From the Old Blog: The Hijab and Patriarchy

I was hoping to get back to the regular scheduled programming on this blog. I’ve never intended it to become a forum for intellectual discussion and critique of Islamic theology.  It was just a blog with some pretty pictures and some soothing platitudes and it was my hope that it would enable Muslims to ponder the middle way and allow non-Muslims to see a “sane and normal” Muslim out there doing sane and normal things.

That is still my hope for the blog, I guess, but I’m not quite ready to return to that. Not yet.

There have been some comments regarding patriarchy and hijab that I would like to explore a bit further.

Taking off the hijab, has for me, been a liberating experience.  Often times, women wearing hijab (including me) will make the statement that going out without their hijab is akin to going out naked.  I’ve come to see that this is an extremely flawed viewpoint. To make that statement is suggesting that our hair and necks are somehow equal to the breasts and genitalia.  While the breasts, and especially the genitalia, are linked closely to sex in both the psychological and physical spheres, the hair and neck simply are not. Or maybe perhaps this is purely cultural.  In a society where a womans hair and neck are not regularly seen, such as Saudi (I hate using them as an example for anything!), maybe the hair and neck are sexual. But is this acceptable? It’s as if on one hand we are saying women are not sexual objects so we cover them because they are sexual objects. Do you see the circular argument and flaw in logic here?

Society and religion certainly have always dictated what is acceptable to reveal of our sexuality in the public sphere.  In Islamic thought the concept of awrah, or what must be covered, is the primary concept dictating what can be shown to the world. For women it is only the face and hands, although the most conservative interpretations also dictate that she must also cover her face and lower her voice. The latter mysoginistic interpretation not withstanding, I’m coming to believe that what the Quran refers to as the “adornments” does not refer to the hair. 

I’ve felt no shame showing my hair, although there has been some embarassingly self conscious moments that were tempered by humor.  The most comical was me walking into a room full of workmates, who were,  for the first time seeing me without my head covered.  There were several double takes as recognition set in and then I recall hearing an uproarious raising of voices and even a few screams. A hilarious and memorable moment! 

My interaction with the Muslim community has been somewhat less, but I have picked up my daughter from school and recieved a few dirty looks from women, but the men didn’t seem the least bit phased by my uncovering which is surprising to me.

Now back to this connection between hijab and patriarchy. While most would agree that the cloth itself isn’t inherently patriarchal, there are patriarchic implications to the entire matter.  The fact that women’s sexuality truly is at the heart of the issue, and it should be covered in the most extreme way; the fact that the interpretations and body of scholarship which has deemed it absolutely necessary, even the 6th pillar, were all handed down by Arab men; the fact that the extreme pressure to wear it come from the masjid, the masjid still run by men.  These are all considerations. But perhaps, the most troubling is that women themselves have bought into it, hook, line, and sinker.  Certainly not all. I’ve been humbled by the number of women who have told me on this very blog that they can empathize greatly.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about: How and why the hijab has become such a repressive issue for many of us and why did it ever reach this level intensity, given it isn’t even close to the most important aspect of  Islamic spirituality.  What is this obsession with women’s bodies and how do we cure it?  Is it patriarchy looking to control our bodies and even our voice and thougths?

P.S. Comment moderation is off! I feel that makes for a better flow of dialogue.  If you get nasty you’ll be deleted.



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31 responses to “From the Old Blog: The Hijab and Patriarchy

  1. Wow. Just, wow. I would so love to sit and talk about these things over a cup of tea, in real life! You are incredibly thoughtful and eloquent.–Charlene

