Picture a woman wearing a long, shapeless black cloak, her arms, legs and hair covered by dark cloth, with only the face — or sometimes just the eyes — visible. Does the word "oppressed" come to mind? That is a common assumption regarding Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab, the Islamic headscarf. But there is nothing inherently liberating or oppressive about the hijab, just like there is nothing inherently liberating about going naked. The liberation lies in the choice.

Not all Muslims believe that wearing the hijab is fard, or obligatory. Many feel that simply dressing conservatively is enough, while some Muslim women also wear skirts and shorts. For women who do choose to wear the hijab, the style varies from a simple headscarf worn over regular clothes to more conservative styles, such as the niqab, which partially covers the face.

Religions other than Islam also contain the concept of veiling. Judaism and Christianity include this custom, though society does not view nuns who cover their heads as oppressed in the same way it views Muslim women.

Read the complete original version of this item...