Are hijab and women incompatible? Are the two contradictory? Is the one enemy of the other? At least that is what is believed in the west. Isn’t that?
Nothing has been as much discussed as those of women among men. So has been the argument about their dress, i.e. what they wear and how they wear?
Indeed, women’s clothing has always been in debate among public. It has generated immense controversy, raised countless speculations and has attracted both modernists’ and traditionalists’ views alike.
The issue has not yet died down. Just as early as June 17, 2010, an article ‘Dressed to Distract” about why men are distracted when women dress differently was published by The New York Times. It raised pertinent questions about the magnetism and sexuality of women and the reason why men are trapped into.
“Aesthetic allure is evolutionary, after all”, the author, Maureen Dowd, argued. She reported: ‘… a 33-year-old single mother, filed suit against Citigroup, claiming that she was fired in August from the Citibank branch at the Chrysler Center for looking too sexy’.
“Plaintiff was advised that as a result of the shape of her figure,” her lawsuit reads, “such clothes were purportedly `too distracting’ for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear.”
The author further investigated: ‘Lorenzana recalled that her supervisors obsessed over what she was wearing, “saying things are too tight, you cannot wear turtlenecks.’
“I said, ‘You are discriminating to me, because of my body type,’ “she said with a slight accent and a breathy voice. “This is genetic. What am I supposed to do?”
“My life has been hard my whole entire life. People have this misconception that, ‘Oh, you do well in your life because of your looks.’ No, I am harassed.” (The New York Times, June 17, 2010)
What is remarkable in the reporting is that the author deliberately skips a solution to emerging challenges faced by women at offices owing to her being 'too provocative' by wearing short dresses…an accepted lifestyle in American and Western culture.
Unarguably, tight and unethical outfits do generate the lewd glimpse of men toward their sexual counterparts, and the current reporting, undoubtedly, reinforces that argument.
The spontaneity of response to such unfairness meted out to women automatically turns the debate on why women wear hijab in the Arab world or why at all hijab is a necessity in Islam for women once out of their closet.
The natural pull between the opposite sexes is innate. There is considerable evidence that suggests that human sexual orientation is genetically influenced.
Women are different. They are attracted to a man based on what can best be described by Anthony Storr, a renowned psychiatrist as ‘neurotic attachments’ that triggers attraction.
Jung went further, and suggested: ‘There is feminine anima in a member of the opposite sex, and are attracted by what they recognize as the unconscious and hidden part of themselves’.
Further to add, the researchers, led by Prof Mark van Vugt and Johanna van Hooff of the University of Amsterdam, and Helen Crawford of University of Kent, examined the human bias towards looks by conducting a series of tests on 40 people.
The subjects, 20 women and 20 men, were hooked up to a machine that recorded brain activity and were then given a task to perform. While they're doing the task they were shown a series of photographs of faces of the opposite sex, ranging from attractive to ugly.
Men were easily distracted when they saw a pretty face but women stuck to task, the study revealed.
He added that the findings showed that men's desire for women was part of evolution.
The Koran, Islam's holy book, took notice of this difference in sexuality between men and women long back, and thus guidelines were offered concerning clothing.
‘Tell the faithful women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their scarf to cover their bosom’. (Qur’an, 24:3)
The guidance is further revealed:
"O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies. That will be better that they should be known so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (Qur’an, 33:59)
What is the purpose of hijab? Is it a sign of obscurantism or liberalism? Sara Bokker, a former actress, model, fitness instructor and an activist, remarks: ‘I AM an American woman who was born in the midst of America’s “Heartland.”
I grew up, just like any other girl, being fixated with the glamour of life in “the big city.”
Eventually, I moved to Florida and on to South Beach of Miami, a hotspot for those seeking the “glamorous life.”
Naturally, I did what most average Western girls do. I focused on my appearance and appeal; basing my self-worth on how much attention I got from others. I worked out religiously and became a personal trainer, acquired an upscale waterfront residence, became a regular “exhibiting” beach-goer and was able to attain a “living-in-style” kind of life.
Years went by; only to realize that my scale of self-fulfillment and happiness slid down the more I progressed in my “feminine appeal.” I was a slave to fashion. I was a hostage to my looks.
As the gap continued to progressively widen between my self-fulfillment and lifestyle, I sought refuge in escapes from alcohol and parties to meditation, activism, and alternative religions, only to have the little gap widen to what seemed like a valley. I eventually realized it all was merely a painkiller rather than an effective remedy.
One day I came across a book that is negatively stereotyped in the West – The Noble Qur’an. I was first attracted by the style and approach of the Qur’an, and then intrigued by its outlook on existence, life, creation, and the relationship between Creator and creation. I found the Qur’an to be a very insightful address to heart and soul without the need for an interpreter or pastor.
I bought a beautiful long gown and head cover resembling the Muslim woman’s dress code and I walked down the same streets and neighborhoods where only days earlier I had walked in my shorts, bikini, or “elegant” Western business attire.
Although the people, the faces, and the shops were all the same, one thing was remarkably distinct – I was not – nor was the peace at being a woman I experienced for the very first time. I felt as if the chains had been broken and I was finally free.
I was delighted with the new looks of wonder on people’s faces in place of the looks of a hunter watching his prey I had once sought.
Suddenly a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Finally, I was free.’ [Currently, Sara is Director of Communications at “The March For Justice,” a co-founder of “The Global Sisters Network,” and producer of the infamous “Shock & Awe Gallery.”] (www.ccun.org: Cross-Cultural Understanding, Opinion Editorials, November 2008)
The word "hijab" comes from the Arabic word "hajaba" meaning to hide from view or conceal. In the present time, the context of hijab is the modest covering of body.
Whatever the controversy concerning hijab, the fact is that it prevents men from treating women like sex objects. It is, in essence, a liberating force that makes them be evaluated for intelligence and skills instead of looks and sexuality.
Hijab further acquires its new meaning and value in the fast shrinking moral life of an individual whose only survival mechanism sails through ‘dare to bare’.