By Aliya Vaughan
I used to think hijab oppressed Muslim women to benefit men, only to discover it was in fact, a fallacy that is used specifically to undermine Muslim women and discredit Islam. I later learned hijab is not a form of female subordination at all, but a religious obligation worn out of submission and obedience to The Creator. I will now share with you just three other Divine Wisdoms I learned on my journey towards wearing hijab as a revert Muslim:
1. Hijab is a form of protection
In my life before Islam, it was commonplace for men and women to mix freely. Although flirting wasn’t in my nature, I wasn’t naïve. I was fully aware of men’s weakness towards women and how women manipulate their feminine charms for personal gain. It therefore made perfect sense to place barriers in the way of sexual temptation.
“Allah wishes to lighten (the burden) for you; and man was created weak (cannot be patient to leave sexual intercourse with woman).”
Surah An Nisa 4:28
Allah’s messenger sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam said:
“I have not left after me any turmoil more injurious to men than the harm done to men because of women.”
(Narrated by Usama b. Zaid. in Muslim)
There is a debate that argues that women can wear whatever they like and men should just control themselves. However, in Islam, both men and women are equally responsibility for preventing and resisting unlawful sexual desire and temptation. Allah tells both to lower their gaze from looking at forbidden things and to protect their private parts (chastity) [Surah Nur verses 30 – 31]. Allah also tells women not to reveal their beauty such as their hair, body shape and under clothes to unrelated (non-Mahram) men and not to draw unnecessary attention to themselves with the likes of noisy jewellery or footwear such as stilettoes and high heels etc. When women cover up their best assets, they behave better and it’s easier for men to restrain themselves (unless, of course, they have a disease in their heart, then in which case, nothing will stop them). It is naïve to think that the hijab alone protects against sexual temptation, but it is just one of many precautionary measures, which I will elaborate further in my third lesson.
When I wore hijab, I noticed not only a shift in men’s behaviour towards me, but also a shift in my behaviour towards men. Conversations became less personal, less complicated and more respectful. Conversations were also more focused as there were no unnecessary distractions for a man with a wandering eye. The whole purpose of hijab is to hide physical attributes that can attract the opposite sex i.e. hair, curves, neck, cleavage etc.
Hijab is not only a protection against unlawful sexual attraction but also a protection against unwanted male sexual advances. The Muslim woman’s Islamic dress code is a clear statement. It conveys her position of chastity and modesty so interactions are less likely to be misconstrued by men. Allah states in the Quran, that when women cover their bodies, it allows them to move around freely without being annoyed, molested or abused (Surah Al-Ahzab 33:59). Before I wore hijab, I had been wolf whistled at, cat called and had even been on the receiving end of a few cheesy chat-up lines. It’s not flattering. It’s cheap and degrading. I even had a boss who thought it was funny to kiss me without my consent. It wasn’t okay but it was very difficult to protest when everyone else thought it was funny too. The hijab would have acted as a barrier to all that.
The hijab protects my private space and preserves my honour, dignity and self-respect. So rather than being a symbol of male oppression, I consider the hijab to be a symbol of female liberation. It allows me to control who is able to see what Allah describes as ‘my beauty,’ irrespective of people’s opinion. Allah says He has created us in the best form (Surah Tin 95:4). I should therefore have a high regard for who I am (without arrogance) and value the body I’ve been blessed with. My body is also an amana (trust). This means I have an obligation to protect it by covering it up and not exposing it to potential harm, abuse or exploitation. On the Day of Judgement my body will speak out against me if I used it or exposed it to immorality (Muslim. Ahmad).
