Monday, November 15, 2010

The Misunderstood Role of the Hijab

A conversation with a professo recently made me realize something that I'd always known and believed but hadn't yet discovered for myself: When you wear a hijab, you are expected to be abnormal.

A hijabi girl is not allowed to smoke, drink, talk to non-related males; she must walk properly, dress properly, and be perfect and "modest" (whatever this term means) in every other way. But why? Why does she have to be burdened with all of this? If she would do these things without the hijab on, why can't she do them with the hijab on, too? People often say, "What's worse is when a hijabi smokes -- or wears tight jeans or hugs males or laughs loudly in public," etc. But why deny her these things just because her hair is covered? And why are we even assuming that she is wearing the hijab out of personal choice? Why are we ever shocked when we see a hijabi girl holding a boy's hand (a boy who's not her husband)? If she smokes, why is she not expected to smoke if she has the hijab on, for example? Or if she holds her partner's hand in public, why should she be forbidden from holding it in public with the hijab on? 

Of  course, like everything else, this can be viewed in different ways, both negative and positive. One way could be that when a female wears the hijab, she starts to represent not only Islam but all Muslims. Hence, she must behave like an ideal Muslim female -- or else. Another way could be that wearing the hijab, deemed a symbol of modesty and virtue, means that she is striving to become a better Muslim, which implies that she must avoid everything that she is expected to avoid. As a result, since smoking is not something that "good girls" do, hijabi girls, who are normally seen as "good girls," should not smoke. If a female does not wear the hijab, however, then she may do so, since she is not laden with the burden of representing an entire faith, or over a billion people worldwide.

None of this is to suggest that I am calling for hijabi women to start drinking, smoking, dating, wearing indecent clothing, misbehaving, etc. But why such serious expectations with one choice?


  1. I was discussing this exact issue with a friend the other day. I think it just shows that many times hijab is more about culture and/or societal norms than a girl's actual religious feelings.

    Yes, hijabis are held to a different expectation because society does think she is supposed to be more moral or striving towards piety.

    Seeing a girl smoking or holding hands with a boy ruins that image.

    I think it simply means that some girls are wearing hijab because it is expected of them, and that is why they wear it. In my mind, we should not judge hijabis because many of them wear hijab simply because it is an expectation of them. We cannot force piety, we can only force clothing. We are expecting piety from girls through their clothing. I think this is a problem and puts pressure and stress on girls for ridiculous reasons.

  2. Hi, UnsettledSoul! (Lovely nick choice, by the way!) Welcome to my blog, and thanks for your comment :)

    Yes, I absolutely concur. We shouldn't be judging anyone, but especially to put extra restrictions on a hijabi woman is beyond unfair in my opinion, too. Why does she have to carry such a heavy burden of representing over a billion people, anyway? How right is that?

  3. Oh - and, yes! Many, many girls wear the hijab not because they want to but because they are expected to. No doubt that some wear it with pure intentions and personal and spiritual closeness to God, but there's also that other group of Muslim females who wear it only to appear more modest/pious than the non-hijabis. Besides, when you're a hijabi, people are more likely to assume that you know Islam better, and so they trust you with information more than they do a non-hijabi ;)

  4. You would love my friend, she conducted a social experiment on facebook that was genius! lol

    She posted a new profile picture every week that was somehow provocative, and also did not show the girl's face so people could possibly think it was really her in the picture.

    Anyway my friend is a hijabi, so her first picture was of a girl sitting in a field surrounded by wildflowers, and looking down with her hair in her face. Experiment 1: Would people think it was my friend and say something about seeing her hair?

    Next she posted a picture of a girl laying down reading a book, you can't see her face but her shirt is sheer and you can see the outline of her breasts and nipples.

    Finally she posted a picture of a hijabi with her back turned to the camera, sitting on a step smoking a cigarette. She is fully modestly clothed, even wearing a shirt that cuffs the wrist so it doesn't slide up her arm.

    Anyway, many of her friends on facebook thought that this picture was her, and there were soooo many comments about the cigarette! Finally my friend had to say "LOOK, it isn't me in this picture, but you have fallen into my social experiment FANTASTICALLY!" LOL

    It caused an excellent discussion that I think you really would have enjoyed. My friend is Malaysian so we spoke at length about Malaysian society and how many Muslim men smoke yet most Muslim women don't because of this stigma attached to it. Malaysian Muslim men expect their women to protect their hijab, yet refuse to protect their own hijab!

