"Why don’t you wear hijab?"

For the purpose of this post hijab will refer to the headscarf.

I didn’t think I’d ever write an entry about this, because I’m quite nonchalant on the matter of hijab and myself (and because I am thoroughly fatigued with the subject of hijab altogether.) But whattheheck, let’s get it out there. I highly suspect that there is an assumption that I don’t wear hijab for the same reason that I wear nail polish on my period: to make some sort of statement about my femininity–menstruation, in the case of nail polish. It isn’t true, exactly. I do get a kick out of pulling off my hijab as soon as I walk out of the prayer area and feeling my hair, unfolded by the brushing of the fabric, tumble down my waist from the bun in which it was previously wrapped–but the amusing glances of disapproval are just sort of something that comes along. I find the looks kind of hilarious, but they’re not the purpose. I take off the hijab as soon as I step out of the prayer area simply because I don’t wear it except when I pray five times a day. For me not wearing hijab in general is not a sign of rebellion, or a proclamation of my womanliness, or an act of reclamation–

There is no reason I don’t wear hijab.

There you go. I wish I could give you some complex, introspective explanation, but it is really that simple. There are things I do that are symbolic, that come with the intention of announcing a cause, and things I do that aren’t. I’ve mentioned wearing red lipstick in the mosque and the reaction I receive from it, because the reaction is there, not because I’m looking for it, and because the reaction is absurd. I wear red lipstick because I like wearing it, and I write about the reaction because it’s ridiculous and wrong–and yes, really funny. However, I wear nail polish as I menstruate because menstruating women are viewed as filthy, and wearing nail polish to announce my child-bearing capacity is an act of prideful reclamation.

Because I am a rather impulsive person, there will most likely come a day when I will wear hijab. But whatever change takes place inside of me, whatever prompts me to throw on that scarf, will be related to neither the expectations of others nor a difference in the quality of my faith. My faith is strong now, and inshaAllah it will remain strong then. It may be a difference in how I choose to express my faith, or maybe I just suddenly feel like wearing it and would just as suddenly stop. Maybe just that day, I needed an extra dosage of modesty, because I could feel myself becoming vain. This is something, I believe, that fluctuates. Maybe I’m wearing it and then months later I’m at the beach in a sundress or a one-piece bathing suit. You know what that probably means? That the bathing suit was convenient, and for whatever reason (financial, distance, pain to change out of, told myself I wasn’t going to swim and couldn’t resist the water so borrowed a friend’s, etc.) I couldn’t or didn’t get my hands on an Islamic one, and I don’t believe that’s a reason to keep myself from God’s ocean. Not necessarily that I’m taking a religious or political stance.

Hijab means something to me–in relation to my spiritual self, to modesty, and to God. If I get to a point where I take it on and then off a few months later it is reflective of the real relationship I am having with my faith, but it is only for me to evaluate. I will be the only one who knows what this means. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t understand this, and I don’t live in a vacuum, and the last thing I ever want to imply is that my sisters who consistently wear hijab and are harassed for it, or those who don’t and are harassed for it, have an easy decision on their hands. It’s not easy for anyone, and it’s not easy for me, no matter how many times others conclude it must be–“Why don’t you just take it off / put it on?” as though the responsibility lies with the one wearing it and not the actions of the offender, and as though there isn’t real value and connection in this practice. Because I am a woman and therefore all my actions are representative of my sex and my faith, I am mindful (I hope) to not carelessly belittle the struggles of my sisters with something with as much stigma as the hijab. For this, I don’t treat it in any way that can be inferred as meaningless–it’s either consistently worn or consistently not, with the exception of prayer of course. But that is in being respectful of my sisters, in consideration and in solidarity, and not out of avoiding the judgment of those who unlawfully police me.

By whatever definition we have now, I’m feminine on the gender spectrum. Sometimes I’m lazily feminine: I’ll roll out of bed and the only makeup I feel like slapping on is some concealer. But I set my own limits on how much I want people to see, and on how much I can express before I feel that I am crossing a line on modesty according to my faith. These limits have nothing to do with the concerns of other people, and everything to do with my own comfort zone and personal religious interpretation. In the context of my community, my femininity just happens to be rebellious. And sometimes–often–as in the example of nail polish, I have a very driven purpose of defying patriarchy, which I will enthusiastically pursue. But unless I blatantly declare a purpose, I am just living my life and making fun of the reactions of my community.

Your projections and judgments on what I wear are invalid, because it’s my body and I say so. And like your body does not represent your sex or your faith or anything unless you have that precise intention and make it known, neither does mine.

I cannot, and do not wish to, control the assumptions of others; what I care about is when these assumptions (“She is doing it because she is immodest! She is doing it because she is difficult! She is doing it for us! She is being disingenuous!”) are carried out in actions that infringe on my rights (“Let’s tell her where to pray and what to wear!”) that there is a real problem. I don’t wear red lipstick to be difficult. I do, however, wear nail polish to be difficult. (Actually, I wear it because I have a real message, but that won’t matter.) But guess what? I am practicing a right, and by telling me I shouldn’t and creating an environment in which you attempt to pressure me to not, you are infringing on one.

I am a whole person, and sometimes I am just living life or doing what I must to get through. I am not your representation of anything–I’m not your expectations or projections.

To assume that a woman is doing something must be related to a particular reason that is projected onto her without her input or despite her claims is very similar to the mentality that reduces and dehumanizes her into a billboard, into an object to the audience for whom she is supposedly “advertising.”

