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Psychosocial Factors Related to Practicing Hijab Among Muslim Women in Pakistan.

Byline: Waseem Fayyaz and Anila Kamal

Earlier work on hijab has targeted either Muslim minority women or those who have been bound by the law with respect to their attire (Clark, 2007; Droogsma, 2007; Murshid, 2005). The present study addresses women in Pakistan, which is predominantly a Muslim society and the state neither bans nor recommends any particular dress. This research was geared to identify a theoretical framework under grounded theory approach. The analysis involved open, axial, and selective coding. Five focus groups were conducted with women practicing five types of dress (niqab-wearing, headscarfing, headcovering, dupatta-carrying, and the modern-dressed). One discussion was conducted with a group of male university students. The analysis involved open, axial, and selective coding, accompanied by constant comparisons between coding and data.

The analysis has revealed three core categories, namely, religious commitment, environmental adjustment and psychological satisfaction. These three factors appeared as the causal conditions which lead to wearing hijab. However, the same factors also work as context, and functions under different situations for different wearers. Propositions and hypotheses relating to phenomenon of hijab have been extended for future research.

Keywords. Psychosocial factors, Muslim women, Hijab.

Head covering is often considered the most salient symbol of a Muslim woman. Especially hijab (headscarf/face veil along with abaya, a long gown) has been part of women attire in many Muslim countries. But its practice made way into the whole Muslim world during the Islamic movements towards the last quarter of the 20th century (El Guindi, 1999) and particularly after September 11, 2001 (9/11 hereafter) (Murshid, 2005). In the post 9/11 world, hijab was practiced more strongly in the Muslim minority countries. Murshid (2005) asserts that this veiling has occurred as a sign of identity and solidarity of Muslims in general and Muslim women in particular. Western political powers and some feminist scholarship have resisted this new trend. Argument around the suitability of hijab is going on in both the west and the secularized Muslim countries.

Amidst these conflicts, the present study is planned to explore the phenomenon of hijab in Pakistan, which is a Muslim majority country and where the dress of the citizens is not a major issue of dispute and women cover themselves in multiple ways.

The west and the liberals have constructed veil/hijab as a sign of oppression and seclusion of women. On the other hand, religious scholars in special and the Muslim societies in general have defended it as a source of religious identity and modesty (Murshid, 2005). With regard to the wearers themselves, it has been noted that women have resisted whatever has been put on them forcefully, whether it is to veil or unveil them (Khaddarposh, 2004; Murphy, 2006). Along with identity, they have tried to carve autonomy. In the past, hijab might have been a token of their subjugation, but presently it has functioned to foster agency and inculcate esteem (Woldesemait, 2012).

Clark (2007) emphasizes that hijab is after all a piece of cloth and is merely a symbol. It oppresses or empowers depending on the society, customs, and the psyche of the wearer herself. Clark further suggests that hijab is not worn for a certain political expression, but has multiple reasons. For example, Cole and Ahmadi (2010) found that hijab is adopted for religious commitment and to conform to parental expectations. Going a step ahead of religion, Woldesemait (2012) in Jordan observed that wearing hijab is after all women's own choice. Droogsma (2007) and Kopp (2005) found that hijab defines Islamic identities, functions as a behavioral control, and wards off sexual objectification, brings more respect, preserves intimate relations with close relations, and provides freedom.

Associated with religious extremism, hijab became a target of discrimination in west after 9/11. Hijab-wearing women have faced difficulty obtaining employment, have been denied educational rights, have been removed from flights for security reasons, and have received aggressive looks and shouts from the people at the public places (Droogsma, 2007). Despite these derogatory conditions, these women have shown resilience. What they earn from wearing hijab outweighs what they lose from it. For instance, veiling affords respect (El Guindi, 1999), is linked with self-esteem and lowering depression (Rastmanesh, Gluck, and Shadman, 2009), and earns autonomy and agency (Woldesemait, 2012).

From this background of literature on hijab, we feel that there are some gaps in the scholarship on hijab. Most of the studies cited above have been carried out in Muslim minority countries (for instance, America) or in those Muslim countries where the state decides upon the dress code of its citizens (for example, Iran and Turkey). Moreover, most studies have been done from social political perspectives. These include, for instance, religious historical aspects (Carvalho 2013; El Guindi, 1999), political issues (Bhimji, 2008), cultural elements (Anderson, 2005); immigrant women (Droogsma, 2007; Kopp, 2005) and legal angle (Clark, 2007). In the present study, we attempt to look for psychological aspects as well. Therefore, this paper builds upon the self and the experiences of the hijab-wearers in a country, which is not a Muslim minority country and where the state to not intrude upon the attire of its inhabitants.


