Islam requires its followers, men and women, to dress modestly. Nudity is not permitted for either gender. The only difference in dress between men and women, as dictated by religion, is that women are specifically asked to cover their breasts. Covering the face was only compulsory for the wives of the Prophet because they are considered the mothers of the faithful and as such they were not allowed to remarry. Moreover, their interaction with other men (especially after the death of the Prophet) was much more than ordinary women because those who had questions about the new religion came to consult them. Their remarriage would therefore have come in their way of elucidating Islamic principles to scholars.
As far as other women are concerned, there is no constraint in this aspect. However, if a woman feels comfortable covering her face, she is allowed to do so. Regarding the wearing of the veil (hijab), there is no clear instruction in the Quran. This may be because: (i) it has always been part of their attire, and (ii) men and women of the other two religions, Judaism and Christianity, were already accustomed to wearing the headscarf in accordance to their religious instructions. And the source of Islam is supposed to be the same as these two religions.
Since Islam came from Arabia, its non-Arab followers also began to follow Arab customs which were dictated by the geography of the Middle East and not really required outside of this region. Growing a beard, wearing an abaya and even circumcision are not compulsory practices. These were customs made obligatory by geography. A beard protected the men from the sand. The abaya, while modestly covering the women’s body, also provided comfort and freedom of movement. Scarves were worn by both men and women to protect against excessive heat and sand. Lack of water made it prudent to circumcise boys.
In India, Muslim women usually took the ghunghat and of course covered their breasts. In fact, Muslim women were actively involved in education as well as in the feminist movement. Fatima Shaikh (Savitribai Phule’s friend) and Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain have done an exemplary job of breaking the shackles of women in Indian society. There are many examples.
The burqa is derived from the concept of Abaya. It became fashionable when Muslim men, working in the Middle East, wanted their wives to return home, to look like the wealthy wives of sheikhs. As India began to witness riots and an escalation of Muslim subjugation, bigots within the Muslim community began to force their opinions to prevent women in the community from leaving their homes and cover from top to bottom whenever they had to. It will be fair to point out here that according to Arab customs, women are allowed to work and contribute to society. So what Muslim Indian women were forced to do was neither Islamic nor Arab.
Indian Muslim girls, despite all the difficulties, were keen on education (unlike Muslim boys). The burqa had almost gone down in history in the late 70s and until the end of the 80s. Then the episode of Babri Masjid happened. In Mumbai, after the 1993 riots, Muslim women forced their men to stay indoors and instead ventured outside for the daily needs of their families, just so as not to start fights between the men of the two communities. But they were afraid to show their true identity to the men who beat their boys, brothers, husbands and fathers. The burqa provided them with this cover. In the post 93 era, Muslim girls in Mumbai continued their education, but the burqa became an integral part of many of them. The successive riots and resulting subjugation made it a phenomenon all over India (I’m not so sure about Muslim women in UP/Bihar).
Education made these girls confident and empowered. Less educated Muslim men made these girls even greater fighters. What we saw in the CAA protests was the result of all these circumstances in independent India. Do you remember those veiled women with sharp tongues and intelligence ready to defend their actions?
What is happening in Karnataka is only an extension of these episodes. As a group, Muslim girls are not the ones to take things down. They cannot be forced by men, at home or outside. They will show their faces to those they are comfortable with. And these boys, who were in their dozens trying to bully a lonely girl, certainly can’t be among those Muskan and his sisters would feel comfortable with. It’s a challenge, nothing more.
That said, school rules must be followed. Uniform, in the first place, is to bring uniformity. All must comply. The rules don’t ask girls to go against Islam. Do not fall into the trap set by the politics of division. Hooliganism should not be answered with hooliganism. The first duty of students is to educate themselves. They should focus on that. The more educated a student is, the more rogues (inside and outside your houses) will be intimidated, never needing to fight back in their own way. Even silence would do. These asocial elements are an insecure bunch and they will always be that way. No need to worry. They are the ones who should be worried.
Regarding the case, since nothing in the Quran says that the Burqa/Hijaab is obligatory as it is understood and practiced in India, the court will not err in rendering a judgment which could go against girls. Graciously accepting the verdict will go a long way to make people, who are not fanatics, think about this resistance without biased passions and emotions.
In the meantime, the point the girls wanted to make, asking for their right to wear a burqa/hijab as an expression of their religious belief, was made. And that in itself is a great victory.
PS – “A lot of people assume it’s just the headscarf. But the hijab is a way of dressing, behaving and believing in its own right, a concept to be embraced by both men and women. Moreover, the best type of hijab is not so much the physical hijab, but a state of mind relating to the inner self.
From the Wall by Rafiq Lasne: A comment regarding the continuing problem of Muslim girls in Karnataka, India demanding the right to wear the hijab in school.