Arewa Voices

Is Wearing a Hijab Still a Big Deal?

By Aisha Kabiru Mohammed | Aug 25, 2022

I began wearing a hijab when I moved to Kaduna state for school, until that time I was not obligated to put it on because no one at home except my father insisted I wear it. 


I started wearing the hijab out of a mild fear placed in my heart by my mother she believed that because the North was Muslim majority of people would treat me, a girl with a Muslim name with disdain if I didn't wear a headscarf, I was agnostic at the time, but it didn't matter. 


Nigerian men, especially the many religious zealots who lived in the North might not consider nuances like these. Left to me I would not have worn a headscarf at the time. I would have chosen to wear it like I chose to learn how to pray and start learning about Islam at my pace. But I was too afraid of being ostracized, especially by my people, so I put on turbans and headscarves until I took the shahada and started praying. Until I became a Muslim.


O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.” (Quran 33:59).


The hijab is a Muslim woman’s obedience to the commandments of God and an expression of her identity as a Muslim woman. 


In the Quran, there are many verses like the one above instructing Muslim men and women, to observe modesty and to lower their gazes(for Muslim men) the observance of modesty has been translated by many Muslim scholars to mean covering of hair and wearing loose clothing that covers the body only exposing the face feet and hands of women. 


This is what most people understand the hijab to be. Unfortunately, the hijab has been taken out of its original context and has become the most controversial piece of clothing around the world. Headscarves, jilbabs, niqabs, and burqas, all variations of the Islamic hijab for women, have been associated with fear and oppression in recent times. 

About five months ago, a court in India ruled that wearing a hijab is not an essential principle of Islam. This became a setback to Muslim students who had been demanding the right to wear the headscarf in schools in Karnataka, South India. 

College principals said the hijab went against the rules that require a uniform to be worn. When the principals refused to relent, a group of students took the matter to court. Fearing unrest over the ruling, the state government, run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also governs nationally, banned large gatherings the week after the ruling was made. 

In July, Document women published a story on the clashes caused by a hijab-wearing ban in Southwest Nigeria. Early his year, lawyer and human rights activist, Malcolm Omirhobo put on traditional priest regalia along with a wig and gown to appear in court in Abuja, when asked the following week why he didn’t continue to put on the attire to appear in court that day, he said the spirits led him to appear in the dress code. 

When journalists asked whether “the spirit” conformed with the ethics of the legal profession and dress code, he said, “What ethics are you talking about? Are you insulting my religion? Don’t try it, don’t insult my religion. The constitution, according to the Supreme Court, says I should dress according to my religious attire and you are insulting the Supreme Court, behave yourself.” 

The Supreme Court’s judgment had ruled in favour of Muslim students wearing the hijab in Lagos schools. Mr Omirhobo claimed he was a traditionalist and argued that his decision was based on the Supreme Court’s judgment that ruled in favour of Muslim students wearing hijab in Lagos schools. I felt that these events properly represented the disdain and lack of empathy towards Muslim women. 

Unfortunately, the reasons behind the ban on hijab-wearing in places like India and France and other countries that have banned the use of hijabs are no different than the countries and laws forcing women to wear the hijab. 

Iran's "National Day of Hijab and Chastity" this year was remarkable in many respects. On July 12, Iranian women defied the nation's hijab laws by coming out in the open and taking off their coverings. 

Additionally, they uploaded their videos to social media. Iranian writer and activist Masih Alinejab, who resides in the US, posted her video in support of the Iran hijab protest and wrote;

 "As we promised! We remove our hijabs and I hope everyone joins us. Forcing women to wear hijab is not part of Iranian culture. It is the culture of the Taliban, ISIS and the Islamic Republic. Enough is enough. #No2Hijab" 

 I wish I was as brave as these women when I first started wearing headscarves I hate to admit it but I sometimes hated wearing them and had to unlearn this hate when I finally started practising Islam. 

Why does the hijab have to be associated with fear? Why can't Muslim women wear a simple headscarf? Why are women who are not Muslims forced to wear it? 

These oppressive laws and policies are a product of a strong impulse to control and police women’s bodies more often than not, It is not about the hijab itself, but the concept of not allowing women the freedom to do whatever they chose to do with their bodies. 

A woman was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison for indecent dressing last week in Uganda. Women do not have the liberty to dress as they like, and this is sometimes even worse for Muslim women. 

In the name of upholding the use and observance of the hijab, Muslim women are scrutinised constantly and are not given the liberty to make mistakes in the use of the hijab, this scrutiny is not equal to Muslim men. 

A perfect example would be to compare the constant backlash Rahma Sadau, a popular Hausa actress gets whenever she posts photos of herself in clothes that are not the hijab for women to a Muslim man from the north posting pictures of himself in a pool shirtless and getting no vile comments and not needing to wear proper clothes and record an apology in tears like Rahma Sadau did. 

None of the men and women who attacked stopped to ask themselves if she was Muslim, they didn’t care if she believed in the Hijab or not. Just like the woman in Uganda who isn't a Muslim, the courts and people who forced modesty on these women, only care that these women were exercising a little freedom with their bodies.