The present study aims to identify a theoretical base to understand the phenomenon of hijab. For this purpose, focus group discussions (FGDs) were conducted with the young, urban hijab-wearing women. We followed the method of grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss, 1967; Strauss, 1987; Straus and Corbin, 1998), owing to its suitability for a newly studied phenomenon in a particular cultural setting.

Four levels of covering were included. These levels were 1) Niqab-wearing (NW): They put on a face veil along with an abaya (a long, frequently black cloak/gown); 2) Head-scarf wearing (HS): They take a headscarf, face open, along with an abaya; 3) Head-covering (HC): They use a headgear such as chador/dupatta (a relatively thin piece of cloth used to cover head) but don't wear abaya; 4) Dupatta-carrying(DC): They typically carry some piece of cloth along their costume but do not cover the head with it and mostly wear common Pakistani dress such as long tunic and trousers. We also undertook discussion with the Modern-dressed women (MD). These women do not carry a dupatta formally and may wear western dress. They may wear a piece of cloth such as a muffler. Following the tradition of theoretical literature, we specify the term hijab for the NW and HS only.


At the very initial stages of the research, we targeted to involve only the niqab wearing (NW) and head scarfing (HS) women. However, as the literature review progressed, need was felt to compare the hijab wearing women with other female sections of society. The purpose of having five groups of women was to include the various levels of covering practices in Pakistani society (Mumtaz, 1987). Further, brain storming with the participants led to the need of having the say of other groups as well. Other groups involve those women, who cover in different ways and those who do not cover at all. This situation led to further sampling. Those who adopt qualitative methods often avoid finalizing decisions on selection of participants in advance of data collection. The participants/groups are inducted with the emerging requirements of the study (Strauss, 1987).

Thus we ended with FGDs with five different classes of women and also one with men, at different university campuses in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Pakistani is a patriarchal society and hijab is usually considered to have been imposed by the males (Anderson, 2005). Therefore, men were also involved in the discussions.

Table 1 Demographics of the Participants of Focus Group Discussions (N = 53)



Niqab-###21-24###Middle = 5###Single = 6###Graduate = 7###Students = 7###7

wearing###Upper middle = 2###Married = 1

Head-###21-26###Middle = 7###Single = 7###Inter = 0###Students = 7###10

Scarfing###Upper middle = 3###Married = 3###Graduate = 4###Employed = 3

###Masters = 6

Head-###20-25###Middle = 10###Single = 11###Inter = 2###Students = 10###11

Covering###Upper middle = 1###Graduate = 8###Employed = 1

###Masters = 1

Dupatta-###20-21###Middle = 7###Single = 9###Inter = 1###Students = 8###9

Carrying###Upper middle = 2###Married = 0###Graduate = 7###Employed = 1

###Masters = 1

Modern-###20-32###Middle = 6###Single = 8###Inter = 1###Students = 8###8

Dressed###Upper middle = 2###Graduate = 3

###Masters = 4

Men###23-29###Middle = 8###Single = 8###Graduate = 2###Students = 7###8

###Masters = 6###Employed = 1

###MPhil = 1

Total###Mean###Middle = 43###Single = 49###Inter = 4###Students = 47###53

###age =###Upper middle = 10###Married = 4###Graduate = 31###Employed = 6

###23###Masters = 18

The participants were approached through social contacts. Total sample comprised 53 respondents, 45 women (84.9%) and eight men (15.1%). The number of participants in each focus group ranged from seven to eleven. Their age ranged from 20 to 32 years. Mean age was 23 years. The participants were predominantly university students (n = 47, 88.7%). Six of them were employed (11.3%). Forty nine of the participants were unmarried (92.5%) and four were married (7.5%). They belonged to middle class (n = 43, 81.1%) and upper middle class (n = 10, 18.9%).

Assessment Measures

Guideline for focus group discussions (FGDs) was prepared. It was mainly prepared under the paradigm of grounded theory, which involves conditions, context/interactions/strategies, and consequences of practicing hijab. Points relating to these factors were general and broad. They were written in a fashion so as to avoid leading the participants to a specific answer. One point was, for example, "What do you think what is hijab and how is it being practiced in our society?" In this way it took the form of brainstorming the experiential knowledge of the participants.

This guideline was then reviewed by three experts experienced in qualitative research and conducting focus groups. Two of them were PhD scholars and one was a PhD. All the three were members of a teaching faculty. Their major concern was that some of the items/questions were still quite specific. It was recommended that these should be made open and broader so that we could to elicit the underlying knowledge and varied experiences of the participants. The guideline was modified consequently. One example from the final version of this guideline is: "When did you start practicing hijab? What were the reasons for this practice?" Finally, there were five such points of discussion in all.

