The term hijab is the Arabic word which simply means to cover, veil or to shield. The term is derived from the Arabic root word hajaba, which means to hide from view or to conceal. Many people, including Muslims, use the term hijab to refer to the headscarf (kheemar), which Muslim women wear. However, the kheemar is just one part or aspect of the hijab – hijab is much more than just a headscarf or head covering. It is the prescribed mode of dress for Muslim women. Hence, there are certain requirements for observing hijab, which I will focus on in another post inshallah.
Hijab has often been associated only to the required mode of dress for Muslim women, but it fact, Muslim men are also required to observe hijab, which often comes as a surprise to non-Muslims and it is often overlooked or taken for granted by Muslim men in today’s society. However, the requirements for hijab are slightly different for men, but the rationale and purpose for Hijab remains the same, which is to promote and protect the modesty of both men and women.
The extent of the covering has been debated and challenged by some who have insisted that the entire body should not be visible, this includes the face and hands, but that’s for another discussion, and several legal systems of the Islamic world have specified the extent to which hijab is to be observed (using the Qur’an of course as the source of guidance on the subject) that is, to cover the entire body except ones face and hands; and it is the belief of the majority, that it is stated in the Holy Qur’an that hijab is the prescribed mode of dress for all believing men and women. However, this is also challenged by some Muslims, mainly by Muslim women who do not observe hijab, and quite recently there was an Islamic Scholar claiming that the hijab is not a religious duty – “the interpretation of verses usually used to defend the hijab, are incorrect and misleading.”
The hijab has also been explained by scholars to be more than just the physical dress, but there are other aspects of the hijab such as social hijab, which basically means that a Muslim woman should also be modest in her actions and what she says and does out in the society, then I read years ago in a well-known Islamic magazine about the concept of the inner and out hijab. The concept of inner hijab has been described as a person controlling his carnal desires (not suppressing those desires, but controlling them) which exist within him or her, and if one can control his carnal desires, which exist within, then this will in turn strengthen his outer (physical) hijab. And so, for instance, if the hijab has been forced on a person, be it male or female or adopted without purpose or research, then the outer hijab will soon be laid aside or taken for granted.
For the purpose of this post, hijab is used to mean both the kheemar and the requirements that go along with the dress of Muslim women. Hence, the mode of dress, hijab. For example, e.g the looseness of the clothing etc.. As I said earlier, today, many of us hijabis sometimes use the term hijab to refer to only the headscarf.
Many of us hijabis are often quick to pass judgement, curl our lips up in disgust, turn up our noses or shake our heads in disapproval at a non-hijabi or a Muslimah who has removed the Islamic headscarf or even a man who does not observe proper hijab. But how often, if at all, have we as individuals actually took it upon ourselves, for instance, to encourage another Muslimah to observe hijab or to encourage and educate the Muslimah who is thinking of removing the kheemar and failing to observe the mode of dress according to Islamic standards or the Islamic ideal of modesty – remind her of her duty towards Allah, the benefits of hijab and the reason for observing the hijab? How often, if at all, have we as individuals reasoned with or discussed the concept of hijab with non-hijabis?
Clearly there is a lack of understanding within the Muslim community regarding the concept of hijab, which inadvertently spills over into the non-Muslim community as well. Much of the confusion, of course, attributable to a lack of proper Islamic education and access to resources. And yes, there is the internet to access an abundance of information on Islam and hijab, but for some people, they cannot truly embrace something unless they see live examples within their own communities and within their own homes. But one may argue that it is the responsibility of each person to enquire and do their own research if he or she loves Allah and is sincerely interested in Islam and hijab, but for many, it’s not a simple task of adopting the hijab, especially if there is a lack of support at home or within their social circles. Not forgetting adopting and maintaining the hijab can be a big challenge for some revert Muslims – a huge transition, not only as a matter of change of clothing or mode of dress, but may be a massive change of lifestyle, and so our revert brothers and sisters will need a lot of support and encouragement when it comes to the subject of observing the hijab.
Furthermore, as a community, we need to remember to not only focus on hijab for our girls and women – giving the impression that hijab is not a religious requirement for our boys and men. Hijab is an Islamic requirement for both genders.
Perhaps, the assessment of the home environment is a good place to start, since the environment within the home is the first social environment we encounter and it is the first group where the majority of us first learn behaviours, cultural lifestyles and family norms. All these influences have a huge impact on an individuals thoughts and perceptions of the world at large, of people and of his own self-image and his identity. Hence, these perceptions are more likely than not, to influence ones decisions.
Some of the questions that need considering are whether as a community and as a family unit, are we as parents and as a community providing and maintaining an environment that nourishes and encourages the hijab? And most importantly, are parents and other adults within the family leading by example by observing hijab themselves? Or is it more a case of ‘do as I say and not as I do sort of thing?’
One of the things I have observed, is that many of our young people have long decried the hypocrisy of their elders who seem unable to live by their own expectations, principles and standards – giving millions of reasons and excuses to justify the wrong they do and for the double standards they set. Of course none of us is perfect, and therefore, we will make mistakes, but failing to live up to ideals certainly do not warrant throwing out the ideals altogether. Muslim parents or guardians have the responsibility to gradually teach their sons and men, as well as their daughters and women, about the importance of hijab, being mindful not to force the subject of hijab, but rather to encourage it. Forcing hijab on a person or making threats will only make the person grow to hate the hijab and to rebel against it. A gentle approach is needed. So rather than say to a child, for instance, that they have to wear hijab because it is in the Holy Qur’an, parents and other adults within the community and the family should discuss why hijab is important and perhaps why it’s necessary, not only for the individual, but for the ummah or society as a whole; and appeal to the individual’s sense of reason. And the adult has to be open to the idea that the other person may not agree or accept that hijab is a necessary requirement and is not an aspect of Islam that fits into their lifestyle or ideals as a Muslim woman.
For some hijabis it’s not that they don’t want to observe hijab or wear the kheemar, but when they look around, they see the double standards of their elders and the poor examples of hijab within their own families and circle of Muslim friends and this further pushes them away from hijab.
And I think for those of us who are already observing hijab, there needs to be some sort of support system, and where there is support, perhaps it needs to be stronger and more consistent. I’ve known Muslimahs whose parents are divided on the subject of hijab – one parent, usually the mother, does not support the idea of their daughter observing the hijab and especially doesn’t want to see her daughter covering her hair; and the father on the other hand, fully supports hijab and wearing the headscarf. So what’s a child to do in such a case? Then there are those Muslimahs who have reverted to Islam and living under the same roof with their parents and both parents do not support their reversion much less their observation of hijab.
In 2002, at University, for my final research paper, I did research on why Muslim women rebel against the hijab. And I remember one Muslimah from the Mosque I attended saying on her questionnaire that one of the reasons she didn’t wear the hijab was because hijab – wearing Muslimahs would not greet her with salaam or respond to her salaams and that they somehow behave as though they were better than those Muslimahs who did not observe hijab. On the other hand, the decision not to wear the hijab was one out of necessity. For some, it meant not getting a job and for others, wearing the hijab was never a matter of choice, but one of force, so a dislike and removal of the hijab was inevitable.
And let’s not forget that every Muslimah has the God-given right of FREE WILL – the right to choose whether to observe or not observe the hijab and that some of us are divided on the subject of hijab – not every Muslimah believes or accepts that hijab as a religious duty or requirement for Muslim men and women, especially not a requirement for Muslim women. However, some Muslims would argue that the subject of hijab is not a matter of choice, and, therefore we should not even entertain debates or discussions about the hijab. But at the end of the day, Allah is the ultimate judge of every decision – every action – every intention and every spoken word. So sisters, during this ramadhan, let us all commit not to judge or be quick to judge our non-kheemar wearing or non-hijab observers; and not to think of ourselves as being somehow more pious or better than them, simply because they choose not to observe the hijab. Instead, let us be supportive,engage in discussions with them, give encouragement and most of all, let us be good role models and set good examples for each other to follow and to look up to, and inshallah, more Muslimahs will choose to observe and maintain the hijab.
Some of the Comments I have received for this article
CH: Thank you so much for the posting. I am a fairly recent convert struggling with the notion of hijab. I am not against it at all. But I just cannot imagine how to integrate it into my life, especially my work life as I am in a very western corporate environment and have been many years with the company. So I am trying to take it small steps at a time. First step, wearing hijab while on my vacation in Dubai. So far??? It feels normal. I struggle with how to wear it and what I look like, but am fine once I am out the door. So I continue on this journey. It just may take me a while.
