“Modesty isn’t about covering up our bodies because they’re bad; modesty isn’t about hiding ourselves…it’s about revealing our dignity.”
A very misunderstood part of Islam and the role of women in the religion is the subject of the hijab. The hijab is a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women, and also the religious code which governs the wearing of the hijab. There are many people I’ve talked to who completely misunderstand the meaning and reason that many Islamic women wear the scarf, and understandably so – most can’t make sense of things that haven’t been explained to them, or they’ve had no exposure to. They are confused about the true reason for them and as with most things that people don’t understand there can be a negative connotation towards it. I am going to attempt a very simplified explanation of why some Muslim women chose to wear the hijab, what it means to the women in my life who do, and other facts that I myself didn’t understand or know about until I was exposed to Islam first hand. As usual I am explaining these from an outsiders point of view, through my experiences and the situations that I have been in, and will include links for further reading if you’re interested.
So first of all – why? Why do these women cover their hair with a scarf ? The Quran instructs both Muslim men and women to dress in a modest way; for women this includes covering their hair, and the easiest way to do this is usually with a scarf. One of the main reasons that Muslims do this is because they believe that God has instructed women to wear it as a means of fulfilling His commandment for modesty. So that’s the very basic explanation – because God said so. But I know that for myself, I needed to understand this concept more thoroughly; why God would instruct this for women and not men? I had questions about women in Islam, their roles in the religion and why they so strongly believed in the wearing of the hijab. So through my research and talking to many hijabi women, here is my attempt to explain things in a in simplified way, answering the questions I had myself.
Why do some of them completely cover their faces, and some just their hair? There are several different types of covers Muslims use, that vary in style and coverage. If you’re interested, there is a link here explaining the different styles; but basically they vary because of culture, region and by the way that a woman interprets their modesty.
When do they wear them? Women who wear hijabs use them in any situation when there are men around (besides their husbands, sons, son in laws, fathers, father in laws, brothers and nephews – basically any male that they wouldn’t marry). So at home when with their family – yes, they take it off. And yes, they have hair under there, and no, they don’t shower with it on (some actual questions that my friends have been asked!). It’s mainly for when out and about, and if male guests whom aren’t direct family come over. A hijab is also mandatory for all women to wear when entering a mosque (as you saw me in the header picture above).
Isn’t it that a form of oppression, since they are forced to wear it? Actually, no. The hijab is meant to be a personal choice, made by a woman after puberty. I know many Muslim women who chose not to wear one; many of my friends and family in fact. It is all about one’s personal devotion and relationship with God, and while some Muslim women do not perceive the hijab to be obligatory to their faith, other Muslim women wear the hijab as a means of visibly expressing their Muslim identity. And yes, of course I am sure there are situations where a woman is forced to wear a hijab by a family member or partner – just like there are situations where a non-Muslim man abuses and controls his wife as well. Like I stated in my previous post, there are 50 shades of cray in this world and they come in all different colors, ethnicities, and religions.
But why do only the women have to cover their hair? This is the part that I didn’t fully understand at first, but made a lot of sense to me when I researched and looked into it, and spoke to actual hijabi women instead of just going by what I had heard or been told in the media. The idea and reason for the hijab comes from the important request from God to practice modesty. This includes wearing clothing that isn’t revealing, and covering of the hair. But really – why ? This is a very important part to understand: this action is not meant to oppress – it is meant to empower. The decision to cover themselves is made by a woman, and in doing so this not only protects them from the wandering eye of a man that is not welcome or asked for – it gives the woman complete control of what she does or does NOT want to reveal and put out into the world. Women can’t control the inappropriate thoughts and looks of a bystander, but they can protect themselves, take their power back, and decide not to show their goods, if they choose so. Perhaps not everyone actually wants to show off their legs, arms, chest or even hair to the world. If it’s a persons choice, whether they are in a bikini or dressed from head to toe with their hair covered – what’s the issue?
Really, isn’t having an opinion on whether someone wears a hijab or not just another way that society is judging and shaming women to the other extreme? If you’re wearing too little clothing- you’re provocative, or a slut who’s “asking for it”. If you’re covered too much – you’re oppressed and clearly not given any choices. And trust me, if you are in the range somewhere in between – people have something to say about that as well. Why does society think it gets to have such a strong opinion on who we as women are, based on our outward appearance or even just the clothing we wear? Since when did we have to dress to impress anybody besides ourselves? Why can’t we either be almost naked or completely covered and it not be an issue? Or better yet – perhaps we should have a conversation about why we make ourselves feel that we have to dress a certain way; either to command attention from or hide from it because mankind makes us so damn uncomfortable.
Here’s an idea: when you see a woman wearing a hijab or other type of head covering, you should give her a smile of respect and admiration. Because in a world where women are so extremely sexualized and quite often forced to look a certain way, dress a certain way, and attempt to impress the male eye or “fit into” the culture we live in – these women, despite harsh criticism from many ignorant people who don’t understand their choices choose to follow their faith and beliefs, and empower themselves to the other degree – by deciding NOT to show you what they have to offer. Maybe it makes some people so uncomfortable because of the mystery; the lack of control, and because they feel they have the right to physically see an entire women, since society has marginalized us to believe that’s all we have to offer. Always telling us to smile, to be pleasant, and push us to look the way that ‘they’ want us to. And we have so, so much more to offer than just our outward appearance, don’t you think? Whether you want to cover your entire body or dress in barely a thing – either way, we need to stop judging each other. Like I said before, this isn’t about oppression – it’s about empowerment. When we stop talking about the way women look and are dressing and start talking about why we feel the need to do so, we will start making progress and move in the right direction. A woman’s body is hers and hers alone, and what she decides to show or not is completely irrelevant to you. So next time you see a woman in clothing you either don’t approve of or understand, don’t worry about her – she’s got it covered.