It should be borne in mind that each of our group was of different nature with regard to hijab practice and thus expressed unique views during focus group discussions. Therefore, we made revisions in the guideline almost after every discussion, following the grounded theory tradition (Strauss, 1987). For example, a new question asked of the headscarfing women was: "Did you practice face-veiling at any point of time in life? What was the reason for adopting it? What was the reason of leaving it?" Additionally, certain demographic information was also sought, which involved age, occupation, and marital status, etc. Its detail is given in description of participants.

Procedures / Analysis

We adopted FGD approach as it is particularly suited to answering questions about how social phenomena work and to topics such as the one investigated here in which context and social interaction are critical to understanding an issue (Miles, 2002). The participants were approached through social acquaintances at various university campuses in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. All the discussions with women were moderated by an experienced female researcher and co-moderated by the researcher himself. Ethical standards such as anonymity and consent were maintained. The discussions lasted within a range of 50 to 80 minutes. Sometimes order and language of questions were adjusted to facilitate the discussion as per situation. All discussions were tape recorded with the permission of the participants. Field notes were also taken. Later all the recorded material was transcribed verbatim.

Grounded theory analysis was undertaken. This analysis was carried out under the paradigm of conditions; context, interactions, strategies/tactics; and consequences (Strauss, 1987).


The transcribed data were analyzed in three stages, open coding, axial coding, and selective coding (Strauss, 1987; Strauss and Corbin, 1998). At the initial stage, open coding provided broad and concrete categories. Axial coding is a step towards searching the true meaning and is hence relatively more abstract. A code book was prepared which shows all the sub-categories and their corresponding codes. These sub-categories were placed under the relevant main categories. At the level of selective coding, we integrated the theoretical points to build a story line of the whole data. This integration and organization of the data with the help of conceptual mapping of the themes and categories helped to infer theoretical assumptions about the hijab phenomenon.

Before moving to the main analysis of FGD data, an independent coder had been employed to establish inter-rater reliability with regard to open coding on a small part of the transcribed data. The coder was a PhD scholar and member of a university faculty, who was experienced in conducting focus groups and writing reports. The coder performed open coding under some guidance from the researcher. Cohen's kappa was calculated. Its value was k = .68. We also shared the summaries of group discussions with participants so as to establish the agreement between their views and our understanding of those views.

Three central themes/categories appeared from these main categories. These are religious commitment, environmental adjustment, and psychological satisfaction. These central categories encapsulate the data as follows:

1. Religion / Religious commitment

This theme involves references to religious injunctions, but these are mixed with insecure environment, culture, family influence, and personal satisfaction. Only few allusions are focused exclusively on religion and religious commands. Finally, this theme includes three main categories including textual sources, religious environment, and religion in relative terms. While quoting an excerpt in the following lines it has been mentioned who has narrated that particular verbatim. For example, if a niqab-wearing participant has given a narrative, it has been shown by the abbreviation 'NW' in parentheses.

Textual sources. In some earlier studies, it has been established that women adopt hijab under religious obligations (for example, Cole and Ahmadi, 2010; Nisa, 2012). In our discussions, those who referred exclusively to religion and religious text gave such statements as I adopted it for Allah's command [a niqab-wearing woman (NW)]. A Headscarf (HS) woman exclaimed When Islam said it then there are no excuses; face, and even hands, should be covered...when Allah said it, He said it. No more arguments.

There are other covering women who do not have a blind following of the holy text. They reflect and interpret the religious commands. I would scarf before marriage. Then I read chapter Nur and Ahzaab from Quran. It made me think. I felt it's not casual. It is as obligatory as prayers (HS). This type of viewpoint helps to foster the feeling that God is with them and all this is not possible without His support. Such viewpoint also inculcates deep commitment and a sense of distinct identity (Kopp, 2005). This commitment further strengthens perseverance and continuity of hijab practice. Such people resist to various pressures to veil off themselves (Saktanber and Corbacioglu, 2008).

* When you pay heed to others' opinion, then it makes you worry about your dress. When you come out of it, only then you will be free and will feel satisfied. [Head-covering woman (HC)].

* Once I had to prove identification in exams. I put my hands on my picture to hide it from a male invigilator. I demanded a woman to come and check it. They had to comply... (NW).

Religious Environment. Religious environment includes religious family, madrissa (religious institute), and religious context. As we noted above, madrissa and religious sermons can influence the students. They can affect their behavior in two ways. One is normative, by inspiring through an atmosphere created by senior role models present in the school. The other one is psychological (non-normative), by creating awareness in a way that motivates them to contemplate on religion. Here are the comments. I was learning Qur'an by heart. I was very fascinated by the elder girls there, who were wearing hijab. So I started it by observing them. It is comfortable now (HS).

The headscarf women are more vocal about madrissa experiences as compared to the niqab-wearing. Might be that they have more experience of being a part of these religious schools. But at the same time some women might be disillusioned with the norms in these schools. For example, it was also exclaimed that Al Huda (a famous religious school for women in Pakistan) is a platform of elite class. ...Women from elite class come to Al Huda. Their dupatta is merely a fashion statement, the fabric of which is georgette and is see-through. What use of that? [Modern dressed (MD)]. Therefore, it seems that madrissa experience is likely to have varied influence on the minds of the students of such schools.

