On Hijab

Zuhura has an excellent post up on her blog about hijab. Many Muslim feminists cover their heads, while many others don’t.

I have some thoughts on hijab but before I share them with you I would like to know from women who don’t wear hijab why they don’t wear it. I have never been intrigued by women who wear hijab because I usually know why they cover their hair, but it is always interesting to know the nature of informed thoughts of women who consciously decide not to wear hijab.

So those women who read this blog and are “non-hijabis”, what are your thoughts on hijab?

Thank you!

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33 thoughts on “On Hijab

  1. Becky says:

    I’m a non-hijabi convert, and I don’t personally believe that women are required to wear the hijab.
    The way I understand the passages in the Qur’an that deal with covering up, it stresses to dress modestly, which I do. I do not see it saying to cover your hair.
    The hadiths that are usually quoted in relation to hijab are actually weak, a “small” point we’re usually not told about.

    More importantly though, I think hijab plays WAY too big a role in the Muslim society these days. It’s NOT the 6th pillar. Shouldn’t we be focusing on our actions and internal modesty instead? I don’t believe 50 inches of cloth is going to damn anyone to hell, OR secure Paradise for anyone else.

    • Metis says:

      Thanks Becky! My thoughts on hijab are very similar. I will write them down as soon as I get enough time to write a lengthy comment.

      “It’s NOT the 6th pillar.”

      That is an excellent point!

  2. Sharshura says:

    I think all the reasonings aren’t very strong beside God tells you to. But why?

    1. It protects you. ( I don’t believe that is the case in the US)
    2. You are respected. (I remember a lot of disrespect and constantly being treated like a child)
    3. It distinguishes you as a Muslim (Why can’t I wear an Allah pendant for that? And don’t men distinguish themselves? I see very few beards out there.)

    I think this topic has been very confusing for me and I haven’t been able to figure one way or another. I took off hijab a few months ago and haven’t worn it full time for about a month. Part of me loved it and part of me hated it. Whenever anyone asks me why I wore and why I don’t wear it now. I don’t know how to answer.

    I definitely am feeling Becky. When I first converted ppl told me to wear the hijab but never told me why. They also told me to wear the hijab and totally neglected to teach me how to pray or even tell me to pray. I feel like our priorities within the umma are a little mixed up.

  3. Sharshura says:

    P.S. I think modesty is important and that Islam does teach women how to respect themselves and their bodies. Its defining what this modestly is for each and every woman that is the problem. I think b/c I wore hijab, I dress much better now and am able to dress nice and feminine without objectifying myself.

    • Metis says:

      What a wonderful comment!

      I found this very interesting and intriguing as a born Muslim – “When I first converted ppl told me to wear the hijab but never told me why. They also told me to wear the hijab and totally neglected to teach me how to pray or even tell me to pray.”

      It’s not surprising that you found it, and still find it, confusing.

  4. LK says:

    One of the reasons I chose not to convert was the scarf. I felt so much pressure to wear it and just couldn’t wrap my head around why I had to do so. I couldn’t find sufficient proof in the Qur’an, nor could I find hadith that really said “thou shalt wear a scarf”. It seemed highly cultural, mostly Arab. A lot of South Asian countries, like Pakistan, don’t wear it much at all. If they do its just lightly draped over the head, like in India. But this is a Muslim country you know? So I couldn’t figure it out. Why was it ok to not wear it in a Muslim country but not for me in America. I felt uncomfortable and out of place unless I was with my Muslim girlfriends. I didn’t feel it protected me from much, I actually felt more on guard in a scarf than out. I got nasty looks and often was critiqued by elders who thought my hijab style was too flashy. I felt protected in my modest clothing because it gave off the message “I am not easy, back off one night stand men!”. But once the scarf was added it said so much more that I just wasn’t comfortable with including “Hello world I am Muslim!”. My girlfriends supported me either way, they didn’t even care I wasn’t Muslim. It was the rest of the community, and the man I was with at the time, that pressured me greatly.

    This was probably my top struggle with Islam. When I remove the pressure of the scarf I can sometimes see myself converting again. But that pressure, so much time spent trying to make myself like it has really worn me out. I think it would take awhile before I could approach Islam openly again. People really need to lighten up on the scarf thing. It causes way too much stress. A person can worship God in a mini skirt just as well as she can in a scarf and abaya. The way we dress really doesn’t hinder our relationship with God. It only affects our relationships with other people. I find it hard to believe God really cares what I wear everyday, so much so that I will go to hell for not covering everything he gave me while men can dress as they choose and be safe. Doesn’t make much sense to me anymore.

