These days, the thoughts are preoccupied with the confusion of Hijab and the Non-hijabs. I am confused when I see pictures of sisters in Bangladesh where four out of five of them are clad in what is called ‘fashion hijab’ and a smaller number wearing the correct way of the covering.
And there are even fewer of the sari clad, authentic Bengali women.
All in all, the western world is there too with women in T-shirt and jeans. There is total respect from me for all my sisters since it is my firm belief that each individual has his or her right to make the choice.
However, we cannot judge anyone by appearance. A tree is known by the fruit it bears, so we are told. Between a modestly dressed woman, one that is kind and honest, and a covered woman, not on the right path, who deserves to be respected? Or if it is vice versa, the point is that while our clothing may show our outer selves, the individual within is what really matters.
If covering of the body was an assurance of goodness, female terrorists in hijabs could not be involved in acts of violence. Extreme thoughts on women and their covering make me wonder, if the clothing was the only thing to determine a woman’s character, would not Eve be sent with a full cover? There is nothing impossible for our Creator and she could have been dressed in a gown of leaves instead of three fig leaves. In our visions of Adam and Eve, we see them under the bare protection of leaves that partially cover their bodies. At the dawn of Islam, in the hot and dry weather of Medina and Mecca, being covered was a way of life; it was safety from heat and dryness. And yes, men and women covered themselves and for the sake of modesty. Being a good human was never handed down to women only, definitely not just by covering of the body. Yes, covering of the head is a sign of modesty, but and then it was likewise for other religious beliefs as well. We can see the picture of the Virgin Mary with her head modestly covered. Moving on to times, Mother Teresa, the symbol of kindness had her head covered when out with the public. However, modesty can be achieved with or without covering of the head and no woman should be judged on the basis of the hijab or non-hijab status.
I find it disheartening to hear my Bengali sisters to point to other Bengali women as bad or ignorant because of not being in the hijab culture or not covering the heads. Going back on times, it is found that Bengali women by culture did not wear a hijab ever since they came out of home to work or socialise. For the sake of modesty, some of them covered their heads with the ends of their saris and that was it. They felt no need to adorn themselves in layers of colourful clothing to proclaim their chastity. I can confidently stand up for our older generations of women and say that our foremothers who did not follow the hijab culture were not bad women, that they were respectable and honest people. They were far better as human beings than many women who, under sexy hijab garbs cheat and deceit in their ways. Definitely there are fashionable hijab users who are honest and good people. But the trend of the recent society to be blind about characters, to have biased attitudes to hijabis and non-hijabis is ignorance itself. Ten folds of clothing upon my head or body will not lead to my heart if I don’t want you to see it. Trust me, if makeup can hide the language of the eyes, the dazzling colours and designs of hijabs can cover body languages and the person beyond the clothing. The extremism of hijab is so deep that family members face discriminations when not in tune with acceptance of hijab. Dear sisters, before we send the message of clothing, should we not educate ourselves on history of Islam, or should we not teach that instead of spending thousands of fashionable hijabs, we can give more to the needy?
The fatal attraction between the sexes is not a one-way street, dear sisters. And you have equal right to like or dislike a man on his appearance. Should the men not also be clothed moderately and be directed to hold their gaze low? In the 21st century when women are at the pivot of families and nations, taking men to be the only source of blessed gender to eye women with or without lust cannot happen. Women and men are working side by side in all steps of life. Men therefore are also vulnerable to women and attractive to the opposite sex. Should men then not clothe themselves moderately so that their masculinity does not invite lust? The female breast has been the subject of physical attraction for women and invites wanted or unwanted attentions from an onlooker. A woman with the minimum sense of self-respect will not deliberately clothe herself in ways that creates an attractive bust line. And here lies the dilemma of hijab, for many women in Bangladesh while the head is covered the body is clothed revealingly. Likewise, a hijab made with sequins and colours is drawing no lesser attraction than a woman’s lose hair. The question here is the attraction, in either way the eyes take in what is revealed, be it from a man or a woman.
If religion is the issue, women are directed to wear lose garbs and to cover their heads without mentions of using colours and glitters to make the coverings attractive for the intention of the hijab is to divert attraction. Allow me to step in with the need for the honesty of our intentions as men and women. Beyond coverings, should we not be the better of humans to know where we are crossing the boundaries? As a woman would I want to flaunt my sexuality to all men coming in my way? Would a man with minimum self-respect cast looks of lust at a woman or show off his masculinity? At the end of the day is it not the respect that we owe to our own self not that makes us worthy to our Creator?
Wisdom teaches us to be moderate in thoughts and deeds. Extremism is not the chosen way to peace. Between nakedness and clothing stands the human that can be the best judge of himself or herself. The inner being is the one accountable to God and who knows best of our intentions better than our Creator?
Tulip Chowdhury writes from Massachusetts, USA