Practices and heritage of a religious family may act equally or even more strongly than the sermon or norms in madrissa. When one belongs to a Syed (descendants of the Prophet's family) or pir family (leader of religious cult) or to a particular religious affiliation, it becomes essential to cover themselves to communicate that they are religious people. It becomes a normative behavior for the women of such families. Some define hijab as face covering, as the Syed families usually do. It becomes a question of identity for them [dupatta-carrying (DC)].

Such assertions may also indicate that covering may be more for religious identity than the religion itself. It may just be to state the apparent religious nature of a particular class or people. My college mate used to do it only as a formality (NW). In this line, social researchers sometimes argue that hijab is more an issue of class rather than religion (for example, Mumtaz, 1987). However, apart from these sociological determinants, there may be a social psychological nature of these practices.

Participants see some people as being forced to covering by their elders, families, or social pressures. They are also constructed as uncommitted and unaware people who start the practice merely to experience a new article or create a particular/religious image. These may be the people who exhibit inconsistency in their hijab practice. They only cover in certain situations and/or occasions of religious nature, for instance, during Ramadan. So, hijab is likely to function as an instrument of creating and managing impressions.

Religion in Relative Terms. When a religious marker like hijab is used for managing impression, it is somewhat natural that this might not be considered as a primary component of religious life. Consider the following narrative.

* Niqab is obligatory, but we do not practice it as situation does not allow and some believe that it is not obligatory (HS)

* Hijab means covering oneself. Dupatta or face-covering or head-covering. It is good if it satisfies you. Society also approves it. Islam approves too (DC).

Note how religion is discussed as an additional explanation for a social and natural phenomenon. In fact, covering the body seems to be more important than a particular type of dress. Therefore, this covering can be done in multiple ways (especially in Pakistan), not necessarily in religiously recommended ways. Moreover, actors stress the intrinsic nature of hijab, where modesty of character becomes imperative. Modesty and shame are important. Looks should be pure. It is not necessary that you take hijab to meet this purpose. One, who has no shame, has no faith (HC). Therefore, various conditions and constructions of hijab other than religion are coming forth. One of the other explanations is the environment in which one has grown and socialized.

2. Environmental adjustment

The adjustment to environment occurs in two ways: normative, when hijab practice is prevalent in a social environment and non-normative, when hijab is used as an instrument of protection from insecure and harassing environment.

a. Normative Practice / Social Adjustment.

This occurs in following ways

Normative behavior in a socially demanding environment. The wearer has adopted hijab under normative expectations. Religion seems either less important or is of complementary nature with social and cultural norms. Note how societal expectations are emphasized: should think about what elders prefer, what others opine; these must be considered...(HC). However, when norms define dressing in other ways, one has to incorporate these differences. When there is migration, you have to modify to meet the dominant culture...going abroad brings a change [Men (M)]. Societal norms are quite pressing. People who migrate to the dominant cultures usually tend to assimilate the practices of that culture to properly adjust in the new environment. In recent years, this phenomenon has been experienced by the Muslim minorities in USA and Europe, especially after 9/11 (Droogsma, 2007). So, veil can also be abandoned in such contexts.

That the covering practices recline on social environment is also evident in another way. Many social actors are reported to put off hijab whenever it is acceptable in a given space and situation, for instance, at university campuses.

Despite emphasizing the social norms, role of religion along with these norms is also acknowledged. The constraints that a society imposes are actually derived from religion (M). This story is reaching such climax where it is often difficult to differentiate between various roles and characters. Here the two characters are environment and religion which emerge as the conditions of observing hijab. They are so interwoven that an exclusive stance about any of the two becomes tricky. While discussing religion in relative terms, we had seen that the social actors (participants) added various factors to religious text and here they are mixing again religion with social factors. The following substance may enlighten us on this issue.

Subcultures. Certain geographical cultures make the hijab practice as necessary as a rule (Anderson, 2005). Quite a number of our participants who are from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK, a northern province of Pakistan where strict covering is usually observed) do not practice hijab in Islamabad (Federal capital) or Rawalpindi (the town adjacent to Islamabad), but shift to hijab when they visit their home town. When we go back KPK, we use a big chador. Not full covering but chador or a big shawl (MD). Men who belong to less developed areas would prefer their spouse to adopt the norms of their family, though may not prefer the norms of covering heads themselves: She may not head scarf, but should practice dupatta. When we have to visit my home, she should at least don shawl, if not niqab (M). This kind of shifting behavior epitomizes the importance of societal and cultural adjustments. There are various ethnic groups in Pakistan.

