Discover more from Adventures of Bad Hijabi
No the Hijab is not Mandatory
The Truth About Hijab
Hijab is fard. God commands me to wear hijab. It is written in the Quran. It is Sunnah.
Ask your average hijabi why she covers her hair and the answer she provides will most likely includes these claims. The most common answer a hijabi will provide when asked why she covers her hair is God commands me. Then you will hear all about hijab being liberating and freeing and empowering. When you remind her that, in Islamic countries haram police exist to enforce hijab and women receive severe punishment when they refuse to wear the modesty dress code, she replies Oh that’s different, I’m choosing to wear hijab. Then you get this puzzled look on your face as you think, Um, literally you just told me the opposite—you told me you wear hijab because God commands you. How is that choosing? At this point you’re met with frustration, a hostile sigh, maybe some sanctimonious accusation of Islamophobe. You remain puzzled, and you still have not received an answer to the question—why do you cover your hair?
You hear stories of women who have reached an impasse with themselves, who feel uninspired and robotic about covering their hair, who feel inauthentic, like they are performing for others, mostly their family—they decide to stop wearing hijab. They receive severe disapproval and even abuse. The perception of many westerners is that parents force their daughters to cover their hair and dress modestly to protect themselves from the male gaze. Put bluntly, a commonly held belief is that Muslim parents force their daughters to cover their hair and body except for face and hands, teaching them it’s because men cannot control their sexual urges when they see women’s shapely and glorious beauty. Imran Khan recently said that women who wear very few clothes will have an impact men.
When non Muslims put all this together, what do we expect them to think about hijab, except that it’s an anathema to women’s freedom? The thinking that women owe us all something persists widely throughout the Muslim community. Pieces such as this one fixate on the dark truth of ex-hijabi influencers, as if some nefarious machinations underlie an influencer’s decision to remove her hijab. I think it’s interesting that people following a faith which specifies no idolatry have placed such significance on celebrity hijabis and regard them as a sort of public property. This seems like the opposite of modest behaviour and not worshipping humans.
Dina Torkio’s story illustrates my point perfectly. Dina is a British Egyptian Muslim designer who wore hijab for many years—since age 11—she became well known as a hijabi influencer and popularised the hijab turban style. She fell into a funk with her hijab, didn’t feel inspired by the daily practise, wanted to take a break. Dina has a business, a marriage, and two young children. You can imagine she’s got her hands full and maybe hijab isn’t the priority for her at this time. No, her followers did not cut her a break, they dog-piled, they raged, they got sanctimonious and spewed fire and brimstone, accusing her of leading their daughters astray, and all manner of other ridiculousness. She called the hijabi community cultish for its reaction to her decision to remove her hijab.
So, let’s recap the Dina Torkio story. We have a hijabi who is at an impasse with herself about covering her hair, so she decides to remove her hijab. We have a community of hijabis—ie women who cover their hair as part of a practise of modesty and humility—lambasting Dina for her personal decision, berating her, casting aspersions on her moral worth, accusing her of sinning, and of leading young women astray, of not being a proper Muslim, etc etc. Now does that seem like modest or humble behaviour to you? It certainly doesn’t to me. It sounds judgemental, and mean-spirited, and egocentric. Covering your hair and dressing modestly doesn’t make you a good person. You can do all the things and still be an insufferably sanctimonious pr1ck.
The point of this story is to remind everyone that a choice requires freedom to and also freedom from. If a woman who decides to remove her hijab receives abuse and judgemental persecution, then hijab is not a choice, because she is not free to choose not to wear hijab. So, this notion that women choose to wear hijab ignores the reality that they don’t really. Let me be clear and state one thing before I continue—any woman who does actually choose to wear hijab (and yes, there are those who do) is not contributing to the oppression of women who live in places where hijab is mandated and failure to comply punished. I’m not responsible for misogynist, radicalised fundamentalists who feel entitled to force women to wear a dress code because they think their mates cannot control their sexual urges. Just like women aren’t responsible for the inability of men to control their sexual urges. I’m not oppressing anyone by choosing to cover my hair/wear hijab. A woman is not protected from being raped by covering her hair/wearing hijab. I’m going to repeat that. Women are not responsible for the actions and behaviour of men.