2. A symbol of my Muslim identity
Soon after taking my shahadah, I switched to wearing loose, flowing clothing and it felt only natural to cover my hair as well. I wasn’t used to wearing anything on my head, so I initially wore my scarf as a twisted wrap, until a few months later, I was wearing my hijab properly. I was at university at the time, so all my peers saw the changes in my appearance, but only those close to me understood the reason behind it. It was only when I wore the full hijab and abayah that this realisation dawned on the rest of the department. As soon as I walked into the office, one of the administrators commented “Oh, so that’s why you wear the scarf. We all thought you had cancer!” In that moment, I learnt my second lesson: Hijab is a symbol of my Muslim identity and to wear it incorrectly creates misrepresentation and confusion. As reverts, we all learn at different rates and find some aspects of the religion easier to adopt than others. I personally needed a little time to transition from non-hijabi to hijabi and to internalise the Islamic concept of haya (modesty, humility and self-respect). To rush it would have impaired that deeply profound learning process; one that is vital for long lasting, permanent change. I’ve known sisters wear the hijab, only to take it off because they lacked the knowledge and understanding for wearing it. Hijab is an informed choice. When my decision became deeply grounded in the knowledge of why I wear it and I invested time and effort in that endeavour, then it became easier to adopt and maintain.
3. Hijab is not just about the head scarf
Hijab is not just an outer state but also an inner state. As I mentioned before, when I wore my hijab, I noticed that my whole demeanour changed, especially around men. The way I talked, the way I sat, the way I moved – everything changed and I become more self-aware in this regard. Even some of my behaviours from my non-Muslim lifestyle jarred with my highly visible Muslim identity. It didn’t look right or sound appropriate for a Muslim woman to do certain things in public, and this helped me give up some of my former bad habits.
As a student and before I embraced Islam, I worked in establishments where alcohol was served and free mixing was not only expected but encouraged. I witnessed a lot of sexual immorality that was both disturbing and disgusting and played a big part in my acceptance of the hijab in all its forms.
Night time is a playground for the shaytan. Combine skimpy clothing with free mixing, alcohol, music and dancing and you have a very dangerous mix. I knew people who destroyed marriages, split up families, spread sexually transmitted diseases and ended up with unwanted pregnancies all because of an irresponsible one-night stand or sordid affair. I knew people who damaged their personal reputation and invited rumour and gossip, which lead one of them to attempt suicide. The number of sexual harassment and abuse cases are also sadly far too many, as the ‘MeToo’ movement would also testify.
To a born Muslim who has never experienced such a lifestyle, it is hard to imagine how a seemingly ‘small’ action such as showing your hair, wearing make-up, jewellery or perfume or chit chatting with a guy can lead to outcomes of such catastrophic proportions. But for reverts, we know it’s a slippery slope as we’ve seen or experienced it on far too many occasions. Peer pressure and societal norms made it very difficult for me to break free from this toxic environment even though I hated it. But when Allah became the main focal point in my life, I welcomed hijab and other Islamic boundaries to liberate me from this life of immoral slavery.
Deterrents against adultery, fornication, the objectification, exploitation, sexual harassment and abuse of women extend far beyond the protections of the headscarf. Allah provides other safeguards such as gender segregation, deterring men and women from meeting in seclusion, advising women not to be out alone at night and not to travel on their own without a chaperone under certain conditions. During my early twenties as a non-Muslim, I travelled to Australia and New Zealand on my own. There were a number of times when I was very vulnerable and so travelling with a chaperone seems not only wise but necessary.
The hijab should not be seen as a form of oppression but a shield against many societal ills and a protection for woman, the family and humanity as a whole. Those who oppose it do not understand the wisdoms behind it and if they do know, they prefer to follow their own lusts and desires in spite of them.
If you are struggling in your decision to wear hijab, here are a few tips:
- Gain knowledge and understanding for the purpose and benefits of wearing hijab.
- Surround yourself with likeminded sisters who will support your decision.
- Avoid contemporary beauty comparisons on social media and in reality. Allah ﷻ doesn’t place importance on our looks or status, He is more concerned with our hearts and actions (Muslim).
About the author:
Aliya Vaughan has been a Muslim for 25 years and lives in the UK with her husband and children. She is a qualified life coach and author. Her award-winning children’s story ‘A Race to Prayer’ is available from Kube Publishing.