February 1 of every year has recently been observed as World Hijab Day. This year saw the passage of a law that made World Hijab Day an observance in this country. While this is certainly welcome news in the face of increasing Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiments worldwide, still, it would do the ordinary Muslim and Muslimah for that matter, to revisit the hijab and what it means, and its place in the larger scheme of things apart from being part and parcel of Muslim womanhood.
Religious significance aside, hijab is a loaded term, replete with a plethora of meanings for those who wear and/or encounter it. For the majority who wear it, it is fulfilling the commandment of modesty, a symbol of protection that the woman in Islam is entitled to. For others, it has become a political statement; for others it is a symbol of dissent. Others see it as a symbol of empowerment in a male-dominated public sphere, while for those unfamiliar with it, a token of oppression. Still others see it as a mere piece of clothing having not much of a significance beyond its utilitarian function.
This then would take us to a discussion of why would people celebrate World Hijab Day at all. Would observing this day make tangible and lasting changes to Muslim women’s, and indeed, all women’s lives as a whole? This, considering that in many places, more so in less developed countries, women are still being begrudged their basic human rights, hijab or no hijab, that their contributions to their communities are still being discounted, whether they wear a hijab or not. While those who do celebrate on Feb 1 do have their reasons for doing so, for many women, it must be remembered that in many contexts and many places, there is still a long way to go before even the women who do wear the hijab can honestly say that their lives, even at the basic level, have become better and that they have been given the God-given justice that they so deserve.
Let World Hijab Day then not just be merely a celebration of what it means to be covered up in a headscarf, niqab, kumbong, and what have you. Let it also be a reminder that Muslim women, and all women for that matter, still have a long way to go in terms of having their existence and contributions to their society and their country genuinely recognized and validated. Let World Hijab Day be a reminder of the need to counter not just hijabiphobia, but Islamophobia as well. Let it be a reminder to Muslims as well of Islam’s true supportive stance towards womenkind. Let World Hijab Day resonate more meaningfully among everyone so it does not remain a mere day to be ticked off the calendar every first day of February. PMT