Hijab and Modesty – Two Unique Perspectives (No, Really!)

When it comes to Muslim women and hijab (whether we’re talking literally about wearing or not wearing the headscarf and other forms of modest dressing or about the act of modesty), the subject matter has been dissected to death – from how a woman dons the hijab (She’s being too fashionable! Clothes are covering the body but are tight-fitting, so what’s the point? A headscarf is not enough. You must wear a burqa.), to how others perceive the hijab (If you wear it, you’re a “good Muslim woman,” if you don’t, well then the jury’s out on you.), to heads of state taking stands against the hijab and its stricter cousin, the niqab.

It gets to a point that I read the word “hijab” or “headscarf” or any play on the word “veil” in a headline, and I think, “Move on, folks. Move on.” But two blog posts recently provided some fresh perspective on the hijab — perspectives worth sharing.

The first is from Amjad Tarsin, who writes at the blog “Capturing Light.” He offers a male perspective on the hijab, arguing that the decline of modesty amongst men and women is due to the decline of modesty in men. Wow – turning the hijab discussion back on the man. Because, as many non-Muslims may not realize (since it seems like all discussions of modesty and Muslims center on women), there are modesty guidelines for Muslim men too.

Tarsin writes:

Regardless of what we are surrounded by, Muslim men must hold themselves to a higher standard of morality and virtue. Once Muslim men take their piety, education, and character seriously, our noble female counterparts will recognize and appreciate that within us. We must abolish the double standard that exists in our communities – not by lowering the standard of feminine modesty, but rather by demanding Muslim men live up to standards of modesty already given to us by God and His Messenger. When Muslim males gawk at half-naked women (whether in public, on television, or on the internet), act and speak lewdly, and show a greater appreciation for immoral women, then what kind of message does that send to Muslim women who attempt to maintain their dignity inwardly and outwardly? Oftentimes, when Muslim women see so many Muslim males acting this way, they lose hope in finding a righteous husband and sometimes ask themselves why they even bother to wear the head-scarf. If Muslim men held themselves to a higher standard, acted like gentlemen, and appreciated the greater qualities within women such as mercy, trustworthiness, loyalty, and modesty – then Muslim women would feel more appreciated for their struggle to be modest, or at the very least feel that Muslim men can relate.

He goes on to offer scriptural sources for his thoughts. Really, it’s a post worth reading - for Muslim men, but for everyone so as to see that modesty is not just for women.

The second piece I want to point out is from Pantheon, a Pagan blog at Patheos. Did you know that some Pagan women cover their hair? I didn’t. What fascinated me about this piece (written by the Pagan Portal’s Managing Editor Star Foster) were the reasons why — to please “my Gods,” to gain confidence and show devotion to one’s deity, as a representation of maturity, and most interesting, because it makes one feel sexy.

Sexy?

That’s like literally the opposite (as far as I know) of the reasons why many Muslim women wear the hijab and modest clothing.

But read this:

Somewhere amidst the many blogs I read a woman made a comment that she veiled because she didn’t have to share herself with everyone. She made the choice on who saw her hair. She deemed a part of herself sacred and set it apart from everyone else, to only share with a select few.

I find that concept interesting, that idea of reserved power. A woman may be showing cleavage, wearing a short skirt, and dancing in heels, but her covered hair would represent that she was fully in charge of her body and the decisions made over her body. As the birth control debate rages, it’s a rather empowering image to consider.

It’s a fascinating read, and I urge you to check it out. Whereas I had heard of forms of headcovering in Christianity and Judiasm, and of course I am quite familiar with it with the context of Islam, it was something new to read about how modesty and headscarfs play out in Paganism.

About Dilshad Ali
  • http://profiles.google.com/tpoaic Cora Post

    Hi there! I’m Cora, the creator of the FB group mentioned in Star’s article and the author of the blog Iconoclastic Domina (quoted in the article as well).  You betcha that Pagan/Polytheist women cover! Right now, the group is hovering over just hundred Sisters and is steadily growing. 

    I’ve been covering for about one year, with the last six months being more conscious of doing so. Through this journey I’ve learned so much about myself as a woman and have become closer to my Goddess Hestia. Pagan/Polytheist women cover for many different reasons, but many express a deepening to their faith.

