A Matter of Choice
grew up in the multicultural and multifaith country of Fiji where the Muslim
population, predominantly of Indian origin, is around 6 per cent, with Hindus 30
per cent, and 64 percent Christians - mainly indigenous Fijians.
years ago, one did not see women wearing head coverings in the streets of Fiji,
except for older women wearing their dupattas (loose scarves) draped around
their hair and shoulders like
Benazir Bhutto. This was in the late 1980s before we migrated to Australia.
were a familiar sight in towns and cities. Only men prayed in the mosque, and on
some occasions women attended (wearing scarves) to listen to a visiting
dignitary or a high profile international Islamic speaker. Women generally wore
hijab when they prayed at home, as they had been taught from a very young age
that this is the proper attire when standing before Allah and submitting to His
will. Today in Fiji some young women choose to wear hijab but they are a
In Australia I have noticed
that there are generally four types of hijab wearers. Firstly, those born into a
family of hijab wearers bound by custom and tradition. Secondly, women who in
later life for spiritual reasons decide to wear hijab. Thirdly, those women
whose families impose the wearing of hijab and the women have no choice in the
matter. Lastly, there are women like myself,
who wear hijab on certain occasions: praying, visiting the mosque, or during
prayer gatherings and special Islamic events when in the company of Muslim
friends and relatives. Otherwise, in my professional life, and in normal
day-to-day activities I don’t wear a head scarf.
Personally I believe that wearing the hijab in countries where Muslims are
a minority draws attention to the wearer. Rather than shielding the woman from
the gaze of strangers out of a sense of modesty, or for spiritual reasons, it
does just the opposite of what is intended—eyes are drawn towards the woman. I
believe that the most important aspect of being a Muslim, especially when living
as a minority, is to project all the positive teachings of Islam as contained in
Of course, today the hijab has also become translated into a proud symbol of identity for many women, especially since 9/11.
especially may wear the hijab as a way of asserting their identity; it’s
fashionable and a ‘cool’ accessory. Paradoxically, you stand out and belong
at the same time.
Some of my friends and colleagues from
different parts of the world - India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Egyptian,
Iran, Lebanon and South Africa - are ‘casual hijab wearers’ like myself who
also believe that it does not alter in the least our allegiance to Islam. Other
friends, however, are equally strong in their conviction that it is God’s
directive and must be observed if you want to be a ‘good Muslim’.
friends and I however, remain firmly convinced that you can still be ‘a good
Muslim’ and not wear hijab. We wear hijab on certain occasions out of respect
for others and out of respect for our traditions. The choice is ours to make.
I sit writing this article, the words of Cherie Blair spring to mind. It’s a
beautiful quote that I’d like to share with you. Ms Blair was speaking in
defense of her half sister, Lauren Booth, who converted to Islam.
of the things I try to do is help to explain that Islam is an open religion in
which women have influence, whether they hide their hair or not.” Asked about
her half-sister’s conversion, she replied: “It's her choice.”
Evening News 5/11/2010).