Siddiqi ’05 Examines Role Of Hijab in Muslim Culture

The last of the 2004 Brace Center Student Fellows, Omar Siddiqi ’05 presented his summer research on the hijab and several aspects of its perception today. The hijab, the Arabic name for the headscarf worn by Muslim women, represents a heated debate between the Muslim world and Western governments, according to Siddiqi. In a presentation entitled “Hijab: A Post-Colonial Struggle for Identity,” Siddiqi discussed whether the hijab symbolizes Muslim lifestyle or Islamic oppression and extremism. Siddiqi spoke on the history, controversies, and differing interpretations of the hijab. According to him, the hijab represents a set of Muslim values. He explained that, in a fundamental sense, the hijab represents a woman’s acceptance of humility, modesty, and dignity, saying that the Qu’ran underlies the importance of these principles, yet it does not force women to wear the hijab. “It’s [a woman’s] own choice,” said Siddiqi. Siddiqi believes that those women who choose to wear the hijab do so to distinguish themselves and make clear their beliefs. According to Siddiqi, the current debate over the hijab is in part due to its being banned in Turkey. He explained that its banning sparked a protest by Muslim women who saw the hijab as a symbol of their Islamic identity. “It’s wrong that we portray the women who wear the hijab as oppressed. It demeans their intelligence…most women aren’t being forced to wear it, it’s their own choice,” he said. Muslim women normally wear the hijab when in public and in the company of guests. Siddiqi stressed that Muslims are now developing a unique identity that consists of both traditional and Western ideologies. Siddiqi called this new movement “re-veiling.” “[Muslim woman] cover themselves because they want to alienate the Western world,” said Siddiqi. Siddiqi added that in the West, women’s thoughts on how they should look are influenced by, among other things, magazines. In the Middle East, however, women are not subject to such influences and are creating their own modern identity. “[Some] Muslims [in the Middle East] see the hijab as a protection against Western consumerism, flavor and sexuality,” he said. According to Siddiqi, many Muslim women living in the Western world are encountering forms of substantial public opposition. Siddiqi believes that the events of September 11 have contributed to the false association made by some Western world governments between the hijab and both terrorism and fundamentalism. He cited as an example that on some televised news programs, stories on the liberation of the Afghani people were accompanied by video footage of women taking off the hijab, while shedding of other ornaments such as turbans or beards were not aired until much later. Siddiqi said that the intention of many Muslim woman wearing the hijab is to assert their own identity in a community where they are the minority. This sentiment provoked the French government to ban the hijab, among other religious items, in all public schools. Many Muslims fear that something similar to the situation in France could take place in the United States. “I really hope that that [the banning of the hijab in the U.S.] never happens. I can see it happening though, not as a government-wide ban, but rather private schools saying they don’t want [Muslim girls wearing the hijab] in [their] schools,” he said.