A Japanese Woman’s Experience of Hijab
By Nakata Khaula
When I returned to Islam, the religion of our inborn nature, a fierce debate raged about girls observing the Hijab at schools in
Muslims contributed a proportionate amount of tax to the state funds. In my opinion, schools could respect religious beliefs and practices of students as long as they did not disrupt the school routine, nor pose a threat to discipline. However, the French faced, apparently, increasing unemployment and they felt insecure about the immigration of Arab workers. The sight of the Hijab in their towns and schools aggravated such insecurity.
More and more young people in Arab countries were (and are) wearing the Hijab, despite the expectations of many Arabs and non-Arabs alike that it would disappear as Western secularism took root in Arab societies. Such a revival of Islamic practices is often regarded as an attempt by Muslims to restore their pride and identity, both undermined by colonialism. In
The feeling still persists amongst non-Muslims that Muslim women wear the Hijab simply because they are slaves to tradition, so much so that it is seen as a symbol of oppression. Womens liberation and independence is, so they believe, impossible unless they first remove the Hijab.
Such naivete is shared by “Muslims” with little or no knowledge of Islam. Being so used to secularism and religious eclecticism, pick and mix, they are unable to comprehend that Islam is universal and eternal. This apart, women all over the world, non-Arabs, are embracing Islam and wearing the Hijab as a religious requirement, not a misdirected sense of “tradition.” I am but one example of such women. My Hijab is not a part of my racial or traditional identity; it has no social or political significance; it is, purely and simply, my religious identity.
For non-Muslims, the Hijab not only covers a womans hair, but also hides something, leaving them no access. They are being excluded from something which they have taken for granted in secular society.
I have worn the Hijab since embracing Islam in
What does the Hijab mean to me? Although there have been many books and articles about the Hijab, they always tend to be written from an outsider’s point of view; I hope this will allow me to explain what I can observe from the inside, so to speak.
When I decided to declare my Islam, I did not think whether I could pray five times a day or wear the Hijab. Maybe I was scared that if I had given it serious thought I would have reached a negative conclusion, and that would affect my decision to become a Muslim. Until I visited the main Masjid in
The benefits of observing Hijab became clear to me following a lecture at the Masjid when I kept my scarf on even after leaving the building. The lecture had filled me with such a previously unknown spiritual satisfaction that I simply did not want to remove it. Because of the cold weather, I did not attract too much attention but I did feel different, somehow purified and protected; I felt as if I was in Allahs company. As a foreigner in
My Hijab made me happy; it was both a sign of my obedience to Allah and a manifestation of my faith. I did not need to utter beliefs, the Hijab stated them clearly for all to see, especially fellow Muslims, and thus it helped to strengthen the bonds of sisterhood in Islam. Wearing the Hijab soon became spontaneous, albeit purely voluntary. No human being could force me to wear it; if they had, perhaps I would have rebelled and rejected it. However, the first Islamic book I read used very moderate language in this respect, saying that “Allah recommends it (the Hijab) strongly” and since Islam (as the word itself indicates) means we are to obey Allahs will I accomplished my Islamic duties willingly and without difficulty, Alhamdulilah.
The Hijab reminds people who see it that Allah exist, and it serves as a constant reminder to me that I should conduct myself as a Muslim. Just as police officers are more professionally aware while in uniform, so I had a stronger sense of being a Muslim wearing my Hijab.
Two weeks after my return to Islam, I went back to
After six months in
I wanted to tell the lady in
Generally-speaking, young Egyptians, more or less fully westernized, kept their distance from women wearing khimar and called them “the sisters.” Men treated us with respect and special politeness. Women wearing a khimar shared a sisterhood which lived up to the Prophets saying (Allahs blessings and peace on him) that “a Muslim gives his salaam to the person he crosses in the street, whether he knows him or not.” The sisters were, it is probably true to say, more conscious of their faith than those who wear scarves for the sake of custom, rather than for the sake of Allah.
