Friday 30 May 2008

Judging Non-Muslim Women

When we talk about the rights and respect Islam gives to women and the benefits of hijab, some sisters and brothers will sometimes compare our lot with that of non-Muslim women, whether Western or not. Oftentimes I have heard a note of disdain and disrespect creeping in to these discussions. Non-Muslim women are deemed to be fettered by the sexual demands of men and considered lacking in morals and self-respect.

We have to be careful with where this thinking leads us. We must all have met women who are not Muslim but are still modest in behaviour and dress, kind and of good character, I know I have. Then there are those who like to dress in clothes that make them look and feel attractive but are still good, kind-natured people who would never hurt another person.

What we forget sometimes when we rush to judge, especially born-Muslims, is the amount of protection we often have had. I was born in a large family and had my uncles, parents and grandparents to watch out for me. As a teenager I had my brother and dad, now I have my brave beloved and my brother-in-law as well as the rest. It is easy for someone like me to sit in my home, safe and secure alhamdulillah and pass judgment on the behaviour of others. The events that got me thinking this way were the serial murders of the five women in Ipswich in 2006. They had all worked as prostitutes, mostly to feed drug habits. As news came in of each murder, there were pictures of them as children and the sordid details of their descent to the street: care hostels, run-ways, homelessness, the loss of their children to social services.

They were all someone’s child. Their parents must have had the highest hopes for them and they were dashed in the cruelest way. Must they have been that much different from the hopes I have for Little Lady?

I don’t mean to digress, the point is sometimes as Muslim’s we sit in our comfortable lives, sure of our deen and quick to judge others without thinking about the fact that they are not that different to us. Sometimes they have fallen into the path that they have because they have not had the protection, safety and ease that we have had. I was born into a Muslim family with all of the benefits that brought for me. If someone doesn’t follow my faith how can I look down on them as they didn’t have that advantage.

The issues that women face of poverty, discrimination, misogyny and exploitation affect both Muslim and non-Muslim women. I would have thought the humane thing to do would be to have sympathy for one and another and also provide help and support where possible.

We can look at all other women as sisters who we wish better for, or the deficient "other", devoid of faith. I don’t think that the second mode of thinking benefits anyone at all. Reaching out is always better than cutting off, especially if we are to fulfill our duty of encouraging good and discouraging what is bad and stepping forward to act when we see something wrong. If you judge a person even before you speak to them, they will know it and not take in a word you say.

In the end it all comes down to respect. Even as a Muslim woman who covers, I still believe that a women has the right to remain unmolested and to be respected regardless of what she wears. This is less a reflection of her character and more one of ours. Are you the brother that sees and has contempt, or the one who lowers his gaze and makes dua? Are you the sister who scowls and gives a dirty look or the one who smiles and shows her kindness?Who knows the lady who is dressed sexily today might be the one wearing hijab tomorrow.

Inshallah these words are first and foremost a reminder to myself and for my betterment. If it makes others think, then alhamdulillah.


  1. Kudos for this post Umm Salihah!

    You said, "Non-Muslim women are deemed to be fettered by the sexual demands of men and considered lacking in morals and self-respect."

    This is so true! As a convert I have had to correct many Muslims on this. I was raised in a very strict Christian household. I had to follow many of the dress requirements (without the hijab) that Muslimahs follow. My husband and I were listening to a lecture on and the Imam said in the West if a woman wears a mini skirt it is considered modest. I was like huh? Just because it's a common occurence does not mean it's considered modest.

    It is very unwise to lump all Westerners into one jahil group just like it is unwise for non-Muslims to lump all Muslims into the same group.

    ma'a salaamah,


  2. Anonymous30 May, 2008

    have you ever seen that post on Precious Modesty's blog which describes different women in different stages of hijab who all look down on each other?
    the point is, we can think we're better than other women, or we can unite as a sisterhood. we should always find ways to better ourselves, and being snobbish is not the way. i admit, it may be harder to convince men as well to be less judgmental and black and white in their views, but we shouldn't endorse their views of non-muslims by agreeing that they are at loss and can't be helped.

  3. Salaams Sis:

    Great post and good reminder!

    Kooky: do you have a link to that post?

  4. Assalam-alaikam Sister HA,
    I think people outside of the West have some real misconceptions. But even in the West Muslims think this way. If you actually bother to talk to people and engage with them its harder to maintain this way of thinking.

