‘No I don’t wear it when I’m sleeping!’ and other answers to questions about hijaab
Disclaimer: this article is not a detailed exposition of covering in Islam. It is a piece related to my own experiences as a Muslim woman who covers, in terms of the questions I have been asked by non-Muslims on the topic.
One of the things that non-Muslims commonly ask me about is hijaab. It isn’t all that surprising considering that hijaab is such a visible sign of a Muslim woman’s faith; as far as wearing your faith on your sleeve goes, hijaab comes pretty close.
Contrary to what some non-Muslims might think, we don’t find it offensive when you ask us about hijaab. What we do find offensive is when you make assumptions about us based on nothing but our hijaab. Imagine if someone judged you purely by the shirt you happened to be wearing that day; you probably wouldn’t think it was an accurate or fair assessment of the sort of person you are. A good gauge of your sense (or lack!) of style perhaps, but I doubt anyone would want their character to be judged by a single piece of cloth. As Muslim women we simply ask for the same respect we afford others in this regard.
In this piece I want to share some of the most common questions I’ve been asked about hijaab and my answers to them. By hijaab I sometimes mean a headscarf and at other times covering more generally. Where I use the term jilbaab in any of my answers, I’m referring to a long, loose garment worn by Muslim women to cover their bodies. InshaAllah it should be obvious from the questions and answers which I’m referring to in each case.
My hope is that if you are a non-Muslim harbouring similar questions about hijaab, reading the answers below will help you to better understand it and perhaps even allay some of your assumptions and preconceptions. I haven’t chosen to organise the questions in any particular order of significance though clearly some are deeper, and some much less so, than others! Any italicised words used in my answers can be found on the Key Terms and Expressions page of the blog.
Do you keep it on when you’re sleeping?
No, I don’t observe hijaab when I’m sleeping! It wouldn’t really serve any purpose as sleeping is not something we generally do out in the public gaze.
Did your father make you wear it?
Did your husband make you wear it?
No. Allah guided me to adopt it for His sake, alhamdulillah.
Don’t you feel hot?
When I get asked this question during the summer, when the (relatively) uncovered questioner is herself red and warm, I’m tempted to throw out a ‘Well, don’t you?’ in reply. Tempting as that may be though, my actual response tries to answer the issue underlying the question, namely why on earth someone would cover so much in such warm weather. ‘Yes I’m hot, but Hellfire is much hotter!’ is normally a startling (and therefore effective) way to open an explanation about hijaab being about obeying my Lord, rather than following my own whims and desires.
Are you bald under your hijaab?
‘Not last time I checked,’ is a great tongue-in-cheek way of responding to this question when the poser is actually serious in asking.
Do you ever brush your hair?
Yes! I wash, dry and brush my hair just like any other woman; I’m just selective about who gets to see my well-groomed locks.
Do you wear it inside the house?
The conditions of hijaab state that it must be observed in front of men who are not mahrams. A mahram is a man with whom marriage is legally prohibited in Islam, such as a father, brother, son and maternal or paternal uncle. The Quran gives a comprehensive list of who is and isn’t considered a mahram. The only exception is a woman’s husband, who becomes her mahram due to his marriage to her. Non-mahrams are therefore men with whom there is no legal, Islamic prohibition with regards to marriage and covering is required in front of them. Based on this understanding, no, I don’t cover at home in front of mahram males.
Is it uncomfortable?
To be honest it is just like any other piece of clothing. You wouldn’t really ask someone if they found their trousers or their shirt uncomfortable. Hijaab is the same, just clothing for the head. While it does become harder in the warmer weather, a little common sense goes a long way. If I wore my thick, woollen winter hijaabs at the height of summer for example, I would only blame myself if I passed out with heat stroke!
How many hijaabs do you have?
Unfortunately way too many! But in my defence when you wear hijaab you find that you receive many hijaabs as gifts from others.
Do you have to iron every morning?
I have to admit this question was a little annoying. You wouldn’t walk around in a crumpled shirt and skirt; I wouldn’t in a crumpled hijaab and jilbaab.
Do you have to use so many pins?
This question is generally asked when I’m either removing or putting my hijaab back on prior to/after making wudhu in a public place such as work, and the numerous pins I use to keep my hijaab firmly in place are out on display. My sheepish answer is, ‘It’s not a requirement, lots of women only use a pin or two and some don’t use any. I’m just incompetent that way.’
What does your hair look like underneath your hijaab?
Just like anyone else’s!
Have you ever had any hijaab malfunctions?
The only notable one was when I first started to wear hijaab. In that first week I was given a silky hijaab as a present from a friend and as any experienced hijaab wearer knows, silk hijaab= slippery hijaab. I hadn’t really figured out how to properly pin my hijaab yet, but I’d got away with it so far. Given my inexperience, the silk hijaab so early on was a disaster waiting to happen!
Have you worn it since you were a small child?
No. Hijaab becomes obligatory for a Muslimah when she reaches the age of accountability (when she is expected to understand the difference between right and wrong actions). This age is considered to be whenever she begins menstruating.
Do you ever regret wearing it?
No. Undoubtedly covering can feel difficult at times for a variety of reasons, but we remain steadfast in the knowledge that our Lord tells us that the greater the struggle, the greater the reward. The life of this world is a test; a test wouldn’t be a test if there was no element of challenge.
Do you think women who don’t cover are sinning?
Yes. Hijaab is something which Allah has commanded, just like prayer, fasting and so forth. Anyone who disobeys the commandments of Allah is sinning. We’re not in any position to be judgemental about anyone else though, as none of us are perfect. Humans are prone to sinning so alhamdulillah that our Lord is the Most Merciful, Most Forgiving.
Does it affect how you behave?
Yes. It’s a constant reminder for me that I’m a Muslim woman (i.e. one who has submitted to her Lord) which helps me to behave like one e.g. lowering my gaze and not acting flirtatiously with the opposite sex. As such a visible symbol of my eemaan it also helps to motivate me to be the best Muslim that I can, as I’m aware people will judge my faith (rightly or wrongly) from my actions. That is a weighty responsibility.
Does it mean you can’t get dressed up for special occasions?
Muslims have segregated events during special occasions such as ‘Eid and weddings so I can dress up to my heart’s content and let my hair down, literally as well as figuratively!
Do you like wearing it?
It is very difficult to try to put into words the feeling a believer gets from submitting to and obeying their Lord. I guess some words that come close are elation, peace and contentment. I love hijaab because it makes me feel closer to my Lord; it’s a physical manifestation of my inner submission. And feeling close to one’s Lord and earning His good pleasure- subhanAllah it is something words fail to adequately express!