First posted on 10 August 2017
The Hijab is an Arabic terminology popularly used to describe a veil traditionally worn by Muslim women in defence of their modesty, when in the presence of adult males not of their immediate family.
It usually covers the head and chest of the lady but the Hijab can also be referred to any head, face, or body covering worn by Muslim women that conforms to a certain standard of modesty.
In Malaysia, the practice of wearing the Hijab by Muslim women gained popularity sometime in the mid or late 1980s. The practice of the wearing of the Hijab or ‘The Tudung’ as it was more commonly known back then, was simple, uncomplicated and not at all sophisticated.
Some would adorn a modified version of the head-dress of the ‘Telekung’ (which is the garb worn by Muslim women when performing their prayers) whilst some would adorn a simple shawl steadied into place by the use of cloth pins.
The wearing of the Hijab was initially looked upon rather unfavourably, even by a majority of the Muslim public at that time, as the wearing of Hijab was linked to a few so-called Islamic movements deemed ‘unsavoury’, at that particular moment in time, either by practice or rhetoric.
Over time, the donning of the Hijab began to be accepted by the general Muslim public in Malaysia as evident from the number of Muslim women who began to don the Hijab, either on their own free will or as ‘encouraged’ by their husbands, fiance or even boyfriends.
It was always mentioned back then, when a Muslim lady dons the Hijab, it is seen as a life changing moment for the Muslim lady and it is an action that is not to be taken lightly.
By donning the Hijab, it is seen as a commitment made by the Muslim lady to not only be modest in the way she dresses in public but also as her commitment to observe her religious obligations with respect to the way she manages and handles her life obligations.
The way they talk, the language they used, the way they dress and the way they interact especially with male colleagues and friends are all part of the package that comes along with her commitment to change.
It is not uncommon to hear back then that once a Muslim lady dons the Hijab, she would freely give all of her wardrobe that is deemed ‘revealing’ and to replace them with new clothing that complies with the demands for modesty.
Indeed, a life changing moment.
For the Muslim women back then, the Hijab they adorn were made of simple materials, nothing too fancy, as the priority was to keep to a modest code of dressing. The fashion conscious would say that it’s a dull and unattractive way of dressing but then again, we are talking about modesty.
As more and more women don the Hijab, including those who were fashionistas, there began a clamour by the more fashion conscious segment of the Muslim women community for a more stylish and fashionable Hijab, both for when going to work as well as to attend other social functions, official as well as personal.
From this desire to dress modestly and stylishly at the same time, different types and designs of the Hijab began to make their way into the market, addressing this growing demand.
These designs brought into the market differ by the materials used, level of sophistication in donning them, colour combinations, the number of folds etc. In short, a new market was developing ie fashion based on the Hijab.
Some might even say that this was the start of what is termed as Islamic fashion. The evolution of the this new market, however, and level of sophistication has its price, even if it’s for a fistful more Ringgits than before. At least.
In ‘the old days’, one can don a Hijab and achieve that degree of ‘modest dressing feeling’ for only a few Ringgits. One can still do so today, as they are many Hijabs that still can be had for as low as RM10 (circa USD3). Not one to affect the weekly budget for most. Simple in design and simple in materials used.
But today, the market for the simple and modest Hijab has gone beyond comprehension. Put on a label or a brandname, slight change in the materials used, change the packaging concept and reward the customer with a paper bag (plastic even) with the name of the label clearly visible, a touch here and a touch there and voila, the price goes stratospheric.
A sad state of affairs this, for what was seen as an encouragement for Muslim women to go modest is now seen as a reverse.
Surely it is obvious that the price of the Hijab nor its exclusivity does not dictate the level of modesty of the Muslim women, and does not dictate the respect that a Muslim lady commands. Or has its significance got lost somewhere in the design, manufacture, packaging and marketing of the Hijab? Or has it turned into a sacrificial lamb in the pursuit of excellence in the name of Islamic fashion?
It is common knowledge that some women who do not don the Hijab adopt a more modest lifestyle and dressing than some who actually don the Hijab. By dressing, they are not pretentious and are well-respected for it, professionally and personally. The language they use and the manner they conduct themselves in public.
In saying so, it is also common knowledge that some who don the Hijab lead lifestyles that raises more than a few eyebrows than they who do not don the Hijab.
The conventional wisdom says that a return to the basics and common sense is required. The decision to don a Hijab or not, lies with the Muslim ladies. But a word of caution, if we may.
By going back to the basics, it is meant that the donning the Hijab must be for the right reasons, for the donning of the Hijab comes with responsibilities. Not because of peer pressure or that because you look or may look good in Hijab or that you want to cover your hair, for the line between vanity and modesty is separated by a very thin veil of cloth.
A very thin veil indeed. Literally and figuratively.