The debate over wearing burkha or hijab among intellectuals of this country is irrelevant, unless it considers the opinion of common muslim women. Especially after Saudi Arabia crown prince has said that wearing a hijab or abaya is a matter of choice.

Burkha, hijab, abaya — garments which Muslim women wear to cover their bodies and heads — has always found itself at the centre of numerous modern world debates. According to Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, “The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men. This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover.”

Meanwhile in India, people have dragged burkha into a political debate. However, no one is asking for the common Indian Muslim woman’s opinion.

To wear or not to wear?

Numerous liberal and conservative intellectuals are debating whether wearing burkha is sign of democratic liberal tolerance, or endorsement of conservative religious dictates

Many are saying that being able to wear her burkha in public is the right of every Muslim woman. There are also those who think that it pushes forward the agenda of a conservative lifestyle.

Both lines of thought have been debating endlessly as to why burkha or hijab should or should not be worn, especially in public gatherings. It does run a risk of being misused politically, and further alienate the majority of population from the minority. However, if we strong arm Muslim women  into giving up burkha, then it doesn’t count as a liberal approach as well. Where is the liberty if someone tells you what you can and cannot wear?

No opinion from common Muslim women

Amidst all the voices which are rallying for and against burkha or hijab, what is missing is the voice of common Muslim women. Many liberal women are using social media to put forth their opinion. But a majority of common women from the said community do not even get a say in this matter.

I have several Muslim friends, who think burkha and hijab are a part of their religious identity. According to them, this is not something other communities should feel threatened of. Similarly, I have met women who say just the opposite. Thus, in times when every philosophy, including liberalism, is divided in itself, it is hard to side with an opinion.

Instead of debating over what we think is right, probably we should rally for freedom of choice for Muslim women

Why not give them the liberty of standing by their individual preference? Isn’t this what liberation is all about? To have a choice to figure out what you want? As a society, we should learn from Saudi Arabia’s crown prince. We need to strip the debate around burkha of religious and political stances. If we want progress and liberation, then probably we should leave this debate to Muslim women. It should be up to them if they want to wear burkha, hijab, abaya, long-sleeved clothing or any clothing of their choice. Imposing our views on them, no matter how liberal, is also a form of oppression.

Also Read: Kerala Prof says Muslim women expose breast like a ‘piece of melon’

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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