By Abdul Bari Masoud

The engineered Hijab controversy has swivelled the spotlight on women’s rights in Islam and Hijab. Hijab is seen as a symbol of oppression, Nobel laureate Tawakkol Karman and other prominent women’s comments on reasoning for wearing Hijab are the ideal rebuttal to those pseudo-intellectuals who see in Hijab modernity shrouded in ugliness. 

In a situation where a slew of false narratives about Islam, particularly as it pertains to Muslim women and their rights, Hijab-clad women who excel in their lives themselves refute one of the many misconceptions. They reaffirm that Islam is the most flawless and progressive faiths when it comes to women’s empowerment.


When journalists questioned her about her Hijab and how it was out of proportion to her intelligence and education, Tawakkol Karman graciously responded:

“Man in the early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I am wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilisation that man has achieved, and is not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is regressive back to ancient times.”

It was Tawakkol Karman’s perfect reply to a journalist when she was asked about the logic behind observing Hijab.

Tawakkol Karman is a Yemeni journalist, human rights activist, and politician known as the “Iron Woman” and “Mother of Revolution.”

In 2005, she co-founded the organisation “Women Journalists Without Chains.”

Tawakkol, along with two others, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, making her the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman, and the second Muslim woman to earn a Nobel Prize, as well as the second youngest Nobel Peace Laureate ever.


Dr. Batul Hamid is a Dawoodi Bohara who follows the strict rules of the sect led by Dr. Syedena Mufaddal Saifuddin. She has always worn a Hijab throughout her life (Rida). She proudly states that wearing the Hijab makes her feel respectable, safe, and confident. It instils further trust in public areas, markets, educational institutions, and workplaces.

“I’ve visited 18 countries throughout the world and have never felt uncomfortable or embarrassed as I see people treat each other with more respect and reverence. There has never been any impediment to education, interaction during or after education in various educational institutions, practising as an attorney in Surat Courts, or carrying out duties as the Principal of VIVA College of Law, Virar, Mumbai, where the majority of the teaching and non-teaching staff are Non-Muslims.

“The college administration never objected to my wearing of the Hijab. Furthermore, it was never an issue for any of the teaching and non-teaching staff or students, as I also teach them about Constitutional Law. No one has raised a complaint because of the Hijab, and expressed reservation about it.”

She emphasises that she has experienced people assisting her in critical situations and showing greater respect for her in all aspects of her life because she wears the Hijab.


“As a Muslim woman, I must follow the Qur’ān’s commandments and the path of Sunnah. In the Qur’ān, purdah is required. It includes a Hijab. When a lady leaves the house, she should wear a chadar to protect her body. It’s a long piece of fabric that she’ll drape over her garment to cover her complete body (including her bosom and head). Burqua is simply a chadar that has been changed. Covering hairs on the face is not an impediment to learning or doing any task.

“I also disagree with the assertion that Hijab practice is out of date. It is not a sign of tyranny. I condemn such assertions which are based on wrong notions. Rather, I am at ease. It may not be a person who attempts to harm her, but it is not an invitation.

“For the right wing forces, the current debate on Hijab is more about Islamophobia than it is about the headscarf. Hatred is becoming entrenched, and a de-radicalisation campaign is required. Otherwise, our country may lose the vitality of its youth. It is both a constitutional and a fundamental right. As a result, the government must ensure justice and dignity.”

Late Dr. Kamala Das, a noted Malayalam writer, who adopted Kamala Surayya as her new name and started practising Hijab after her conversion in 1999, about 10 years before her demise on 31 May 2009.

Dr. Surayya argued that Purdah grants protection and Islam is the only religion that truly recognises the dignity of women.

She didn’t require the independence the Western culture desires for women, combined with lustful gaze. Semi-naked female statues were put at a recent book expo in Delhi in order to entice and seduce more customers. What a pity!

People who are leading a never-ending war against Purdah supporters to “emancipate the lady” so she can “march with the times” do so by exposing her body to the vulgar gaze of outsiders.

Speaking about freedoms that liberation offers, Dr. Surayya is quite candid:

“I don’t want freedom. I had enough of it. Trust me. Freedom had become a burden for me. I want guidelines to regulate and discipline my life. I want a Master to protect me. I want protection and not freedom. I want to be subservient to Allah. In fact, for the past 24 years I have worn Purdah off and on. I had gone to markets, matinee shows and even while abroad I had worn Purdah. I have several of them. A woman in Purdah is respected. No one touches you or teases you if you wear one. You get total protection.”

“Now let us consider freedom,” continues Surayya. “The tenets of Islam offer full freedom to women. They are treated with equality. Curbs on freedom are there only in those societies where these tenets are ignored. I don’t consider a woman’s submission to her husband and other higher powers as lack of freedom. I’ve had enough of such freedom and I don’t want it any more. I have totally submitted myself to Allah. I am happy to observe His rules and conditions.”

Dr. Surayya was a Kerala native. Her mother was a well-known poet and her father V. M. Nair was the Managing Editor of two publications: Mathrubhoomi and Nalappat Balamani Amma. In addition to her numerous prominent works in Malayalam language, her works in English have also been honoured.

Ente Katha is a Malayalam novel that has been translated into 15 foreign languages. In 1969, one of her short stories won the Kerala Sahitya (Literary) Academy Award.

In 1964, she received the Asian Poetry Prize for The Sirens, the Kent Award in 1965 for Summer in Calcutta, and the Asan World Prize and Academy Award in 1967 for The Sirens (Collected Poems).


Muslim women’s opinions are marginalised and disregarded, and they are pushed to choose between false dichotomies like education vs Hijab, Indianness vs Muslimness.

“The spokespersons on the Hijab row in the media such as Arif Mohammad Khan, Taslima Nasreen, Javed Anand and Javed Akhtar do not represent the modern, Hijab-wearing Muslim woman. The lines between the right-winger, liberals, and progressives are blurred by their mutual pity for Muslim women. These voices claim to think for us and define the choices we ought to make, just as colonisers do. Muslim women’s prioritising their commitments to the values of their faith is not seen as a valid choice they should be making. The Hijabi Muslim women, on the streets to defend their choice of clothing, remain persistently unheard by those preaching the virtues of freedom. There is an obsession with defining Muslim women’s rights by values of choice and freedom alone, which are projected to not exist within the community,” she wrote in The Indian Express.

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