The hijab is a head covering that many of us have seen Muslim women wear.

Those who don’t have knowledge of what it means may believe that wearing the covering is a symbol of oppression. However, this couldn’t be more incorrect.

The word hijab means ‘barrier’ or ‘partition’ – however, in Islam, the covering holds a wider meaning. Wearing the hijab is part of the principle of modesty and privacy, that includes behaviour as well as dress, for both men and women.

Nazma Khan, the founder of World Hijab Day, said that she started wearing the hijab when she was eleven.

‘No one actually told me to wear the hijab. I made that conscious decision at an early age when I saw how beautiful and elegant my mom, sister, and grandmother looked in their hijabs.’

Many may believe that those who wear the hijab were made to wear it, or that they don’t want the head covering as a part of their lives. However, Nazma was never against wearing it.

After 9/11, increased levels of discrimination meant that some Muslim women felt too afraid to go out wearing the hijab. ‘I took the hijab off for one day right after 9/11,’ Nazma said. ‘But I felt an out of body experience without my hijab. I felt incomplete and dead inside. So, I decided to put the hijab back on the next day and never looked back.’

The act of wearing the hijab each day means many things to Nazma. ‘The hijab makes me feel empowered, by putting forth my faith and being identified as a Muslim woman.’

It also provides guidance on how Nazma wants to behave. ‘Every day, hijab gently reminds me to be modest, kind, and honest in my dealings with the world.

‘The hijab also serves as a self-awareness that there’s a bigger purpose in life which I need to work toward every day in order to make this world a better place. It’s a fulfilling reminder.’

Is the hijab oppressive, as some believe? Far from it. ‘I see the hijab as a symbol of freedom because with it, I no longer have to comply with the expected standards of the society showcased by magazines, TV, or celebrity lifestyles.

‘Hijab gives me the freedom to set my own standards to live up to without worrying about what the world has to say, which is to me is extremely liberating!’

Those who are confused about what the hijab means can talk to the Muslim women who wear them. ‘Don’t be afraid to ask Muslim women how they feel in their hijab. You’ll get to hear the truth from the direct source.’

When asked if she’d get into trouble if she stopped wearing the hijab, Nazma’s response was an emphatic ‘No!’

‘Islam honors me as a Muslim woman to have the right to choose and have free wills.

‘The Quran clearly states, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (2:256). Forcefulness is indisputably against Islam.’

World Hijab Day, which is held every year on 1 February, invites women to wear the hijab for a day. Nazma created the event to raise awareness of what it means to wear the covering. ‘The best way to understand someone’s pain or joy is to walk in their shoes for a moment.

‘Asking women to don the hijab for a day serves the same purpose.’

To make World Hijab Day a year-long programme, donations can be made at LaunchGood to support the battle to end bigotry, discrimination and prejudice against Muslim women.