When I see people wearing clothes that are identified with specific religious beliefs, I sometimes wonder why they do so. In this article, professor of sociology Caitlin Kilian discusses the hijab, the headscarf that some Muslim women (including new congresswoman Ilhan Omar) wear and the different reasons that women choose to wear it.
Many women who cover talk about it as a way demonstrating their submission to God and a constant reminder to hold fast to Islamic beliefs such as being honest and generous to those in need.
However, there are other reasons for adopting the hijab.
French and British colonizers encouraged Muslim women to remove the veil and emulate European women. Consequently, in North African and Middle Eastern countries, the veil became a symbol of national identity and opposition to the West during independence and nationalist movements.
Today, some women wear the hijab to signal pride in their ethnic identity. This is more so for immigrants in Europe and the United States, where there has been an increase in Islamophobia.
Muslim African-American women in the U.S. sometimes wear a hijab to signal their religious affiliation. They also want to dispel the assumption that all African-Americans are Christians, and that only people with origins abroad can be Muslim. In fact, 13 percent of adult Muslims in the U.S are black Americans born in the country.
For many other women, the headscarf has become a means of resistance to standards of feminine beauty that demand more exposure. Proponents of this view argue that removing clothing for the benefit of the male gaze does not equal liberation.
Whatever the reason, if it is a free choice on their part, they have every right to wear what they want. What is problematic is when people are forced to dress in ways that they would rather avoid because of pressure or even compulsion from the other members of their community. Women in some religious communities are usually subjected to far more rigorous dress codes than men and their dress is more strictly policed and deviations punished. In some strict religious communities (not just Islam) men impose these dress codes on women to curb male sexual desire, effectively demanding that women solve a problem that men have.