Jun 082009
An example of hijab dress.

An example of a hijab.

There are many people out there who will think I’m crazy for saying that the wearing of a headscarf (or hijab) is a woman’s right. That’s because Western society views Muslim women as oppressed and the hijab as a symbol of their oppression.  We assume that the only reason women wear the hijab is because their men require them to and that they will discard them as soon as they’re liberated.

While I don’t doubt that there are some Muslim women who dress the way they do solely because of the requirements of their culture, who would prefer to not wear the hijab, I believe that the majority of Muslim women who wear the hijab feel quite comfortable doing so. In fact, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I first encountered women wearing hijabs in my job, I was curious and dubious. I wondered if they resented having to wear them and doubted that they would if they had a choice. I had always seen the head scarf as depersonalizing. I thought that it took away a woman’s right to look as attractive as she wanted to. It seemed to me that Muslim men insisted that their women cover themselves in order to keep them from being sexually enticing, as if men couldn’t control themselves if they saw a woman’s hair or the outlines of her body.

I also thought that I would never be able to tell the women apart. That reflects a prejudice on my part which I now realize is completely unfounded. The women still have faces, for God’s sakes! And their hijabs are all different, some of them really beautiful. I realize that there are Muslim societies where the women are required to wear all black and cover themselves from head to toe. (For a discussion about this click here.)  But the Muslim women I’ve gotten to know are from Libya  and are here in the States studying to be doctors. Through them, I’ve been able to see a different side of being a Muslim and a woman.

I’ve been reading the book Who Speaks For Islam? which is based on Gallup polls that have been administered worldwide. Western women see Muslim women as needing to be “liberated,” but the majority of Muslim women say they are comfortable with their lot in life. They would like to be able to vote without outside influence, work at a job for which they are qualified and be able to drive. But their pressing concerns are lack of unity among Muslims, extremism, high unemployment and political corruption.

The wearing of hijab does not imply the same thing to Muslim women as it does to non-Muslim women. (For instance, the word hijab has come to mean modesty, privacy and morality. See here for more information about hijab dress.) We need to stop assuming that wearing the hijab means a woman is a second-class citizen. The polls show that the majority of Muslim women feel sorry for Western women because of the way they are degraded by the men who treat them as sex objects.  Seeing as how feminists also object to women being treated as sex objects, instead of judging Muslim women for wearing hijabs maybe we ought to wear them ourselves, as a show of solidarity.

  30 Responses to “Women’s Rights: The Headscarf (Hijab)”

Comments (30)
  1. I am not sure about writing my comments here. but the arguments given for women wearing hijab still don’t resonate with me. i agree that many women wear hijab out of their own choice not fear of their men. but how that choice developed and was adopted still remains unanswered in your article. even if men had nothing to do with a single woman’s decision to don a scarf, why does she wear it. i would like to know the reason. To please God? surely God is not concerned about that, surely God just wanted women to be safe and respected. so does that mean we are living in the 21st century where women don’t feel safe and respected if they don’t wear a scarf. Choices develop due to social structures and culture. women don’t wear scarves to look pretty, may be once in a whole they would, as a fashion choice , but to do it daily as a compulsion whether self inflicted or men-inflicted does not make sense if they have nothing to prove by doing it.

  2. I have read before in the Quran but now i cannot find it. It said something along the lines of it being worse to judge a woman for not wearing a hijab than for her to not wear one.

  3. I would like to start out by saying I agree with Eve. The wearing of the hijab is based on making the man comfortable. They can not control themselves and women must do this for them and discomfort themselves. This is wrong, men are not mindless animals. They know what’s right and wrong. They can formulate that “hey maybe I shouldn’t look at her this way because it’s disrespectful” or “I know it wrong to rape so no I won’t do it”. But apparently it’s the women’s fault because she was born that way. Men can not control themselves. So tell me why aren’t they being punished for there poor self control, the extent of their punishment is a mere slap on the wrist. We, women, are made uncomfortable because of the ignorance of men. I can go on and defend my claim for a while but I know I will be out numbered because of the number of hijab supporters, and I don’t have the time to individually respond. Also I don’t feel the need to encourage a barrage of ignorance that is sure to come: one intellectual can’t fight a army of misinformed. It’s like saying the earth is round for the first time all over again. However, If they wish to wear it for fashion or because they want too for their own personal reasons I fully support it. Lastly I would like to point out everyone is judged for what they wear. Modest to not your are a religious/prude freak to a whore/ slut. Everyone is judged. So be judged for what you want to be and what you are comfortable with being classified as.
    Thank you for reading, looking forward to all the response (and laughing at a few if not many)
    PS. I did listen to the other arguments with an open mind as I had not yet formulated an opinion.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I agree that of all the reasons for wearing hijab, “helping” men to curb their sexual desires (and supposedly their basic nature) is the weakest one. Men should be expected to treat women with respect no matter how they are dressed. I have no problem with a woman wanting to be modest, but she shouldn’t have to feel like she would cause a man to have sinful desires toward her if she wasn’t. (The truth is, dressing and acting modestly doesn’t protect women from unwanted sexual advances anyway.)