    Hey Kooky,
    good link and good points.

    Assalam-alaikam Sis Safiyyah,
    I found the link to the video, its about a minute long and its very funny:

  5. Salaams All:

    Thanks for the link! I love those videos! I have one posted on my blog about a college girl and salaat.

  6. This is such a good reminder Umm Salihah! Too many times we fall into the trap of thinking we are better than others simply because of our priviledged backgrounds.

    Love, Hayah

  7. Salams

    I completely agree with you. I've found that treating others with kindness and gentleness, and giving the benefit of the doubt will always be much more beneficial and soothing for my heart.

  8. Asalaamu Alaikum

    I'm a convert so I can see things from both sides. It is so true that raised muslims have it so good in so many ways and take that for granted and can't imagine that others were never brought up the way they were. Its not just dress but in everything. Take for example education..muslim immigrants will go to the end of the earth to make sure their child is educated no matter what thier economic background. And everyone is there standing together helping one another. For us growing up as non-muslims its a dog eat dog world and you are very priveledged if your parents help you out in any way..that usually only happens with the upper classes. About dress when I met some muslim women they thought I would never end up converting based on the way I was dressed but I did and I put on hijab immediately too. You just never know. My mother always told me if you've got it , flaunt it so you can imagine we would never think about modesty when you are raised that way. Yes give non-muslim woman a chance..let them see the beauty of Islam..the muslim sisters are like the mothers of the believers..our mothers were/are unguided so we need you as role models.

  9. Excuse me, but just because I'm not a Muslim doesn't mean I'm a slut. It would seem to me that all of you so-called priviledged folks need to spend your time working on your deen than worrying about what non-Muslim wear. Likewise I will not worry about what you people wear even if does at times gives me a double-take especially at the beach.

    1. I completely agree with you.You are a Muslim and wear Hijab doesn't mean you a good person.I am sorry to say but many Prostitutes in Pakistan wear Hijab.My friend belongs to Pakistan she told me about it.I am not saying if you cover your head then it is bad,But if you are considering yourself above all because you are a Muslim and wear hijab then it is really bad.

  10. I'm am not a Muslim but have recently been considering converting. My family are Christains and whilst they tried their best to protect me and support me but sometimes it is easier said then done. I can completely agree with this post, its not about what your faith may be or the clothes you wear, its about whats inside and what you believe in that counts.

  11. When I graduated from Elementary School, I wanted to go to the best Middle School and not the one that was located by my house. I complained about it all day. It had gangsters, drugs etc. One day an elderly lady told me, "Don't blame the school for others bad behavior, you are responsible for your'e self. You can be in between drugs and cheap wine but if you decide not to go down that road, it doesn't matter were you attend." I live my life by this. Is not the church, the dress, the religion,Is you. You are responsible for YOU.

  12. Asalaam Alaikum,
    I am a english revert sister, i do agree with your post, We should not judge others with regards to way people dress or how others wear hijab. It's good that the sisters are wearing hijab rather than not wearing it at all. Covering is a choice you make for yourself and the sake of Allah. I manage everyday with brothers,on a daliy basis not lowering there gaze,sisters whispering in front of me i just give salaam most of the time i get ignored. i know i did my part! non muslims well they just ask which is the perfect time to give dawah!

  13. I grew up in a Greek immigrant family and they also went to the ends of the earth to make sure my sister and I were educated. They gave us all they could. Many non-Muslim households are also warm and loving and compassionate. I just want to add that there is so much that polarizes Muslims and non-Muslims but every time I interact with a warm, loving woman wearing a hijab I am reminded myself not to judge or assume that I am being judged. It restores my faith and hope.

  14. My best friend was from Pakistan in my Med School .She told me that not all hijab wearing Muslims are good.She was a good Muslim,prayed daily,always wore covered clothes,and of course of good character.She told me that my prostitutes wear hijab in Pakistan.Please don't misunderstand me i am telling what she told me.In my opinion everyone should respect their body,a good character,and above all a good human being,not hurt anybody,live and let live.

  15. Hi Ritu,
    I think that might be because for many in Muslim countries covering your head is a cultural requirements of that society as much as a religious requirement, hence people who do not live at all by the principles of Islam still covering their heads.

    The point of this post was to remind that all women deserve to be treated with respect regardless of whether they wear hijab or not.