For many the Hijab is a thing of beauty; an item of clothing many women wear on a daily basis.
February 1st 2015 marked World Hijab Day, and in a small leafy suburb of London one woman embarked on a journey to try the Hijab for just the day.
Ella Sibley, an Assistant Chaplain at the University of Roehampton, London, took part in World Hijab Day after being invited by a Sister from the University’s AhlulBayt Islamic Society.
World Hijab Day is an annual worldwide event encouraging people from all walks of life to wear Hijab for a day. What first began in 2013, as an event to promote awareness and understanding of the Hijab, has now become a global event with women in over 140 countries taking part.
Ella described the experience as unique and all-in-all very positive. She said: “I had a conversation with my mum the night before about cultural appropriation and she said, do you think it’s alright to be wearing the Hijab?”
“I said, I wouldn’t have done it if I had not been invited by a girl who wears the Hijab, who I know, and who had personally invited me to do it.”
When wearing the Hijab, Ella said she felt as if she received more attention, she could not help but notice more people looking at her.
“I felt very self-conscious about it because it is an item of clothing which marks you out as a Muslim usually, but also it was a juxtaposition not only with my own personal identity but also everything else about me.”
Ella added: “I am White, British and also a smoker, not something you tend to see among women who wear the Hijab doing.”
The Hijab, as an item of clothing, has become synonymous with Islam and the Muslim identity; whenever we see women with a head covering there is an assumption they are Muslim. In reality, head coverings are a part of many different faiths and beliefs, and in certain parts of the world they are viewed as a cultural practice outside of faith.
Ella continued: “I was suddenly very self-conscious about the rest of my dress, being in Jeans and a T-Shirt it is not what you traditionally see women who wear the Hijab to be wearing.”
Being an Assistant Chaplin at the University, Ella is responsible for the evening church service. After setting up and preparing for the service Ella found herself addressing the congregation before it got underway.
She told me, “it was only when I stood up at the beginning of the service and said, just to pre-empt any questions I’m wearing the Hijab as part of World Hijab Day and to walk in someone else’s shoes for the day and to experience the kind of experiences that they have every day.”
The reactions Ella received in the chapel were very positive with some people openly admitting they wanted to ask her about the Hijab but had not because they did not want to make things awkward.
On the whole, Ella described it as a great day and very eye opening. When asked if she would do it again Ella replied; “yes I would, for me in my job it would be more impactful to do it on a working day because it certainly promoted conversation which I wouldn’t normally have.”
Ella would definitely do it again, as World Hijab Day is only for one day out of the year.
She added: “it is a really easy thing to get involved with, put on a head scarf for the day, but of course it is quite different and quite interesting so I think it would be a good one to get people engaged with.”
What made it easier for Ella was being invited to take part by a Sister who wears the Hijab, and also being able to sit down and talk about the Hijab, the practicalities of it, and what it means on an individual level. Having somebody to talk to about the experience really helped her.
The word hijab is mentioned in various places throughout the Qu’ran. It is not limited to an individual Surat (Chapter) or Ayat (Verse).
If we look at the philosophy of hijab, from the perspective of its root term, a veil or a partition, it can be said the hijab of the eye is for both men and women. The hijab of the eye is a means to enable men and women to break or separate their gaze or vision from each other and those around them.
In the Qu’ran it is mentioned in Surat Al-Nur (The Light), men and women should lower their gaze.
“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them …” (24:30)
“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof…” (24:31)
The term hijab does not merely refer to a physical item. However, if we examine the philosophy of hijab as a piece of clothing, then it can be described as an item for both men and women. Although the characters are slightly different for men, the philosophy of it, a means by which one is able to be modest and preserve their own individual modesty in the society, implies hijab has a role for both men and women.
Moving away from the most literal understanding of the term hijab to the metaphysical. Al-hijab refers to the “veil which separates man or the world from God.” The philosophy of hijab is far more than just clothing or a head covering. It is an unrestricted way to allow men, women, or anybody, who is seeking individual spirituality and wanting to become closer to God.
Written by Seyed Hameed Mozaffari
 Glassé, C. (2002) A New Encyclopaedia of Islam: Revised Edition of the Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam. California: AltaMira Press.
 (Glassé 2002: 180)