  4. I am a Persian woman who has experience living in Iran and dealing with the dress codes and I can guarantee you that the majority, if not all, women who wear the hijab within their country, HATE it!
    Imagine having to wear an extra layer of clothing over your original one in weather that can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius… We wear our hijab because we’re afraid to be one of those people who get taken to jail, for not wearing ‘proper hijab’.

    However, women who wear their hijab, even after moving to a ‘free country”, have a different story.

    • It’s unfortunate whenever a woman feels forced or pressured to wear hijab. I am certain that that is not what God intended. What I have the most trouble with is that it is primarily men who make the rules about wearing hijab (although I realize that women also promote it). If men had equally strict rules about their dress it would be one thing, but they don’t–or they don’t have as much pressure to follow them. The fact that it is only women who are targeted makes me suspicious of the rule-enforcers’ motives. I can’t help but think that it is all about control.

      • i think forcing women to wear hijab is against islam, as hijab is part of religion and as quran says religion is not compalsury so don`t make sense to me how rulers force it…anyway forcing to wear hijab also means the rulers are not giving chance to men to to do jihad( here i am talkng abt true jihad,striving,controlling oneselves) , quran in verse 24:30 says that men should lower gaze, so i think saudi,irani men are not getting their rights to do jihad(LOL)

        quran 24:30 Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.
        now how on the earth a saudi or iranian men are going to pass this test if their government put women in (niqab+hijab+burqa) , and taliban dresscode is like plastig bag LOL, i think without going to extreme postion, there must be balance between rules and freedom, if you force then where is the test, saudi,iranian govt need to realise this

        • Thanks so much for your comments!

          One of the things I most admire about Islam is the emphasis on the greater jihad. And learning to control one’s sexual desires and behavior is certainly part of that. However, I don’t think wearing or not wearing hijab makes it easier or harder on men to control themselves. It bothers me when that is given as the reason why women should “cover.” It lets men off the hook and puts the responsibility on women. Men should be required to control themselves no matter what a woman is wearing!

  5. Why do Muslim women wear Hijab?

    Why should women wear it?

    And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not show off their beauty and ornaments except what is (ordinarily) visible thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards God, that ye may attain Bliss.

    Surah 24 Verse 31

    O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

    Surah 33 Verse 59

    The first reason for wearing hijab, then, is that it is a command from God. Religious Muslims – like any other religious people belonging to any revealed religion – don’t feel comfortable in deliberately disobeying God! If some Muslims, despite of the semantic clarity of the Qur’anic verses, still think that this ruling is not mandatory, this will not alter the message.

    We can have some Muslims who unjustly or ignorantly deny the illegality of drinking alcohol, eating pork or even committing major sins like stealing, fornicating… etc. This does not mean that such things are permitted in Islam! In Islam it is very easy to detect or judge whether a certain ruling is mandatory or not, by going back to the major sources of Islamic legislation. This we technically name as ‘shari’a’. Those sources are the Qur’an, the Holy Book of Muslims, and sunnah, which is the sayings and guiding acts of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), as stated in authentic books. So, simply this is the very same case with hijab.

    Notice that this ruling of hijab, is highly esteemed among Muslim women, despite the big pressure of most regimes in the Muslim majority world to forbid it. Sometimes it is forbidden by force or women are discouraged from wearing it. The issue is seen as a means of secularizing or globalizing the Muslim states! This is, in-fact, except for two or three Muslim countries, which encourage their women to observe this ruling or at least “let it go”.

