director’s note: In this third installment of Mariyah’s ebook, The Hijab and Its Purpose, the author presents various women who have made the same decision that she has and how they are not limited in their actions as a result of their choice. Mariyah also addresses questions most frequently asked of her. We encourage you to read her thoughts and think about your own values and how you present yourself to the world. We’ve been getting a lot of feedback on this series, with a multitude of opinions and attitudes. We’re so happy to have this opportunity to learn, share and support the choices of girls around the world! Imagine!
Hijab doesn’t stop you from doing what you want
Shireen Ahmed – A passion for the game, a passion for her faith
Here is the story of Shireen Ahmed: a hijabi who shares her experiences with her passion for football, her connection with her hijab, and the ups and downs she has faced due to this. On March 1, 2014 something happened that changed Shireen’s life forever. On this day FIFA [The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or the International Federation of Association Football] announced that the IFAB [the International Association Football Board] had overturned their decision on banning head covering on the field. Friends, relatives, family, everyone was congratulating her and sharing this exciting news. Ever since July 2012, Ahmed has written, blogged and talked about her hope, gratitude and frustration with the process of the ban. When she heard the news, she was elated. But she was also exhausted and drained from the time lost from the sport she had come to know and love as a child. “It was a part of my identity. It was a part of my routine. It was a part of my life.” Ahmed says. In those years when the hijab was banned, she tried to find other ways to occupy herself, to keep her motivated and give her a sense of fulfillment.
She writes for the Huffington Post saying that she could relate to the anger and frustration felt by so many women who were told “NO” by an organisation that was supposed to create opportunities and advocate for the beautiful game of football. (Ahmed)
But life went on. She got on with her life, still watching football games but not playing as regularly. Later on, after what she says felt like several lifetimes, she found a league that would accept her and her hijab. She loved having to be able to play the sport again, the sweat rolling down her face, and the thrill of the game in her heart.
“And I remember what I always knew: I was a footballer who wore hijab. Not a hijab-wearing woman who played football. Fast forward to 2014 when Jerome Valcke announced: “It was decided that female players can cover their heads to play.” Muslim women could always play. Now they are permitted. Semantics.” Ahmed quotes.
She also states that she thanks God that her daughter will not have to go through what she did. She also says that today, she is not “happy”; she is disappointed that she lost so much time and energy. She pledges not to let it ruin other childhoods and affect and exclude people.
Football is for all of us. It should always have been. – Ahmed
Tawakkol Karman – Striving for Justice
Yemeni woman Tawakkol Karman- a journalist, politician and human rights activist was one of the youngest people to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 (Age 32), alongside Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee. Karman was awarded the Nobel Prize for her ‘non-violent efforts towards women’s safety and the right to participate fully in peace initiatives’. In 2005, she founded an organization named ‘Women Journalists Without Chains’ that documents unfair treatment of writers and newspapers and also reports human rights abuse/violations in Yemen. She was the face organizing weekly protests against the Government corruption and suppression in the year 2007 in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. She continued on her journey against injustice, encouraging public to support the Arab Spring Movement taking place in 2011 and was an active vocal opponent against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime. When giving her acceptance speech in Arabic, she spoke about the struggles of the Arab women and how the situation must be changed. She says: “To all those women who are still stumbling on the path of freedom in countries with no social justice or equal opportunities, to all of them I say, thank you. This day would not have come true without you.”
When she was questioned about her hijab and how it is not in proportion with her level of education and wisdom, she replied saying: “Man in early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I’m wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilization that man has achieved, and is not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is regressive back to ancient times.” This is one of her most widely circulated quotes, and one that has stirred much passion as well as criticism.
Mariah Idrissi – “Your personality isn’t restricted when you’re wearing a hijab.”
Mariah Idrissi was taken aback when she heard her model booker friend ask whether she wanted to pose for H&Ms latest ad campaign. “You know I wear a headscarf, right?” She said in reply. Idrissi, currently 23, is H&Ms first model to don a hijab and has begun a lot of discussion on Muslims, the Hijab, and the modelling industry. She is attempting to send a message to everyone out there: “People have said, ‘Wearing a hijab is about being modest so how come you are posing?’ But why can you not look decent and covered? You don’t need to be naked to look good. There is no restriction on having a personality if you wear a headscarf,” she says.
