Tuesday 4 May 2010

Hijab Conversation

A Sister recently left a comment on my blog that I felt warranted a proper response as far as I am able to offer this. The Sister’s query was as follows:

Salaam, I found this page a while ago and hesitated about whether or not to express my confusion. I hope you won't be offended by this. I just find it hard to understand, and maybe you can enlighten me, how you define your blog as that of a Muslim in the title, yet the first and last words on it are about hijab. I find this slightly narrow and discriminatory, even as a wearer of hijab myself. It is a thing I have observed, that many women of Muslim background assume that all they, as born Muslims, need to do in order to be real Muslim Sisters, is put on a scarf (maybe add in a few other behaviours), even if they are just doing it for ease, or as a style statement, or because of their family, whatever. Why does this define you as a Muslim? The central issue about women in Islam is always about hijab in Western media etc, why are you encouraging this reductionism? I appreciate that your take on it is positive, but aren't you forgetting Allah's other blessings in making it the focus of your Muslim identity? To me it would make more sense for a Muslim to describe themselves as prayer-loving, or maybe lovers of the beauty God has created, maybe even God-loving. But then, each one their own I guess :-) and I can see that many people relate to you...

Jazakh’Allah-khairun Sister for visiting this blog and for asking me the above. I have to say my first reaction was to get defensive, but then I realized that your question was intended not to offend but to understand insh’Allah. Also others may think the same and instead of asking just think badly of me, at least you ahve asked with courtesy.

I confirm that yes I do love my hijab, but I don’t agree that it is the beginning and end of my faith even if it does appear that way sometimes. I have tried to make clear that I don’t think a Sister who wears hijab is automatically better than one who does not. I have in real life defended Sisters who don’t wear hijab when they are being judged by Sister who do. I believe that the hijab is not an automatic indicator of what good Muslim’s we are and that only Allah (SWT) can know what is in our heart or the sincerity of our actions and worship.

I have said before here also that women deserve respect regardless of what they wear:

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?

I have also written here about why I love hijab so much:

I looked at my profile and saw hijab-loving as part of my self-description. It made me wonder why I put this first. Perhaps because it has become so central to who I am and because of all of the benefits I have received from it.Mainly this has been the amount of time I save in the morning from not having to fix my hair. I have suffered bad hair days from age 11 to about 19 when I started wearing hijab, so the world and me have been saved from any more of these. Unfortunately my family still have to witness these (especially first thing in the morning).

Most important has been the peace that comes with knowing you are obeying Allah (SWT) and in a small way living the way that you are supposed to. When you go against Allah (SWT) commandment, you go against (nature or innate disposition towards virtue) and the unease penetrates every part of your life.

As a Muhajibah I am also a da’ee. When my every action is interpreted not as Umm Salihah’s action, but that of a Muslimah, you have the opportunity to represent your community and faith in the best light possible. When you hold a door, smile, give up your seat, it is a Muslim woman doing those things. I have heard a French convert say that the thing that attracted her to Islam was the absolute gentleness she saw in Muslim women. There are times when you don’t feel like being on your best behaviour – when you want to lose your temper at the shop assistant, the bus driver or a colleague, or you are very close to using bad language or one-upmanship. Whenever I feel like this, I remind myself I am wearing my hijab and if I behave badly, the next Muslimah to come along will automatically be seen in the same light – rude, grumpy or mean. If on the other hand I rise above it and be gracious or respond with kindness, people will assume that Muslim women really are as elegant as their dress. I do think that sometimes people also start to want to be like you.

It helps me to be taken seriously. I am not very big or loud and I have worked in offices where some of the men don’t take pretty women too seriously. Because of my hijab people assume I am a serious person (I so am not) and that I mean business. Some people even find it a little intimidating if I choose not to smile or talk too much (for a change).

After 9/11, working in the city was kind of scary. People would be terrified of you and you would be terrified of people. Seeing a sister in hijab was like finding an ally. A smile to each other was enough to reassure you that you were not alone in this situation or this city.