This multi-ethnic nature of Pakistani culture also brings about variations in the ways of covering. That's why participants repeatedly signified the need of varied practices in different spaces and geographies.

Family influence. Family institution is influential in terms of family tradition, father's and other family members' influence, and in-laws' discretionary attitude. Some of the participants adopt hijab simply because there is a family tradition of practicing it. They report that they are not directed to do so and they observe hijab willingly. But inspiration is there, however. Family background matters. Our family observes dupatta. So do I (DC). A modern-dressed woman explained why she didn't cover if my circle were like this, if my parents had told me to cover, then perhaps I might start doing it.

On the other hand, many actors did not accept this practice in a straightforward way. We note many interactions and complexions before their deciding on covering themselves. It is a common practice in our family. The friends of my sister tried to stop her from covering herself, but she had to wear niqab as it was a family norm (NW). So it is not always likely to be a personal decision or commitment. Many are doing this because it is a role expectation. One very prominent figure in this regard is Father. We record that father has played a very important and sometimes decisive role in motivating and modifying the thinking and behavior of many hijab-wearers:

I belong to Syed family [the Prophet's descendants]. I was quite tall, so looked elderly. Father asked me to try niqab. I went to tuition with niqab. Later, when I was to take it off for going outdoors, he suggested now it would not be take veil off. Thereby I started it continually (NW).

This gratifying behavior continues from the maternal family to in- laws family as well, and often with stronger pressures. One who wears abaya becomes a favorite for marital proposals. It has become a discourse that they are modest. They don't like the jeans-wearing like us... (MD). Men opine this way: I can't force my girl friend as she still belongs to society, not to me. But when she becomes the part of my family, she must veil. I will force her and get it done, by all means.

On the other hand, some sections of society do not prefer veiling or head-scarfing girls as their daughters-in-law. Some HW have been rejected in Pakistan (Shahid, 2008). A niqab-wearing woman referred to another friend: ...she is very pretty. She observes Islamic purdah (niqab) [purdah means covering]. Her expected in-laws rejected her, saying that how can they bring her to their home if she can't interact with others. The question whether in-laws ask to veil or unveil seems not to be imperative here. Important issue is this that it is in-laws who seem to decide for their daughter-in-law what to wear.

Situational shifts. Many people are not habitually veiling. They do it as per contextual demands. Besides pressures from in-laws, these social actors have to adopt hijab because they would look odd in a situation where hijab is a norm. Where all are wearing it and one who has not, one will feel insecure. But where all are like me (not covering), I won't feel insecure (MD). These women often switch to hijab temporarily in such situations as elders' presence, particular ethnic space, and family gathering, etc.Here hijab functions as an instrument of impression formation.

b. Non-normative / Protection. One important function of wearing hijab has been protection from harassment (Kousar, 2011). In this study the most prevailing and profound condition for adopting hijab has appeared to be the insecure environment. When women adopt hijab to move out in an insecure atmosphere, they are negotiating with the environment for protection from harassment; they are not fulfilling a social norm.

General social environment as insecure condition. Sometimes such environment is believed to be widespread and sometimes it is from certain sections of society. First we discuss the general environment:

The circumstances in our country are such that it has become necessary to do hijab. Hijab is not compulsory Islamically, but we have to don it due to country situation. Where there are Islamic rules and regulations, men have a different attitude. But hijab has become a need here because it is insecure outside...of home (NW).

Note that insecure environment is more important than religion in deciding whether to cover. Some combine both religion and environment: The purpose of adopting hijab is that I should not be tortured; I should be secured. That is why Qur'an told to adopt purdah because no one molests you this way (NW). Others do primarily for protection in insecure environment: I have chosen hijab for security. It repels any problems...Hijab is necessary even without God's command (NW). Here hijab is more a strategy than a social or religious norm.

Specific Insecure Environment. Some wearers show inconsistencies. They take hijab when a specific environment or situation is threatening, but take it off elsewhere. These are the strategies and tactics that provide protection and ease of mobility. Some of the specific spaces include marketplace, pathways, and where lower/illiterate class is working.

* There are certain things, which are only available at downtown markets. People have piercing eyes there. I used my university gown to veil myself. This way I felt comfortable... (DC).

Why do some social actors keep shifting and do not remain consistent. One explanation was lack of religious commitment. Then we saw that the hijab practice is in one sense normative and predominantly a protective behavior in another. Yet we saw that a few practitioners do not remain stable. They remove hijab whenever and wherever it is conducive to do so. Examples include such space as educational institutions and such situation as party functions. There might be some other conditions and strategies for this kind of behavior.

These may be as follows.

* One DC commented: For me the environment and the comfort related with it is important.

* A HC asserted: it depends on environment... Comfort is also required, whether it is abaya, dupatta, or whatever. We should do what makes us comfortable.

