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Hijab Between East and West



Reply Date

Jan 28, 2019


I am a student of international politics, studying Islam at the moment, and I wanted to say thank-you for a wonderful website and for all your hard work - I have learned so much. I have read that the Quran states that the people of the book should be protected under Muslim rule, which would suggest religious tolerance. The secular state of course has its origins in religious toleration and indeed democracy, which is often considered consistent with Islam. That is also embedded with ideas of tolerance.

My questions pertain to hijab and the attitudes towards Islamic and Western dress. While we often see protests about attempts to have girls remove hijab, for example in France, why isn’t it that the opposite would be true in countries where the wearing of hijab is strongly condoned, that girls and Western women for whom it is not a part of their custom or religion would have this choice?

For example; why do children have to wear hijab? Why do Muslim men outside of the West tend to treat and view Western women as immoral and promiscuous, and therefore approachable for sex, because they dress differently – even when they are married and dressed modestly? Shouldn’t the attitudes of Muslims outside of the West be tolerant of difference and work equally to dispel stereotypes and myths about the West? Thank you for your answer.




Short Answer: As for stereotypes of the West, Western media has largely promoted that. It is true that not all Western women dress to heighten their sex appeal. But, it is also true that sexuality has become a commodity that will give any male person the understanding that a Western woman is available.


Salam (Peace) Dear Alison,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

Admittedly it was difficult to ascertain the meaning of your first question, but pertaining to the contradiction of Muslim women being forced to not wear the hijab in a non-Muslim country and how in a Muslim country Western women and women who would not normally wear hijab do have that choice. If one looks further into this question, two other issues arise:

  • One’s value system.
  • The social conditions of a country.

The value systems that relate to wearing a scarf in the Western world were eroded in the 19th century. Most countries could almost be part of the debate of ‘Welfare or Wealth’ with religion of the side of welfare. Fashion columnist, Virginia Postrel said:

“The cost benefits brought about by mass production, large markets, and consumerism have led to an increasing interest in aesthetics as a source of value. No longer satisfied with the purely functional consumers are looking for goods which, through their design, allow the consumer to express his or her personal taste. This is in parts why there is also such a premium being placed upon how people look in our society with all of the attendant anxieties about competition and deception that accompany beauty”.

Now why look back to the 19th century? That is because it was a century that represented a break between the old and the new. Where headscarves were common wear and when the church began to lose the battle between women as second class citizens against the growing tide of the Industrial Revolution. It is not difficult to find scarves that were traditionally worn by most European women for example. The 19th century brought into play “the product to be sold” for profit.

Women have gone from being perceived as chattel to the illusion of freedom, but the reality of that freedom is that as a product one becomes available to the buyer. It was war and the need of women to facilitate the service industries and to provide cheap labor that was the gateway to her liberty. But, essentially to play her role in the selfish concept of freedom, yet still a servant of man, thus still a second-class citizen.

Attractiveness serves to ignore any code of ethics. It is based on desire, so women as a product are to be desired or whatever commodity they market is to be desired and desire is insatiable, its appetite driving man to do what he necessarily would not do. A tradition of Prophet Muhammad tells us:

“Two are the types amongst the denizens of Hell, the one possessing whips like the tail of an ox and they flog people with their help. [The second one] the women who would be naked in spite of their being dressed, who are seduced [to wrong paths] and seduce others with their hair high like humps. These women would not get into Paradise and they would not perceive the odor of Paradise, although its fragrance can be perceived from such and such distance, from great distance.” (Reported by Muslim.)

This may seem extreme. But, a women who is well-covered and simply dressed does not hold the same level of attraction as a women who will use her characteristics to attract men or to take advantage of the weaknesses of men.Hijab Between East and West

In Islam, the rights of one cannot exist without acknowledging the rights of others. In a secular society, the rights of one, is given without acknowledging the rights of the other and even in legal terms. The woman who attracts the undesired attention of men will say that her rights are being abused, but yet she has not taken into consideration the effect of her heightening her sexuality through the contemporary Western dress code.

