The Meaning of Hijab

When asked about my reasons for wearing a hijab, I answered, “It’s what good Muslim women should do.”

The questioner was quick to respond. As she voiced her opinion of my textbook answer, I immediately regretted my words. The reason for regret was that I didn’t always wear a hijab. I might be what some people would call kerdus or cardboard, a negative term used to describe on-off wearers of the garment. Moreover, as my questioner pointed out, there are good Muslim women who don’t wear a hijab.

Then where was the fault? Did the reluctance to wear a hijab mean I was a bad Muslim? Or was there something inherently wrong in the statement itself?

I mulled over the question for days. Finally, I came upon an answer so simple it was astounding why I hadn’t thought of it before. I wear the hijab because I want to. After all, since when had I needed a reason for my choice of clothing? Why was such a simple piece of fabric so widely debated?

But as I thought it over again, I realized that such an answer wouldn’t suffice. Hijab has become more than a piece of fabric. Through media and society worldwide, it has become an infamous phenomenon. One that could grant you strange looks in the international world. One that might produce uneasiness for some women in my home country, Indonesia. One that paradoxically inhibits and frees you at the same time.

I mentioned that some might feel uneasiness. I mean this in the sense of cultural identity. Because of the popularity of hijab in Indonesian society, it has now become a trend—no longer is it the veil of religious piety (although there are still some people who wear it for that reason). I’ve seen girls with skinny jeans and tops that seemed suffocating wearing hijabs—a phenomenon coined jilboob, a combination of jilbab(the Indonesian word for hijab) and the other word. I’ve also noticed the recurring statement of “how embarrassing since she’s wearing a hijab” amongst friends and on social media. Some people are pressured into wearing a hijab even when they don’t want to, and the result could be the incongruity of their actions with the proposed meaning of hijab.

What does this say about hijab? Does it still represent the same holiness it does as when nuns use it? The answer is complex. However, in Indonesia, hijab has gone beyond that and has transformed into a fashion. Globally though—with news of ISIS, suicide bombings, and Islamophobia spreading like a virus—it might be a different story altogether.

Maybe it’s human to feel so unnerved at the sight of a burqa. After all, as the Latin saying goes, What is alien to me is not human. However, I’d like to explore deeper into this mode of thought. Isn’t it exactly our inability to transcend those thoughts that have spurred things like racism, slavery, and inequality? As global citizens, isn’t it our duty to learn from our past—in order to be more compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded towards our fellow humans?

During my search for the meaning of hijab, I came across an epiphany. It was at the Sultan Mosque in Singapore, as I read the displayed boards with headings of “Why is Family Important in Islam?”, “How Does Islam Promote Environmental Awareness?”, and… “Why Do Muslim Women Wear Hijab?”.

After I read the passage, I smiled, because it once again occurred to me: hijab is the epitome of feminism. If not the epitome, then at least a symbol of feminism. I think I had known this fact deep in my heart, but it was buried beneath heaps of insecurity and judgment.

Hijab encapsulates all that feminism teaches women. Thus, it is freeing, because it rejects the social pressures and judgments placed on girls to be society’s ideal. The woman who wears a hijab, if observant, is “free from the dictates of men; or a fashion magazine” because “a woman has the right to be evaluated for the content of her character and not the form or shape of her body”.

Some might argue that it’s possible to do that by simply dressing modestly. Although that’s true, in my opinion wearing a hijab is going beyond that. In its essence, wearing a hijab means rejecting the patriarchal expectation for women to be things instead of humans equal to men. An expectation that prevails to this day through advertisement, fashion shows, and films. An expectation that is a dichotomy with this global and revolutionized world, and all the virtues it promotes.

Lastly, some Muslims do believe that women must wear a hijab, because it says so in the Qur’an. However, the Qur’an also states that we shouldn’t take Christians and Jews for friends and also to fight in the way of Allah—statements which need to be taken into context and fully understood instead of blindly absorbed. We have to understand that the surahs of the Qur’an were sent down centuries ago, more specifically for the people of that period, and that only the general themes are applicable to today.

If I were asked again for my reasons for wearing a hijab, I would answer: I wear a hijab because it is my right; because I like the message it promotes that girls like me should  be judged not by my looks but by who I am.



  1. This is brilliantly written. I’ve recently put my hijab back on a after a prolonged, guilty period without it. This post has come at exactly the right time for me and really helped me to consider my own reasons for wearing it. JazakAllah Khair sister x


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