Hijab is one of the most beautiful identifiers of a Muslim woman. However, wearing it, comes with certain challenges in the Muslim majority countries as well as in countries where Muslims are a minority. The recent increase in violent crimes against Muslims (spurred by an increase in Islamophobia) in western countries might raise doubts or raise fears in the minds of Muslim women who were already donning a hijab or were contemplating starting to wear one. After the incident of 9/11 in the United states, we have seen a spike in the usage of words such as Muslim, hijab and Islam in the mainstream media and political debates. The word Hijab has become part of the vocabulary in western countries now. In this paper, we will discuss the concept of Hijab and how it manifests itself in Muslim and non-Muslim societies and the challenges Muslim women may face when they choose to wear a Hijab. We will conclude with some guidelines on how Muslims women can overcome such challenges and stay motivated to please Allah even when we may face doubts regarding it.

Some people might question why hijab is necessary. For such people, we can answer simply by saying “because Allah and His messenger have so decided”. There are several different opinions one may hear these days on what Hijab is. There are many different forms in which Hijab has manifested itself here in the United States and the West in general.

When most westerners or some hear the word hijab, they may normally think of the headscarf that many Muslim women wear. However, hijab is not just of the dress but also of the eyes. These two types apply not only to women (as popularly assumed) but also the men.

Hijab of the eyes

Allah ﷻ in this verse of Surat Noor begins by reminding the believing women to lower their gaze. This is the “internal Hijab” that Allah is reminding the women to ascribe to. Internal modesty and piety should motivate the women to lower their gaze when they are looking at haram that might lead to major sins. No form of outer Hijab (even though necessary) will protect a person from sinning if the heart is not clean and thoughts are not pure. One way our hearts and thought are affected is through our eyes. What we read and see can impact the state of our heart and can have the potential to make big holes in our internal hijabs/screens. Hence Allah ﷻ begins by reminding us of this very important aspect of Hijab. One needs to research what scholars have said regarding which parts are considered as adornment and awrah of a Muslim women to understand this verse in a deeper manner. 

Allah ﷻ says in the Quran in Surat Noor, chapter 24 verse 31, “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils all over juyoobihinna (i.e. their bodies, hair, necks and bosoms) and to not reveal their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, of their (Muslim) women, or the (female) slaves whom their rights hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigor, or small children have no sense of feminine sex. And let them not stamp their feet to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful.”

Believing men must also lower their gaze when looking at the opposite sex unless they are mahram. Allah says in the Quran in Chapter 24, verse 30, “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. This is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what they do”. This verse shows that lowering of the gaze applies both to men and women.

Hijab of the dress

In another verse in chapter 33, verse 53 Allah ﷻ said “O you who believe! Enter not the Prophet’s houses, except when leave is given to you for a meal, (and then) not (so early as) to wait for its preparation. But when you are invited, enter, and when you have taken your meal, disperse, without sitting for a talk. Verily, such (behavior) annoys that Prophet, and he is shy of (asking) you (to go), but Allah is not shy of (telling you) the truth. And when you ask (his wives) for anything you want, ask them from behind a screen, that is purer for your hearts and for their hearts. And it is not (right) for your that you should annoy Allah’s messenger, not that you should even marry his wives after him (his death). Verily! With Allah shall be an enormity.”

This verse is used as a reference by the group of Muslim women that cover their face as part of Hijab. There are several hadith that also indicate how the hijab was done during the time of the Prophet ﷺ.

Manifestations of Hijab in US (and West in general)

There are mainly two groups I have seen in the US Muslim community who adhere to some type of Hijab. First, that considers covering face, neck, hair and chest (with a loose garment). Second, that covers the hair, neck and chest but not the face.  Regardless, let us first look at some ayaat that talk about this matter. In all matters, a Muslim should always go back to the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ for the best guidance. Any type of hijab that serves the main purpose of the hijab would suffice.

Hijab for women

One’s focus should not be to make a fashion statement or to please someone else except Allah. This should dictate the kind of hijab one selects to wear. It is unfortunate some Muslim women have chosen not to wear any kind of hijab but at the same time it is also sad that the women who choose to wear a form of hijab do so to please others or just namesake. Our goal should always be to please Allah.

Hijab for men

In Islam there are guidelines men must also follow when it comes to clothing. Man’s clothing should be such that it always covers his awrah. The clothes also should not be so tight as to reveal the shape of the body. Also, men’s clothing should not resemble the clothing of women and it should not be made of pure silk.

