Little Hijabis: To Wear or Not to Wear?

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Recently, a series of online shopping sites were brought to my attention: at first glance, they seemed to be the garden-variety online hijab shops. Some even had blanked-out faces – again, nothing that I hadn’t seen before. However upon a closer inspection, I noticed that the hijabi models on the website were smaller than usual – they were little girls.

My immediate reaction was that of uneasiness. Even though in Singapore where I grew up, it is common for parents to dress their pre-pubescent daughters in hijab (as young as just one year old), I only recently found out that it’s not the norm in other countries with Muslim communities. I myself wore it to kindergarten at the age of five, and I remember wearing it during Eid at the age of seven onwards. My mother thought it was harmless and she never forced it on me because she thought it would be better for me to get used to it in the most pleasant way possible.

It was only when I travelled to Morocco about five years ago, where I met young girls who were allowed to wear anything they wanted, and it was only after reaching puberty that they would usually wear a hijab when leaving the house. This made sense to me, because even the most oft-cited hadith that provides the guidelines for hijab mentions menstruation, or puberty, as the starting point.

However, I could also understand why parents would want their young daughters to start wearing hijab or cover up at an early age, even though this was not a religious requirement. The reason usually given is that it is easier to make them get used to wearing it. I even heard one of my aunts suggest that parents should dress their girl infants with headbands so that they would get used to having something on their head, which would make wearing hijab easier later on.

This forced socialization has its drawbacks, for example, when girls are old enough to question why they have to wear the hijab. In fact, this was exactly the question posed to me by a nine-year-old girl, who had come to the mosque where I volunteered by giving tours, as part of her weekend religious class activities.

Because women (she was not a woman) have to cover up their beauty ( ‘beauty’ as a euphemism for sexual appeal) in the presence of men they are not related to (is mahram relevant for a child?) and can only show it to men she is related to, like her husband (she was decades away from having one): all my stock answers simply fell short of satisfying her innocent curiosity.

This little girl’s question eventually led me to a long journey of researching about hijab, especially for myself.

Another concern I have with making little girls wear hijab is that it is prematurely socializing them into worrying about their looks, especially in the context of the male gaze. Take a look at the models on some of these online shops:

 

 

Source: Little Zee

 

2 Source: KidsMii

 

Some of these outfits are too complicated (not to mention impractical in hot weather) for these girls to be doing everything they would want to go, like playing freely outside.

Another common reason given for dressing little girls modestly is that it counters the sexualized girl outfits that come from “the West”. I agree that these shops provide some very lovely and simple alternatives, with no glittery slogans like “Cutie Pie” emblazoned across the chest.

But hijab sexualizes its wearer in its own way, because in a social setting it indicates that the wearer has the ability to give off sexual appeal in the first place. (Sometimes at a glance, it can even make the wearer look older than they really are.) One of the shops even showcases a fashion runway of young girls in various styles of hijab and clothes that cover all their limbs – what’s the difference, exactly?

I truly believe in wearing the hijab for spiritual reasons. I also acknowledge that hijab has social reasons, for which some women wear it as well. The bottom line is, the informed decisions that grown women make, with their own research and knowledge, is something to laud. But let’s allow our children to choose for themselves when they are old enough.

  • http://defiantflower.blogspot.com/ Aminah

    i totally agree. Islam, or more clearly, Allah is all wise and all knowing and had there been any reason what so ever for a female under the age of puberty to wear a hijab, the requirement would have been made. My view, aside from agreeing with the post, is that by doing so you are saying “i know better than Allah what modesty is” … and that is a dangerous game to play. Obeying Allah’s commands does not require us to be over achievers and go beyond the boundaries already set up for us, to do so is extreme and in many cases bida or haram … we are warned to stay far away from being extreme. Children are children. Putting little girls in hijab is, to me, the same as putting them in heels and make up …its adorning them with the trappings of adulthood long before they are ready for it … let them be innocent little girls, unaware of the cruelties of this world for as long as possible. Is it ok for a girl to have a hijab her size? sure, let her play dress up with it. Let hijab be something normal and encouraged but not burdensome, limiting and required until it needs to be required and let her make that choice for herself. NOTHING in Islam gives any parent the right to force hijab (or any other islamic thing) onto their children. Your job is to teach them, once they reach that age, they are responsible for their own actions and decision and a teenager wearing hijab because her parents make her is gaining no real benefit as far as her iman goes, she is being coerced and we are told there is no coercion in religion. I also agree that much of the clothing offered at most stores for girls is way too sexual in its nature but there are modest options. A tunic and pants or skirt or pants and a tshirt … or a dress … the options are out there and available. dressing a child in a hijab gives the impression not only that she is a sexual being when she is certainly NOT one yet but also gives the impression that our men see them as sexual beings, which is utterly false and degrading to the men in our communities but also to the ummah as a whole.

  • AnonyMouse Al-Majnoonah

    I also lean towards *not* making little girls wear hijab before they have to (although I do let my 3 year old daughter play with my shaylas and niqabs, because to her it’s just playing dress-up), but my point of view differs slightly with regards to the point about hijab ‘sexualizing its wearers.’ The ayah of hijab gives 2 reasons for it – modesty and *identity.*

    I wouldn’t discuss anything sexual with regards to hijab when I’m explaining it to a young girl (although I would inject something about body image, because unfortunately in our current hypersexualized culture, sexuality and body image are becoming increasingly relevant issues for girls as young as 7 and 9), but rather, emphasize that wearing hijab has a lot to do with making Allah happy and showing that we’re proud to be Muslims.

  • idabakar

    I feel very uneasy seeing little girls trussed up in swathes of cloths over their heads. Especially so in hot and humid South East Asia. These clothes not only covers but restricts the activities of these very young children. Trawling through KidsMii: How do you expect these girls to get active playing rough and tumble when their clothes are either of the ‘Disney princess’ variety or downscale version of their mothers’. There is child development issue here.

  • luckyfatima

    “But hijab sexualizes its wearer in its own way, because in a social setting it indicates that the wearer has the ability to give off sexual appeal in the first place. (Sometimes at a glance, it can even make the wearer look older than they really are.) One of the shops even showcases a fashion runway of young girls in various styles of hijab and clothes that cover all their limbs – what’s the difference, exactly?” YES


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