July 23, 2008

Ask Maria: When to wear Hijab?

Filed under: Blogroll — mariahussain @ 4:39 am

I wore hijab for ten years full time although I took it off when I got divorced for certain reasons. I have come to the conclusion that it is very important for a person to look modest according to the norms of their culture. Unless you are thoroughly enmeshed in a foreign community or a multicultural community, dressing like an Arab or Pakistani when you are neither Arab nor Pakistani simply causes people to look at you and talk about you. It can totally rob you of all privacy. It does not send the message, “I am a Lady.” It says, “I am a freak.” It can be mortally dangerous to isolate yourself from society, whether you are a single woman living alone without protection or a married woman being psychologically or physically tormented by her husband or inlaws. To some extent, encouraging recent converts to don the hijab Arab style is a form of psychological entrapment similar to any other cult. Don’t get me wrong, Islam is the true religion and not a cult. But the level of isolation experienced by new hijabis includes being fired from job, kicked out of parents’ home, loss of all childhood friends, loss of fiance, loss of all university friends, and often these life support networks are NEVER fully replaced by the monthly dinners at the mosque or the weekly Quran study class. People can’t really live without others understanding where they come from.

Furthermore, I have found the opposite to privacy and dignity to have occurred when I put on hijab. Prior to putting it on, I was a slightly nerdy girl that no one ever noticed. I put on the hijab and everywhere I went, Pakistani men stared at me lustfully. I got hounded by marriage proposals to the point where I became terrified to answer my phone or answer my doorbell. Yes, an Iranian doctor I didn’t even know got my address somehow and rang my doorbell to propose marriage. It was absolutely terrifying and as a result of the combination between social isolation from my own culture and the desire to fit into a community, I got married to someone who was not mature enough to be married, and entered a decade of personal hell. It turned out NOT to be the case that marrying someone in the community would mean you have friends.In fact, “trying too hard to appear like a good Muslim” actually isolated me even within the Muslim community. And the family resented my husband’s choice of bride. The stupid idea that I had to wear Arab hijab and marry a foreigner resulted in me giving the cold shoulder to nice, compatible guys (black and white) who might even have converted to Islam to marry me.

Hijab just attracts a very narrow selection of men obsessed by what other people think of him and what they think of him when they see him with you.

If I could go back again, I would have never put on hijab and kept my religion to myself and just wore the scarf to pray. If and when I felt like covering publicly I would tie my scarf the way I always tied it before I became Muslim. I was always dressed in long sleeves and skirts before I was Muslim anyway. Covering your shape is far more important when it comes to deflecting men’s attention than covering your hair. In fact I tried on niqab one summer and was totally freaked out by how many western men would look at me in a totally perverted way. If I just glanced at them they would have a nuclear meltdown. It really made me realize that in certain places, wearing full covering could get you raped.

That being said, I did note that within the poor and violent inner city environment, wearing hijab did make me safer as a pedestrian and many urban women choose to veil for that reason. Yet it seems much more socially acceptable for Black or Brown women to be able to wear hijab or niqab without attracting stares and comments. They also have tight-knit cliques that they fit into and socialize with so isolation is less of a problem. I think each Muslima has to look at her situation and keep her safety in mind. If she knows she has no one in the Muslim community she can trust to do more than greet her at jummah, and she loses everything, she has then chosen to become a liability to the Muslim community. Then they will have to divert resources into helping you, instead of helping the homeless and the true needy. She could become so lonely that she becomes emotionally destroyed and possibly has a nervous breakdown or debilitating depression. Whereas, if she just kept her life pretty much the same, without donning foreign dress, and just went to the mosque for religious services, that is the type of support and friendship most Muslim communities are willing to give. The Muslims are simply not equipped to take your emotional load off your shoulders and be there for you the way your own lifelong friends and family have been there for you. In the future Muslim communities should probably set up some communal living situations for people who need that.

Obviously, as you become more pious and your personality changes, your relationships will shift, but it will be more of a gradual process that you can deal with without risking everything and then forcing the Muslims who hardly know you to pick up your pieces and take care of you like a member of their family, as if they didn’t already have enough problems.



  1. ASA Maria,

    This is a great piece and very honest. You have a very important point. Muslim women are often judged harshly in communities if they do not wear hijab. This is unfair because many Muslim women need a great deal of support and may not have it at home or in the workplace. Example, a Sister who stays home to raise her children, has a pious husband, a steady community and many resources to increase her eeman will find hijab in the natural flow of her life thus increasing her sense of respect and desire to wear it. On the other hand, the Sister who is isolated and has a lack of support will find it increasingly difficult to don hijab and face outside discrimination on top of other struggles. Its not easy and so many women do struggle with it. Just wanted to say I really enjoyed this piece and hope you share more.


    Comment by hanifahstorm — July 23, 2008 @ 3:12 pm

  2. Dear Maria;

    Thank you so much for your comments on the hijab. I learned a great deal that I didn’t know before. Please define the word “niqab” for me — what is the difference between niqab and hijab?

    Thank you,

    Comment by Anne J. — July 28, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

  3. As-Salaamu `Alaykum,

    I don’t agree with your assertation that it’s harder wearing hijab unless you’re an Arab or Pakistani. In the African-American community, our sisters have little problems, especially those who wear theirs in the style of West African Muslims ala Erykha Badu style. You probably are referring to your feelings as a White female. Wearing hijab exposes you as being outside of the White status quo and puts you into a visible minority category; thus, jeopardizing your outward White privledge. Take a deep look at that. In the many settings, people of color have always felt like strangers or outsiders.

    Now, the Qur’an clearly says that ALLAH does not place a burden on us greater than we can bear. The Qur’an mandates khimar (head covering); hijab simply means screen in which both genders have to screen mandated parts of the bosy.

    Since Muslim women are not being slaughtered and can freely attend schools, universities and their jobs with khimar, I don’t think that feeling out of place is a valid excuse. Of course, I’m not a woman either, so it’s easy for me to say. How much else is one willing to sacrifice in the public space so that others can feel comfortable?

    Actually, we are suppose to appear strange, different at best, to the non-Muslims. “Al-Islam began as a stranger and it shall return as it came. So blessed be the STRANGERS.” – agreed upon hadith by Sunnis & Shi’is of Prophet Muhammad (SAAS).


    Comment by dawudwalid — September 6, 2008 @ 5:35 pm

  4. i have started doing hijab for past 4 months, i am 22 now . I am strictly covering my hair from all non- mahrams. BUT now my mum has started looking out for marriage proposals , I am suppose to take my photos. I insisted that i will cover my hair and take photos but i am getting alot of criticism. I dont know what to do , so far i have taken photos covering my hair. Please guide me what shoul i do . I am very confused

    Comment by Aisha — April 25, 2009 @ 12:37 pm

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