This pointing to the role of comfort in deciding on the dress code indicates significance of psychological aspects of hijab practice. Both religious commitment and environmental adjustment seem good, but insufficient conditions of complex phenomenon of hijab. We now turn to the psychological factors related to hijab practice.

3. Psychological satisfaction

The term satisfaction is an in vivo labeling, which is based on actors' repeated allusions to satisfaction and comfort. The wearers derive this satisfaction by making independent choices related to religious influences, family pressures, social norms, and protection in an insecure environment.

Comfort. Comfort comes through various sources such as willingness, personal style, protection, and appearance-control etc.

Self-decision and willingness is a source of satisfaction and comfort (Jones, 2005). Interactions among certain participants occur and some of them question as to what will be left of the satisfaction and comfort if they adopt the forced choice. Others reply like ... all are saying that feeling comfort is essential but no, it is not so. It is not hijab, it is my environment, my family observes it , Islam has told us to do so. These are the reasons for which I do this. I am Pakistani; it's culture (HC-3, 282). Reaction to this comes: all my people wear at home, but I don't like it. I don't believe in it. Dress should be such that covers you properly and that looks fair. Hijab is not compulsory. My brothers do object to my behavior. They are angry and are not on terms with me (HC).

Comfort comes with the dress matched with personal style or belief. Some actors shift from one form of hijab to other for ease of practice. Those who do not wear hijab or carry dupatta are convinced of their own choice. We are wearing western-type dress not just because peers would resist if we do not wear. But we are wearing it because we like this. We do not want to give it up. We are loving it (MD).

Perhaps the best source of comfort and satisfaction for our participants is the protection as motive and respect as consequence of hijab practice. I feel comfort in hijab and abaya. Boys threw remarks on my college friends, but did nothing of this sort to me (NW). Others are of the opinion that the dress that provides comfort is sufficient; it may not be niqab or abaya. Wear what makes you comfortable. But one thing must be kept in mind;, no parts of body should be prominent... (HS). Hijab practice bears such positive impacts for the wearer, including confidence, mobility, and above all security and protection. I did it for security. As a result, it poses no hurdle when I am in niqab. I can shop confidently. So, it becomes essential to take hijab, even if there were no injunction from Allah (NW).

Hijab as means to other ends. Beyond protection and respect, the actors have used hijab for such purposes that are not usually expected. Hijab practice may be driven by other motives than just identity, protection or social adjustment. As we mentioned earlier, the wearers have been inconsistent in their practice. One condition behind this inconsistency may actually be insecure circumstances. But some people are reported to using hijab merely to create certain impressions (for instance, of religiosity) or they are practicing it under familial or other social pressures.

* Most people take hijab off when they come out of home. A girl who is wearing abaya on leaving home, puts on chador in the bus, and on reaching university, she is left with dupatta only (HS).

* The niqab-wearing girls have specially adorned and beautified their eyes, to attract boys...(HC).

The above statements also add to the knowledge that beautifying oneself is perhaps natural and it shows even under oppressions and restrictions (Khaddarposh, 2004). It will be valid to what Qur'anic text has on it: O children of Adam! We have bestowed dress upon you to cover your genitals and serve as protection and adornment. And dress of the piety is best (7: 26). It seems using dress for a better appearance is religiously acceptable unless it goes beyond piety. One of the men in our discussions surmised...hijab is reconciliation between security and attractability (M).

However, this utilitarian use of hijab sometimes catches up to worse directions. For instance, there are others who are not regular wearers and use hijab only when they have to hide their identity for very personal reasons like dating and prostitution. However, such people are few and make only a minority of the wearers:

* Some girls borrow burqa from us and go for dating. It degrades the image of other niqab wearing girls like us (NW).

* Hijab is used for illegal and indecent purpose. Therefore, people have a negative view of hijab women (NW).

Dealing with negative consequences. Despite the hijab-wearing women are stigmatized due to immodest practices of a small group of women, they show deterrence and stability. They have to deal with demands to uncover their faces in certain situations. They exhibit perseverance in response. However, they are dismayed when they perceive that they are still being harassed, the primary condition under which they had adopted the practice. This reading of veil is somehow missing in the known literature. A niqab-wearing woman reports:

* I am not secure even after having adopted hijab. People show the same behavior.

* People stare at every girl, be in jeans, be in niqab. The completely covered girl will be more focus of attention, thinking that she is more original...(DC).

The hijab-wearing are treated negatively at work place in Muslim minority countries (Syed and Pio, 2010). The present analysis showed that they face discriminatory treatment in academic, public, and workplace settings. They get low grades, are viewed as conservative and are treated differently at party functions. Sometimes they are favoured, but in public organizations and for teacher jobs only. In private organizations, they are not welcome and are less likely to be hired.