    • Metis says:

      “This was probably my top struggle with Islam. When I remove the pressure of the scarf I can sometimes see myself converting again.”

      I remember 😦 But I’m glad you have a good head on your shoulders – even if that head is not wrapped in hijab 🙂

  5. Lat says:

    Ah! Not my place to comment! 😀

    • susanne430 says:

      Mine either…however, reading these great comments so far reminds me when the Jewish prophet Samuel was sent to anoint the next king of Israel. He saw Jesse’s oldest son and thought, “Wow, he is a handsome, strong dude. Surely this is the one God has chosen.”

      Nope…God rejected him.

      God then told Samuel something that I try to keep in mind (though judgmentalness sometimes creeps in and I fail). God said, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but I look on the heart.”

      You can dress up and look like you are the most godly person out there, but be full of hatefulness, dishonesty, immorality and just plain ol’ crappy self-righteousness. Jesus told the Pharisees they spent too much time washing the outside of the cup when the inside was full of disgusting things. He said they were like white-washed tombs — pretty on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones on the inside.

      I think the message is clear. It’s not what you look like outwardly so much, but what your heart attitude is towards God and others that matters.

      OK, so for one not who was not supposed to comment (not a Muslim) that certainly was long. 🙂

      • Becky says:

        Susanne, might be long but I really liked the parallels, I couldn’t agree more. This is exactly why I think there is way too big focus on the hijab. The “best” Muslims/women I know (by this I mean those that really care about their religion, pray every day + extra prayers etc.) do NOT cover their hair, whereas I know plenty of Muslim girls who do, but never pray, gossip etc.
        I think we ought to start putting our focus on what’s on the inside and stop judging people on what they do or do not wear.

      • Metis says:

        I enjoyed your comment, Susie and really liked this – “It’s not what you look like outwardly so much, but what your heart attitude is towards God and others that matters.”

    • Metis says:

      Lat, you can tell us when and how you began to wear it!

  6. Seema Rehan says:

    I wore a chadar when I was Muslim and believed with all my heart that Allah wanted me to wear it. I took it off when I left Islam. It came off as a skin when I metamorphosed.

  7. sarah says:

    I agree with a lot of the comments made here. It is not the sixth pillar and it is not a means to judge people. I really believe what we do is more significant than what we wear. But… having said that I wear hijab and am happy to do so. I do feel that it is a religious instruction and it has good in it for women. I don’t think it’s a ticket to heaven but i feel it serves a purpose. I started wearing it just before going to college. I wear it only because i believe it is mandated in the Quran. I do not cover my face.
    I think in recent times this has been a divisive issue. Some people feel judged when they see someone in hijab and they see it as a symbol of seperation and difference. There is a great deal of animosity between hijabi and non-hijabi Muslim women. Sometimes I feel judged because i do wear it, as if some people assume I am a fundamentalist or unenlightened.

    Ultimately, good deeds are what count. There is a hadith the Allah looks at our hearts not at our bodies, similar to what Susanne said.

    From a Muslim feminist perspective I feel everyone should stop judging each other by the scarf or lack thereof and offer friendship, courtesy and humanity to all. Doing good to humanity is half of Islam, wearing hijab is not.

    • Becky says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I don’t judge anyone who do or do not wear the scarf – I have several friends who have chosen to wear the hijab and I fully respect that. Frankly I think everyone should stop telling each other what to wear – or judging each other because of what they wear, and start focusing on what’s inside – similar to what you and Susanne said. Let’s do good to humanity instead – like you said.

    • Sara says:

      Beautiful comment!