While the shoot was taking place, Mariah says that she ‘pushed her opinion on what to wear’. There was one pair of trousers that was a bit cropped and I had to tell them there was too much ankle on show,” she laughs. “We went with the big flares instead. Then we picked the checked scarf because of the colour but it was too short to cover me so we had to find a sewing machine and stitch two together.”
When asked about her relationship with the hijab, and how she started wearing it, she said she started wearing it at age 17. “There was no pressure,” she says. “My dad is a more relaxed Muslim. But I started teaching at the school so it made sense, I did Islamic spoken-word poetry and started praying five times a day so had to cover up for that anyway. My mum started wearing it at about the same time I did.” She also shares that wearing the hijab has been a very natural to her, and that she hasn’t really noticed people treating her differently. “London is the best place in the Western world to be a Muslim. It is so multicultural.”
Why is it worn?
It is worn for a variety of reasons, because there are a variety of women who wear it, and do so for different causes. Some wear it because they believe it is God’s command, an obligation, and they must do so. Some do it because they feel more confident. Some do it so that people judge them for their mind and character rather than their physical appearance. Some wear the hijab because they are drawn to it. I, like many women, wear it for all the reasons above. (see section on why women wear it)
Is it compulsory?
Again, this is a matter that is widely been debated upon. Some believe that it must be done and is obligatory, a duty that must be completed. Some say it is a matter of personal choice, and some say it is not needed at all. It all depends on your culture, how you have been brought up to think of it as, and your personal perspective.
What is its message?
The message of the hijab to everyone else, is whatever the wearer wants it to be. This is something that is very subjective, changing from person to person. Some might want themselves to represent their community, their religion. Some just want to be taken seriously, and for their intellect, their personality, and their mannerisms rather than what people can see on the outside. I personally wear it to let others know what I believe in, that my creator has asked me to do something, whose benefits override any other doubts I had. I want people to know me for the words that come from my mouth, and my actions, rather than perceive me based on physical traits.
What is the historical context/reason behind it, if any?
The most accurate historical context behind the hijab would be the revelation of those particular verses that ask the believing women to cover themselves and ‘place their khumur over their bosoms’ (AlIslam.org). These verses are speculated to be revealed in the latter half of 6 A H (in accordance to the Hijri or Islamic calendar). This when converted to Christian (Gregorian) dates is 627 A.D. The women of Madinah, considered to be the most pious and believing, tore their aprons apart and covered their heads when they heard this commandment from God. Please see the ‘Purpose behind the hijab’ section for a detailed explanation of the same.
Is it for culture or for safety?
Some may say that the hijab is merely a cultural tradition, while others may argue that it is a commandment from God. My personal view is that although the style, material, and fashion with which a woman covers her head, chest, and neck area etc. may be largely influenced by her cultural environment, wearing the hijab is an obligation a Muslim woman may choose to fulfill. I certainly believe that there is a certain amount of safety that covering of the head and bosom as well as wearing modest, loose clothing has to offer.
Is it comfortable?
It is as comfortable as you choose it to be. Wearing the hijab is something that a woman must be comfortable with, and she has to do it because she wants to. There are many different styles and materials to choose from, depending on what is available and how the weather in your country is, one can always choose the kind of covering one is comfortable in.
Does the colour matter?
One of the very first Hadiths I memorized as a kid was “innama al-a’mal bi-l-niyyat,”. What it means is that the judgements of a person’s actions are made based upon his intentions, i.e. if his intentions were good he will be rewarded and if they were evil, they will be punished. Similarly, the colour and the way in which you wear the hijab (or do anything for that matter) depends upon your intention. Generally, it is advised to stick with colours and prints that are not too eye-catchy or flashy so as to attract unwanted attention. However, it all depends upon one’s intention while wearing it. If a woman wearing any kind of scarf intends to do so to attract attention or to lure males, then the entire point of wearing the hijab is rendered moot. The point being, the intention and thought behind wearing your hijab is more important than the colour of your scarf.
