Beyond the burqa: how Muslim women see themselves

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"The goodness of people rests in their deeds. Do I come and question what you wear? Every religion has their traditions and people follow them. The hijaab and burqa protect us from evil eyes."

Beyond the burqa: how Muslim women see themselves

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"I am a pilot, a fashion designer and a wife now. I make sure I wear my hijab with my uniform. Is that limiting me in any way? I can fly a plane - can you? I design clothes as well and the hijab has become more of a fashion statement."

Beyond the burqa: how Muslim women see themselves

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"This is from when I was interning as a teacher at a girls' school. I later went abroad to study journalism, and recently interned with the news daily The Hindu. I will now be writing my own stories. How, then, has the hijaab interfered in my growth? I've done it all."

Beyond the burqa: how Muslim women see themselves

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"I like to play football and throwball. I wait for the lunch break bell to ring so we can all play together. The hijab doesn't interfere with my games, we have been wearing it for years."

Beyond the burqa: how Muslim women see themselves

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"Confinement is a state of mind. Two of us work with a school for the disabled. There are many lessons to learn from one's circumstances and how to get ahead of yourself. Limitations are created by oneself. It is important to have conviction."

Beyond the burqa: how Muslim women see themselves

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"I am the warden of a girls' orphanage. Many poor parents leave their daughters here for free education and we take care of them till they finish schooling. We realise the importance of both education as well as tradition."

Beyond the burqa: how Muslim women see themselves

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"Wearing the hijab makes us feel more free. We feel it commands respect naturally and we can go anywhere without being conscious - be it the beach, work or a party. Our parents have brought us up liberally; we value our traditions and religion not because of blind faith but because it advocates goodness."

CULTURE DEBATE

Beyond the burqa: how Muslim women see themselves

Shuchi Kapoor @GirlInTheGalli

The importance of the burqa and the hijab in the lives of Muslim women tends to confound many. The argument often made is that it is a form of control over women's bodies. What is lost in the conversation are the voices of Muslim women themselves.

When I was on assignment during Ramadan in Chennai, I asked women and girls how they felt about the hijab and burqa. Regardless of our different religious backgrounds, I was graciously and wholeheartedly welcomed by many Muslim women, in mosques as well as in their homes.

I ended up with a truly enchanting series of photographs of Muslim women from different walks of life, all of whom were comfortable with the burqa and hijab. They said they felt secure, not suffocated.

The tradition of girls wearing the headdress begins as early as the age of five, under the premise of keeping them safe from the negative gaze of men. The Quran also strongly advocates the concept of 'Haya' or modesty.

While religious diktats become a way of life for Muslims, and women in particular, the burqa and hijab are also fashion statements in many circles. Most burqa-clad women go about their lives without much fuss, but the debate on the burqa continues, usually only among outsiders.

The time has come for women to reclaim the narrative, and the burqa.

Shuchi Kapoor @GirlInTheGalli