In 2015, Isiolo-based and Methodist Church-owned St Paul Kiwanjani Secondary School refused to allow three Muslim girls to wear head coverings and trousers to school, leading to their suspension, the result was a drawn-out legal contest from the High court to the Supreme Court.
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That August, the High Court stopped students at the school from wearing the religious attire pending determination of a case by the Methodist Church.
In January this year, the Supreme Court overturned the 2016 appellate ruling and allowed Muslim students to wear the religious attire in non-Muslim schools. It ruled that the tolerability of the apparel would be determined by respective schools.
Just a few weeks before in the US, the same topic revolved around Ilhan Abdullahi Omar, the Somali American politician who is serving as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district. During her swearing in January, she made US history as she became the first member of US congress to wear the head covering.
The two events on the news brought to the forefront the practice of wearing religious attire, raising a number of questions which included: Why do some Muslim women wear the head coverings while others don’t? What is the reason for wearing them? Why do some women only wear the coverings on their head while others cover their whole body?
We found that the attire worn by Muslim women comes in different types: the burqa or burka, which covers the entire body, leaving only a mesh screen to look through; the niqab, a veil for the face which leaves only the eyes clear; and the hijab, a scarf which covers the head and neck but leaves the face uncovered. We found that hijab, which means ‘covering’, is also the general name for the requirement for Muslims to dress modestly.
We also learned that there are many other terms for regional or structural variations of the head coverings like the chador or chadar, al-amira, khimar and shayla.
In our search for answers to the rest of the questions, we found three women who were comfortable with sharing their stories, and two religious leaders who added input on the subject.
Husna Mohammed, 35
“Wearing hijab has been a culture I’ve adapted ever since I was young. I came to learn, as I was growing up, that the hijab is me and I am the hijab and so I am one with the hijab.
As I grew up, I came to know from my family that, as a Muslim woman, I have to wear the hijab. I personally wear a full hijab but when it comes to how different women wear it, it is all according to their interpretation of the Ayas in the Quran.
From some, it is said that you have to cover the face and only show the eyes while some also believe that you can cover the body and head but leave your face. So, to me, it all comes to one’s understanding of the Quran but all as long as the decency of the woman is upheld. This, I believe, is why some Muslim women may choose to only cover their heads and dress in trousers and sweat pants or dresses below.
I believe the concept of modesty is not just meant for Muslim women for it is seen even with other religions and cultures who wear a head dress or dress modestly. It’s just that with the others, it goes with a different name.”
Amina Kwatenje, 23
“I was born in a family with a Christian father and a Muslim mother -- a tough combination but one that many others have managed to work out within themselves, regardless of the harsh rebuke that comes with the union.
I started wearing my hijab when I turned 13, just before joining high school and just before coming face to face with a harsh reality; that I was different. I joined a Christian high school. It was tough at first but I soon devised a plan to help me cope. I would take my hijab off at the gate during opening days and only come to wear it again once I left school.
I went on like that all the way through high school. On clearing school, everything got better as, since then, I haven’t experienced much, from campus to my place of work.
I have also grown to believe that women wear hijab to conceal their beauty, for that is what the Quran dictates. In my case, my beauty is only meant for me, my family and my spouse (when I get married) and it is not necessarily just a culture but our religious practice, for it is dictated for all Muslim women to follow.
During Ramadhan, wearing hijab is more significant because it is a holy month and so people have to abide by all the laws and be dressed in a way that shows they are ready to pray. That is why Muslim public figures and TV personalities can also be seen dressed in their hijabs during this month.”
Adie Geri, 19
“I only wear my hijab occasionally. That is the way I have been brought up. I believe that wearing the hijab is somewhat a calling that comes when one is ready.
To identify with my religion, I pray and follow all other Muslim teachings and traditions -- all apart from wearing the hijab.
At some point in my life, especially when I was in high school and during madrasa, explaining my decision got really hard. My peers would ask me so many questions. They would also come up with all sorts of conclusions. They asked why I didn’t wear my hijab and accused me of being afraid of being Muslim. They said I was not Muslim because I did not wear the hijab.
At some point, I thought of starting to wear it, just so I could escape it all, but I eventually made peace with my decision and learned to cope. Sadly, some of my friends still question my faith whenever they come across the Quran app on my phone or see me post Islamic sayings on social media. I still embrace what I was taught -- that the decision will come to me whenever I am ready.
If I had a daughter though, I would actually tell her to start wearing hijab from day one so she can get used to it.
During Ramadhan, it is different for me. I wear hijab because we have to follow all the laws when fasting.”
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