Talking to My Mother About Hijab

Question and answer details
I am a 15 years old Shiite Muslim. I want to talk to my family and especially my mother about wearing hijab. She is not totally against it but I have 2 elder siblings who don't wear hijab and prefer modern clothing. How should I approach her about it? I also don't believe in belonging to a specific caste and want to call myself only a Muslim. How should I tell her that following a specific caste is not being a true Muslim?
Yasmin Mogahed
Salam dear sister,

Thank you for your question. May Allah reward you for your sincere desire to help your family. 

You have asked about two matters, both involving the giving of sincere advice.  "Naseeha" is an Arabic word that is usually translated to mean "advice" or "sincere advice", but actually embodies every type of virtue. Giving advice is very tricky and requires a great deal of wisdom.  When the person to whom you are giving advice is your family, and more so your mother, it becomes even trickier.  So I admire your concern in doing it correctly.

First, the giving of sincere advice — if it is truly for the sake of Allah — has a tremendous reward.  The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has said:

"Allah and the angels, and even the ant in its nest and the fish in the sea will pray for the one who teaches people the ways of good." (At-Tirmidhi)

However, advice must be given with kindness and a great deal of respect.  The Prophet has said:

"Kindness is not to be found in anything but that it adds to its beauty, and it is not withdrawn from anything but it makes it defective." (Muslim) 

The fact that it is your mother means that you will need to show even extra kindness and respect. 

Also, when giving advice it should always be in private so as not to embarrass the other person. The Muslim Hadith commentator Ibn Rajab wrote:

"When the righteous predecessors intended to give advice to someone, they admonished him privately, to the point that some of them said, 'The one who exhorts his brother between him and himself, then it is advice. The one who exhorts him in front of people, then it is merely scolding!'"

When giving advice, you should also choose the best time.  Abdullah ibn Masud said,

"Hearts (sometimes) yearn and are attentive, but (sometimes) they go through lapses and feed repulsion. So take from them when they are (in a state of) yearning and are attentive, and leave them alone when they go through lapses and are feeling repulsion."

Now, regarding your question about hijab, first and foremost, it is important to know what hijab is; and why we wear it. The Arabic word "hijab" holds a variety of similar meanings: cover, conceal, hide, screen, and shelter. Among Muslims, hijab commonly refers to a woman's headscarf. In broader terms, hijab refers to her full modest dress.

Begin by explaining that hijab is not linked to any particular culture or caste.  Many people have the misconception that hijab is related to Arab culture. This is absolutely false.  Wearing hijab has nothing to do with being Arab. It is related to Islam. We are told in the Quran:

{And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their head coverings to cover their bosoms, and not to display their beauty except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband's fathers, or their sons, or their husband's sons, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their womenfolk, or what their right hands rule (slaves), or the followers from the men who do not feel sexual desire, or the small children to whom the nakedness of women is not apparent...} (An-Nur 24:31)

In this verse, Allah uses the Arabic word "khumurihinna", which is the plural feminine possessive of khimar, meaning "their khimars". And "khimar" in the Arabic language means "that which covers the head". It is for this reason that alcohol in Arabic is called "khamr", from the same root, since drinking alcohol covers the mind.

At the time of the Prophet, some women used to wear a khimar (head covering) even before this verse was revealed, but they used to tie it back so their chests showed.  For this reason, Allah is commanding them to adjust that head covering to cover their bosom.

In another verse Allah says what means:

{O Prophet! say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw their outer garments close around themselves; that is better that they will be recognized and not annoyed. And God is ever Forgiving, Gentle.} (Al-Ahzab 33:59)

Aishah, the wife of the Prophet, said: "Asma bint Abi Bakr entered upon the Prophet of Allah while she was wearing thin clothes. The Prophet turned his attention from her. He said: 'O Asma, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays parts of her body except this and this,' and he pointed to her face and hands." (Abu Dawud)

Aishah praised the women of Ansar and said: "When Surat An-Nur came down, they took the curtains, tore them and made head covers of them." (Abu Dawud)

Regarding your question about the caste system, the whole idea of it is completely un-Islamic.  In fact, thinking in a similar way got Satan banished from Paradise. The noble Quran reads:

{It is We Who created you and gave you shape; then We bade the angels bow down to Adam, and they bowed down; not so Iblis; He refused to be of those who bow down. (Allah) said: 'What prevented you from bowing down when I commanded you?' He said: 'I am better than he: You did  create me from fire, and him from clay.' (Allah) said: 'Get you down from this: it is not for you to be arrogant here: get out, for you are of the meanest (of creatures).} (Al-A`raf 7:11-13)

So it was Satan's arrogance that got him banished from Paradise. And he was arrogant because he was created from something he thought to be superior. He was from a different category than Adam. and whether that category is race, caste, or material from which you were created, it all boils down to the same thing: fatal arrogance.

Allah also says in the Quran:

{O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).} (Al-Hujurat 49: 13)

In this verse, Allah makes clear that our differences are meant to bring us together.  This verse, also, defines which standard Allah uses to measure people. That standard has nothing to do with caste, race, color, or gender. It has to do with righteousness alone.

To judge someone based on which caste or which race they were born into goes completely against Islam, but rather is the legacy left to us by devil.

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


Useful Links:

Hijab: Is It All About Appearance?

Hijab: An Insult to Unveiled Women?

Hijab: A Guarantee for Protection?

Islamic Scholarship and the Hijab

Muslims Banning Hijab

Muslims and the Hindu Caste System

Is It "Us" Against "Them"?

Sunni, Shiite, or Wahhabi: What's the Deal?