. There have been a result of false representation and mere prejudices that seem to cause fear and feelings of hatred toward Muslim women. Muslim women feel publicly shamed and threatened for trying to be modest. In France, women cannot wear burkinis, which are modest swimsuits, as they are instead seen as Islamic fundamentalists that are considered a threat to French secularism. The burkini is much like the hijab and is used by officials as a political tool to cause more aggression. There have been public bans at swimming pools forcing many Muslims to take action.
Similarly, Switzerland has imposed a ‘Burka Ban’ that ultimately prohibits face coverings. Most Muslim women feel threatened by this because it sparks an era of Islamophobia where legal rights are being denied to women because of their supposedly “oppressive” beliefs. Exclusion by the government is supported by westerners, but causes difficulty for Muslim women who already live in an era of heightened Islamophobia.
Governments are a representation of the people, but they are indeed an inherent dichotomy inflicted by personal beliefs. According to the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland, this “decision is tearing open old wounds and expanding the principle of legal inequality.” By limiting a woman’s right to decide, they are ironically tarnishing liberty by rejecting her bodily autonomy and freedom.
Hijab controversies are not only present in European countries, but also in non-Western countries like India. Nobody should have to choose between the right to getting an education and the right to practice religion freely, but this is the unfortunate reality for Muslim girls in Karnataka, a southwestern Indian state.
The hijab ban controversy in Karnataka began in January 2022 when hijabi students were blocked from entering their college, as explained in a Karnataka Hijab Ban Timeline by Ajoy Karpuram, a staff writer at the Supreme Court Observer in Hyderabad, India. Following a Karnataka government order that banned hijabs in classrooms, the ban was upheld by the Karnataka High Court. This decision was made on the basis that wearing hijab was not an ‘Essential Religious Practice’ (ERP).
Following the High Court decision, the case was brought to the Karnataka Supreme Court. A split verdict was given on October 13th and further hearings are yet to take place, but with only 13% of the population in Karnataka being Muslim, it is clear that a hijab ban in school would only help to further alienate and segregate Muslim women, as well as create unnecessary barriers for girls that are simply trying to get an education.
Rahul Gandhi, an Indian politician and former president of the Indian National Congress, stated that “by letting students’ Hijab come in the way of their education, we are robbing the future of the daughters of India, implying that, any institution’s decision to ban the hijab, is a setback to India’s future.” By banning hijabs, institutions in Karnataka are attempting to encourage uniformity, but at the cost of religious and bodily autonomy.
Furthermore, on the other end of the division created by the hijab controversy is the Iranian regime. In light of the recent murder of Mahsa Amini for not wearing her hijab as mandated by strict laws, subsequent protests and harsh authoritarian crackdowns on protesters have taken place, prompting people from all over the world to speak out against the atrocities committed by the Iranian government and morality police. Recently, many women have stood in solidarity with Iranian women by cutting their hair as a form of protest.
However, hijabi women are also being pushed to remove their hijab in order to protest for the rights of Iranian women, not completely left to do so by choice. Instagram content creator Bellekiss, who herself is a hijabi, addressed this issue in a post in which she stated that “it wouldn’t help them in the slightest, it’d just be performative…Iranian women are fighting for human rights, not fighting Islam as a religion.” This once again represents the hypocrisy against hijab. By pressuring women to take off their hijab to protest, Muslim women are being coerced to make a decision based on politics rather than their own personal religious interests.
With hijab making headlines globally, many people have encountered personal experiences with hijab hypocrisy, including Bruins.
As one of the authors of this piece, I (Safiya Younas), had a recent encounter with a woman who harassed me on campus in light of the protests in Iran. The woman approached me and began pressuring me to take off my niqab (a garment worn by Muslim women that covers the face) in support of Mahsa Amini. Even while telling the woman that I was choosing to wear it and no one was pressuring me. The woman had seen my niqab as an oppressive piece of clothing. Although the protests are supporting the right of Iranian women to choose whether they want to wear hijab or not, claiming that wearing a hijab or niqab is oppressive only helps to reinforce the false narrative that all Muslim women only wear hijab if they are forced. True oppression does not lie in the wearing of a religious garment itself, but rather in the lack of a women’s choice to do so.
Kate Hansen, a fourth year psychology major, agrees that the decision to wear hijab boils down to a woman’s right to choose. “I personally believe that everyone should be able to practice and celebrate their religion how they chose to, and no one should have…that right taken away,” said Hansen.
Other Bruins also have a similar perspective. “Giving them the freedom to choose…how they want to follow their religion should definitely be the answer…if you make someone do it…it loses [its] purpose,” affirmed Alejandra Gomez, a third year business economics major. Thus, it is clear that the hijab controversy does not only concern religion, but also women’s rights.
Ultimately, the issue at hand is not just about women like Mahsa Amini being forced to wear hijab and being killed for not doing so. It is also about women living in France and Switzerland that want the right to wear a hijab or a niqab as they please. It is about the right of Muslim girls in Karnataka, India, to get an education regardless of their choice to wear hijab. Islam is a religion that gives women the right to choose. It’s about time that oppressive governments start giving them that right as well.