  2. its me again,I just thought about your question in terms of whats the obsession with Muslims and the woman's body. You seem to have Muslims who are obsessed with covering up women and on the other hand non-muslims who are obsessed with showing off a woman's body. I could also ask the exact same question to the western society who seem obsessed with diets, celebrities who have the best bodies, men who wont date a woman unless shes a size 4, etc etc etc. But I dont ask them. I dont blame them for their obsession. why? because I know that the woman body is created to be this way to men, all I can do is trust that God knows best how to handle to issue of the obsession of women's body, and I much rather prefer someone to obsess over my Hijab than to obsess over my legs. What I do blame the western women for is allowing their bodys to become such a big obsession to men. A woman is much much more than a pair of legs. And with Muslims we say "you know what, I have nice legs, but thats none of your business." and I love that Islam has given women this dignity. It is not Man who could have possibly given women this rare diginity, it is God. When I look at hijab and how it battles the issues of women's selt-esteem, exploitation of women's body and just plain shallowness of outer-appearance one word comes to mind when I think of Hijab. – GENIOUS. Truly genious. Out of this world, and something Man-kind could not have invented.

  3. @ charlene– let's do it! next time you're in town!

  4. @kwoodturtle.thanks for your comment. I wasnt trying to compare muslims vs non-muslims, i was trying to explain that its not just Muslims who have this so called "obsession" with the woman's body, that its also non-muslims. Just human beings in general are like this because this how Allah swt created us. We were created beautiful and eye-catching so it is no wonder that society makes a big deal of how a woman looks. With this big focus on women's appearance comes a number of issues. You have men who approach women for all the wrong reasons (looks mainly), pretending they are genuine then leaving. This happens to alot of girls unfortunatley its because their parents let them leave the house looking just… lets not go there.With Muslims, instead of checking each and every single day what our daughters are wearing before they leave the house, we encourage them to wear Hijab because everything compatible with wearing Hijab is very modest, very decent and very protective. This is just one of the great affects of Hijab in the current world we live in, theres also great benefits such as improving your spiritual level, obeying Allah swt and just being modest in general is very very good for the soul. Masha'Allah.Yes women who wear Hijab love fashion, clothes and lingerie but you have to remember that theres a very big difference between Hijabi fashion and normal fashion. A Hijabis fashion options are minimized because mini skirts, low cut tops, sky rocket heels and other kinds of revealing clothing are not in any way in line with wearing Hijab so she automatically dismisses this clothing unless its infront of her husband, but Hijab doesnt exsist between husband and wife, so it doesnt apply.I am completely convinced that Hijab counteracts the toughest issues with women's body issues, self-esteem, etc etc.. Yes you've heard it before Hijab is liberating, and its not popular for no reason. Its obedience to Allah swt and a very very effective tool to get further in your religion, and life. :)Hope that explains everything, I think its quiet obvious how i feel about Hijab lol. 😉

  5. So you have two women – the first wears a long loose skirt and button up top that covers her backside. Her hair and neck are exposed. The second wears tight jeans, a thin long sleeve undershirt with some type of cami on top with an elaborately done hijab covering her hair and neck. You all know people would be byatching about sister one for not following the Quran and while sister would be cajoled into looser clothes she would be ok – she would totally get a "Mash'llah she wears hijab"With all this talk of only Allh knows what is in our hearts aand thus our degree of religious commitment, we are indeed an often shallow bunch based purely on superficial measurements of piety. UGH

  6. Salaam sister,In 18 years of being a muslim I took off my hijab twice, simply because of wanting to be "normal"… but the whole time the verse from the Quran keept flashing in my mind like a censor…and questioning my self "if you belive in in Islam why dont you wear it? All the arguments above are to complicatedly made…if we are talking about mini skirt no one will ask what it is? How short? what should it cover? Everybody just agree on what it is and knows what it is, but when it's hijab/jilbab everybody has different meanings or interpretations, why?"Aura" is best translated as adornment but unfortunately does not exactly have the same meaning…so neck might not be an adorment but it is "aura"…But then My questions are more like… What is wrong with hijab/jilbab? Why is it so difficult for us to wear it? If Ummul mukminnin wore them, why don't we? Because we understand better?Umm Ibrahim

  7. If you think Hijab is not God's command but rather is something man created, why did you start wearing it…were you forced? There is no compulsion in Islam… just becoz u dont agree with it, y do u feel the need to explain the reasons….move on already.

  8. Truly agree with your last statement. As for being a visible Mulsim I used to gain a lot of pride and strength from that. However over the years it has become exhausting. You can't always live and act according to some mythical standard you know? After awhile I just want to be myself without the extra baggage. I'm not sure if that makes sense.

