Saturday, 6 October 2012

Ummah Beware: It's The 'H' Word!

The 'H' word of the title is, of course, the ubiquitous word 'hijab.'  This may fill you with excitement and anticipation or you may be fed up to the teeth with such articles and be looking for the nearest exit! In any case, hopefully you'll bear with me!

Even as I write this, I'm aware that any attempt to separate the idea of a Muslim woman and hijab is somewhat undermined by the prominence of so many articles, youtube videos, and blogs (this one included), which constantly clump 'Muslim woman' and 'hijab' together in the same breath. The more we put the word hijab and woman in the same sentence, the more hijab is cemented in people's minds as the be and end all when it comes to being a woman in Islam.

It's a worrying linguistic trend because it runs the risk of excluding sisters who don't wear the headscarf (hijab). It creates the assumption (whether verbalized or not) that somehow a Muslim woman without a headscarf is incomplete. It bypasses the fact that hijab is first and foremost a spiritual principal of modesty (and general morality) which goes for men just as much as for women. 

In this situation, the physical material is secondary. Think of it more as an outward sign of an inward attempt to nurture those inward qualities over a whole lifetime. So naturally, a 100% cotton pashmina cannot be considered an accurate gauge of whether that inner quality is there or not just as a lack of a visible signifier doesn't mean that the principles of hijab are not deeply rooted in that woman's heart. 

In any society such reliance on visible markers can be damaging and the Muslim community (Ummah) is no exception. Ultimately it runs the risk of creating a community based on superficiality where individuals feels pressured to look the part and worry about little else.

The fact that the real qualities of hijab are shown by a person's actions are borne out but the vast array of amazing Muslim women, scarfies and non-scarfies, who I've encountered over the last year. They've taught me so much just by their influence and I can't thank them enough for being so welcoming, encouraging and supportive. 

★  ★  

I hope there was something in here that you found interesting. 
Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below.
I'd love to hear what you think!

Do we (Muslims and non-Muslims) focus too much on what Muslim women wear? 
Is it unavoidable?


  1. Completely agree with everything you've written! Judging sisters who don't wear the scarf and labelling them as 'bad' Muslims is pretty arrogant. I think our inner state of spirituality should be precedent over any outer manifestations. And only Allah (SWT) truly knows the state of our hearts :)

  2. Great Post! So many judge others by what they see physically (ie no hijab) but many who wear hijab are not always following the faith as good as those without hijab! That is why it is not good to judge and backbite in islam.

    1. I agree with the wisdom behind not backbiting because you don't know what's inside someone's heart. Hope you're having a lovely day chica! x x

  3. I think the wearing of the headscarf is a purely personal thing and it's not something that I have any strong feelings about. I have lived in tourist areas in Turkey where very few women wear scarves, but for the last almost 4 years in a traditional Turkish village where 99% of the women are covered. I don't even think about it until I read something, like your post.

    My husband is a Muslim and I am agnostic, so there was never any mention about my converting to Islam when we married 14 years ago so I have never had to make a decision about what I should wear. However, I have always dressed modestly out of respect for the culture, and I think that's appreciated by those around me.

    1. I agree with you that it's a personal thing. Until I started researching Islam I didn't really have a strong opinion either way either. I think it's very admirable that you dress modestly out of respect and I'm sure it's appreciated too. I think it's good that it doesn't come into your mind because that shows that it doesn't cause problems for you or create an issue for those around you. Have you ever felt self-conscious surrounded by others who do cover their hair?

    2. No never. But I think this is because Turkish women are so accepting and from my experience they just treat every woman in the same friendly way, whether covered or not.

  4. Hello sarita! I really enjoy your blog posts! Inspiring! I'm going to siena to study at the university and being a Muslim female I'm a little apprehensive about who I will meet and whether I will find any Muslim girls. I would love your thoughts on it! Keep doing what you do best!


  5. I think in Turkey it can be taken for granted that presence of the hijab doesnt really categorize the wearer. It's really just used as a categorizer from American perspective (being the only other perspective I can speak to) and probably other European perspectives. Further, it's important to recognize that it is more a tradition in Turkey for the vast majority of wearers, rather than a spiritual sign, as it is for many converts (such as yourself). I guess you can think about it in terms of how you, growing up as a Christian, "went through the motions" with many Christian customs.

    Personally, I see hijab as a very antiquated tradition, based more on obolete societal utility. And I, like many, find it hard to reconcile the tradition's continuation given an often perceived double standard based on gender.

    So, when you write
    "It bypasses the fact that hijab is first and foremost a spiritual principal of modesty (and general morality) which goes for men just as much as for women."
    and given that you are pretty well researched on the issue, I'm interested on your views concerning how men uphold the same principles of modesty. Or, perhaps the same principles are required but men generally do not uphold them?



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