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The Hijab: More Than Just a Piece of Cloth

04/08/2016 09:26

"Take it off! This is America!" cried Gill Parker Payne, a man from Gastonia, North America, to a woman sitting in a front row seat during a Southwest Airlines flight from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Chicago.

"My sister-in-law was spat at and punched in the face at the grocery store while carrying my nephew in London, Ontario," said a Canadian man on his Twitter account.

"Now my niece is too frightened to even go back to town," complained Tayyib Nawaz. He was struck by the tragedy that befell his four-year old niece in Worcester city centre. An unidentified man approached the innocent child and pushed what looked like human faeces into her face.

Such inhumane behaviour towards two women and one small child had the same motivation: the hijab, or face veil. The bad news is these cases are only a small proportion of the many abuses that occur away from the media's gaze. The world seems too big and the number of journalists is not commensurate with its inhabitants; therefore, not all shameful actions against Muslim women who wear the hijab can be documented.

It seems strange that a piece of cloth attached to a person's body causes the wearer to become a target for hatred and even violence. Its material is ordinary, made of yarns, the same as basic clothes worn by everyone. The use of that veil does not even disturb those who are around. Then, why do so many dislike it?

Admittedly, it is not the piece of cloth known as hijab that is in question, but rather the value that encourages its use; namely, Islam. It cannot be denied that hatred against the hijab is borne out of the growing Islamophobia. This has led many Muslim women who wear the hijab to become the impingement target of hatred in the form of insults as well as violence.

In reality, however, this piece of cloth is not worn solely by Muslim women. The women of other religions and beliefs actually wear the same cloth that covers the head; for example, Christian nuns, Coptic Christians, Hindu women, Sikh women, and Orthodox Jewish women. All of these women dress in the style prescribed by their religions, just like Muslim women who wear the Hijab to follow what is written in their holy book.

Surprisingly, those 'hijabi' women of religions and faiths other than Islam are not discriminated against or abused. Nobody is disturbed by their presence when the clothes they wear also cover the head. Therefore, it is clear that the 'culprit' is not the Hijab, but Islam.

Growing hostility against Islam is increasingly apparent after some politicians in the western world 'douse' the fire with oil. The political rhetoric of U.S. presidential candidate, Donald Trump, is fresh in the memory as he calls for the prohibition of Muslims entering the United States. Meanwhile in the UK, based on the results of a survey conducted by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IRHC), more than two-thirds of the 1,780 respondents revealed that they have heard anti-Islamic comments made by politicians. Not only that, half of them admitted that politicians deliberately allow Islamophobia-inspired discrimination to occur. The unfair treatment of Muslims illustrates how Islam continues to be regarded as an enemy, not a friend. It is still considered a source of problem rather than part of the solution.

Across Europe, Islam is still considered an unpleasant ideology. In Germany, for example, 47% of far-right Germans see Muslims through a negative lens. The same view is also true in many other European countries, from Hungary to the UK, and from Sweden to Italy. Even in Eastern European countries, the negative perception of Muslims has reached more than 60%. Again, the dislike of Islam is not based on Muslim themselves, but rather the religion followed by Muslims. As has been uttered by a Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, few years ago; "I have a problem with Islamic tradition, culture, ideology. Not with Muslim people."

The problem is that Muslims and Islam cannot be separated as an individual is Muslim because he adheres to the religion of Islam. In other words, hatred of Islam equates to hatred of Muslims. So it is no wonder that Muslims become the target of all forms of discriminations and violence borne out of Islamophobia. And the ones who are at most risk are Muslim women because their Islamic identity, the Hijab, cannot be hidden from sights. As reported by Tell Mama, an organisation that monitors Islamophobia-based violence, Muslim women are the ones who most often suffer violence and harassment on the streets.

The hijab worn by Muslim women is still regarded by many as a problematic ideological symbol; thereby making many women vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, and violence. Islamophobia that is spreading in some parts of the world should be scrapped because, as a religion, Islam is the same as other dominant religions in the world; namely, one that respects differences. Would it not be boring if everyone was uniform in their beliefs?

This piece is co-authored with Muhammad Beni Saputra, a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester.

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