REPORT – A Look at Hijab in India

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SHAFAQNA - Islam in India is the second largest religion as well as the fastest breeding. While the communities are divided based on the vast topography, cultural differences and the beliefs and influences form the Indian culture, the basis of Islam have more or less been maintained. Hijab is one such tradition.

The Indian influence

The last decade has witnessed a major decline in the number of women wearing Hijab in the major cities. While the hijab culture is not as big as that of ‘Burqa,’ it certainly has seen a decline.

Muslims in India (regardless of the sub-caste they belong to) wear a black ‘Burqa’ much like the Arab women. With the influence of the Western culture, establishments of newer education, work place codes and ethics that do not support or encourage women to wear a hijab in order to avoid influences/clashes based on religious backgrounds, many women abandon the hijab due to social or societal pressures.

As a democratic country, India does not support any discrimination based on religious grounds, looks, dress and appearance of a person. However; this is practically far from being followed.

Much like most countries, international organizations ban women from wearing hijab at their workplace. Even educational institutions follow these codes. This has led many women to either abandon the head covering or wear it during their travel and take it off while in class or at work; thus, diluting the purpose of the hijabs.

This is mainly a structure of larger, international schools and organizations while the smaller ones do entertain and maintain leniency. This is not to say that larger organizations are discriminating, they are just following their international codes and standards; thus discouraging not just Islamic but women with other religious influences.

While most large organizations don’t entertain hijabs at work, there are smaller, mainly privately owned ones that do not have a problem. Some small organizations owned by Muslims are more than happy to have their women employees in hijab and in face, encourage other Muslims also to wear one.

Also, the religious influences for various sub-castes and sub-sects sometimes levy a mandate for women to wear while the others who do not follow religious leaders take inspiration from their surroundings or co-habiting religions.

It is but natural that Muslim women are not supposed to wear a sari (Indian traditional dress) with its blouse and waist revealing drapes. However, some smaller Muslim sect in the Southern part of the country have adapted the Sari as their staple wear and covering themselves with a shawl and head with the extended drape of the Sari. Using different techniques and means, they have successfully achieved this style too. With long blouses and full sleeves, they have integrated Hijab in a sari.

A much appreciated effort!

When Indian Muslimahs choose hijab

With its colossal vastness, influences from various religions, cultures and Bollywood, hijab has evolved and transformed itself and continues to do so. Regions with extreme humidity and heat have women wearing bright, light cotton hijabs while ones in the desert region prefer a thin shawl like multi-layered one.

Even with the little hardships that follow with the wearing of the hijab, women in the country have gotten past all the comments and judgments. Each of them has their own modern take on the classic veil and hijabs.

New vibrant colors and patterns of hijabs meeting all the criteria have been seen since decades.  Today, the collection of veils is at its most. Burqas too have evolved from plain blacks to silhouettes to ones with studs and embroidery; one can find a new classic literally every day that stands out.

With everyone preferring to dress in a more Western manner, hijab has taken on the younger generation. The modern takes on hijabs are beyond scarves style. The latest fashion trend is adapted daily into hijabs.  Just like fashion variations, hijabs too are today being invented based on seasons.

Specific hijabs for summers, spring, autumn, winter are not the only ones that are designed but even different hijabs for day and night.

An anonymous lady who wears hijab said, “I would love to wear a Hijab but not a Burqa. However, people here do not see these two going separately. If you only wear a Hijab over pants and tops, the society brands you as a show of or someone out to ridicule Islam which is not the case. A burqa is suffocating and I can never get myself to wear it all the time but it’s just a sorry state of the society here. This has discouraged me to wear a hijab- I do not wanted to be talked about and become abut of everyone’s jokes”

“The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, feel a fear in their hearts and when His verses are recited to them, it increases them in faith; and upon their Lord they rely” (Surah al-Anfal 8:2)

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