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[Opinion] Hijab

Posted August. 15, 2007 07:17,   


The two female captives who were released yesterday, Kim Gyeong-ja and Kim Ji-na, were wearing hijab, traditional Islam clothing. When they were handed over to the Korean side, they cried for some time and gave a sigh of relief as if to throw their bad memories away. Tears were seen behind the hijab. The veil represents Islam’s dual view of protection and discrimination towards women.

The term hijab stands for “secrecy” in Arab language, but it has other meanings like humility, privacy, and morality. In the Qur`an, the hijab does not refer to a veil for women or men, rather it refers to a spatial curtain that divides or provides privacy. The Qur`an instructs male believers (Muslims) to talk to the wives of Muhammad behind a hijab. However, in later Muslim societies, this instruction specific to male Muslims was generalized to female Muslims, leading to the segregation of the Muslim men and women in public places.

Islam teaches that men and women are equal. Muslims recognized the female’s inheritance right before Christian society. But at the same time, Islam religion views that the roles of male and female are different, and women are those who should be protected. Such perception was also reflected in the hijab for women. Since the 18th century, wearing a hijab has become mandatory for free women. It was to separate them from female slaves or those living in slums, who could have been sold to middle class men. Muslim men only married free women wearing hijab. Since then, the hijab has become a symbol of virginity and high family or social status.

Hijab is still a subject of controversy. Last month, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the general election by removing the ban on wearing hijab at schools and public places. Surprisingly, advocates of hijab wearing are mostly elite Islam women. They consider the hijab as a symbol of religious faith and female identity.

Under the teaching of the Qur`an, Muslim men have a clear perception that women wearing hijab should be protected. Currently, 14 Korean women are still held hostage by the Taliban. The group should also free them as it did for Kim Gyeong-ja and Kim Ji-na. Five other male hostages should also be released safely. Isn’t Islam a religion of equality?

Chung Seong-hee, Editorial Writer, shchung@donga.com