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Welcome to the Glad You Asked series, a shame-free zone where we tackle topics you’re too embarrassed to ask even your BFF about. Don’t worry, we gotchu.
Many Islamophobes target Muslim women, whose headscarves can make them easy targets. In London, two teenagers tried to rip a hijab off a woman’s head, dragging her along the ground in the process. A man assaulted a female Muslim student behind a parking garage at San Jose University, pulling her hijab, choking her. Many Muslim women now say they’re afraid to wear a hijab in public. As a safety precaution, some have chosen to forgo wearing them altogether.
Education is the best defense against hate-fueled ignorance, so let’s explain what hijabs, burkas and niqabs are?—?and take a look at how they symbolize modesty and faith.
What’s a hijab?
In Arabic, the word hijab means “curtain,” but many Muslims interpret it to mean simply “headscarf.” These scarves cover a woman’s head and neck while leaving the face clear. They come in a variety of colors and styles, and Muslim women who choose to wear them often begin around puberty, though there is no set age.
Women covered their hair before the birth of Islam. The first known reference to veiling is from an Assyrian legal text reportedly written in the 13th century BCE. At that time, covering one’s head was a symbol of prestige and status.
What’s a burka?
A burka is the most concealing form of headscarf: it’s a one-piece garment that covers the entire face and body, leaving only a small mesh window for the eyes.
The burka differs from?—?but is often confused with?—?the niqab. A niqab covers the face but leaves the opening around the eyes free. Women will sometimes wear a niqab with a separate eye veil or an accompanying headscarf.
As Muslim refugees flee their war-torn homelands, European lawmakers?—?concerned that burkas might be a safety hazard?—?are cracking down. In 2011, France became the first country to prohibit people from covering their faces in public. (The law also applies to scarves, masks and motorcycle helmets but is commonly referred to as “the burka ban.”) Belgium adopted a similar policy later that year and both the Netherlands and Germany are calling to restrict burkas in schools, government buildings, hospitals and on public transportation. In January, Austria voted to ban the burka in all public places; the government is also considering banning public employees from wearing any symbol of religious affiliation.
Do all Muslim women wear headscarves?
The Koran never explicitly orders women to wear hijabs or burkas, but it does call for both men and women to “cover and be modest.”
For Muslim women, the choice to wear a veil or cover their face is deeply personal. A woman’s personal faith, culture, family and location may influence her decision. Many Muslim women see this choice as a means of self expression. Some even view it as a form of rebellion: Muslim women who are raised in cosmopolitan, secular environments, for example, may endure criticism for choosing to cover their hair.
Other Muslim women see the hijab as an infringement on their personal freedom.
on today's #WorldHijabDay i would just like to tell u that i fucking hate my hijab and wish i could remove it
In an op-ed for the Washington Post, former journalists Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa write that they “reject this interpretation that the ‘hijab’ is merely a symbol of modesty and dignity adopted by faithful female followers of Islam.” They add that many women within the Muslim faith are persecuted for their choice not to wear the headscarf.
Some mosques, including ones in the US, forbid women from entering and praying unless their hair is covered.
Regardless of whether or not Muslim women chooses to wear a headscarf, they deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and empathy. As long as the First Amendment exists, these women are entitled to practice their religion in whatever way they see fit.