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Why Egypt May Have Been onto Something with its Hijab Policy

Why Egypt May Have Been onto Something with its Hijab Policy

Author Asma Elhuni by

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Egyptian Women Protesting

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If you keep up with CAIR , you may have read a recent article about Egypt possibly banning young girls from wearing the hijab in school. I have chosen to write my first article on this subject, which is interesting given that I believe the focus on the hijab is quite silly and overrated.

After all, according to the majority of Islamic scholars, only two verses of the Qur’an reference it. So why am I taking time to write about a subject that I consider miniscule in our faith? Well, it’s a subject that will not go away. Muslim families, cultures, institutions, and even governments continue to debate it.

People in the West, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, also claim to know exactly what the hijab symbolizes. They say it is a symbol of either oppression, liberation, modesty, subservience, obedience to husband, obedience to God, identity, status...the list goes on and on.

Truth be told, the hijab could mean anyone of these things to the women who wear it. The meaning depends on the individual.

What’s scary is that non-Muslims often highlight the oppression narrative whereas the Muslims highlight the modesty narrative. Indeed, most controversy about the hijab occurs when a woman’s reasons for wearing it do not fit within these two expected purposes. Of course, we must not leave out those devout Muslims women who choose not to wear the hijab for whatever reasons, including believing it is not mandated or just not wishing to wear it.

I am no scholar nor do I claim to possess enough religious knowledge to share God’s wisdom on the hijab nor do I plan to debate its religious validity or the impact it has on the faith of women who do or do not wear it. What I do want to focus on is the reaction such a piece of clothing has stirred amongst people.

Reading the article about Egypt, I immediately remembered the second grade classes I taught for two years in an Islamic school. I remembered the beautiful faces of the young girls--some with hijab and others without--walking into the classroom so happy, innocent, and oblivious to the judgements they will have to face one day. I also remember the boys--some with kufis others without--equally happy.

From Day One, I informed the girls that they did not have to wear their scarves in my classroom. If they wanted to take them off, they could put them in their book bags. I did this to ensure that any girls who were pressured to wear it could feel safe removing it in my classroom while girls who wanted to wear it could do so as well.

So the students wore it sometimes and removed it other times.

But what if I was teaching in Egypt today and I had to tell the girls that they could not wear the scarf, the same scarf that they saw me wearing before them, because it was only for adults? What if the students responded by saying that they wanted to wear it? Furthermore, could I apply the same logic to practices like charity or praying? Could I say that those acts are only incumbent on adults?

To be clear, I am an avid proponent of free choice. There is also an element in the story that cannot be ignored: some parents are forcing their young girls to cover their hair even though they do not wish to do so.

Perhaps Egyptian Minister of Education Moheb Al-Rafaei was trying to address that issue. If so, his strategy was doomed to fail, as we cannot fight injustice by imposing laws that mirror the same injustice they seek to address.

In this case: removing free choice from all students in order to ensure that some students are not being robbed of that same liberty.

So, Egypt: you were almost onto something if you wanted to tackle the problem of imposing practices on girls. But you lost me when you tried imposing your own practice across the board.

Asma Elhuni is a local activist and junior at Georgia State University. She majors in Political Science and Women’s Studies.

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