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Hijab and Burqa - choice and controversy || Acharya Prashant, at Delhi University (2023)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
5 min
173 reads

Questioner (Q): Good evening, sir. My question is, recently there were huge protests going on in Iran against the imposition of the hijab . There were many people who talked about the hijab as an imposition on women; while others, including women, consider it to be their right of choice—whether they accept it or not.

Now, if you look at the bigger picture, so far six European countries have completely banned the hijab . The reasons they stated ranges from security purposes to women's preserving their secular culture.

So, sir, what is the right way to approach this topic?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Let people have the freedom to decide what they wear. When it comes to your relationship with the other, your responsibility ends at educating the other person. You can at most educate the other person to enable her to make responsible and great choices. Are you getting it?

If you are there and I am there, then what is the extent to which I can really get into your life? My limit is that I cannot dictate your actions or your choices, but my responsibility is that I must educate you; so that you make good choices. Are you getting it? I must be able to educate you to make good choices. But under no condition, can I force a choice upon you. Unless your choice is harmful to the society at large, then I have a locus standi—then I can say what you are doing is harmful to others; so please don't do it. Otherwise, nobody has the right to dictate an adult—what to do, how to live, what to eat, what to wear. No?

You can counsel someone; you can educate someone. If you have love, if you have compassion, with great energy, with great determination, you can counsel the other person. And if you really are so concerned about the other person, then you must educate her right since her childhood and educate her well; so that as an adult she is able to make good decisions. But educating someone is one thing and forcing a choice upon someone is a totally different thing. Getting it?

Now hijab and burqa : even among these two, there is a distinction. You see, the hijab covers the hair, the neck, and leaves the face open. The burqa is a complete naqab — from head to toe, it is supposed to cover everything, though sometimes the eyes are left open through a slit here (in front of the eye).

The burqa can be a problem. Though there are countries—even in Saudi Arabia, you know, since 2018 hijab is not compulsory; women are free to choose whether they want to wear the hijab or not. But the western countries who have a problem, their problem is mainly with the burqa . And the problem is not religious in nature, the problem is social in nature. The problem is when you are in a social setting, if you are totally covered from top to bottom, how does someone determine your identity—that's the problem. So, on that ground, it might legitimate to ban the burqa in public spaces, especially when the social conditions are not proper. But when it comes to the hijab , I do not think governments have a locus standi dictating adult women what to wear and what not to wear. Do you understand this?

See, this is not a religious question when it comes to the burqa . It is no more a religious thing. Any miscreant can don the burqa and do whatever he pleases. The CCTV will be ineffective, the police will be handicapped; you will just not know what's going on. And it's for this reason that the Muslim community itself must consider whether hiding the entire face in public places is a wise idea. I do not think it's a good idea to be in a public place and hide your entire face; it might be socially troublesome thing. But when it comes to the hijab , let it be the woman's choice. Let the woman decide whether she wants to reveal her hair, her body, her neck, and such thing; let the woman decide. The job of the government is to educate. If you are really concerned about women, please educate them well and then leave them free; they will decide on their own.

YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJvtjYC-BjI

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