    The rest are on a savage war against it. Turkey is the outspoken example of such hostility, but the other regimes are not less hostile, albeit silently, towards it. Despite this fact you can find Muslim women insisting on wearing it, even if it costs them their jobs and social status …

    In fact, there is wisdom behind this heavenly command of hijab and behind Muslim women’s challenge to wear it. It is that in the Islamic culture – like many other cultures – the idea of women’s respectability and virtue is related, among other things, to the propriety of their dress. In Christianity for example, nuns cannot show up without their hijab. Also, regular ladies wear it while attending masses, which is a reflection of self-admission that God wants to see them this way! Also, as far as I know, in Judaism, the most religious faction amongst Jews, namely The Hassidics, have their strict rules about covering women’s bodies. Even in secular societies, some women judges have to cover their heads, during sessions, as a way to show their dignity and self-respect.

    Remember that your own puritan American society, before being swept over in the 1950s, by this permissive value system, used to look with embarrassment to any woman going out to the street without her hat! Mini skirts only appeared recently together with the secular and atheist style of life that some people in the west – and the East as well – chose for themselves.

    You can also tell that hijab is the way Islam neutralizes a woman’s stereotyped role as a mere female, by inciting the society to deal with her as a human being away from her “extra feminine powers”! No wonder then that the majority of Muslim women refuse to let their ‘mill go with all winds’ and that they insist on keeping their Islamic identity. This is regardless of the consistent unfair criticism and sometimes satire against it. They wear hijab, not only in submission to God’s order, but also because their inherent moral code is in full harmony with its philosophy.

  6. As Salaamu Alaikum Sister! You’ve made a really strong argument and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your perspective!

  7. No, I don’t see the truth behind wearing a hijab – because you can be a modest and righteous person in your heart and in your life. It is not necessary to make a show of your piousness, no need to show it off.
    Also, if hijab means modesty, how come men do not wear it also? Isn’t modesty expected from all Muslims?
    Finally, if men automatically respect a woman who is wearing a hijab – what kind of respect is that? Wearing a hijab to me seems like substituting open, equal and responsible behavior with an easy-to-follow man-made norm. Sorry, but this is how I feel.

    • You’re certainly entitled to your own opinion, but I wonder if you would allow Muslim women the same right. Why are people so quick to state what they think hijab means instead of asking the women who wear it?

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it.

    • mashallah Eve,
      This shows how limited your knowledge is in terms of Islam as a way of life and human beings in general. wowo re look your definition of truth.

      how can one be modest & righteous in the heart or in life without it being manifested in the action through the body parts.
      does man comprise of only the heart or all the other parts of human whole. so how can the heart be the only part to be righteous. pity can never be a show off because it represents your whole self it takes both inner and outer part to make a whole (human).
      my dear men and women can and never will be the same. cant you see our body structures women have breast and hips while men have muscles. with this difference how can we dress the same way.
      finally hijab is not a man made thing or law but from Allah/ God so please make more enquirers about Islam.

      sisters in Islam hijab is a most and the best for you and i so let us hold on to it.

      Remember that every human is a slave either to your evil desires, your parents, kings so call civilization/freedom/ democracy, kings/presidents etc but we do give in to thing or some one. therefore try to give in to nothing but Allah alone and only.

      barakallah fee

  8. Hello, thanks for the article. I am a revert and a 19 year old college student and it is tough at this time to cover my hair. It’s mainly though ebcause of my family. I woould cover at school but now when i was out with family. I felt really good wearing the hijab before, but it got difficult. I’m really thinking about covering my hair again! thank you.


    • Hi, Rose!
      I’m proud of you for following your heart by becoming a revert. That’s the hardest part–and the easiest–if you know what I mean. It’s after we say our Shahada that we’re faced with all sorts of things like whether or not to wear the hijab.

      You might want to check out my other blog which is specifically about my being a Muslim convert (and a feminist!). It’s called I, Muslimah (http://muslimah.femagination.com). You also might want to check out a blog written by a college student who reverted and also wears the headscarf. Her blog is Maha Muslimah (http://mahamuslimah.wordpress.com/).

      I reverted in September of 2009 and started wearing hijab about six months later. At first it was hard to tell my boss that I wanted to cover, but I’d already told him I’d converted, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise. My family members accept it to different degrees, but they respect my wishes. I even wore hijab to my daughter’s wedding.

      Is there a Muslim Student Association where you go to school? Maybe it would help to meet other students who cover.

      I hope for the best for you and I will keep you in my prayers.


