Hijab is not simply a “choice”

August 14, 2016

aab-uk-pink-and-taupe-two-tone-chiffon-hijab-s15hijpt-z-dzbb_1It’s very difficult to have an honest conversation about hijab. Muslims go in to defense mode and non-Muslims go in to attack mode. The basic question that surrounds the tension -is hijab a choice or a form of oppression? As Muslims we’ve been trained to say of course it’s a choice, many non- Muslims will say the opposite. But I’m going to say something more nuanced and honest, it is sometimes one and sometimes the other.

On the macro scale there is no doubt that some countries force their women to cover. This is often the non-Muslim retort to those of us who say hijab is a choice. They point to Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia where it is no doubt that wearing hijab is not a choice. But even this is dishonest, it makes it seem as though all Muslim countries require women to wear hijab, they don’t. Jordan is one place that certainly does not, I’ve lived here for two years and it’s quite clear that though most people here dress modestly, they certainly have a choice in their dress -wearing everything from typical western clothes with or without a head scarf to Khaleeji Abayas and black face veils.

Some non-Muslims also claim that it is not a women’s choice but her father or the men in her family who force her to wear the hijab, “no” we respond, it’s our choice. But of course there are some women who wear hijab because their father tells them to and for nothing more, like I did as a teen. But here’s another level of dishonesty: force cannot be equated with abuse. My parents “forced” me to wear hijab, just like they “forced” me to go to bed at 11pm as a teenager, just like they “forced” me to go to college. What would happen if I insisted I was not going to wear hijab? I don’t know. But I certainly wouldn’t fear an “honor killing”, which was a foreign concept to me until I heard it in the news.

Yet and still for some Muslim women it is a choice, they decide at a particular age to start covering, sometimes as a religious awakening and sometimes to fit in with friends. Some Muslim women are neither discouraged nor encouraged to wear hijab and some -to the surprise of many, are discouraged from wearing hijab.

And, one last bit of honesty, hijab isn’t just a choice in Islam. It is considered an obligation. In Islam we have obligations, encouraged acts, discouraged acts, forbidden acts and acts that fit none of the aforementioned categories. Hijab falls in to the first, an obligation. I have never seen it mentioned among major sins -to not wear a head covering, but I could not say it is a minor sin either (God knows best). The point is that yes it is a choice but it’s not like drinking water or drinking tea, it is a consequential choice. So someone may go out of their way to struggle to wear hijab because of their faith, in other words they may make a choice they personally dislike in order to please God.

I understand that it’s easier to tout the line “hijab is my choice”, I understand it’s easier to forget about the nuances but there is a bit of disservice we do to ourselves and to conversations about our faith when we try to fit it in the already existent framework. The idea that hijab is simply a choice -like choosing between water and tea, is one that is most palatable to the Western framework but it lacks the depth and nuances that the conversation deeply needs and deserves. But maybe now is the time for mantra over depth, hopefully one day we can move past that.


  • Maryam bibi

    A very interesting read..thank you!

  • Safiyat muhammed

    Nice one, the arabians countries have tostand by that law in order to preserve Islamic culture. And protect their femi less from the so call civilasation which is turnout the world need. May Allah make it easy for us.

  • Marie-Anne Le Hardy

    Wearing hijab should be a religious act. In The same way as Jewish men wear a yarmulkah, or, until recently, and perhaps still, Catholic women must cover their hair when entering the church. I personally resent the idea that a girl is made to cover herself up as soon as she develops a womanly figure. I also resent the West’s pushing its women to wear less – and less, and less, etc. – to the point of indecency.

  • Adelle

    Thank you for sharing; for your honesty and clarity.

    Instead of choice, would readiness be an apt word?

    As I explore my Jewish faith, I find myself either ready nor not ready to assume practices and commandments. And while it may be wholly out of order with what traditional Judaism requires in it’s tenets, I incorporate practices based upon my desire, willingness, and readiness to do so with consistency and with a fullness of joy and satisfaction.

    There are countries where woman are required to adhere to modesty laws. And it looks like even Israel is moving in that direction for gov’t functions. But I would hope that for the remainder of Muslim women, the hijab is an expression of one’s own connection to the divine and not something merely expected, required, or otherwise done absent joy and satisfaction.

  • Maylanie Boloto

    Most people are often apologetic of their interpretations due to “religion of convenience”. People accept the Deen if it is aligned in their own interpretation of Allah’s (swt) teachings. Plain and simple, the Qur’an instructs believing women to wear the veil just as believing men are encouraged to grow their beards for protection. Islam is a Deen of submission. If we believe the Qur’an based on the interpretations of authentic scholars who devoted their lives in studying the text and also the Sunnah, then actions follow. If we do not, then it is a form of arrogance. Wearing hijab is an obligation that signifies identity that Thy Rabb wants us to show to the World that we are the believing women just as Miriam mother of Prophet of Isah (Jesus) wore her hijab because of her obedience to Allah (swt). If one identifies herself as a Muslim woman but not wearing hijab, then work on your Deen, study more on Islamic teachings and pray for your soul.😊

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