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What Is the True Meaning of Hijab?

Question and answer details
Muslimah - -
2011/12/21
Salam, I am a teenage Arab Muslim girl. As a teenager, I feel I have yet to discover the true meaning of a "hijab". Many people I ask give me just one straight forward answer. It is making sure no hair on your head is revealed to any man unrelated to you. I feel there must be a lot more to it than just that, and I am very eager to learn what it is exactly that allows a women to call herself a "muhajaba". Also, I have met and seen many women wearing fashionable headscarves full of designs, prints etc. Does not this go against Islamic teachings?
Yasmin Mogahed
Answer
Salam, Muslimah.

Thank you so much for your insightful question. It shows a desire to understand the essence of Islam, not just the rituals. May Allah guide us all to the true beauty of His religion, and allow us to submit to it.

Before anyone can have a true and complete understanding of hijab and its real meaning, one needs to take a step back and start at the beginning. Allah says in the Quran, which Muslims believe is the word of God, what means:

[Not for (idle) sport did We create the heavens and the earth and all that is between!] (Al-Anbiyaa' 21:16)

In this verse Allah makes clear that everything He created has a purpose. Every star in the sky, every fish in the ocean, and every leaf on a tree was made for a specific reason. So too was the human being created for a specific purpose. And Allah explains this purpose clearly in the Quran. He says what means:

[And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.] (Adh-Dhariyat  51:56)

It is important to note even the construction of this statement. Allah did not just say that He created jinn and mankind to worship Him. He began with a negation. He said: "I did not create the jinn and mankind." By saying it in this way, Allah begins by clearing the board from any other purpose before He states what our one and only purpose is: to worship Him and Him alone.

Now, it is in that context that one should begin to understand hijab. Hijab should properly be seen as simply another show of devotion to our Creator. Just as we pray and fast because He commanded us to do so, we should view hijab in the very same light.

Just as praying and fasting sincerely for Allah's pleasure brings us closer to Him, so too does wearing hijab — if done with the same sincerity. By obeying Allah's commandments, hijab is just another way to worship our Lord. And in so doing, it brings us closer to realizing our purpose of creation.

That purpose can be reflected even in the clothes that we choose to wear. If when we choose our dress, our intention is to please Allah, that action in itself is an act of worship. In the very choice of one piece of clothing over another, is an act of worship.

Many people like to refer to hijab as a "personal choice". Yes. It is a personal choice. It is a personal choice to submit to God rather than the fashion of society. It is a choice to be beautiful to God, rather than to people. And it is a choice to cover and dignify the body Allah gave you, rather than give in to a culture that teaches women they are to be sex objects who sell their bodies to market beer.

However, hijab should not just be seen as a cloth one puts on the head. Rather hijab is a symbol of our worship and servitude to God. It is a symbol of modesty, that is not just about our attire; it extends to our whole demeanor.

If someone is wearing the hijab of modest clothing but is not modest in their behavior, they have only shown the external modesty. But internal modesty is missing. Because both internal and external modesty is essential, Allah mentioned the two together in the Quran:

[Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty…] (Al-Mu'minun 24:30-31)

In this verse of the Quran, Allah does not just talk about the dress of modesty, but also the demeanor of modesty. In fact, both internal and external modesty is so important that the Prophet (peace be upon him) connected it with faith itself.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that teaches the exact opposite. In our society today, modesty is viewed as a sign of weakness and insecurity, when in fact modesty is a sign of dignity and self-respect.

True modesty means not only being modest in front of people, but also in front of Allah.

Regarding your question about "fashionable hijabs full of designs and prints," there is no black and white answer. The question one must consider is what the purpose of hijab really is, and whether a particular type of dress contradicts that purpose.

For example, if one is wearing a headscarf that is excessively beautified, and therefore draws more attention, one must wonder whether that is fulfilling the object of modesty, both internal and external.

Ultimately, Allah knows best. We seek His guidance in all our affairs; and we pray that He shows us and allows us to remain firm on the straight path.

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.

Salam.

Useful links:

Hijab: Is It All About Appearance?

Hijab: An Insult to Unveiled Women?

Hijab: A Guarantee for Protection?

Fashion and Hijab

Islamic Scholarship and the Hijab

Muslims Banning Hijab

Is Refusing Hijab a Form of Treason?

Hijab Again!

Hijab & My Stepfather: What to Do?

Hijab and Hate Crimes

Talking to My Mother About Hijab

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