I applied for a job. They told me not to wear abaya and commented that theirs was not Al Huda institute/sermon. I was asked to wear in a simple way such as dupatta etc. So it does cause hindrance (HS).

In this social arena, they face communication and identification problems as well. However, these hindrances are not limited to responses of other people. There are some natural and inherent problems. For instance, some wearers report that hijab is an arduous practice to continue in the heat of summer and for those who have breathing and related problems (see also Alghadir, Aly, and Zafar, 2012). Veiling may cause tuberculosis and bone deformity (Khaddarposh, 2004)

Discussion and Conclusions: Identifying a Theoretical Framework

Despite the negative consequences, the hijab actors show resilience and continue their practice. What helps them do so? Earlier we found that it is their religious commitment. When the analysis proceeded, the argument expanded to include the psychological satisfaction that comes through adjustment in an insecure environment and sometimes also through following the social norms. However, those are better able to retain the practices, who have adopted the phenomenon by their own choice and willingness. Despite this focus on the self, our participants report that the personality dispositions of the Hijab-wearing (HW) are not essentially different from the non-HW. However, they may develop changes after having adopted hijab. For instance, they exhibit less socializing and less cheating in exams.

When religion asks to cover female bodies, what does it aim at? There are two references in Qur'an relating to covering the body; the first one emphasizes protection from harassment in an insecure context and second is modesty so that society could avoid sexual chaos (Naik 2008). The actors in the present study reasoned that Islam requires them to cover their bodies when they go out of home. Thus they are indicating the condition of insecure environment and requirement of protection. They also think that hijab is more intrinsic i.e. modesty of character (It is all in heart and lies in the eyes of the beholder [Niqab-wearing woman (NW)] than extrinsic (covering the body). Nonetheless, in a sexually intimidating atmosphere extrinsic covering also becomes necessary.

But still they argue that it can be done in multiple ways and that there is freedom of choice in Pakistan. It is up to you [Head scarfing woman (HS)].

From this argument, we summarize that phenomenon of hijab is of diverse nature. The conditions of practicing hijab are so interrelated that one cannot be separated from the other. Women emphasize their agency in choosing a dress code. When they opt for hijab, they do exercise this autonomy. They do not ignore their psychological satisfaction while choosing this dress which also provides them security and protection. This decision is sometimes guided by religion and sometimes by a particular family and cultural environment in which they are living (as there are many subcultures in Pakistan which recommend their own way of covering) (Anderson, 2005). Nevertheless, this decision is primarily governed by their personal choice that matches their minds and temperaments. That is why the modern dressed women also feel secure in their own attire, as their outfit matches their personality and their immediate social environment.

Even a majority of those who remain inconsistent in hijab practice, wear hijab in order to achieve normative adjustment and perceived protection. The epilogue by a head-covering woman supports the notion that we are trying to heading to: Hijab means woman's protection, it shuns bad looks. It depends on environment. There are different modes (of covering). Comfort is also required. Some wear abaya, other wear dupatta. We should do what makes us comfortable. I wear abaya when I go outdoors [Head-covering woman (HC)].

On the basis of this analysis, we propose that there are three factors / conditions for hijab in a Muslim society like Pakistan. These are religion, environment, and psychological satisfaction. However, these three are not just conditions, but interwoven in such a fashion that one becomes condition for the other and the other becomes a context for the third one. For instance, environment and culture are a condition for wearing hijab but sometimes people switch to this dress only under a temporary contextual phase (for instance, in a setting where wearing such dress is a norm).

Sometimes, psychological satisfaction is a function/consequence of hijab practice, but it also serves as a condition for certain social actors who are not willing to follow religious and cultural norms unless they find hijab as satisfying and comfortable. From this, it appears that a wearer adopts a dress code under environmental and religious conditions to negotiate with an insecure environment and this practice bears her comfort and satisfaction by adopting a particular mode of covering which is at once socially acceptable, is endorsed by religious text, and matches personal temperament.

Theoretical Propositions

A work based in grounded theory requires generating a theory (McLeod, 2001). Following propositions and hypotheses are derived from the grounded theory analysis of the data obtained from group discussions. These propositions belong to three spheres.

1. Religion/Religious Commitment. Those who are more religiously committed show more continuity and perseverance. Religiously committed people are those who have strong faith in religion. Therefore, these people will show high religiosity with regard to beliefs. As they are practicing hijab under religious influence, the more consistent practitioners are also more likely to practice other tenets of Islam such as prayers and fasting. The niqab-wearing in general and the head scarfing in particular refer more to religion than other participants.

Those who happen to live in a religious environment such as religious family (especially Syeds), a particular religious sect, or attending a religious school are more likely to adopt hijab. The head scarfing women report more religious environmental experiences, especially of madrissa (religious institute).

