Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Choice and Fashion of a Hijab

During my time in Malaysia, it was common to see females wearing a hijab--a headscarf worn by many, but not all, Muslim women. I often marveled at the apparent quality of fabric and the variety of colors & patterns on the hijabs.

One day in Melaka, I met these four young women from Indonesia who were traveling together:

four young women from Indonesia

Two of them are Muslim. Two are Catholic. Of the two Muslims, only one wore a hijab. In a discussion, the Muslim traveler who was not wearing a hijab said that wearing one is a "choice" for Muslim women in Indonesia. She also said that some females will wear the hijab only for reasons of fashion. For them, the hijab is simply another accessory in their attire, and they are not wearing it for a religious purpose.

Her comments were particularly striking to me because on two earlier occasions Western women traveling in Malaysia commented to me about the many hijabs they were seeing. Both women thought it was oppressive for Muslim women to be expected to cover themselves more than men.

In each case I replied by asking, "Do you feel oppressed when men are able to walk around topless and you are expected to cover your breasts?" The first woman considered my question for a while. She never replied. The second woman said it is different since in both Muslim and Western cultures women are expected to cover their breasts. I asked why that had anything to do with whether it is oppressive. She had no reply.

There is so much to explore in the topics raised by these discussions. But for now, I will just add that I wish I could have introduced the two Western women to the travelers from Indonesia. I suspect with some appropriate nudges another fascinating discussion would occur.

1 comment:

  1. Breasts provide a sexual/reproductive function and are unique to women. Hair is not.

    So in this context you can call it oppression, as a woman's hair is considered 'sinful' and a man's is not.