    Anyways, it played very well into what you are talking about and it was a learning experience for me. I just did not know this stigma with smoking. I think it is good that people don't smoke, but the pedestal hijabi women are put on is unreal!

  5. P.S.

    I am glad we have found each others blogs, I hope to read more from you :)

  6. Wow! That's such a fascinating and creative idea! If the comments/photos are still available, I'd love to take a look, as per your friend's permission. (If yes, you may leave her FB name in a comment here, and I won't allow the comment to be published so it doesn't become public. If not, it's all good!)

    I think I might give that a shot, too, and see how people react... but then again, my photos are already sometimes very controversial, so my friends prolly don't expect anything less :p lol.

    And you're right -- men smoke all the time (even with a beard, mind you!), but a hijabi or otherwise outwardly "pious" or "modest" girl smoking causes people to raise their eyebrows. When a non-hijabi girl smokes, according to my observations, it's like, "Oh, well, we would expect nothing better from her anyway, so she's excused."

  7. P.S. I, too, am very happy we've come across each other's blogs! I saw yours when I was working on a paper on this preacher named Zakir Naik and was discussing his views on female prophets and all ... and wanted to make an argument regarding his views on women as leaders in general. Love your blog!

  8. Well I smoke and I constantly get to hear how bad it is, even someone I'm involved with constantly tells me how "I'd never marry a smoker" when I asked him why he told me he needed a girl with "family sense", needless to say he is a full-time smoker like the majority of desi men.

  9. Sultana, you smoke, and you're with someone who smokes, but he wouldn't marry a smoker. Exactly why haven't kicked the hypocrit out of your life yet?

  10. LOL. Yeah, Sultana, I'd dump that hypocrite! I don't understand why we have allowed men to do the things that they REFUSE to accept in their wives. They'll drink, sleep around, go clubbing, smoke and do other drugs and (at least constitutionally) illegal stuff, date around, hug females, etc., etc., but they will make it known to the world that "I don't want a woman who drinks or smokes, sleeps around or is not a virgin or has ever been involved with anyone before, etc., etc."

  11. @ Hinajaan, I guess I like the hypocrite who constantly complains how hard-working he is(he is a hairdresser btw and my best friend is annoyed saying "cutting hair is not THAT difficult"), he also praises himself whenever he tells me "My sisters you know, they are SO SHARIF and INTELLIGENT! They NEVER wear make-up they did NEVER dress up, now they do it as they are married for the sake of their husbands and I believe that is the way it should be", yeah rite...BTW did I mention that he asked me to marry his cousin? I met him and his mamu last week and was asked the usual questions so when I asked his mamu "What are you doing btw?" He told me he was getting his nephews married. I asked "What are your conditions to arrange marriages?" "Well. See the only condition I have is she HAS TO BE pakistani or Indian that is all." "Why is that?" "See my dear, I was married thrice to non-Desi women. It just does NOT WORK out with them I know what I'm talking about so my nephews won't get to make the same mistakes as me!"

    Ehhhhhhhhh?? Maybe he thinks we are more easy to control I believe it is true, at some point we probably just accept their behaviour as assholes and stop defending ourselves.

    @Serenity, imho the majority of them want a slave, who will just serve them whenever they come home who will take care of all the dumb shit revolving around their life and who is presentable to the community.

    I'll never get why girls have to go through all the worrying about their complexion and looks whenever it comes to securing a rishta, university/college education looks good, but the majority of these jaahils only want a pretty-dumb-housewife.

    Have I mentioned that "hypocrite" took my pictures from FB and e-mailed them to his cousin in India when he asked about them and if he could get a hold of it? Obviously I was informed AFTER it had already taken place -.- O and "hypocrite" reminded me "Don't tell my mamu that I'm drinking Sharab!"...

  12. ... And now tell me why you still like that hypocrit?

  13. Some people are judgemental I guess...smoking, drinking, seeing the opposite sex who aren't your mahram is all wrong, so any muslim doing that will be critisized. Hijabis are often critisized more because you can tell by looking at them that they are muslim, and commiting a sin. When a woman who isn't wearing a hijab does it, no one thinks anything of it, because they won't think she is muslim, or they will think she isn't practising.

    Don't get me wrong, I don't condone men doing it either, a man wearing islamic dress and smoking or doing something with a woman who is clearly not his wife in publim would get critisized too.

    We should all strive to be the best we can be and try to abstain from all sins.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...