And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms.] (An-Nur 24:31)
This here is the most ill-quoted, probably the most abused ayah in the Qur'an. The meaning of that one verse could be misconstrued, misinterpreted, mistranslated and miswhatever-to-suit-one's-views. The plight of the uneducated Muslim women in the hands of these "scholars" is indeed as sad as they come.
The Muslim woman, yes, is a picture of misery when looked at from the eyes of a stranger. She is veiled, she is carrying one child on her hip, resting the other on her lap, and probably has another hanging on to her leg, is not seen or heard even in her own household, might have to put up with other women who are legally her husband's wives,etc. We pity them, we even wonder why they don't really break free of all those bonds, but do we really have to blame the religion for it?
Islam, quite plainly, advocates that a woman, when in the presence of a stranger, should be covered from head to toe, barring her face, her palms and her feet. It also does not support a woman's walking around the place, rather, the religion says that a woman's place is at home.
However, before one jumps up and shouts in vehemence against the injustice meted out to Muslim women, one could stop and give it a thought. First, why is the Hijab such a big deal? If a nun is allowed to wear her habit, if a Gujarati/ Rajasthani/ Punjabi woman is seen as a picture of modesty when she covers her head, if a Malayalee Christian (Syrian or not, I don't know) covers her head in church, if a 'North Indian' kudi drapes her dupatta on her head (as in KJo movies), then why is it that only a Muslim woman is looked down upon as the silent sufferer?
Okay, consider this. How many of us walk out in the blasted sun and cover up our faces, necks, hands and feet? If we were to call every Muslim who wore the Hijab as 'Al Qaeda', then how many young girls (and boys) these days actually look like recruiters for the Organisation?
The Hijab, simply put, is not something that restricts you. In our own ways, each of us take a conscious decision about how much skin we really want to show to the rest of the world. While some of us would like to be a Bipasha Basu clone, others would like to be the next saint. That does not make anybody right or wrong. If a Muslim woman chooses to cover herself from head to toe, who are we to go about accusing her of shaking the very tenets of feminism? After all, does feminism really only grant you the liberty to walk around in a bikini or a halter top? Does it not give you the freedom to chose how you live your life? So, if I think of my body as my own business, and want to cover it up, then why can't I?
Look at the brighter side, no one really sees all that extra fat, those extra curves or those blemishes. Your skin is less tanned and pollution- free, and your hair doesn't get greasy or limp.
Considering all that, one wonders if perspective is all that matters.