I thought I'd share some light on the topic as I feel the hijab is very misunderstood and in rarer cases, looked upon as a symbol of oppression. I will try to answer this question as best as I can as a Norwegian Muslim convert (female) who have experienced both the Muslim and the "outsider" perspective.
First, what is the hijab from Islamic perspective?
Hijab in Islam means "barrier". It is a form of modesty, and it doesn't only include the way Muslims dress, but the way we behave in regards to the opposite sex. Modesty is a virtue in Islam for both male and females. Due to the nature of men and females, men only need to cover from navel to knees, while women are to cover areas except for face and hands (some argue feet can be shown as well). Both men and women are obligated to lower their gaze and not to touch the opposite sex (unless medically necessary). The verses used to support the view of modesty in Islam are mainly 24:30 (men) and 24:31 (women).
What is hijab from western perspective?
From the western perspective, the hijab is regarded as the head covering alone. How they view it is more pluralistic than one general answer. Many don't understand why, but accept it as a freedom of religion. Some view it as oppressive to women and think a woman wears it because she is forced to by her family or community. I am not saying this never happens, but this is a mytake sharing the many reasons Muslim women cherish the hijab as more than an obligation. So here are the some reasons why a Muslim woman would choose to wear the hijab:
- Of course, the religion comes first!
You can argue that Muslim women wouldn't wear it if their religion didn't say so, and in many cases, you are completely right! Muslim women follow Islam and believes whatever God has commanded will be good for them in this world and/or in the next. Hence, they wear the hijab as a symbol of faith. It is also a way to carry the faith and express identity, as Christians who wear the cross. As a counterargument, atheists will say religion is a brainwashed belief, and therefore they don't regard it a choice. I say as a previous atheist, that I was equally brainwashed away from what I believe is the natural belief in a creator. Argument goes both ways and ethnocentrism helps nobody.
- Modesty and avoiding unwanted attention.
Wearing the hijab tells men that you are not up for anything else than a serious commitment (marriage). Therefore, men that are after one night stands and frivolous relationships will be more likely to back off. In the end, men are more risk-prone and attracted to visuals. You'll for example see fewer women who catcall out on the streets, and men generally take the lead and initiates dating first. So, for Muslim women who believe and values intimacy after marriage, it is a way to avoid that sort of attention and awkward situations.
Modest fashion is actually a big thing and has helped me reach a much more comfortable and creative way of dressing. I never liked to wear revealing clothes or anything that brought attention, just never had any formal regulations. This gave me a hard time finding clothes I was comfortable in and usually ended up in grey tones and hoodies. Now I have guidelines and have found a lot of joy in picking outfits.
- To feel more comfortable with bodies
Humans in general, but especially women worry about their looks and how society perceives them. Some do so constantly (I highly suggest "Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women" by Renee Engeln). This worry is only exacerbated when you wear tight revealing clothing as people can judge you on far greater arenas. When you wear the hijab, there is only fat or skinny! We dont have to worry about what an hourglass shape we are missing or whether our butt is flat. Covering up has made me far more comfortable with my body and now I work out for health and fitness instead to look a certain way in my jeans.
- Being judged for our skills, intellect and piety instead of our looks.
Sure, this should go for any woman, but the world ain't perfect. If you are better looking, you are treated better, cause humans value aesthetics. I'll keep this last argument short, cause this is getting long and I have a hard time reading through my takes myself! 😅
So I'll leave it at that. Thank you for reading and being curious about other perspectives!😊 These are just a few reasons, and if any Muslim women feel I missed something, feel free to add!