  8. Metis says:

    Here is what I think about the Hijab:

    I think the Quran mandates hijab and not only hijab but also niqaab. Having said that, I also believe that there are clearly two sets of laws in the Quran: the religious, and the social. For example the following laws/rules/injunctions can be seen as social:

    Eat and drink but waste not by excess.(7:31)

    O you who believe, be aware of God and speak only the truth. (33:70)

    And speak to men in a charming way. (2:83)

    And do not walk in the land arrogantly, for you will not penetrate the Earth, nor will you reach the mountains in height. (17:37)

    Do not spy on other people’s affairs that concern you not. (49:12)

    Do not envy mankind for what Allah has given them of His bounty. (4:54)

    O you who believe! Let not one party among you laugh at others, may be they are better than those of your lot; nor let some women laugh at others, it may be that the latter are better than the former. Neither men nor women should do it. (49:11)

    Do not keep calling yourself virtuous. He only knows best who it is who guards against evil. (53:32)

    These are social laws and are important for those who obey them as well as for those for whom these laws are obeyed. They provide for a stable framework for a sound society. Yet, if someone laughs at another person or does not speak in a *charming way*, there is no set punishment for that person and most probably that person would not be punished at all but would be admonished by someone who is in a superior position.

    Then there are grander social laws that help Muslims keep the ‘huqooq al ibaad’ (duties of Muslims towards other Muslims), so a Muslim can’t steal or commit murder or rape or fornicate etc. There are prescribed punishments for those who break these grander laws.

    Religious rules can be summed up into the five pillars but a person is only answerable to Allah for these religious laws. Another Muslim can’t force you to pray or fast or give zakat or do Haj.

    I think hijab falls into the first category of social laws because hijab was prescribed for free believing women or free Jewish/Christian women married to Muslim men, but slave women were banned from wearing *hijab.* If hijab was a religious law or a law which demanded punishment of not observed ALL Muslim women would have had to cover regardless of their social status.

    So yes, I think hijab is as timeless as the need to tell the truth, not be proud, be moderate, and not mock others etc but since clothing is not static and is as fluid as language, it is wise to use our intelligence and gauge which society is safe to wear what type of clothing, which means to wear full hijab in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia or Bahrain and wear modest clothing sans hijab in the West.

    • Sophia says:

      I like how you summed it up at the end. I feel in the US the hijab has the opposite of the desired effect. I’m still torn between how I will deal with it myself – I’m not convinced yet it is a religious imperative, though I do see its value. I like the idea of something bringing a sense of unity – even if its through uniformity – to a group, however from what I’ve seen from people’s woes online, once again it has the opposite affect. I do think its importance has been blown WAY out of proportion compared to other aspects of the religion, but I suppose its human nature to judge books by their cover.

  9. sarah says:

    I understand the logic of what you are saying Metis and I agree with it to a certain extent but I also feel that my hijab is like a uniform. It defines me as a Muslim woman – that is on a personal level. It gives me a link with the great Muslim women of the past. BUT – I think that it is important to understand the philosophy of modesty which is the bedrock of hijab. It is possible to wear hijab and not act modestly. Similarly it is possible not to wear hijab but still be modest. I think modesty is a fundamental aspect of ‘purdah’ and it covers not only outer clothing but conduct as well.

    • Metis says:

      “but I also feel that my hijab is like a uniform. It defines me as a Muslim woman – that is on a personal level. It gives me a link with the great Muslim women of the past.”

      Perfectly said, Sarah. Like social norms and language, clothing too is fluid and changes with time and I agree with you completely that today hijab, as part of clothing, is exactly that – a uniform linking a Muslim woman to the past.

      I was looking at hijab historically and back in early Islam niqaab was worn by Jewish, Christian as well as pagan women in Arabia for centuries before Islam as a symbol of their social status. Thus, niqaab or hijab didn’t make Muslim women stand out but merge with other free women and therefore appear unapproachable.

      I think your thoughts on modesty are spot on because even in the Quran modesty is far more than just a headcovering.

  10. Sumera says:

    Very interesting responses here! Loved reading them.

  11. Coolred38 says:

    The two reasons I did not like the hijab while being forced to wear it, and why I removed it once the force was gone…are because I dont see it written in the Quran as an imperitive. Modesty is expressed and if Islam is for all places and all times as Muslims would like to claim…then degrees of modesty change with the times as well. Also, I find it hard to believe that God created us in such a way that we are a walking temptation to man and therefor must remove ourselves from man’s sight as much as possible to make his life all the more easier, but then women are considered not sexually tempted by men and so men are exempt from such strict dress codes.

    Gimme a break. If that doesnt sound like something written by men for men then I dont know what is.

    • Metis says:

      “I find it hard to believe that God created us in such a way that we are a walking temptation to man and therefor must remove ourselves from man’s sight as much as possible to make his life all the more easier, but then women are considered not sexually tempted by men and so men are exempt from such strict dress codes.”

