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Hijab in Educational institutions

By: Sana Khalilullah Qureshi

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Gender equality is a human right, but in the developed countries, women are still facing gender inequality issue in every field of life particularly in education.

According to the document of “Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Article 26 states that education is a right of every individual. “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.” Education develops the psychological and physical appearance, no matter in veil or unveil.

Accordingly, the gender discrimination on the basis of hijab observed at international institutions is considered as a violence against women rights. No woman should be forced by any government or authority to wear the hijab or take it off in educational institutions. It is her religious choice either she chooses to wear the hijab or not. However, the ban symbolizes discrimination based on religion.

France banned overt non secular symbols, including many religious head coverings, in public schools and government buildings in 2005.  The developed countries like, Kosovo banned hijab in 2009, Azerbaijan in 2010, Tunisia in 1981. These are the only Muslim countries which have banned the hijab in public / private schools, colleges, universities and government departments, while Syria and Egypt banned face veils in universities from July 2010 to 2015 respectively. In a few Muslim states like Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia there have been court cases of restriction or discrimination against women who wear the hijab. The hijab in these instances is taken into consideration a symbol of political Islam or fundamentalism against secular government. There are presently 16 states that have banned the hijab, including Austria, Denmark, France, Belgium, Tajikistan, Bulgaria,Cameroon, Tunisa, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Netherlands, China, Morocco, Sri Lanka and Switzerland.

On June 4,2020, Belgian constitutional court authorized the banning of hijab at universities. It was remarked that the ban does not violate the freedom of religion or the right to education under the Belgian Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights. This decision meant that the Muslim women who wanted to pursue higher education were required by the law to take off their hijab. It was followed by huge number of protests by Belgium citizens and Muslims all around the world. The protesters included women’s rights activists, anti-racist groups and university students.

Moreover, several Belgian universities openly resisted the ban. The University of Brussels and Catholic University of Leuven publicly announced that they would welcome all students regardless of gender, origin or social status, either with or without Hijab.

Although the Hijab ban in universities has been lifted in the Wallonia, Southern Belgium starting September 2021. This offers the hope for Muslim women in other parts of Belgium.

In many developed countries, the concepts regarding women dressing are very much stereotype. If a woman wears a sleeveless top, she must be characterless. She covers her head with a dupatta , she must be “so backward”. What precisely is the proper dress code for women in our society? No matter how a woman chooses to dress herself people always have their say about it.

In an Article, titled as “Muslim Women on the veil” published in the daily The New York Times on May 27, 2015, an Indian girl has shared her mind about the hijab.

“My veil has never stopped me from doing anything. I am an Indian-American Muslim girl living in the Dallas area who attends college. I chose to start wearing the veil three years ago, even though the girls in my family don’t. I chose to wear it myself after I studied Islam and thought it was a beautiful way to express my love for my religion and nothing more. I’m an active student who participates in all sorts of college and volunteer activities. My veil has never stopped me from doing anything, and I refuse to let people’s stares and comments get to me. I’m only using my freedom of choice and expression, and I have every right to express my belief in this way as long as it’s not violating anyone else’s rights. I have discussed my veil greatly with professors, and I believe it’s wrong to force anyone to wear it as well as to force anyone to remove it. You’re taking away an individual’s right to her religious freedom. My mother doesn’t wear it, and neither would I ask her to, as I’m happy with whatever way she chooses to express herself. I believe this should apply to everyone. It’s a piece of cloth for God’s sake. What harm does it cause anyone? Only narrow-minded and uninformed views cause harm to a society”

In my opinion, people particularly men judge the morality and character of a woman primarily  based on their clothes. Either they regard a female student immodest if she wears less clothes within the premises of educational institutions. Or they believe a girl who wears Hijab in classroom is less intellectual and outspoken than the rest of her classmates. This judgement of female based on clothes violates her basic woman right.

Women have reached leadership positions in society even in hijab. Raffia Arshad is the first UK deputy district judge to wear a hijab. Uroosa Arshid is the first hijab-wearing operational firefighter in the UK. Abtaha Maqsood, who plays for Scottish women’s national cricket team is Britain’s first hijab-wearing Muslim Female. Fatima Manji became Britain’s first hijab-wearing TV newsreader in March 2016. Shahnaz Laghari became the first Hijab-wearing Captain Pilot of Pakistan. Nusrat Sahar Abbasi, in veil, raises voice for the people of Sindh. Dr Royna Aslam wearing Hijab passed her MBBS from Punjab Medical College of Faisalabad with 18 gold medals, becoming the pride of the Pakistan on 24th March 2019.

Syeda Rameen Ryaz who is currently working as a Consultant Dietitian at Aziz Fatima Hospital Faisalabad and Management Team Head at Child Labor Eradication  Program (CLEP) shared her experience with the Hijab. She stated that she has been working with many social organizations. She has worked as a United Nation volunteer at United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

She started wearing Hijab in 5th semester of her university life. Her friends criticized her for doing so but she did not remove it. As a social activist, she had to address huge number of audience at different platforms. People uploaded the pictures on social media.  Later on, they used to comment on those pictures. She realized that she should not be so common for everyone around. Hence, she started covering her face with Niqab. Though once again she received negative remarks but she continued to wear it.

She said that we commonly believe that girls cover their face either because they are forced to do it or they lack self-confidence. However, she started it only to seek the pleasure of Allah. Her classmates challenged her, saying that she would take her hijab off in university events. However, she still continued wearing Niqab in every event. She feels an inner satisfaction wearing it. She believes that Hijab has boosted her confidence to deal with number of clients and perform incredibly at international platforms. She concludes that we should practice Hijab considering it a command of Allah. It gives us long-term benefits and makes our lives easier.

Hijab is an Islamic Dress code for Muslim Women. Allah says in Holy Quran “This is more appropriate so that they may be known [as Muslim women] and thus not be harassed [or molested].”(Quran, 33:59)

Hijab gives a woman air of authority, respect and dignity. Woman wearing Hijab attracts less attention of lustful eyes. This greatly saves her from male harassment. Moreover, by wearing Hijab, the woman feels safe and protected. Hijab eradicates the competition among women. They can carry on their normal duties without worrying about impressing other people. Hijab benefits women by encouraging the people to access them based on their intellect, not on superficial physical traits. Thus, Hijab increases the self esteem of a woman.

Wearing a Hijab no longer affects the intelligence of a girl. If she is not actively participating in the classroom, this may be due to multiple reasons: lack of self confidence, peer pressure.

Summing up, a person’s intellect has nothing to do with the clothes they wear. Those females who wear the Hijab cover their heads, not their brain.  A women’s body should be nobody’s business but her own. Both the women either with or without Hijab should be equally respected. We should not shame them and take away their right to higher education. Hijab in educational institutions should be taken as a personal choice of a female. No girl should be forced to wear Hijab or to remove it. We need to change the mindset of people about Hijab and bring awareness among them.

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