There is a growing trend in the media showing women or girls wearing hijab to portray social diversity and religious accommodation. However, this is leading to a false perception among ordinary citizens living in the West that hijab is an essential attire for a Muslim woman.
Any debate or argument against hijab is by default assumed as an attack on Islam. It is very important to clarify this misleading perception.
The head covering by a Muslim woman as a religious obligation is a debatable issue within Muslim circles because the source of Islam, which is its divine book Quran has not provided any explicit prescription or obligation for a Muslim woman to cover her head.
It however, instructed women not to expose their hidden adornments, which is open for interpretation. Hence, like on any debatable issue, maintaining neutrality is the appropriate option.
Head covering of women typically using scarf is a cultural practice in many societies, including those in the Middle East. While in many other societies women do not cover their heads.
For example, in South Asian countries, majority of women do not normally cover their heads except during some religious rituals. Such practice is shared among the followers of various religions in that region including Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, etc.
Whether to cover the head or not is a matter of personal choice and it is neither a concern nor an issue if it stays like this. The problem arises when the hijab outfit is presented as an Islamic attire.
By assigning a religious status, it consequently has been portrayed as a symbol of piousness and morphed into a dress code for Muslim women. It unwarrantedly results in the wrong perception of non-hijab wearing Muslim women as a lesser class of Muslims.
These Muslim women often face tremendous peer-pressure from hijab-wearing women in their families, friends or social circle to surrender their freedom of choice.
When media brands Muslim women with hijab, it creates an unjust situation for these non-hijab wearing Muslim women. They become out-casted in the general sphere because the representation of Muslims women in media and social affairs is taken over by those who wear hijab.
If the West wants to promote better integration of Muslims into the Western society, then the media should not try to give a distinct appearance to Muslims, which not necessarily is their identity.
In a secular society, where religion is a private matter, religious branding in the public sphere needs to be avoided.
Wearing hijab is certainly a matter of personal choice and one must respect the decision of a women whether to wear the hijab or not. However, branding the entire community with a particular icon, which is a matter of personal choice and a debatable issue from religious perspective, is not appropriate.
If the media stops portraying hijab as an Islamic symbol, then it will mitigate the rift that is forcing people to take extreme sides with denouncing the religion on one end and religious bigotry on the other.
The flaring up of debate on the hijab ban in France and the ruling of the European Court of Justice on a similar issue are rooted in the emphasis on hijab as an Islamic attire.
If hijab is treated as a headgear of personal choice rather than a symbol of Islam, then this issue would have never reached the flash point.
In order to pacify the religious hater and to promote a better integration of Muslim community in particular Muslim women into the western society, media should not give a specific importance to hijab.
It is very important that a common person should see hijab as a matter of personal choice rather than a religious symbol and this is only possible if Muslim women are neither portrayed nor represented by hijab.