I also write here about my feelings about Islam – I mention hijab in this post , but that is not all there is in Islam for me.

I love Islam, I feel that there is a sense of balance, measure and justice in every aspect of this faith and I feel like it speaks the truth to me. Whether I turn to it with logic or intuition, whether I listen to what my heart say or probe the tenets of Islam with my questions, I find that the teachings of Islam stand up to my interrogations at every turn.

My faith guides me in my decisions, in the way I choose to live my life and in the way I conduct my relationships. It helps to reign in my baser instincts and as flawed as I am it encourages me to try and better myself.With Islam, I find my position as a woman, a daughter, a mother and wife elevated. I find that everything I do has the potential to be infused with spirituality and become an act of worship – whether something as important as raising my children or as ordinary as washing the dishes.

I agree that the Western media does go on about hijab as if it is the only thing that Islam is about (apart from blowing things up…), but my intention when writing about it is not to be reductionist. I am not going to let the Western media set the agenda for this blog but rather my own interests, views, thoughts, passions and life. Hijab is a part of that. Part of the reason I started this blog, aside from sharing my experiences and learning from other Sisters (Muhajabah and non-hijab wearing) was to illustrate that Muslimah’s are ordinary people with ordinary concerns – family, work, their hobbies, social life and communities, with the added bonus of their faith guiding them and enriching their lives.

I don’t think then that hijab defines me as a Muslim, but it does identify me to people as Muslim and this is something I am more than happy with alhamdulillah. I don’t believe that this detracts from my love of other aspects of Islam or means that I am not prayer-loving (well I try…), or do not love Allah (SWT) or do not love the beauty of all that Allah (SWT) has bestowed on us.

As to your question about why “many women of Muslim background assume that all they, as born Muslims, need to do in order to be real Muslim Sisters, is put on a scarf (maybe add in a few other behaviours), even if they are just doing it for ease, or as a style statement, or because of their family, whatever.” Perhaps it is lack of knowledge, perhaps because although they are born to Muslim families they are still new Muslimah’s in a way because they are just starting to explore their faith. I felt like this at nineteen when I made the conscious decision to follow my faith properly, which at that age did mean putting on hijab, I did not start praying properly till I was 21 – it was one step at a time for me. Whatever the reasons might be, I cannot speak for others and alhamdullilah, most of the hijab-wearing Sisters I know don’t think like this but place more effort in their practice of their faith.

I hope that nothing I have written has offended you. I hope I have explained my thoughts and why hijab is mentioned on my blog (8 posts out of 688 are tagged with hijab although of course it will be mentioned in others – maybe I am not writing about it enough?). Please make dua for me Sister that Allah (SWT) grants me the hidayah (guidance) to love him and those things which please him and to focus on those aspects of Islam that are most beloved of him insh’Allah.


  1. Anonymous05 May, 2010

    Dear Sister, thank you for taking the time and effort to address my questions so thoroughly. As you said I am just trying to understand, and maybe since I have a different point of view than you do, we can both learn something from each other. I apologise if my frustration came through in my comment, it should not be directed at you, or anyone in fact.
    My humble opinion is that what you are doing with this blog is essentially good, showing to people that Muslims are ordinary people with ordinary lives, and trying to create tolerance and understanding... as I said, I can see that many people relate to you. Also you are explaining some positive aspects of hijab which many non-Muslims don't know about, and I agree with you as for me too the hijab serves as a constant reminder that as a Muslim I should be thinking and behaving like one, constantly steering me onto the right path though I do still stray from it through no fault but my own.
    I've heard of a few Sisters and converts who began their journey into Islam by wearing hijab. For me I guess because it was the other way around and will always be from inside outwards as that's the only thing I feel is possible for me, I find it hard to understand. But your post clarifies it for me a little.
    I do feel that the focus on hijab is being fed by writings online even if they are coming from a more positive perspective. Modesty is important and a blessing, and we constantly hear about (and experience) how we would fall off track if we stop following the physical rules. But there's also the reverse danger as well which is that we may follow those laws but then stop short of achieving anything else. And then what's the point of even doing it?
    I guess my frustration, which is not just with your blog but with so many websites and writings about hijab by well-meaning Muslims, is just a result of seeing it taken for granted that we can simply do what is told, sometimes for our own reasons, and that makes us Muslims. It feeds into the perceptions of non-Muslims as well, and for that reason I find it hard to explain to even my family and some of my closest friends that I am not just following some religion called Modesty or Hijab. Even explaining to them the benefits of it is still failing to make them understand the essence of Islam and the true reasons why I became religious, it seems like such a tiny thing in the context of a whole turning upside-down of the way I see "everything".
    This is my own conflict with the world and I guess I should get used to it, the pressure was great to put on the hijab, but having done it and been happy with its effects, the pressure is even greater to stop there and find a comfortable place among fellow Muslims/hijabis, listen and do as they do, stop thinking too much, forget developing further or understanding more about Allah's infinite wisdom. That's what I meant by the reductionism we see not only in media but also in the Muslim community, it makes me sad, but at the same time I know there are ways out of it. I shouldn't have accused you of encouraging it, I see now that though our experiences and thoughts may be different, we are basically striving for similar things, and I thank you for showing me that it is possible.