  9. kistina :)

    salam, i just started practicing islam properly in recent years, Alhamdulillah, im so grateful Allah has given me hidayah! hehe. As for the hijab, i've given up once or twice, but after a while, i took it seriously and put my foot down. I believe it is a conscious decision to make. This piece of cloth is ON YOUR HEAD! it helps me, remind myself of how to act as a muslimah, make good decisions, be patient. I realized that when i wear it, i am displaying an example of how a muslimah is. therefore, it helps me better myself in so many ways. Once making that decision, i realized that i had to change my ways, there were so many things that i was doing wrong, and MashaAllah there are still things i still need to work on. But, so what?! so what, i had to change my ways? change who i AM? dont i want to be good in the sight of Allah? dont i want to be granted paradise? (i am not saying that wearing the hijab can grant you paradise. however, it is a stepping stone to become a better muslim, hence, insyaAllah, being good in the sight of Allah ) furthermore, i do think that we should cover our hair, it is most of the scholars opinion on the verse in the AlQuran, so why not? I think we all should learn more, more arabic language, the AlQuran, books on history of islam and insyaAllah we all can better ourselves and increase our iman as we grow older 🙂 assalamualaikum 😀 forgive me if i said any wrong.

  10. Anonymous, Your story brings tears to my eyes and an anger to my heart. Revolt love. Revolt, rebel, and test his love for you. Do not lose yourself simply to appease him. You will hate yourself in the end if you do. I am so sorry you are going through this difficult time, and as a woman I am so proud of you sis, proud of you for knowing who you are and standing by what you feel. It is not your problem, it is his. If he can't get over his problem then there are tough choices to be made by you. Every single day make sure he knows exactly how you feel and where you stand, because it means he needs to decide where he stands, and he can never say you didn't tell him how you were feeling. We change in life, if being with a hijabi is more important for him than being with you, think about what that means… Your husband sounds like he believes the myth that the woman should sacrifice. Don't buy into it.

  11. damn I was really pissed and hurt. I guess we are now officially friends since we survived our first "fight". I'm so relieved. ❤

  12. Stephanie, Was only wondering what does your husband say about this?

  13. He's adjusting; was a little put off by it at first but now is okay with it. He's not at all a controlling man and besides, he's known me long enought to know that once I get something in my head there's no point in trying to change it.

  14. Hahahaha!! Houda, that is quite possibly the best comment EVER! You just got yourself a new blog follower.. lol =D

  15. @ Andrea– Thanks so much for your comment! I always love comments from non-Muslims. (no I would never call you an infidel, what a loaded word!).I do believe that modesty is part of my faith, but that concept can change from person to person, among societies, and over time. I think this is why the Quran is somewhat unclear on what exactly should be covered. As with every text it's certainly open to interpretation.

  16. Assaamu Aleykum Nida, I totally agree with you here.JazakALLAH Khair for this great reminder MASHALLAH.This is how muslims should think, rather than trying to "fit" into a society which has nothing islamic.

  17. Uppssss again, sorry sister Stephanie, I mispelled your name.Had a hard day lol!

  18. My faith is based on the belief that there is only one God and that Muhammad (and others) were the messenger of God.I believe in the revelation. I believe in the unseen. I believe in the day of judgement and an afterlife. I believe God is just. I believe he is one to be loved and also feared.I do not take all of the texts (including the Quran) literally. I realize that is a highly controversial statement and one that I hope to explore more in the near future. I don't claim to have it all figured out. I'm only a seeker. But I do consider myself Muslim even though I don't believe all of the Orthodoxy.

  19. Also, there is good in the hadith and wisdom. I'm not completely opposed to them as a whole. I do not consider them as part of the revelation or divine. They are a compilation that was written and collected over a period of many years. Just as with all history, there will be flaws and untruths. There will be things simply lost or misrepresented. Case in point: the vast difference between Sunni and Shia hadith. Both sides claim "truth", but that is quite subjective now isn't it?