So, what about the Quran and Hadith? Does God really command women to wear hijab, to cover their hair? No, He does not. First, the Quran does not contradict itself. There is no compulsion in religion (Quran 2:256). Worship does not count unless it is done freely. Second, the verses given as evidence to support the God commands me claim do not actually instruct women to cover their hair. Third, the hadith of the Aisha narration commonly given as supporting evidence of God commands me was written by a chap who was born after her death. Fourth, evidence exists pointing out the problematic nature of the hadith and whether Muslims ought to take them as unquestionable truth.
It is known that The Prophet never wanted his companions or anyone to write about him or his sayings, he warned there must be nothing to compete with God’s word, the Quran. Islam is believing in God, the Quran is His word. Yet we are living in a time when many Muslims are happy to abrogate parts of the Quran—the word of God—which don’t align with hadith, a fallible human’s narration of what The Prophet or Companions said about what God said. And we have all kinds of fundamentalist radicals spinning deranged interpretations of Islam based on hadith—music is haram, women are mandated to cover their hair, apostasy is punishable by death. None of those things has any basis in the Quran, the fountain from which Islam has emerged.
What’s interesting is that The New Testament actually does instruct women to cover their hair, and expresses some other rather sexist rhetoric about women. But for a man it is not right to have his head covered, since he is the image of God and reflects God's glory; but woman is the reflection of man's glory (Corinthians 1: 7). The Quran never portrays women in these ways. In fact the Quran speaks about men and women as equals in several places, such as 49:13, People we have created you from and male and female … and also 9:72 and a few other places.
So, why do hijabis cover their hair? We have many women who cover their hair and cite the Quran, having no idea what those verses actually mean in their contexts. We have the nuanced meaning of the Quran lost and we have the hadith texts essentially competing with the Quran. It is indeed radical to insist that women must cover their hair or face and to insist that Quranic passages which contradict hadith be abrogated. Yes, it is indeed radical to abrogate the word of God because it does not align with what a fallible human said about what The Prophet or His Companions said that God said. It is indeed radical to use a text which expresses God’s mercy and His gift to us of free will to coerce others to worship. Anyone who uses the word of God to coerce or oppress others into worshipping Him necessarily abuses God—God gave each of us free will and it seems quite egregious to use his own words to remove the free will of another.
It’s up to Muslims to apply critical thinking to the messages they hear about God and religion, and to remember religion provides a guide to manage an individual’s relationship with herself. Religion does not give us license to oppress and abuse others and to remove their free will. The Quran provides a timeless message—a fixed text which provides new meanings for different generations of Muslims: 21st century Muslims will have very different lives from 7th century Muslims. One important fact bears keeping in mind—there is no compulsion in religion. We have been placed in this life as a test to freely choose or reject God, our focus needs to be on our relationship with our selves, ie ego, as opposed to haram policing each other.
Religion has no business in politics or governance—theocracies are an anathema to Godliness because they make God a property of the state. Muslims face a great deal of opposition because of the perception of Islam that exists—a perception created in part by the failure of Muslims to critically consider their religion and by the fundamentalists who live in the Sahih Bukhari, Muslim, and others texts which compete with the Quran for importance. Measures such as Bill 21 in Québec exist as a response the perceived intolerance and fundamentalism of Islam. It may be a dysfunctional response, it is one nonetheless, and makes sense in the context of Duplessis and the abuses his Catholic religious governance causes. We need to realise that and engage accordingly.
Muslims need to stop pressuring other Muslims to relate to God and Islam in a certain way. Muslims need to stop dictating to women how to dress, and they need to stop telling women they are sinners if they choose not to cover their hair and other awra. Honouring women for our role as co-creator never meant clipping our wings and locking us in a cage.