Challenges

We are living in times when the assault on Muslims in US have surpassed 9/11 levels, Muslims in general are reporting higher levels of fear and anxiety following the presidential election. Regardless of the form of Hijab a Muslim women chooses to adhere to, there are several challenges they face in the west today as it related to their choice of wearing the Hijab and we will discuss a few of them in this section.

  1. Rise in Islamophobia – Islam and the West have been always portrayed as being a constant struggle for survival by the media and especially by sources that may particularly benefit from such a portrayal. Islam and Muslims have become a core part of the political debates in the United States and the West in general. In this atmosphere, we are seeing a spike in the number of violent hate crimes against Muslims, and their institutions due to all the stereotypes that are created by those in power or those seeking power. Since Hijab is very easily associated with Muslims and Islam, we have also seen instances where Muslim women were attacked for wearing a Hijab.
  2. Stereotyping – Muslim women who wear a hijab are looked upon as being backward, oppressed or in need of saving. Contrary to the popular opinion, Muslim American women are proving to be among the most educated faith group in the country, and even outpace their male counterparts. Some people in the west believe that Muslim American women are forced to wear the Hijab, when in fact they may choose to wear it as a sign of their freedom, feminism or because they want to. Many proudly wear it as symbol of their faith and as a fulfillment of the commandment of Allah.
  3. Family – When women make the choice to wear the Hijab, sometimes the family tries to influence women to stop wearing it.
  4. Peer pressure – A women may feel like she will look “un-cool” if she wears a hijab or face questions from her peers for looking different.
  5. Avoiding unwanted attention – one might feel that Hijab will draw unwanted attention and put them in danger.
  6. Bias at work – people might fear wearing a hijab can lead to bias at work

Manifestation of Hijab in Muslim Majority countries

Hijab exists in many different mainstream forms in Muslim majority countries (MMC). It commonly ranges from hijab in the form of a burqa, abaya with niqab or just a headscarve. Since Muslims are in the majority, it is possible that the choice of hijab can be a result of the pre-dominant culture. We see that religion and culture are so closely intertwined that it shows in the way Hijab is manifests in the various Muslim countries. Hijab in turkey for example will look different from Hijab in Indonesia. We see that the political history in a country also determines what form the Hijab might end up taking. For example, in turkey there was a large wave of secularization after the end of the ottoman empire which resulted in many drastic changes in the mainstream Islamic culture of the country and affected Hijab as it is generally practiced in that country.

Challenges

I would argue that the challenges women might face in Muslim countries are less when compared to the challenge women face in the west. For example: there is no Islamophobia or any political rhetoric that demonizes Islam. Regardless there are some common challenges that Muslim women around the world share and they can be overcome with strong faith in Allah.

In the west, we should remain resilient and focus on educating the people of our choice and often, people will understand your choice and respect it. Regardless, we must remain steadfast in all matters of our faith and not be apologetic for anything.

Precautions

There are precautions one must always take especially in these times. The following are some basic precautions one can take that can ensure one’s safety.

  1. Call 911
  2. Be aware of your surroundings
  3. Make your way towards a crown when in danger of being verbally of physically attacked
  4. Make dua before leaving the house

For a more extensive list, here is an article https://www.soundvision.com/article/47-safety-tips-for-muslim-women

Knowledge

Many women do Hijab only because that is what they have seen around them, in family or in wider society. If someone asks them for an explanation, they are found lacking. This is due to the lack of education. Muslim girls must be educated at an early age about Hijab even before they are required to wear it. Habits that are formed at this age will be very strong and taught the proper way to do it.

Parents as role-models

Children learn a lot of things from their parents. Parents should introduce the Hijab to our Muslim girls at an appropriate age, impart correct education to them and help them understand why we do it, then insha Allah a number of their questions will be answered.

In western societies where hate crimes are on the rise, we also see that more and more people are standing in support of our Muslim brothers and sisters. This was seen in the Christ church attacks in New Zealand which showed us genuine outpouring of love from the non-Muslim people.

Muslim women need to remind themselves that their choice to wearing the Hijab is between them and Allah ﷻ. They should remind themselves that in it lies the pleasure of Allah, Our creator and sustainer. When we have that conviction then we can overcome any challenge.

References

The Dynamic of Wearing Hijab for Muslim American Women in the United States

Assaults against Muslims in U.S. surpass 2001 levels

https://www.ispu.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/American-Muslim-Poll-2017-Report.pdf

American Muslim Poll 2017: Muslims at the crossroads

https://www.soundvision.com/article/47-safety-tips-for-muslim-women

47 Safety Tips for Muslim Women

Hijab: The Dress of Modesty in Islam by Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi.