Fabric, Fad or Faith?
Thursday, September 4, 2008
"Yeah, I just got on the bus and I'm on my way home.
Okay, Mum, Wa'alaikum Assalam."
I slip my cell into my bag. A girl in a yellow tank top
and dark blue cut-offs plops into the seat beside me.
"Ugh, I hate taking the bus, especially in
this heat," she says.
I nod and smile.
She raises her eyebrows at my full-length dress and the
cloth wrapped around my head. "Aren't you hot in that?" she asks.
I contemplate my answer. The girl shoots another question.
"Why do you wear that thing on your head anyway?"
I fiddle with the clasp on my bag. I wonder what I should
say. Why do I wear Hijab?
Why the Hood?
It's tough to explain, isn't it? Hijab relates to the
basic faith that there is only one God worthy of worship. As Muslim women we
want to submit to God and obey all His commands. Since Hijab is a clear
commandment of God (see Quran 24:31), we choose to do it to please Him. If we
wear Hijab for any other reason, we may fulfill an obligation without gaining the
reward for it.
Aisha (The wife of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings
be upon him) said, "May Allah have mercy on the immigrant women (from
Makkah). When Allah revealed 'that they should draw their veils over their juyubihinna*,'
they tore their wrappers and covered their heads and faces with them."
The female companions of the Prophet gave up the
traditions and norms of their society and covered up immediately to respond to
Allah, before they knew the proper method.
Only a Head Covering?
"And say to the believing women that they should
lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their
beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they
should draw their veils over their Juyubihinna* and not display their
beauty except to…" [Quran 24:31]
The word *Juyubihinna, according to most scholars,
refers to the head, ears, neck and chest. To fulfil the minimum requirements of
Hijab, a Muslim woman covers her entire body, except her face and hands. Once
Asma, daughter of Abu Bakr, entered upon the Prophet wearing thin clothes. The
Prophet turned his attention from her. He said, "O Asma, when a woman
reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her
parts of body except this and this," and he pointed to his face and
hands. [Abu Dawud].
Proper Hijab means loose and opaque clothes. Clothes
should not be alluring or similar to the clothing of men. What about guys?
Islam outlines a modest dress code for men and women. The requirements are
different based on the obvious physiological and psychological differences
between the two genders.
Hijab does not apply only to clothes. It is a state of
mind, behaviour, and lifestyle. Hijab celebrates a desirable quality called Haya
(modesty), a deep concern for preserving one's dignity. Haya is a
natural feeling that brings us pain at the very idea of committing a wrong. The
Prophet said: "Every religion has a distinct call. For Islam it is Haya
(modesty)." [Ibn Majah].
What's in it for Me? Five Advantages of Hijab
- I can't be messed
with! Hijab protects me – Hijab identifies a Muslim woman as a person
of high moral standards to reduce her chances of being harassed.
"O Prophet! Tell your
wives and daughters and the believing women, that they should cast their outer
garments over their persons: that is most convenient, that they should be known
(as such) and not molested." [Quran 33:59]
As Dr. Katherine Bullock (a Canadian convert and
community activist) observes, "The point to covering is not that sexual
attraction is bad, only that it should be expressed between a husband and wife
inside the privacy of the home. A public space free of sexual tensions is
seen as a more peaceful place for human beings, men and women, to interact, do
business, and build a healthy civilization."
- I am liberated from
slavery to 'physical perfection' – Society makes women desire to
become 'perfect objects'. The multitudes of alluring fashion magazines and
cosmetic surgeries show women's enslavement to beauty. The entertainment
industry pressures teens to believe that for clothes, less is better. When
we wear Hijab, we vow to liberate ourselves from such desires and serve
- I don't let others
judge me by my hair and curves! – In schools and professional
environments, women are often judged by their looks or
bodies—characteristics they neither chose nor created. Hijab forces
society to judge women for their value as human beings, with intellect,
principles, and feelings. A woman in Hijab sends a message, "Deal
with my brain, not my body!"
- I feel empowered and
confident – In contrast to today's teenage culture, where anorexia and
suicide are on the rise, as women attempt to reach an unattainable ideal
of beauty, Hijab frees a woman from the pressure to 'fit in'. She does not
have to worry about wearing the right kind of jeans or the right shade of
eyeshadow. She can feel secure about her appearance because she cares to
please only Allah.
- I feel the bond of
unity – Hijab identifies us as Muslims and encourages other Muslim
sisters to greet us with the salutation of peace, "Assalamu
Alaikum". Hijab draws others to us and immerses us in good company.
Heard These Before? Three Misconceptions About Hijab
- Hijab is a symbol of
If you think Hijab is an act of submission, you are right! It is a
way to submit to God. Like any other act of worship, the rewards of Hijab
come only when it is done for Allah alone.
- Hijab is a 'cultural
From remote villages to cosmopolitan mega cities, women all across the world,
from every ethnic background, wear Hijab. Do all of these women cling to
old cultural practices? Hijab, the internal and external aspects, take
understanding, training and determination. Since the purpose of Hijab is
to please Allah, doing it for tradition is wrong.
- Hijab is a 'challenge
to the political system'
While Hijab may have political implications, as evident in the banning of
Hijab in certain countries, Muslim women who choose to practice Hijab are
not doing it to challenge the political system. Islam encourages men and
women to observe modesty in private and public life. Hijab is an
individual's act of faith and religious expression.
Are you Ready? Six Obstacles to Overcome
Thinking about wearing Hijab? Here are some tips to help
you overcome obstacles that may get in your way:
- Yourself –Not
sure if you're ready? Remember that Iman (faith in Allah) includes
submitting to Allah's will. Research, understand the reasons and talk to
girls who have gone through it. Ask Allah to help you put your beliefs
into action. Prophet Muhammad related that Allah said, "if [My
servant] draws near to Me a hand's span, I draw near to him an arm's
length; if he draws near to Me an arm's length, I draw near to him a
fathom's length; and if he comes to Me walking, I go to him running."
(Bukhari and Muslim)
- Your Friends –
Worried about how your buddies will take it? Your friends should accept
your decision and be proud of your courage. Give them time and be patient.
Be conscious of Allah, not the girls or guys.
- Your Parents –
It's difficult to do things when the people closest to you oppose it. As
Muslims, it's our duty to please our parents, unless their wishes go
against the command of Allah. As much as your parents do for you, their
love and mercy could never compare to that of your Creator. Ease your
parents into your decision and pray that it becomes easy for them to
- At School –It
takes courage to be different. You are likely to hear, "what is that
thing on your head?" or "who made you do it?" Questions
aren't bad. Know your reasons and explain why you chose to wear Hijab.
- At Work – The
United Nations states that, "Everyone has the right to freedom of
thought, conscience and religion" (Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, Article 18). Most countries in the world abide by this declaration
and have their own laws that protect an individual's freedom of religious
practice at work.
- At the Gym – What
about swimming or basketball for sporty sisters? Obeying Allah and wearing
Hijab does not limit your physical activity. Organize sisters-only sports
events. This encourages true sports-womanship. When you play, it's about
the love of the game, not the glory (or the guys watching!).
For Further Reading & Research:
Woman's Dress in Islam by Jamal Badawi
The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam by Yusuf Al-Qaradawi
Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil by Katherine Bullock