A woman who covers her hair with the rest of her attire following suit, psychologically is considered unavailable. Some Western men consider this to be a threat to their masculinity, but generally speaking; an increasing number of men find greater respect for these women. It is a kindness to men by helping them to remember who they are.

The media does not reflect this and by its nature of attraction, it has helped to make women as a sex object prevail over women with a mind and an intellect. This is the value system set in societies that condemn veiling of the hair, compounded by a prevailing sense of insecurity, which make people automatically react to anything that is considered to be different. To help us take control of our faculties a man came to the Prophet and said:

“I have found a woman of rank and beauty, but she does not give birth to children. Should I marry her?” He said: “No.” He came again to him, but he prohibited him. He came to him third time, and he (the Prophet) said: “Marry women who are loving and very prolific, for I shall outnumber the peoples by you.” (Reported by Abu Dawud.)

So what we have is in fact women who once enjoined fellowship with one another, now competing with one another. Therefore the covering of the hair is not just about “hair” but becomes part of the whole debate about sexuality, commodity and the impact on society as a whole. It is interesting that the number of women who convert to Islam are from higher education indicating the desire to be seen as a whole person, not a commodity with her character and intellect intact.

Now the contrary takes place with Western women and women who do not wear the veil in an Islamic country. Yes, they are given a choice because that is the nature of Islam because its aim is to strengthen the human will, not to undermine and belittle it.

At the same time these women must not only consider their rights, but must consider the rights of the Muslim community in which they live otherwise there can be a negative impact. Instead of instilling the development of the individual as a valuable and contributing member of society, it then becomes an instilling of self-love adding tensions within society.

For instance, in Western terms, it might be considered a matter of subjugation that women pray behind men in Islam, but in Islamic terms, a prayer is acceptable when one is focused on what one is praying.

Where is the focus for men if they are praying alongside or behind women? So as such, as girls become aware of the sexuality by the age of nine and begin to differentiate between themselves and boys, they also become ready to wear the veil. Of course this differs from country to country, but essentially, adopting the veil by the age of nine helps the girl child to learn self-respect and to honor her sexuality.

Umar entered upon Hafsa and said:

“O my daughter! Do not be misled by the manners of her who is proud of her beauty because of the love of Allah’s Apostle for her.” By “her” he meant Aisha. Umar added: “Then I told that to Allah’s Apostle and he smiled [on hearing that].” (Reported by Al-Bukhari.)

While in France, Muslim women are being stripped of what is a part of their identity, in Russia earlier this year, women took to filing a law suit and won the right to wear a veil in their passport photos. Hijab Between East and West

As for stereotypes of the West, Western media has largely promoted that. It is true that not all Western women dress to heighten their sex appeal. But, it is also true that sexuality has become a commodity that will give any male person the understanding that a Western woman is available.

This image is also unknowingly promoted by Western women who travel to Islamic countries, and generally equating hot weather with less clothing as a means to keep cool. Less clothing does not mean hardly any clothing. So the following prophetic tradition highlights the problem that unfolds:

“Allah has written for the son of Adam his inevitable share of adultery whether he is aware of it or not. The adultery of the eye is the looking [at something, which is sinful to look at], and the adultery of the tongue is to utter [what it is unlawful to utter], and the inner self wishes and longs for [adultery] and the private parts turn that into reality or refrain from submitting to the temptation.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari.)

We have only one life to do what is right and that can be by honoring the rights of others. The sexual objectification of women not only impacts on women in terms of sex crimes, it also encourage women to see themselves only as a source of pleasure and turns the whole concept of sexuality upside down for desire cannot be legislated.

Thank you again for your question and please keep in touch.


(From Ask About Islam archives)

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

How Does a Muslim Woman Cope with Practical Life?

New Muslim: Can I Wear Hijab Sometimes, Not Full-Time?

How Should Muslim Women Dress in the West?

About Hwaa Irfan

Late Hwaa Irfan, may her soul rest in peace, served as consultant, counselor and freelance writer. Her main focus was on traditional healing mechanisms as practiced in various communities, as opposed to Western healing mechanisms.

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