  2. Assalam-alaikam

    Jazakh’Allah-khairun for being so patient with my long and rambling answering. Your words about tolerance and faith starting from the inside outwards reminded me of the words of the wonderful poet Bulleh Shah:

    Je Rub Milda Nahateyaan Dhoteyan
    Te Milda Dadduan Macchhian Nu
    Je Rub Milda Jungal Phiryan
    Te Milda Gayaan Vacchhian Nu
    Ve Miyann Bullea Rub Unha Nu Milda
    Ate Milda Daliyan Sachiyan Achiyan Nu

    If the Lord was to be found in washing and bathing
    Then He would be found by the frogs and fish
    If the Lord was to be found by wandering Jungles
    Then He would be found by the Cows and Calves
    Hey Bullah the Lord is found only by those
    Who are good and true of heart.

    I always thought that his message was that following every rule to the letter (such as the rituals of washing and bathing) or rejecting the world and everything in it were not the paths to Allah (SWT) but rather looking inwards at your own self.

  3. To anonymous:
    Salaam alaikum sister,
    I have read your question and answer to Umm Salihah and I just want to say this:
    whether we like it or not, the hijab defines us as muslim. The main difference between the hijab and all other aspects & requirements of islam is that the hijab is the most obvious. One can be very pious, pray every single day and never miss a prayer, be/feel very close to Allah and so on but unfortunately, people rarely see that side of islam so (for people that do not know us/you) what define us as a muslim is our hijab.
    I wear the hijab and am proud of it. And let me explain why: I come from a country where you cannot wear it. Well you can if you choose to but then you cannot go to public school, university or find a job. I did not wear the hijab for many years when I first came to the UK but then when I decided to wear it, family members would always ask me to take it off whenever I would go back home, locals would abuse me or make derogatory remarks. And it is that kind of attitude that has increased my love of hijab. It might sounds odd but that "little piece of cloth" suddenly became much more than that. It became a symbol of what/who I am and what I believe in and stand for. To me it became my identity if I may say. It is something that Allah has asked me to do no matter how that action will be received by other people. So yes, although it is true that being a muslim starts from within, with what's in your heart and that there is so much more to being a muslim than just wear the abaya and the hijab, to the outside world, the headscarf is what makes us "muslim", in the sense that we "advertise" our religion to the world. Unless they know us, strangers cannot tell that we follow a way of live in order to please God, that we seek Allah's mercy and that most, if not all, of our actions are done in order to please him. Sadly perhaps, to the strangers, it is our hijab that defines us as muslimah not our actions or our piety.
    Salaam sister.

  4. Salaam alaikum, Muslim Mama.
    I like. :) I like very much. God bless.

  5. Quran's best motto to the human being is to love the humanity and help who need it. Only then you can understand the true nature of Quran given by Allah. In all the quotes god only talk about the conversation to save the mankind .