Before becoming a Muslimah, my preference was for active pants-style clothes, not the more feminine skirt, but the long dress I wore in
My new sisters were truly beautiful in their black khimar, and a light akin to saintliness shone from their faces. Indeed, they are not unlike Roman Catholic nuns, something I noticed particularly when I had occasion to visit
Nevertheless, I balked at the suggestion that I should wear my khimar back in
After another six months in
I was right. The Japanese reacted rather well to my white khimars, and they seemed to be able to guess that I was of a religious persuasion. I heard one girl telling her friend that I was a Buddhist nun; how similar a Muslimah, a Buddhist nun and a Christian nun are! Once, on a train, the elderly man next to me asked why I was dressed in such unusual fashion. When I explained that I was a Muslimah and that Islam commands women to cover their bodies so as not to trouble men who are weak and unable to resist temptation, he seemed impressed. When he left the train he thanked me and said that he would have liked more time to speak to me about Islam.
In this instance, the Hijab prompted a discussion on Islam with a Japanese man who would not normally be accustomed to talking about religion. As in
My father was worried when I went out in long sleeves and a head-cover even in the hottest weather, but I found that my Hijab protected me from the sun. Indeed, it was I who also felt uneasy looking at my younger sister’s legs while she wore short pants. I have often been embarrassed, even before declaring Islam, by the sight of womens bosoms and hips clearly outlined by tight, thin clothing. I felt as if I was seeing something secret. If such a sight embarrasses me, one of the same sexes, it is not difficult to imagine the effect on men. In Islam, men and women are commanded to dress modestly and not be naked in public, even in all male or all female situations.
It is clear that what is acceptable to be bared in society varies according to societal or individual understanding. For example, in
The definition of what part of a womans body should remain private to her is altered to suit the whims and fancies of either men or their surrogates, the so-called feminists. But in Islam we have no such problems: Allah has defined what may and may not be bared, and we follow.
The way people walk around naked (or almost so), excreting or making love in public, robs them of the sense of shame and reduces them to the status of animals. In
Muslims are accused of being over-sensitive about the human body but the degree of sexual harassment which occurs these days justifies modest dress. Just as a short skirt can send the signal that the wearer is available to men, so the Hijab signals, loud and clear: “I am forbidden for you.”
The Prophet, Allah’s blessings and peace on him, once asked his daughter Fatima, May Allah be pleased with her, “What is the best for a woman?” And she replied: “Not to see men and not to be seen by them.” The Prophet, Allahs blessings and peace on him, was pleased and said: “You are truly my daughter.” This shows that it is preferable for a woman to stay at home and avoid contact with male strangers as much as possible. Observing the Hijab, when one goes outside, has the same effect.
Having married, I left
Once accustomed to, the Niqab is certainly not inconvenient. In fact I felt like the owner of a secret masterpiece, a treasure which you can neither know about, nor see. Whereas non-Muslims may think they are life imitating caricatures when they see Muslim couples walk in the streets, the oppressed, and the oppressor, the possessed, and the possessor, the reality is that the women feel like queens being led by servants.
My first Niqab left my eyes uncovered. But in winter I wore a fine eye- covering as well. All the feelings of un-ease when a man’s eyes met mine disappeared. As with sun glasses, the visual intrusion of strangers was prevented.
It is an error of judgment to think that a Muslim woman covers herself because she is a private possession of her husband. In fact, she preserves her dignity and refuses to be possessed by strangers. It is non-Muslim (and “liberated” Muslim) women who are to be pitied for displaying their private self for all to see.
Observing the Hijab from outside, it is impossible to see what it hides. The gap, between being outside and looking in, and being inside and looking out, explains in part the void in the understanding of Islam. An outsider may see Islam as restricting Muslims. In side, however, there is peace, freedom, and joy, which those who experience it have never known before. Practicing Muslims, whether those born in Muslim families or those returned to Islam, choose Islam rather than the illusory freedom of secular life. If it oppresses women, why are so many well-educated young women in Europe,
A person blinded by prejudice may not see it, but a woman in Hijab is as brightly beautiful as an angel, full of self-confidence, serenity, and dignity. No signs of oppression scar her face. “For indeed it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts within the bosoms, that grow blind,” says the Qur’an (Al-Hajj 22:46). How else can we explain the great gap in understanding between us and such people?