Why I Wear the Muslim Headscarf
By Aaminah Hernandez
Seems like an overdone issue. Sometimes I think so much focus is put on this one little aspect of being a Muslim woman, to the detriment of more important Islamic knowledge and practice. Because the headscarf is such a visual symbol of the Muslim woman, many non-Muslims are the ones who make a large issue of it, spout ill-informed opinions, or ask questions in an attempt to understand. This has been answered to by so many Muslim women, and even Muslim men, that I did not feel the need to throw my opinion or feelings out into the fray. Lately I find I am being asked many questions, even by other Muslim women who choose not to wear hijab, and by non-Muslims who know other Muslim women who choose not to wear hijab. So, the following is my answer to the many questions that have been coming up. My intent is only to give my own opinion and experience. I do not mean to be judgmental of those women who struggle with the issue of covering or to suggest that only one form of covering is acceptable. I can only tell you what I think and feel about the headscarf. If you want to know why someone else does not cover, or covers less or more fully than I, you would have to ask that person to share their experience with you.
The most common question I have been asked in the past seven years since I became Muslim is “Why do you wear that thing?”
“That thing” is a headscarf. I have worn many different styles from bandana coverage all the way to a full khimar, which is a very loose and long head-covering, with a face veil. I enjoy playing with my head cover to match the style of my clothing and to find more comfortable styles. Right now my favorite style is very loose and draping. I tend to dress more multi-cultural than most American women. In fact, many immigrants who have taken to the American dress code even look at me in surprise that I like to wear many traditional clothing styles. My headscarves reflect my overall style.
The reason I began to wear hijab was simply that I believed (and still believe) it is mandated in Islam. When I first became Muslim I lived in a town that was full of Muslims, most of whom dressed in the traditional ways. Putting on a headscarf (and at that time even a veil) was not a hardship. It was the norm where I was, and I understood it to be required. There are verses in the Qur'an and in the collected words of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), as well as collected norms and behaviors of the wives of the Prophet and his Companions that show clearly that covering of the entire body and head was enjoined upon and practiced by the early Muslim women.
Like most women, I have at times struggled with the issue of covering, but never because I did not believe it was required. There were points in my life where I did not wear it either because of jobs that did not allow it (it is a legally guaranteed right here in the U.S. and your employer must allow it) or because I was tired of being so “different” all the time. But I always felt guilty not wearing it and knew that I must go back to it.
Besides the simple answer that I am Muslim and believe that the headscarf and covering are required in Islam, many people want to know more detail about why I actually wear it and what the purpose or point of the covering is, particularly if they know other Muslim women who do not wear it. I cannot speak to why so many Muslim women do not wear it and what their state of mind or opinion on the matter is. I refuse to judge them for being in the stage they are in and I do not know what their personal circumstances may be. I can only answer to what I believe the purpose and benefits of my headscarf achieve.
1. Modesty. When dressed in a covering way, I am not showing my physical attributes (or perhaps lack of) to anyone. People are forced to judge me by my actions and speech, by how well I do my job or how I interact with others, rather than by whether or not I am “good looking” and interest them.
2. To that same end, my beauty is then saved or my husband’s full enjoyment and he knows he does not share me with anyone. I am not out getting a lot of attention from others that may make him feel insecure or that is disrespectful to me.
3. I am noticeably different, a Muslim. Most people respect that. They can clearly see that I am not the kind of woman that you whistle or cat-call at, nor am I going to agree to meet you in a bar or club, nor can you proposition me on the street or in the office. There is a level of respect that men give me whereby they do not treat me in the same way they might treat other women they meet and believe they can “get with”. In fact, in my case, I find that many men (yes, non-Muslims) are more gentlemanly with me in general. I have more doors held open for me, paths cleared for me, more assistance when needed, and an overall respect given to me.
4. Wearing the head covering works to remind me of my duties. I am more likely to be a better person when I am covered because the headscarf is a potent reminder to me of what type of behavior and attitude is expected of me. I am less likely to lose my temper, more likely to be kind and forgiving, in difficult situations.
In my experience, the hijab or headscarf is beneficial to me. Not only do I have the security that I am following a mandate set by God and thereby pleasing God, but I also experience great comforts in this life because of my coverage. Contrary to what many think, I am not forced to wear it (I chose it for myself while still single, and as a convert I am not being forced by family to wear it), it is not an obstacle or a discomfort to me, and it does not in any way impair my opportunities or abilities. I am an independent American woman with a high degree of personal freedom and fulfillment. The headscarf has never stood in my way of doing or achieving anything, but has instead made me more comfortable as I interact in society and my community.
**Aaminah Hernandez is an American writer who converted to Islam seven years ago. She is an active member of the Islamic Writers Alliance and the Islamic Artists Society. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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