After telling Muslim men to lower their gazes, the Holy Qur’an reminds women: “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 (ordinarily) appear thereof.”
So you’re a non-Muslim and have no idea why the oddball hippie and/or possibly emo girls have started dressing like nuns. All right, we’ll give you some credit. We know you don’t live under a rock, so the minute you see a woman wandering in the shopping mall with a scarf covering her hair, you think: Muslim! (Or if you’re easily persuaded by the media, you’re probably thinking more along the lines of the T word which has more or less become our nickname since 9/11, although we assure you we have no more idea than you do about where bin Laden is currently hiding.)
Still feeling a bit weird, nervous, and of course awkward for even being in the same mall, let alone walking close to or talking to this covered lady, you discreetly observe her from a distance and watch her every move – you know, just to make sure she’s pulling out your favorite brand of tissues out of her purse.
She comes your way and you try eavesdropping on anything and everything that comes out of her mouth. Surprisingly, the scarfed woman seems relatively sane and politely spoken. Hey, she isn’t so bad after all!
Okay, so now we have established who Muslim women are: school-goers, stay-at-home mums, your child’s kindergarten teacher, your neighbor’s babysitter – basically, ordinary women! Yet the questions remain unanswered: why do these women conceal their bodies and hair? Isn’t showing off our beauty and attracting others towards ourselves the norm? What about on hot days, don’t these girls pass out when the sweltering heat accumulates all around their heads? Has anyone ever seen their hair? Oh no, how do they shower with that thing on?!
Literal Meaning of Hijab
The word Hijab literally means a curtain or veil and is best understood by exploring the Islamic concept of modesty. Muslim men and women are required to be modest while mingling with unrelated members of the opposite gender. The content of our speech, the way we communicate, the way we laugh and joke around, our behavior and social etiquette in general should all be transmitted to the other party in a way that attracts the least amount of the wrong form of attention. Additionally, we are required to “lower our gazes” and respect other men or women by not eying them from head to toe (i.e. checking them out). Similarly, the physical Hijab establishes healthy distances of physical contact (not even a handshake with the opposite gender!). Lastly, this modesty must also be manifested in the way we dress.
In order to appear modest, Muslim women are required by their faith to observe the most visible form of the Hijab in public – the headscarf to cover our hair and full-length clothing to conceal the shape of our bodies. Non-Muslims often ponder how it is possible and why a woman would ever voluntarily want to conceal what every other woman takes pride in revealing – her beauty. From a very long list, presented below are the most common reasons why Muslim women observe the Hijab.
To Please Our Creator
Muslims recognize God Almighty as the grand creator and supreme authority over the universe, and hence the religion He has sent – Islam – is a complete way of life for us. Accordingly, Divine law is followed at all times, and submitting to God’s commandments is in itself a form of worship. After telling Muslim men to lower their gazes, the Holy Qur’an reminds women: “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 (ordinarily) appear thereof.” (24:31) In line with this Qur’anic verse, we do not display our beauty simply because it is the command of our Lord!
Taking a Stand against Female Exploitation
Since the beginning of time, women have always been exploited. Known for our gentleness, delicateness, and beauty, women are often used as mere objects to attract men or sell products and services. Unfortunately, today a woman’s physical beauty is likened to a man’s trophy, to be shown off to the whole world. In an interview with former rapper “Napoleon” from Tupac Shakur’s band, the OutLawz, revert Mutah Beale said, “The music industry is where they really exploit and degrade women. We’d pay them a hundred bucks to strip for our music videos, and they’d do it!” Sadly, women have become well accustomed to this routine and also take pride in displaying their beauty. But what Muslim women realize is that our beauty is sacred and certainly not for any random man to gawk at for pleasure.
A Source of Protection
If there is any good in impressing random men with our beauty (intentionally or unintentionally), then surely we would all know about it. Despite all the technological advancements in 2010, our moral values continue to plummet. One in six girls in the United States is sexually assaulted by the time she is 18. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in 2007, over 12 thousand women were sexually harassed. This means at least one woman is sexually harassed in the workplace every 20 minutes. (It is noteworthy that the majority of incidents are not officially reported, and these statistics are probably grossly understated.) Of course, it is the men who are to be blamed for harassing women, yet the woman who fails to realize that dressing in a way which is so strikingly appealing (particularly when working in a male-dominated environment) is only asking for trouble is part of the problem as well. Regardless of where the blame lies, there is only one way by which a woman can guard herself against such evils, and that is why Hijabi women conceal their beauty in public as much as possible.
Preserving Our Beauty
Regardless of age or marital status, every female loves attention and being cared for. For most women, satisfying that need comes from compliments of others in private and public. Muslim women who conceal their physical points of attraction in public only seek that attention from their loved ones in private. The logic behind this practice is almost convincing enough to experiment.
Basically by covering up, we demand self-respect from the public, as we do not allow ourselves to be judged based on our beauty (or the lack thereof). On the other hand, our families provide us with the respect and honor we deserve as they realize that we are not letting strange men take a bite of our beauty by way of exposing ourselves, but rather, we are limiting the right to enjoy our beauty to our husbands. In addition, a Muslim woman’s Hijab allows the husband the honor of having a wife who finds him worthy enough to preserve herself only for him. In return, he provides her with all that extra attention that every woman desires. This also satisfies the man’s natural instinct of admiring a woman’s beauty, and thus he has greater motivation to avoid “checking out” random women and to lower his gaze, as his wife doesn’t allow herself to be ogled at and admired by other men either. Often labeled as “jealousy” by so-called Western “relationship experts”, this kind of respect and preserving oneself solely for one’s partner is actually the key to lifelong marital happiness and success.
To Be Judged for Our Worth, Not Our Appearance
Often labeled as oppressive, many fail to realize that the Hijab truly empowers every female with the ability to control how she is treated and respected in society, her safety, and who deserves to see her beauty, all while making a statement against female exploitation. A woman who observes the Hijab is freeing herself of society’s immoral and disrespectful expectations of her. A female who conceals her beauty has granted herself the power to say to the world “You know what? Everything about me besides my beauty should matter to you.” If wearing miniskirts, low-cut tops, head- turning heels, and layers of makeup in public is the expectation without which a woman in incapable of stepping outside her house, then we have two very different definitions of liberty and self-respect.
All human beings demand respect, and why should we women be treated as mere objects valued or devalued for our beauty or the lack thereof? Why should we let all random and strange men (whether we are friends with them or not) be the judges of our attractiveness? Shouldn’t we preserve ourselves for only those who deserve us?
And that is why Muslim women observe the Hijab.
The article was written by Arsalan Rizvi and first published in islamicinsights.