It’s called a hijab and it’s a very potent sign of adherence to certain beliefs in the Muslim faith. But despite the tragic case of a 16-year-old who may have been killed over a refusal to wear it, those who practice the faith insist it’s not actually mandatory, and that’s why some Muslim women don’t wear it full time – or at all.
It’s said to be a symbol of modesty and obedience to God and not related to submissiveness to men, as some believe. But according to one follower, donning it should be a choice – not an edict. “There’s no particular dress that is encouraged,” advises Tanya Khan (top left) of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Toronto. “It’s just a modest dress. And that is the rationale and the teaching behind the wearing of hijab is that it is to promote modesty, not only in a physical sense but also in a mind-set.”
She notes the hijab is often misunderstood because of those who would take things to extremes. “One of the greatest beauties of Islam is that there is choice, and we are actually told in the Quran that there is no compulsion in the matters of religion. And yet many times, across the Muslim world, this is overlooked.”
Khan told CityOnline Tuesday that if one of her three daughters came to her expressing doubts about wearing the head scarf, she would be sure to choose her words carefully. “I think that my role and my husband’s role is to first and foremost be a role model, to present the faith, to get them to understand it and not force it,” she explains. “Nothing will come from force. And also I can only provide them with the rationale and hopefully they’ll understand it, why it’s important to us, and adopt it.”
It’s a debate that happens in many homes, according to Ausma Khan, the editor-in-chief of Muslim Girl magazine. She claims Muslim girls are like any other teens, wondering where they fit in. And she notes it’s not as big an issue as many non-Muslims often think it is.
Atiya Ahsan of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, agrees, noting the hijab has taken on ‘larger than life’ proportions to the rest of the world. She calls it a “fallacy” to believe wearing a piece of fabric makes anyone more spiritual and that it’s more about what’s in their heart than what’s in their head.
And Tanya Khan believes whatever happened to Aqsa Pervaz, the youngster choked to death on Monday, had a lot more to do with dysfunctional relationships than a simple head scarf. “I think there were deeper issues in that family,” she alleges. “And it saddens me as a practising Canadian-born Muslim because this is just going to perpetuate the misconceptions of women and women in Islam and the choices that they have.”
Khan claims to have a unique perspective on the issue, having converted to Islam later in life and growing up without the head covering – which she now always wears.