Why only women?
As mentioned in the earlier chapters, the hijab is not only for women. Moreover, the hijab is more than a scarf on your head. It is your mannerisms, your thoughts, actions, the lowering of your gaze, and modest behaviour and attire. This applies not only to women, but to men too. However, the satr or the portion of one’s body that must be covered in public is different for women and for men. Indeed, God has made these guidelines with his unparalleled wisdom.
How was the orientation/structure of it decided?
As mentioned before, there is no particular structure or style of the hijab. Women all around the world wear it, and do so in a variety of different ways, using a vast selection of materials, colours, and styles. There is no set structure to it. Each country, or culture will have women wearing their hijabs in a different manner.
How long is it lengthwise?
Scarves and hijabs come in a variety of sizes and lengths. Typically, they are rectangular in shape and around 2m lengthwise and 2/3m in width. However, their length and width can vary greatly and this is just a rough approximation.
After what age do girls begin to wear it?
It is a girl’s choice whether she wants or doesn’t want to wear it. It is also her choice as to when she wants to begin wearing it, as and when she is comfortable. However, some girls are encouraged to begin wearing the hijab as they start puberty.
How did the hijab come into being?
As stated in the previous questions, the hijab began being worn after the verses regarding the same were revealed around the latter half of the 5th century. Although, covering of the head is much older than that. “Most people think of the veil solely in terms of Islam, but it is much older. It originated from ancient Indo-European cultures, such as the Hittites, Greeks, Romans and Persians. It was also practiced by the Assyrians. Veiling had class as well as gender implications…” (Dashu)
Why is it generally black?
The hijab and burqa (outer loose covering) is most commonly black, although it can be of any colour. Black is a basic colour that goes with almost all other colours and different styles. There is no such compulsion to wear black but it is definitely preferred by many women.
What is the use if it only covers your hair?
This is something I get asked A LOT. People are quick to question how covering only one part of your body “makes you modest”. That is something that needs to be understood, beauty is not just in the head and the hair, and neither is the hijab. As I have tried to clarify time and time again, hijab is not defined just by the covering of the head, although this is what the term has come to be known as. The hijab is more than a piece of cloth, it is your behaviour in front of others, the sincerity and intentions behind your speech and your actions, the way in which you interact with all those around you, how you present yourself. Refer to the previous chapters for more detailed information.
Do you wear it at home too?
I generally do not wear it at home, as I do not wear my hijab in front of my mahram, i.e. a list of people in front of which it is permissible to not wear the veil. These include people like your parents, younger siblings, grandparents, mother’s brothers, father’s brothers etc. Although, if we have (non-mahram) guests over I do wear my hijab at home.
What are the consequences of not wearing it?
In most parts of the world, there is no consequence of not wearing it. As it is an individual’s choice to wear or not to wear the hijab, it is also her choice if she wants to take it off. For most people that believe in the hijab, and covering up, also believe that it is a sin to not wear it and the consequence is in God’s hands.
Are you going to teach your children to wear it too?
I have always been an advocate of letting people make their own decisions for themselves. When my kids are of the right age, I will help them understand what the hijab means and figure out what they want for themselves. I will show them the verses in the Qur’an and from the Hadith. I will make sure they understand why I do it and what the true meaning behind it all is. They will have to make the decision by themselves.
How comfortably can it be followed at a workplace like a school in India?
I am fortunate enough to be studying in an international school that promotes values like openmindedness and intercultural awareness. I did not hesitate to start wearing the scarf at school; I knew I was doing it for myself and to strengthen my relationship with God, rather than for the people around me. Alas, many schools in India do not allow headscarves to be worn and have strict rules against anything that deviates from the dress code or uniform. As for me, I think I am very much comfortable with my hijab and can do everything that I did without it. I can study, take part in discussion, play football, run around, pretty much everything. I don’t feel bound by it because I know my hijab is in my hands. I do get the occasional stares or questions about “HOW can you possibly wear a scarf in this heat!?” to which I answer that over time you get used to things and disadvantages like hot weather are much smaller in comparison to its advantages.
Next week: A hijab Look Book!