3 Myths We Need to Debunk About the Hijab

What Muslims need more than the exterior hijab is to reveal our true, inner hijab.

For several years, I have contemplated the meaning of the hijab and whether or not it is required for Muslim women to wear. Along the way, I have heard many translations of the word: headscarf, barrier, or veil.

I have also heard different reasons why a woman should wear one, many of which have sounded to me so superficial and ridiculous. So I did my own research on the hijab and contemplated what it means to me. I realized the need to dispel three big myths women believe about why they cover their hair — while at the same time, diving into its true meaning and purpose.

Here are the three biggest myths about the hijab that need to be debunked:

1. “I wear hijab so I can hide my beauty and save it for my husband.”

First of all, who said all women are going to get married in the first place? Second, what beauty are you hiding exactly? The last time I looked at you, you had pretty clothes on and some make up as well. Your hair is not the only part of your “beauty.” Third, you are turning yourself into a sex object by making yourself a trophy wife.

2. “I wear hijab for modesty.”

Yes, it is true that Muslim women cover their hair, as well as the rest of their bodies, excluding the face, hands, and feet. However, the term modesty is always used in the context of flesh. Let’s start using it in the context of our character.

3. “I don’t wear hijab.”

We all wear hijab. The hijab is not something you physically wear; it is something you practice.

There are many women who cover their hair, believing this to be a necessary part of their mandate as a Muslim woman, completely disregarding the more pressing need in society today: hijab.

The hijab is the moral character of a human being. Hijab is a belief in spreading beauty and love through simple actions that we think are insignificant, but are actually the epitome of the perfect prophetic character, which God has bestowed upon us in our pure human nature.

To practice hijab is to love human beings and treat them the way we wish to be treated. Hijab is controlling our desires and lowering our gazes from what may cause us to sin. Hijab is telling ourselves that we are in control — and our worldly desires are not.

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Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, a renowned scholar of Islam, taught in one of his many halaqas, or religious gatherings, the derivative of the hijab. With the revelation of Islam, women were given a status of equality with men that had never before existed.

“Islam redefined women,” said Abou El Fadl. They experienced a kind of empowerment that they never had prior to the revelation of the hijab. Rather than being looked at as sub-human, which is what the time period suggested of women, they became man’s counterpart.

Men at the time of the Prophet treated the Prophet’s wives as prizes. They would even argue amongst themselves over who would marry which wife when he passed away. This sexualization of women is what Islam — with the hijab — came to eliminate. Concealing the body at the time of the Prophet was very scarce.

The hijab put an end to people gawking at one another, idolizing them, or arrogantly showing off their physical beauty.

The verse on the hijab in the Qur’an was directed to the wives of the Prophet to end this kind of insolence when men talked about them. This was one form of the hijab that the Qur’an brought to light.

For example, the Qur’an mentions that we should knock on the door of a stranger before walking in. The verse about this kind of moral privacy directly precedes the verse about the veiling of the body, in Surat al-Nur, verses 27-31.

Why would Islam establish that moral rule? Because at the time these actions didn’t exist. People would walk into spaces in which people were bathing, changing, and so forth. God was telling people to have manners.

Women consistently expressed concern to the Prophet that men were careless with the way they covered their bodies below the waistline, especially during prayer, when movements would expose private areas. The hijab helped alleviate these kinds of concerns. This is the “veiling” that the hijab brought — privacy and morality. “It domesticated the undomesticated,” Abou El Fadl said.

The hijab put an end to people gawking at one another, idolizing them, or arrogantly showing off their physical beauty. The hijab also prohibited practices of prostitution and illegitimate sex.

In that way, the hijab is a symbolic and representative gesture of ethical barriers between you and I. The hijab shot down my ego, and forced me to find the beauty within myself, rather than the exterior that I so glamorously wished to reveal for attention and affection. Many women believe that wearing the headscarf is a way of improving their relationship with God. As Dr. Maher Hathout once said, “Ego is expelling God out.”

This is the practice of the hijab, where a human being is strong enough to veil his or her heart from arrogance and hate.

Today’s world is in a state of emergency. We do not need more women covering their hair. We need more common decency between individuals: love, kindness, compassion, and mercy. We need people who are willing to respond to acts of hatred and anger with acts of love and peace.

One of the most powerful, heroic stories of hijab is that of a man by the name of Raisuddin Bhuiyan. He was shot in the face 30 times in Texas shortly after September 11, 2001 by a white supremacist, Mark Stroman. Yet after Bhuiyan returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca, he chose to forgive Stroman for almost taking his life.

Not only did he forgive him in the name of Islam, but he also waged a campaign to stop Stroman’s execution. The transformation that Stroman went through because of his victim’s actions were phenomenal. A book review of The True American — which tells the story of these events — records Storman’s final words:

“I am at peace. Hate is going on in this world, and it has to stop. One second of hate will cause a lifetime of pain. Even though I lay on this gurney, seconds away from my death, I am at total peace. I’m still a proud American — Texas loud, Texas proud. God bless America. God bless everyone. Let’s do this damn thing.”

Stroman went from being a man full of hatred to living his last moments in peace.

This is the kind of immediate action our world needs today. The rituals we need to be performing every single day are of love, peace, and mercy towards one another. Those who act on the basis of hatred need to be treated with kindness because they need it most.

This is the practice of the hijab, where a human being is strong enough to veil his or her heart from arrogance and hate.

Instead of pressuring women to cover their hair, we should pressure each other to become beautiful, kind, and loving human beings. I encourage Muslims around the world to reveal our true, inner hijab. Because the exterior hijab is not moving us forward in any direction.

The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Marwa Abdelghani
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  • http://www.howtomovetheuniverse.com Jennifer Boyatt

    Sooo beautiful. Thanks.

  • Stephanie Siam

    This is beautifully written. Such important matters.

  • amyabboud14

    You’re absolutely correct; there is a lot more to hijab than just a cover for the hair. You have captured the true spirit.

  • Shelley Chinta

    Masha’allah, sister. This is one of the most *beautiful* articles I have ever read.

  • Zainab Saleem Maimani