From ancient (pre-Islamic) Greek times to the Roman and Persian Empires, to Mohammed the Prophet times and those of the Arab peoples, the Islamic, and surrounding worlds, the Hijab has had its place, roles, and misunderstandings. The hijab, aka, headwear, body covering, curtain, veil, etc., has been embraced by many and hated by others. But why? Why has a piece of cloth ignited so much controversion? Why has the hijab use offended so many?
As a small child, I spent a significant amount of time in the rural parts of Romania, more specifically in the town of Cartojani, where my dad is from. It was only about one hour drive from the capital city of Bucharest, but after a slow bumpy drive on the two-way road lined up with tall green poplars, never-ending farm fields, and other small rural towns, it seemed about a whole other world away. The roads were unpaved and occasionally traveled by a slow-moving bovine led by a barefoot child and his wooden stick. The houses seemed unfinished and had wells in the yards. The toilets were outdoor, most likely somewhere near the chicken coupes and pig stiles, everyone had a garden and an outdoor brick oven and it smelled like cow shit everywhere. And most, if not all women wore headscarves after married. It seemed I was going back in time every time I went there.
For as far as I can remember my grandma (from my dad’s side), my great-grandma and all married women in that town wore headscarves, called “batic” or “basma”. There are many speculations about why and where the tradition in Romania originated from. I searched and searched and found some strong opinions on the matter but none seemed 100% convincing to me. Although some appeared more logical than others, varying from religious, practicality, cleanliness, social status, I cannot see how anyone can be too sure of themselves on the subject since they have not the ability to time travel. Or at least I don’t think they do. There is always that chance that I could be wrong.
According to historians, headwear was popular during ancient Greek and Persian times, when women wore headscarves as a symbol of social status. At beginning of Christianity, women wore head coverings as a sign of modesty and for prayer. In the Arab countries (pre-Prophet Mohammed) as well as India people wore head-to-toe coverings, face coverings, and headwear that were very similar (if not the same) to modern day hijabs and turbans. In many cultures, throughout history and across many lands, people wore headwear for pure decor or for practicality. Many researchers also have concluded that women wore scarfs, turbans, veils, “batici”, simply for convenience and protection from the surrounding landscapes, sun or cold.
Nevertheless, with so much history unaccounted for and so many different possibilities, the hijab remains so much a beautiful mystery to me as much a misunderstanding to others. Over the years, the hijab use has been outlawed in some countries and enforced in others. And in those same countries that first outlawed it, it was later enforced, and vice versa.
Interestingly enough, some people are flat out offended by the sight of a hijab. The hijab represents misogyny, and they see it as unacceptable for women to want to (by their own free will) subject themselves to such antiquated ways of representing themselves. In their view, women that dare to wear a hijab are spineless, weak and a poor example for their children. For wearing a hijab signifies not standing up for oneself in front of the supposed husband-oppressor as well as the rest of the male society.
In the Muslim world, beautiful Muslim women as Muslim men alike see the hijab as a portrayal of modesty and a representation of commitment to their religion and beliefs. Muslim women in America wear a hijab as a sign of strength, in the face of prejudice and discrimination.
I am neither Muslim, Christian, nor Jewish. Nor am I or follow any particular religion that requires me to cover or not cover myself, to wear or not to wear a hijab, a veil, a scarf or a turban. I do however at times wear scarves of many kinds for personal preference, for style, for warmth, as well as practicality. I have worn scarves that have been interpreted at times as religious hijabs. Doing so, I have found myself attracting the attention of many Muslim women and men that meet my gaze and bow their heads in respect (as if I was one of them – I must admit I kind of like it).
Since I was a little girl, different cultures have always fascinated me. The mysteries, the stories, traditions and ways of life of other peoples have been and still are intriguing and captivating to me. I only wish that other people were a bit more understanding and less quick to jump the gun and judge others based on rumors, assumptions, and prejudice. We should listen to each other more without jumping to conclusions and allow the possibility of coexisting peacefully with one another. It would be ideal if all the misunderstandings, circulating around the subject would cease, and people would stop finding a piece of cloth offensive – whatever it may stand for.
Yes, the hijab has numerous significances that are rooted in religion, and many others that aren’t. Nonetheless, for those that are so offended by it, it is a piece of cloth, nothing more, nothing less. May it be plain and simple or complex, colorful and lively, covering whatever it may and whomever it may, why are you so offended? Learn to appreciate our beautiful differences and respect one another. Live and let others live.