AR: Salaams: Great article. even though i am a hardcore hijabi, i have come to accept those who are not, and those who are, albeit half-ass (nice big scarf paired with skinny jeans and skin hugging t’s, for example) as fellow Muslims. People have to live their lives and start (or finish) where they are. Me ‘undoing’ the blessings of submitting to hijab by judging or dissing someone who does not is counterproductive for my own soul. there’s a difference between enjoining and condemning; yet nowadays i no longer even suggest because I know what time it is and I’ve been there myself.
A new convert 33 years ago, i vehemently rejected hijab for two reasons: i thought i was too cute; and i didn’t think it was necessary to worship God in some kind of uniform. It was a good 10 years of gradually wearing “american style,” hijab and correcting folks who thought i was a rasta before i realized that hijab was a means to be identified as a Muslimah. I have to admit at the time, i did not want to be that obvious. Nowadays in some places, and in the future, perhaps in most, being thus identified can be downright dangerous. I believe in such situations it is advised to be less easily recognized.
Most importantly, in the ayahs referring to both the khimar and the over garment (24:31 & 33:59) the women being addressed are “moomineena,” not “muslimeena.” In my view, it sounds like Allah himself acknowledges there will always be those who for whatever reason (only He can judge) these ayahs do not apply.
Living on this planet is a process of evolution, at least, it should be. We’re all striving. Masha’Allah…
NA: “I have come to accept” … well as feminist muslim in skinny jeans, stilettos and big beautiful scarfs, I have come to accept as muslim I dont have to accept anyone, since I dont have the key of the door of paradise. Is pretty dismissing and exactly what it creates problems on the issue of hiyab, the fact that some women believe they have to “accept” others that dress in a different way as if these others were an unavoidable problem in the community. Never the question is put in the other sense: Why we, muslims in jeans and headscarf must deal with the dismissing attitude from hiyabis who seems taken off from middle age or some taliban party?…
I think we can’t pretend we live in a bubble separated from other human beings and our context. In a western society a woman with abaya and veil or in niqab catch more attention than one in sport clothing or jeans so where in fact is the aim of modesty and “hiyab” in both cases? If hiyab is supposed to show modesty, there’s not modesty at all paying the attention of the public with a niqab around…
AR: sister, you can wear what you want, for whatever reason…the concept of hijab referring to modesty—concealing the beauty of one’s form—is also apparently up for reinterpretation. I personally can’t believe that,and continue to struggle with vanity and fashion and to fit visually fit in to this society. It’s easy now. i’m 55. and have been where you are—’feminist, fine and muslim.’
Alhamdulillah. at this point in my life, my fear of God and knowledge of the truth of that hadith that says, “after 50 death comes running toward you,” i prefer to err on the side of caution. I’d personally like to get to the point of wearing an abayah or jilbab all the time.
i’m aware in discussing such a volatile topic, folks will dissect words and react to what they ‘know’ is ‘really’ meant, especially as comments and opinions differ.
i try not to dismiss anyone though…Insha’Allah. When around others who did/do, i usually remind them we can’t. I remind them that our role, if we choose to take it, is to influence beautifully like we had been influenced, knowing full well the choice is theirs.
in peace… The “bubble” is big enough for all types of skin colors, hair textures and styles and clothing…i totally disagree with you on this point. If sisters want to be respected as human beings without khimars, those who wish to wear jilbabs and abayahs and niqab even should get the same. I find it amazing that Muslims are so willing to view more clothing as awkward, embarrassing and a barrier to acceptance. Isn’t today’s ‘style’ to be yourself, express yourself? We Muslims are not included in this? Do we really accept this hypocrisy?
I also think you underestimate non-Muslims. Not everyone buys the hype. in fact, i’d wager most do not. They can and do respect those who carry themselves with respect, and treat them likewise. The key is to get involved with community, school, neighbors, politics, causes, etc. You’d be surprised how often that even leads to curiosity on their part and eventually shahadah. Masha’Allah.
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