Practicing Hijab (veil): A Source of Autonomy and Self-esteem for Modern Muslim Women

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Date: Apr. 30, 2014
Publisher: Knowledge Bylanes
Document Type: Report
Length: 6,772 words
Lexile Measure: 1250L

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Byline: Waseem Fayyaza and Anila Kamal


In various periods of history hijab as a religious symbol has been under criticism by the west and the modernist forces. The disapproval of hijab increased in the aftermath of 9/11. The sections of society that oppose hijab associate this dress code historically with subordination and servility of Muslim women. In the present scenario immigrant Muslim women in western countries and native Muslim women in the countries where the states control women dress code are specially frustrated in wearing the attire of their choice. However they have asserted their dress preference against all odds. The present paper argues that hijab is merely a symbol. The oppression linked with it depends on the social and political dynamics of the society in which it is practiced. More than these it depends on the will and the mental state of the wearer herself.

This study develops the thesis that the present Muslim woman by adopting hijab is carving public space for herself and this dress serves as an instrument of autonomy and self-esteem for her.

Keywords: hijab; modern Muslim women; religious symbol;


Humankind has used dress for various purposes. Among these purposes are modesty protection and beautification (Flugel 1966)1. Qur'an has focused on modesty and beautification though emphasized dress of piety at the same time (7:26). The attire we wear is also strongly connected with identity. It is related with the sense of one's self (Humphreys and Brown 2002). Different classes of society wear different dress to mark their status and position in society. Kings and ruling elite have worn heavy and elaborate robes while public clothing has been simple. We use different uniforms to mention our jobs or institutions. People of different cultures wear different dresses. Besides culture and region where we live dress code is also determined by the faith we espouse. This way dress becomes a symbol of one's religious identity and the modesty associated with it.

Head covering has been usually considered one of the most important identifier of a Muslim woman and has been practiced more or less throughout the Islamic world. Hijab in particular (headscarf/face veil along with abaya a long gown generally in black colour) has been the part of women costume in various Muslim states. However it gained more popularity in the midst of Islamic movements towards the last quarter of the previous century (El Guindi 1999).2 In the aftermath of September 11 2001 (9/11 henceforth) immigrant Muslim women in western countries had to rethink of their identities. Hijab rose as a sign of their religious identity and Muslim solidarity (Murshid 2005). Hijab practice increased in Muslim majority countries as well. At present debate on hijab is continuing in both western societies and various Muslim countries (Murphy 2006).

In the backdrop of this new global scenario of searching identities and facing conflict the present study is set to explore the phenomenon of hijab with respect to space and psyche of the wearer herself. The present paper does...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A398845530