P.S. I am on my period right now and broke the fast today on the occasion. I will not be posting pictures of nail polish this month, because I feel tired and don’t have the patience to wait for it to dry. In spirit, feel free to view previous.

23 thoughts on “"Why don’t you wear hijab?"

  1. I also believe that men kind of have to wear a kufi when they pray (though I know most don't.)My interpretation is that the details of ritualistic prayer were taught to the first converts by the Prophet and meant to be passed down, and evidence suggests that women were veiled. In this case (a rare case, possibly the only) I see hadith as a deliberate supplement to the Qur'an, as the Qur'an tells us only to pray and hadith tell us how, and the Qur'an advises us to listen to the Prophet. Of course, this doesn't mean that no woman ever prayed unveiled during the Prophet's time, and if anyone has evidence for this or otherwise interprets that women may pray unveiled, I am fine with that. But for me personally, it is also a way of humbling myself before God. =)


  2. Blogger is sucky. I've also been considering moving to WordPress for a while. =P Let me know if it's better. Also, if open I.D. refuses to work you can click the Name/URL option and just use your WordPress URL with your name.


  3. That makes sense; thanks. I've only seen a hadith that says a woman who prays unveiled will not have her prayer accepted, and that just seems so ridiculous to me. I think the only think that's better about wordpress is that you can make individual posts private. Otherwise, so far I'm only noticing the things that make it harder to use than blogger. But hopefully I'll get used to it.


  4. I have faced the very same problems with regards to hijab. I don't wear one regularly except to pray, and that seems to offend/shock/annoy people for all sorts of reasons. I feel it gets a lot more importance than say, praying on time or fasting or paying Zakat. Live and let live, I say.


  5. I alternately wear a scarf to pray and don't. I don't really feel it is a requirement. Don't really have evidence either :p I choose to pray when I have my period too. And have met an increasing number of women who do this. I now fast when I have my period as well. If I experience severe cramps/dizziness from the fasting then I would definitely break the fast. I don't know if I am a Quran only muslim. I don't like the label. I use hadith as a particular cultural expression of the Quranic essence. I don't know if this is wrong. But am beginning to care less about the wrong-ness thereof. Praying, fasting and all "ritualistic" expression of my relationship with God I sometimes just feel doesn't need to be governed by anybody or anything. That being said I have yet to pray in a mosque without a scarf and am not sure if that is hypocritical.Also, loved the post as usual!


  6. Nice post, Nahida :) Usually I'm very concerned with what people think of me, and feel discomfort when I notice they seem to think bad of me. I really admire your attitude of "couldn't care less", and that you even like to stir up some controversy :p I see this as a very good and empowering thing, and I wish I could be more like you ;)


  7. Khadeeja, yes I have a problem with the Quranist label also–I will use hadith, I am just exceptionally choosy and believe it to be unnecessary and the majority (more than anyone is willing to admit) to be entirely fabricated. And I completely agree that such expressions with God should not be governed by anybody.Safiyah, thank you! <3


  8. More than anybody would admit.I agree with you Nahida. I particularly like your page on Hadith. I kind of have similar rules. Some sayings are indeed very wise, and if they were fabricated so what? They are still useful. Similarly some supposedly non fabricated may be a reflection of cultural norms which don't apply anymore. The idea of isnad being the only criteria whether Hadith is used for lawmaking purposes is frankly ridiculous. Anyway, point of my ramble is to say that I really love that page on Hadith :)


  9. Interesting post. I'm actually in the process of unveiling, because I don't believe the presence of a headscarf (my use of 'headscarf' and 'veiling' is deliberate, since I consider hijab a concept of modesty and too imprecise a term to refer to the headscarf) is reflective of a woman's religious commitment, or "modesty" for that matter. I have grown weary of the politics of veiling, both in dominant Western discourse ("you're forced to wear it!") and dominant Muslim discourse ("you have to wear it!"). I believe that Western imperialism and its veil crusades has politicized it to the extent that the veil has become far more significant to Muslims than ever, as a symbol of Islam itself.I admire Muslim women who navigate this highly politicized debate over an article of clothing to make an alternative space for themselves and exercise agency and free choice to wear a headscarf. But I have been wearing the headscarf as an act of rebellion to DEFEND the headscarf, and I'm not sure I feel comfortable doing that anymore. It lends legitimacy to interpretations of Islam and rationalization of veiling that I do not agree with and seem to me to be simply about policing women's bodies and sexuality.


  10. Pingback: On Al-Jazeera’s “Muslim women breaking stereotypes”: the obsession with the Muslim woman’s body as a site of resistance | Freedom from the Forbidden

  11. Lou

    I’m new to Islam, and I’m struggling to understand the hijab. Surely it is a bad thing for a women to think that her body must be covered up so fully and that to display her hair immodest and tempting for men?


  12. Gen

    Hey Lou, the Quran says that men, not only women must cover up. It also says that in the presense of the opposite sex, one must lower their gaze. So you see, when a women without hijab is walking down the street and a guy looks at her with ill intentions, he is the one doing wrong because he is not lowering his gaze. Its just because the Quran was revealed in a patriarchal society that the “fault” of the women was brought forth and the fault of the males was pushed away into oblivion. These infair standards you see are all a result of cultural implications. Besides, no one, and this is also in the Book, can force you to wear a hijab. It has to be your choice and your interpretation of modesty is also up to you.

    Islam is a beautiful religion :)



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