There is a serious obsession with the hijab in the Muslim community, and it needs to end.
In one way or another, we have all witnessed or experienced the way a veiled woman is perceived verses her unveiled sister in Islam.
Veiled: devout and respectable,
Unveiled: disconnected from God, and leas knowledgeable about Islam.
Veiled: virtuous for her modesty and is courageous for wearing a flag of her faith.
Unveiled: less fearful of God and cowardly for blending in.
This obsession with the hijab within the Muslim community is detrimental to a woman’s spiritual health because it sends the message that covering her body is far more important than any other component of her Islamic identity. It implies that her personal relationship with God, her intellect and character, her treatment of others, and her contributions to the community pale in comparison to the act of covering herself. While the hijab is indeed a woman’s obligation in Islam, it is not a pillar of Islam.
I repeat: it is not one of the five pillars.
In other words, it is not the be-all and end-all of a Muslim woman’s identity. It is not what makes or breaks her worth as a believer in front of God, and it does not make her more faithful than another woman. In fact, the most famous female figures throughout Islamic history are celebrated for their piety, intellect and leadership, not for the way they dressed. Celebrating a woman solely for the fact that she covers is simply another form of objectification– something we claim the hijab prevents – because she is being defined by how she looks rather than how she thinks.
This obsession is also dangerous because it implies that a veiled woman has essentially fulfilled her destiny as a believer, and that there is no status higher than being a hijabi. As Muslims, our entire journey in this life is one of self-improvement. We are obligated to continuously seek knowledge and evaluate our spiritual standing in order to grow closer to God. Our community’s glorification of the hijab often disregards the importance of this journey. We are basically saying to women, that a piece of cloth gives you a free pass. It is time to stop using the hijab as a tool to measure a woman’s religiosity. Why? Because we cannot judge people based on outward appearances. Because that unveiled woman that you once judged might be waking up to pray Fajr prayer while you’re still sound asleep. Because your friend who wears sleeveless shirts and short skirts might love to read Islamic discourse in her free time and could school you any day on a given topic in Islam. Because that non-hijabi sitting across the room might gossip far less than you do, or engage in community service far more than you do. Reducing a woman down to a cloth is just as awful as reducing her to her body. Either way, we are silencing her. We are demeaning her, telling her that she has nothing to offer to this dunya and to God besides a covered body.
How do we value our women for more than their clothing choices? We can begin by treating a covered and uncovered woman equally, and by focusing on her character as a tool to judge her worth in our community. In our mosques and Islamic schools we can emphasize from an early age the importance of girls’ education. We can celebrate their achievements and ambitions, and we can encourage them to take on leadership positions to change their communities. We can stop policing their bodies, making them feel small if they are not dressed to the strictest of standards. We can talk to them about how to maintain healthy, positive friendships with one another, about being trustworthy and reliable, and about the dangers of gossip. We can do all of this, and still promote modesty without making it the center of a woman’s identity in Islam. Most importantly, we can remind our girls every day of the immense, unconditional love that God has for them.
Written by: Shayreen Izoli