      Well said Coolred. That is why I believe that hijab in early Islam was meant to signal the free status of a Muslim woman or a non-Muslim woman married to a Muslim man. It was related to Islam in the way that the free status of the women was associated with the Muslim *man* but I don’t think it was meant to be a *religious* injunction like “do this or go to Hell.”

  12. Candice says:

    I do not believe hijab is obligatory, but I do wish to wear it someday. For now I am quite satisfied just dressing modestly, but I love that hijab identifies a woman as Muslim, just from looking at her. Maybe it’s because of weakness that I want to look like a Muslim… because I don’t feel like enough of a Muslim on the inside sometimes… Maybe I think it will help keep me in line with things I believe in, even if the necessity of hijab is not one of those things…

    I do not have an ounce of judgement for a woman who makes the decision to not wear hijab, or makes the decision to wear hijab when she is informed and knows why. I would not want to judge women even if they don’t know why but of course it sometimes happens subconsciously (like when my huband’s cousin told me I should wear hijab and I could see the shape of her breasts and I was in a loose t-shirt and long skirt!) but even that is not right. Point I’m getting to is: I think hijab might be beneficial to me personally, but definitely not for everyone – and everyone has their own individual journey to make.

    • Metis says:

      Candice, Thanks for your comment. You said, “but I love that hijab identifies a woman as Muslim, just from looking at her.”

      I was wondering the same thing this summer. I happened to see a Sikh family and an orthodox Jewish family and I was wondering how easy it was to identify their religious affiliation because of the way the *men* dressed. In the case of the Sikh the women looked quite universally South Asian; they could be mistaken for Pakistani/Indian Muslim/Christian/Hindu and of course even Sikh but men stood out as Sikh. In the case of the orthodox Jewish family, I saw the woman alone with a baby first and couldn’t tell she was Jewish until I saw her husband and two little boys all with skull caps. But in the case of Muslims it is the women who appear Muslim and identify the family’s religious affiliation.

      • Lat says:

        Metis,have you how some Indian muslim men have their beard but without moustache? I’ve a cousin and his BIL look like that.And they are bald too.I wonder if this is Hanafite?They proudly wear their muslim caps around all the time.

        To me they do look distinct.They don’t need their hijabi wives to identity them as muslims.And my cousin is religious and he doesn’t shy away from clasping my hands whenever we meet! He even squeezes me a little to show affection 🙂

        • Metis says:

          Haha.

          It is those who follow the sunnah and such men are usually seen as extreme by many others. On the other hand, even many moderate Muslim women are opting for the hijab to appear Muslim.

  13. Marahm says:

    Sarah said, “It is not the sixth pillar and it is not a means to judge people.”

    I beg to differ. Hijab is indeed a means to judge people, and has indeed taken on the importance of a pillar. We all know that.

    I’ve had a love/hate relationship with hijab for twenty-five years. I’ve wanted to wear it, and did, to identify me as a Muslim woman, and to bring favorable judgement upon myself. I’ve not worn it, too, because it is very uncomfortable, and does not flatter my appearance at all. Here in the States (at least where I live) it would mark me as a weirdo.

    Some women look great in it, and these seem to be the women who believe in it. Some women are naturally homely, and they seem to believe in it as well.

    Since Qur’anic evidence can be read both ways, hijab takes on a charged atmosphere. It is more about political correctness (or lack thereof) than about modesty and religious requirement, and Allah knows best.

  14. Anne says:

    I wore hijab faithfully for the first 8 years of being Muslim. I no longer do as if a couple months back. In the US, it boils down to two key issues for me. One my safety -women who are recognizably Muslim are targeted daily in both overt and covert discrimination – I don’t need that.

    Second, I wish to distance myself from being a spokesperson if you will. In my early days, I wanted the world to know I was a Muslim woman, working and doing her thing. But now, with my ever increasing awareness that while Muslims give the whole song and dance about Islam elevating women – nary can I find a group/individuals doing that. Mosques are largely anti-women among anti-other things, online “knowledgeable” Islamic sites are largely misogynistic and hostile to women who wish to reclaim Islam. Eh. The way Islam is fed to believers is always encouraging women to wear their oppression well, in order to acheive Jannah. While it may be cultural garbage – this is Islam for people and one can’t keep chanting that’s not Islam – cuz if it wasn’t they wouldn’t be praticing it in the Masjids and such.