    Thanks for being so open-minded on this topic and willing to share. 

  • Faatimah

    Hi. As a Muslim woman, I definately agree with the quote you lifted – that the veil empowers women. When I wear a headscarf, I control who sees what parts of my body. That is my freedom. I’ve always thought of my hijab in this way, although first and foremost it is out of respect for my Creator’s laws.

    • Surprise

      Faatimah, I read a survey recently that the number one attribute of a woman that draws  mens’ attention first is long, flowing hair, even over bosum, legs, or behind. So, if a woman wishes to avoid the sexual attention of men, donning a head scarf; wearing one’s hair back and in a tight, severe bun;  or cropping one’s hair very short are all good ideas.

      But, as for the veil empowering women, I’m not quite there with you on that one. I presume by “veil,” you mean the abaya, niqab, or the burka: a dark, full-length voluminous garment that completely covers the body of a woman, often hides her face, and may even cover her eyes.

      Before going further, perhaps we should explore what the word “empowering” means.
      “Empowering” women means three things: 1) enhancing women’s sense of self; 2) improving women’s ability to control their own environment; 3) and increasing women’s capacity to influence the actions of other people.  With this definition, can we say that the veil truly empowers women?

      That, I think, is a VERY complex question, and depends greatly upon how individual women view themselves. If a woman views herself as a devoutly religious Muslim, she may see veiling as drawing her closer to God. Wearing the veil enhances her sense of self because her “self” is aligned to the Godhead. Whether it improves a woman’s ability to control her environment and influence the actions of others is less certain.  If a woman views herself as an independent active woman, pursuing a career in the job market, who enjoys sports, performing on stage, dining out, driving for hundreds of miles to visit friends and relatives, then veiling is not going to be empowering at all.  If a woman views herself as a sensual being, and veils  herself to increase her allure, especially if she focuses attention on her eyes, then veiling can be sexually empowering.

      So, is veiling empowering? It depends. To find out, you have to ask, did the woman choose to veil or was it forced upon her?  Does she wear the veil in opposition to secular authority? What is the woman’s worldview? Does she associate veiling with the sacred? Does see herself first and foremost as wife and mother, a helpmeet to her husband? Or, does she see herself first and foremost as an independent human being, with interests and passions of her own?  Or, does she see herself first and foremost as a sensuous being, for whom the art of veiling may increase her sexual allure?  

      • PROGERS31

        @Surprise: You have explained that the best I have ever heard. Thank you.

      • http://profiles.google.com/tpoaic Cora Post

        Surprise,

         The veil isn’t the abaya, burka, and niqab that you presumed,  but the head scarf which this article is about. And yes, it can make a woman feel empowered and alluring. Muslimah or Domina (married Roman Polytheist woman).

      • Sarah Ager

        You raised some really interesting points. In reference to your definition of empowerment I’d say that when I started to wear the headscarf, I certainly felt a greater sense of self. Perhaps because deciding to wear it (particularly as a convert) takes a great amount of courage – you have to be sure of what you’re doing and prepare yourself for others perhaps judging you differently based on your physical appearance. After an initial shaky period of feeling less ‘feminine’, I certainly felt my confidence improve and feel much stronger as a person than I was before.

        Naturally, I can’t speak for other women. I agree with you that it depends greatly on context, culture and the woman’s own view of the situation – it’s incredibly personal. what may be freedom for one woman (because she chose it) may be a prison for others (if it was not her choice). So the problem is not the veil – the issue is choice and free will. It’s a pity that the veil has come to symbolize this struggle in the media when actually the greater issue is women’s rights and freedom to choose.

        thanks for giving me a lot to think about : )

        saritaagerman.blogspot.it

  • http://www.djiboutijones.com/ Rachel Pieh Jones

    As an American from a Christian background living in Djibouti, I have also come to appreciate the allure of the veil. Sometimes I cover, sometimes I don’t. I also wrote about deciding to try the abaya at: http://skirt.com/essays/dress-back-door and http://trjonesfamily.blogspot.com/2010/03/scarves.html Thank you for your insightful piece.

  • kalvin johnson
  • Leonde Haven

     I think the Muslim’s halal is made fairly between their women and men group. Made enough for them to put their trust and respect to each other even though they have different rules to follow.

  • sykrsii

    a burqa !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1


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