, by KHALID ABUBAKER
Long treated with ridicule and scorn in Malawi, a southern African country, hijab is now becoming a common sight in streets, a shift attributed to the political empowerment of the Muslim community in the predominantly Christian state. “We have gone through a painful and dehumanising experience,” Mwalone Jangiya, one of the only two Muslim women legislators in Malawi’s National Assembly, told this OnIslam Correspondent.
“Hijab was at one time a “crime” to some people, but now, we are very free to put on it.
“Even while I’m in here in parliament, I put on my hijab, without any person raising eyebrows. We are now part of the society,” said Jangiya.
“Islam in Malawi has taken on a path that will never be detoured or reversed.”
Hijab, an obligatory code of dress in Islam, was rarely seen in Malawi streets before the 1990s as Muslims wearing the outfit often encountered scorn and ridicule. But today, the Muslim headscarf has become a common sight with many Muslim women proudly donning it.
Walking around the streets, market places, schools, colleges and other public places, it is very easy today to recognise a Muslim woman or a girl from distance. Looking at the state of affairs, a person visiting Malawi for the first time would wrongly conclude that this has been the case all along.
“We are now free people in a free society,” Khadija Hamdan, an executive member of the Muslim Women organisation in Malawi, said.
“We are free to worship Allah the manner we want. We are proud Muslims. Today, hijab has become a symbol of liberation among Muslim women in Malawi. You can find a woman in hijab almost everywhere. You walk into offices, schools, you can easily identify a Muslim woman.”
Islam is the second largest religion in the southern African country after Christianity. Official statistics suggest Muslims constitute 12 per cent of the country’s 14 million people, but the umbrella Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) puts the rate at 36.
Scholars cite political empowerment of Muslims for the public shift on hijab in Malawi. “In the past, a hijab was a source of public ridicule and a recipe for embarrassment,” Sheikh Dinala Chabulika, national coordinator of the Islamic Information Bureau (IIB), said.
“Women in hijab were considered very primitive and backward. This was a time our society was getting increasingly intolerant towards Islam and Muslims. This affected Muslim women both emotionally and physically. They were robbed of self-esteem,” he recalled.
But the political empowerment of Muslims in the past two decades has helped change the public view about the headscarf. Chabulika opines that because of this level of empowerment, Muslim women can today stand up and walk tall without fear of victimisation.