    It is so true what another said about other faiths being visible by their menfolk- I always tell my hubby to throw on a thobe and paste on a big ol beard and head to the grocery store, playground, airport, apply for a job, etc. No, that unpleasantness is the domain for ladies – who do wear it well and if they are really really good – usually with a smile.

    I don’t wish to say I am no longer AS religious because when that statement is made – it gives the impression that Islam is inherently bad (be it anti -women or Jews or whatever) and thus distancing myself from it. I do believe a person can be ardently religious (in my faith) aand it does not manifest in hate, intolerance, superiority complexes, exclusionary practice, etc.

    • Metis says:

      Anne, Thank you for your comment and welcome to Metis.

      I really enjoyed what you wrote. The focus of my study is how women feel about Islam and how they negotiate it in the Blogosphere so I would be grateful if you shed more light on this:

      “But now, with my ever increasing awareness that while Muslims give the whole song and dance about Islam elevating women – nary can I find a group/individuals doing that. Mosques are largely anti-women among anti-other things, online “knowledgeable” Islamic sites are largely misogynistic and hostile to women who wish to reclaim Islam.”

      This is what Muslim societies do; how do you feel about Islam as an ideology? Do you think the religion in its earliest and purest form was different and elevated the status of women?

      Thank you so much once again!

  15. unsettledsoul says:

    “The way Islam is fed to believers is always encouraging women to wear their oppression well, in order to acheive Jannah. ”

    Wow, that was powerful for me.

  16. Marahm says:

    Anne, you are right on.

    I never bought that business about women bearing their lot in order to go to Jennah, but I heard it plenty while I lived in the Middle East. It’s the only way some women can accept their situations. As an American, I didn’t have to believe that.

    I didn’t have to believe it as a Muslim, either, but I would have, had I needed to believe it.

  17. redcurrant_puffs says:

    I admit my comments are 2 years’ late but I love everyone’s comments. Anne, I mostly identify with yours because you have said what I have always thought! – the song and dance about Islam elevating women’s status etc etc yet certain Muslim quarters are largely misogynistic (which of course, they’ll never admit to). I’ve given up visiting mainstream ‘knowledgeable’ Islamic websites because some of the people who post their comments on matters relating to hijab can be so vile. The worst ones are those who profess (or portray themselves to be oh-so-Muslim) but when they comment on non-hijabi sisters, their words are so laden with judgments, consigning these women to the depths of hell if they fail to repent or labelling them as Satan’s conspirators with the sole objective of ‘luring’ innocent hijabi sisters to the ‘dark side’ and straying them. Sadly, amongst such commentators are women themselves. This edict, that hijab = jannah and no hijab = being dragged into hell by our uncovered hairs, is not just planted, spread, cemented and accepted as eternal truth is in the Middle East alone. It’s also happening here in Asia. There’s revived religiosity (no doubt brought about by returning religious scholars from Saudi Arabia and other Mideast religious institutions) and the media that is riding on it – such that there are scores of Malay dramas and films in Indonesia, Malaysia and (to a lesser degree, Singapore) where heroines don the hijab. More often that not, the ‘good and virtuous’ heroine is the covered one while the ‘villainous/jealous/homewrecker/slut’ woman is naturally the one NOT covered. So, in this part of the world taking the hijab is part religion-driven and part media and popularity driven (especially in recent times and amongst younger Muslim ladies). It becomes so entrenched, this belief that a woman’s salvation lies in that cloth covering her head, that I once read a Malaysian women’s magazine where a Muslim female academic ‘advises’ her female readers to wear the hijab because women who wear hijab will realise that their lives will no sooner be calmer and everything will fall into place in their lives, their marriages etc. Things like this get printed and devoured by unquestioning readers!

    So, like many women, I find myself being in the middle, not belonging (or perhaps sharing) the same ideas as the mainstream, majority of Muslims nor renouncing Islam. I still believe in Islam – I’m just upset about how it’s been interpreted by the mainstream and forced to the masses with other alternative, highly plausible interpretations branded as deviations/sins/provocations. I have hopes for a more enlightened, non-judgmental Muslim society yet by the look of things currently happening, I must confess, I am deeply pessimistic.

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