Why Do You Wear It?

For Muslim women who are wearing hijab, hoping to put it on, thinking of taking it off or already have, watching the media put their spin on hijab is surreal. Class, politics, oppression, suppression, economic status, religious superiority, intellectual inferiority, modesty, shame, pride—it’s all been said. The more layers are piled on, the more complicated hijab seems.

So, why do you wear that scarf?

I’ve been asked that question a hundred times, but sometimes still fumble for an answer. The typical answer from a Muslim woman may include references to anything from verses in the Quran, modesty, chastity, protection, self-respect, even analogies of covered jewels. We know that hijab does not define a Muslim woman and is only one aspect of her obedience to God, but it gets 90% of the attention whether we like it or not. A lot rests in our answers—not so much as individuals but as a community of women.

If you stripped away every expectation and by-product of hijab, whether super-imposed or imagined in your own head, what are you left with? Shallow reasons are just not enough to weather storms ahead. There’s got to be something powerful there, something compelling that would drive a woman to stand out in the crowds and put on clothing every day that marks her as a target of controversy and criticism.

Whether the act of putting on your scarf everyday is a conscious statement, a habit, or a clinging to the scaffolding of Islamic obligations, we can all benefit from infusing our hijab with purpose and trying to make it, as much as we can, an expression of the beating, struggling heart inside. As wearing hijab becomes increasingly controversial, maybe we are the generation of women who will have to redefine hijab as an exclusive conversation between a woman and her Creator, in which no one else may interject. In choosing to wear the scarf only to please God, a Muslim woman frees submission of all of its perceived docility and imbues it instead with fearlessness.

Why do you wear it?

For God. Because He created me and knows what is best for me. Because I would do absolutely anything for Him, The Giver of Peace, The All-Knowing, The Kind.

It is as simple as that, but may not always seem so in the fog of my weakness. When I grab two safety pins, a bandana, and a gauze scarf before I walk out the door, it’s an act of devotion that no one else can interpret or take away. But as any other act of worship, it is an expression of the woman inside and we may not be saying the same thing everyday. Some days I wear it with pride, knowing that I will be recognized as a Muslim and feeling privileged that I was chosen for this act of obedience. Some days I feel the modesty, protection, and recognition that hijab gives me. Other times, I can only think how hot the weather is. I complain, but remember that He knows best what I will endure today.

Still other days, maybe I am not feeling it. Am I wearing it for the right reasons? I reach for the scarf in automation… perhaps even hesitation. Maybe I am afraid of what they will think if I wear it and what they will think if I don’t. Maybe I am tired of always performing, being judged, and being strange. As if women did not have enough to deal with in this world, and God knows we are no superheroes.

Still, we reach for the scarf, knowing that even the reaching is a gesture, however soft and slight, to God.

Maha Ezzeddine

Maha is a homeschooling mother of four children (5 1/2, 4, 2, and 6 mos.) and lives in Texas. She is an active MAS worker and loves being in nature and working for Islam. She blogs occasionally at Even Sparrows Pray.

About Mahaez
  • blessed

    love it mA. I wear it bc i am a Muslima.

  • Shazia

    as salaamu alaykum, MashaAllah, that was beautiful! Jazaki Allahu khayran.

  • Hamdi

    I wear hijab and love it. I believe that it is a gift from Allah (SWT).
    JAK for the encouragement :)

  • suma

    “Shallow reasons are just not enough to weather storms ahead” I agree. Beautiful post. JAK.

  • Karen Porter

    Thanks for sharing this. As a Mormon, dressing modestly for me does not require standing out as much or cause as much controversy, but it can still be a struggle and I alternately feel glad that I am respecting my body vs. irritation at being unable to buy a summer shirt that can be worn without an extra shirt underneath it. I loved the final line that reaching for the scarf is a gesture, however small and slight, to God. Beautiful writing!

  • Kariman

    Beautiful writing as always Maha. I have so many thoughts on this, but maybe I shouldn’t even start:) Submission is how I explain hijab to my daughter, my neighbor and friends at times, but what about those who argue against hijab? With long lists of verses and references–I could use some help with that, but most of the time I figure, why even bother.
    One important thing I think we need to emphasize when we’re given the floor is exactly what Karen mentions above. I do believe it’s unfortunate that the conversation has us Muslims focused on the head scarf. I hope that when we are given a chance, we emphasize modest clothing just as much. It seems we’ve been very unjust to this topic in general and so long as a Muslim woman places that scarf on her head, we are some what comforted. On the other hand, a women who chooses to wear modest clothing (and struggles with it), yet doesn’t cover her hair, isn’t given any credit.

  • http://growmama.com Dalal

    I think finding purpose in our actions is so important, Maha. For those on the east coast who’ve been listening to some T. Ramadan lectures, this topic fits perfectly in his statement about norms vs. objectives. Sometimes we tend to obsess over the technicalities of hijab (is it long/loose enough?) and then forget the objectives behind hijab. On the other hand, the pendulum can swing the other way where we feel we have achieved the objectives without the hijab, and so disregard it all together. It’s good to periodically reevaluate ourselves to see what percent of both we are practicing.

    On a related note, it’s unfortunate that most times girls are taught all the technicalities about how to wear hijab before they are taught about concepts you mention such as modesty, hijab as an act of worship, etc. I think it this must be reversed in order to foster a deeper, more thoughtful type of faith in it. Also, there are some interpretations of what hijab entails, and lots of times that too is lost amid attempts to impart the technicalities.

  • Lindsay

    Thank you for your post! It is good writing, but the thoughtful content stands out even more. I’m not Muslim. I don’t wear hijab. But I do other things that mark me as a member of my religion and sometimes bring criticism (or in lesser cases those “your weird” looks) from people—Modest dress, what I don’t eat, and giving up certain jobs and career options to make time for family and religion to name a few. Your words apply to any act of devotion that draws attention or is hard to do. I struggle when people give unfair labels or assume I am blindly obedient.

    When “shallow reasons are just not enough to weather storms ahead” we need to remember why we do these things. First and foremost, it is “for God. Because He created me and knows what is best for me.” Also, echoing what Dalal said, when we remember the objective and the concept behind a commandment, it fosters deeper faith. I believe that deeper faith is what helps the labels, the criticism, and the media spin fade into insignificance. I find comfort and encouragement in the faith shown through this article and the comments!

  • Maha

    Thank you everyone for your comments. @Dalal, Lindsay, it’s so true that there is a balanced relationship between visible, tangible acts of worships and the spirit behind them. One cannot exist without the other and they strengthen each other. I feel like I’m constantly going back and forth.

    @Karen, I have a mormon friend and we have much in common in our efforts to fulfill devotion through our dress. Thank you for sharing!

  • roya

    assalamalikum i wear hijab and work outside in the retail world and i get questions of all kinds. To me if u really want real respect from society and pple to recognize u hijab is one of the answers. May allah guide us all to up hold the hijab in its proper manner and to guide all those who dont wear it to wear it.