  9. Thank you for this article. I am currently learning about Islam. A couple of months ago I noticed a change in me, dressing more modest was one of them. But the most important change has been the peace that I feel as I learn more about Islam. I am however worried about my families reaction, my husband is not taking to the idea well. I am currently wanting to cover my head with a scarf, is it ok if I do that even though I am not converted yet?

    • There is nothing that says you can’t cover your hair if you’re not a Muslim. After all, some Christians and Orthodox Jews cover their heads as well. But be prepared for people assuming that you are Muslim. If that doesn’t bother you, maybe you’re ready to become a Muslim.

      I converted about four months after I wrote this post. I wasn’t expecting to when I wrote this, but when I look back I can see that I had been thinking about it for some time. I hesitated, though, because I didn’t think I could handle people’s reactions. Imagine my surprise when my husband and children were supportive (my parents are deceased; that might have been another matter!).

      Anyway, I can relate to your feelings of peace as you learn about Islam. I felt and still feel that, too, and I have found that wearing the headscarf is part of that feeling. It just feels good to me.

      Feel free to write me directly if you have any questions or just want to “talk.” My email is miteypen [at] ameritech [dot] net. In the meantime, I’ll pray for you and your husband, if that’s okay.

  10. I’m an LDS girl that has been praying, contemplating, and studying about wearing a Hijab about six months now. I finally felt the calling of the spirit and am going to spend February wearing a Hijab. This article helps me feel confident in my decision to at least give it a month. Thank-you so much for writing it!

  11. well written!Its true cuzz I really feel GREAT when i where hijab and its a women’s right… chrestians,jewish and many more religions used to where hijab or actually the used to SHAVE their hair instead!

  12. I wonder how many non-Muslim women have “hijab envy” but would never admit to it because of all the people who associate hijab with oppression…

    • Some hijabs and the way they are worn can be very beautiful. I admit that there are times when I think I look better in a hijab than without one! I certainly don’t associate it with oppression and neither do the other Muslim women I know who wear it.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • hello….i really appreciate all tht u have written….m a muslim to but have never been forced by anyone nor my parents about wearing a hijab…but i decided i must be wearing one being a muslim girl!!…..but i faced through allot of consequences…..my friends did not accept me cause it was very out of the way and unusual of me to look like that..and m one sort of a person who gets infuenced by peoples sayings allot..and i lost all courage when my own parents said that i look wierd and it would b better if i discountinued wearing it!! due to which i stopped..well its a fact that i will be very much desolated if people around me say that m “not looking good”….come on its tendency!!girls of my age would feel insecured!! :( but yes i do get motivated by reading articles like yours but m really confused…. hope to hear answer!!

        • Since I wrote this post I have converted to Islam and now wear the hijab. I love wearing it, even though there are times I wish I didn’t have to (around family members who don’t approve, for instance).

          I think the most important thing is to figure out why you want to wear it and to remind yourself of that every time you feel unsure about it. I’m assuming you want to wear it because Islam means a lot to you. Hold onto that and remember that you don’t look weird, you look beautiful, partly because you are glorifying Allah.

          Of course your family and friends are going to think you look weird–they’re not used to you wearing it. But the more you wear it, the more used to it they’ll get.

          I know it’s hard to go against the crowd, especially when you’re a teenager, but just look at it this way: You’re actually ahead of the crowd, because you’re not afraid to stand up for your convictions. That makes some people uncomfortable, because they know they’re not brave enough to do that. I’d bet that secretly they’re wondering how you can be so sure of yourself and your faith.

          You also need to remember that many people still find Islam to be strange. Those are exactly the people you need to influence by showing them what a Muslim is really like. But how will they know that you’re Muslim if you’re not wearing the hijab?

          I’m not trying to talk you into wearing the hijab, I just want you to stop for the right reasons.

          I admire you for caring so much about this issue. I’m sure you’re a wonderful representative for Islam.

          Write back if you have any more questions or comments!

          Oh, and you might want to check out my blog about being a Muslim where I write more about this topic and many others. It’s at http://muslimah.femagination.com

  13. So nicely written! I am a muslim woman and I thank you for writing this article. I hope more people will begin to understand the truth behind the hijab/veil. I couldnt have done a better job myself. God bless you.

  14. A refreshing article after so many comments about Muslim women being oppressed as if awaiting liberation.

    • Thanks for your comment and for having an open mind. This is one of my more popular posts, and although most people don’t comment, I get the feeling that they are mainly supportive. That’s encouraging.

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