Not Without My Hijab: Experiences of Veiled Muslim Women in India

Abstract

Hijab or the Muslim veil has emerged as one of the most contentious articles of clothing in recent times. Scholarly literature has often limited itself to discussing the hijab in binaries of oppression and liberation. The present qualitative phenomenological undertaking sought to move beyond this reductive dichotomy and analyzed the veil through a systemic framework. Accounts of twelve hijabi Muslim women, between the ages of 18 and 25, from Mumbai, India, were explored to identify issues of relevance for hijabi women and highlight unique ways in which they exercise agency. Hijab was found to be inextricable from the varied sub-systems of the respondent’s ecology. Positive response to the veil at home, neighborhood, and on social media promoted the hijab, while negative responses at work and in educational settings impeded it. Participants devised personal “rules” for hijab, adapting it to different settings, after evaluating the diverse demands of the roles they occupied. Hijab was understood as modest clothing that covered their body, not limited to a burqa. Spiritual adherence to the principles of hijab were considered as imperative as its physical adherence. Though the degree of physical veiling fluctuated, commitment to the veil strengthened over time. The primary reason for veiling was religion, but secondary reasons such as empowerment, advocacy, and protection were cited in favor of the practice. The veil was embedded with many meanings, including modesty, a means of connection with the Muslim community, and a symbol of resistance. It was purposefully worn to promote a positive image of Islam and exhibit the self-efficacy of the Muslim community. The study has implications for counselling, policy making, and further psychological research.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Literally meaning curtain. A system of secluding men and women in South Asian societies.

  2. 2.

    Pbuh, an acronym for “Peace be upon him,” a translation of the salutation added to the name of the Prophet.

  3. 3.

    Narrations and actions of the Prophet (Pbuh).

  4. 4.

    Refers to the traditional customs, habits and practices of the Prophet (Pbuh); not limited to verbal prescriptions of Hadith.

  5. 5.

    Male blood relatives and affine that a Muslim woman cannot marry such as father, grandfather, male siblings, sons and so on.

  6. 6.

    Shariah refers to Islamic religious law.

  7. 7.

    Renowned Islamic scholar.

  8. 8.

    A.S. is short for Alayhi s-salam, and it translates to peace be upon him.

  9. 9.

    Not mahram, or men that the respondents were not related to by blood.

  10. 10.

    Long, loose collarless shirt.

  11. 11.

    Fear of missing out.

  12. 12.

    Muslim prayer.

  13. 13.

    Sermon after friday prayers.

  14. 14.

    Nationalist chant that means Hail Mother India or Long Live Mother India.

  15. 15.

    Cow is considered holy in the Hindu religion. Several Indian Muslims have been lynched in public for allegedly consuming or trading cattle , with support of state apparatus.

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Acknowledgements

The researchers are grateful to the respondents for participating and giving their time to this study. We would also like to acknowledge the contribution of Soham Bhowmick (bhowmicksoham7@gmail.com) in illustrating the different styles of hijab for the readers of this journal.

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Correspondence to Haniya Rumaney.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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This paper is drawn from the M.A. dissertation of the first author titled “Not Without my Hijab: Experiences of Veiled Women in India” carried out under the supervision of the second author.

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Rumaney, H., Sriram, S. Not Without My Hijab: Experiences of Veiled Muslim Women in India. Hu Arenas (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42087-021-00193-3

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Keywords

  • Hijab
  • Veil
  • Identity
  • Patriarchy
  • Islam
  • Systems theory
  • South Asia