  20. I keep hearing references to male scholars, but Islam has a strong history of strong female scholarship. One of the clearest explanations on dress comes from our mother Aisha, may God be well pleased with her, and Aisha was a tremendous scholar. As far as Shia versus Sunni ahadith, the teachings that both take from the ahadith are not very different. The narrators differ, but it goes back to the same source. The differences between Sunni and Shia aren't based in the different ahadith collections upon which they rely.

  21. @ Anon–yes, we do have strong, intelligent women to look up to, mashallah, and Muslims could do well to contemplate their personalities and roles quite a bit more than we do. As for sunni and shias, the latter don't even recognize Aisha as a legitimate transmitter of hadith. So yes there is a big difference.

  22. Certainly so, Stephanie, but this doesn’t mean our perceptions are clearer then those of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Shahada is not only la ilaha ila’Allah – but also Muhammad RasoolAllah. What is our faith if we only take the Qur’an as our book, without taking our prophet as our guide? The closest perception of reality to absolute Truth is the prophets, the closer we hold ourselves to his path, the closer we are to Allah. As simple as that – I’d never argue that my way is better then your way, but the Prophet’s (peace be upon him way) is better then either of ours. Wa salaam!

  23. unsettledsoul

    I laugh at the argument that we should be literally just like our prophet. So there are people out there still brushing their teeth with a Miswak because of it, and entering the bathroom with a certain foot because of it. I think the point of emulating the prophet is to follow the good deeds he did, relative to current times. And what does any of this have to do with Stephanie deciding to remove her hijab? Hadith are wrought with superstition, we ALL pick and choose from hadith, or do you brush your teeth with Miswak still? Because that is what the prophet did and that is what hadith/fiqh us sunnah claims we should do. Not all of life and living is literal, it is the essence of the prophet I agree we should emulate, as we should strive to be better people. How does following a ritual or superstition of the hadith make me a better person? Sometimes we need to put things into perspective instead of blindly following. One thing I find with traditional people of all faiths, is they have lost their compassion in their fight to prove that they are right about God.

  24. Assalamu Aleykum,Thank you Stephanie for your answer.Of course as you know I don't agree with you, but I'm thankful for your explanations about your believes and I will make duas for you to be guided on the right path INSHALLAH.Unsettledsoul, I find it really shocking the way you make fun of Sunnahs such as Miswak and entering the bathroom with left foot.All Sunnahs must be respected and those who make fun of any of them have serious problems with their Imaan, and should make Tawbah.AstaghfirULLAH, I don't know how you can go this far.And about Niqab, yes there are scholars who believe that it is Fard, part of the Jilbab, which is the dresscode of the muslim woman, especially in those times of fitna.Everyone makes their own choice but shouldn't make fun of any part of Islam (Quran, Hadiths, The Sahaba, the 4 great scholars of the Schools of Fiqh), as this is a really serious matter.May ALLAH SWT guide us all.Ameen.

  25. I agree the hadith are full of superstitiion and are not above criticism.I challenge anyone to take a real and honest look at any collection and argue otherwise.

  26. P.S. ok ok so I say I laugh at literal following of the prophet, LOL, but my comment is not meant to make fun, so for that I apologize.If you are willing to discuss this with me I would love that!

  27. I forgot to say, whatever wrong I said is from me, and whatever right I said is from ALLAH SWT.May ALLAH SWT forgive me if I said anything wrong.Ameen.

  28. As Salaamu Alaikum, Sarah Bint Muhammad said it perfectly. And beyond that, I like to focus more on matters of the heart and matters of the spirit. As Muslimahs,we shouldn't be like the western society, always focusing on women's looks and dress. We need to support and uplift each other.

  29. Sister Nida, You're welcome, I tried my best to explain my point of view.I don't know if I'm a litteral follower, but I do my best to follow what I believe is the true Islam.I wish you the same peace and happyness INSHALLAH.

  30. Umm Zakariya, just wanted to point out that you are adressing the wrong person sister.

  31. Correction: … she has to *show* her legs/arms/body/etc., not "wear"! sorry 🙂

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