Although religious text is the source of deciding on hijab, majority of the people consider there is a freedom of choice in religion and modesty of character (intrinsic hijab) is more important than a particular dress code. Such people are likely to choose among multiple ways to cover. However, the head scarfing women are relatively less likely to be contented with modesty only and will be more concerned with satisfaction/comfort in extrinsic dress code, i.e., hijab. On the other hand, the head covering and dupatta-carrying women may be looking for alternative ways to cover.

At the same time those who believe in multiplicity of choices are also more likely to show shifts in this practice, perhaps because they have not internalized the phenomenon and are not strongly committed. They may wear hijab more at their native locality, at religious occasions, and other such situations where they are expected to communicate their religious identity.

Religiosity and covering practice is evident more in KPK and less urbanized areas of Pakistan. We presume that covering practice (not strictly niqab and scarf) is more common in KPK, Baluchistan, and less developed areas of Punjab and Sind than relatively developed urban areas of Pakistan.

2. Environmental Adjustment. Urbanization necessitates acculturation. Women from KPK and other less developed areas leave hijab practice temporarily, but on return to their hometowns, they do shift to hijab. Moreover, it is the head covering and dupatta-carrying women who display more concern for environmental adjustments and normative behavior. They keep shifting to other modes of covering in different contexts.

Family norms and influence play an important role in choice of dress. One peripheral proposition is that in-laws determine or at least influence the decision as to what their daughter-in-law will wear after marriage. Though some people object to her wearing hijab/niqab before marriage, most prefer this practice. We infer from this that these women may be well adjusted in their marital life.

The predominant condition of hijab practice is protection in an insecure environment, whether women do permanent veil or make shifts. This is more pronounced a condition among the niqab-wearing and more pronounced a context among the dupatta-carrying. Though many report and believe that there is no differential effect of dress, we suggest that the hijab wearing women (niqab and scarf) will have less harassment experiences than other women. The difference may be small, though.

3. Psychological Satisfaction. One of the primary function as well as motive of hijab is comfort. As a consequence of hijab practice, they gain satisfaction, confidence, and ease of mobility. Some of them also show resilience and persistence in their practice. Sometimes those who choose to cover only temporarily also gain such purposes. We presume that hijab practice (niqab and headscarf) in this way increases self-efficacy, esteem, and hence the psychological well-being. This effect is likely to be stronger for those who practice it consistently. However, the modern dressed women are also satisfied in their outfits as it is their own choice.

Despite the satisfaction and comfort gained at psychological level, the hijab-wearing may face a biased treatment at social level, namely, marketplace, entertainment/parties, and most importantly, at workplace. On the basis of our results, we propose that the niqab-wearing and head scarfing women have a more risk of discrimination at private organizations and relatively equal chance of hiring at public organizations. Some of the hijab-wearing persist even against health odds. Others are inconsistent in this regard. Therefore, it is likely that the hijab-wearing face more health problems than other women.

Implications. The present study is one of the rare attempts to differentiate within the types of hijab. It has separated the effects of wearing face veil and using headscarf. It includes also those who cover themselves properly but are not usually considered as observing Islamic dressing and has also inducted those who wear modern dressing. This way, this research is an inclusive study with regard to dress practices in Pakistan This study can help to understand the motives and cognitions of the hijab wearing women in Pakistan and can weaken the apprehensions of certain feminists and social political quarters about the radicalism usually attributed to veiling. From the present study, veiling does not seem to be a political revolt nor can it be considered an outcome of religious oppression. Rather it can be a symbol of religious commitment. More importantly, the present findings emphasize the will and wellbeing of the wearer.

Therefore, we suggest that future studies frame their research on the psychological makeup of the wearers and their social psychological aspects of life.

Recent work with regard to hijab practice by minority Muslim women has its own importance. However, present study points to the significance of studying hijab in any Muslim majority nation where there is multiplicity of dress code. Dimensions of lives of hijab-wearing women can be different from their compatriots. For example, non hijab-wearing women also consider their dress as part of their religious identity. Thus, for the hijab-wearers, their dress may be an expression of their religiousness as well as their religious identity. These results are likely to determine dimensions of new research in such areas as women studies, sociology, social psychology, and religious studies.

Limitations. The generalization power of the study might have been compromised by inducting the participants mainly from the educated middle class of urban areas. Besides students, other sections such as married employed, and lower economic class women could be given proportionate place. But like most qualitative studies, we assume that these propositions have important implications for a major section of society and can therefore be inductively employed to formulate theoretical foundation on a macro level. Though inter-rater reliability was established and summaries of discussions were shared with the participants, stronger methods for confirming reliability and validity should have been employed. Some or most of the above propositions or hypotheses can be verified in future research by using surveys, longitudinal studies and/or post-hoc experiments.


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Publication:Journal of Behavioural Sciences
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Dec 31, 2017
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