Thursday, 20 November 2014

Hijab and Me - why I don't wear a headscarf (at the moment)

I had a random thought today: I accepted Islam some 10 years ago and never once has another Muslim asked me to wear the headscarf. Not even once. Surprising no? Not that I would have been offended had someone asked - but they never did. Some none Muslims have asked me about it, which is fine too. But in a world where we are led to believe that Muslim women wear the headscarf because they are forced too, I'm pleasantly surprised regarding my own experience. The Muslims I have had the pleasure of meeting - online as well (and there have been many there) have I believe shown total respect for my choice and never judged me regarding my lack of head gear. (I should point out that I have had the odd dig from anonymous trolls but I don't really consider those real people, since they could be anyone I have no way of telling if they are really Muslims or people paid to stir up trouble and knock me off message).

Ammendment: just been asked why I don't wear it by @DawaGifts who requested a special mention to let you know he was the first Muslim to ask :-)

Surely some of you must be wondering though, why don't I wear it? I sometimes ponder over this question, in case anyone does ask me. The answer is quite complex, since there are several reasons, and it is difficult to determine which is the primary reason, but I think I have worked that out now, so decided to write a blog to explain, because this won't fit into a tweet.

First let me say that I think the headscarf looks beautiful. Really I love it! Whenever I see a sister wearing the headscarf I am often mesmerised by just how beautiful she looks in it. Also, I should point out, I wear the headscarf when I pray, if I visit a mosque, or if I visit a Muslim country. I do this because it feels right and as a sign of respect - I'm not here to draw attention to myself. Putting on a headscarf for prayer helps to bring me to a state of calm, it reminds me I am about to meet my Lord, and as I physically place it on my head I feel His peace enter my body and soul. On a recent trip abroad to a Muslim country my hosts explained to me that there was no obligation to wear a headscarf, that many women do not and I should do whatever I feel most comfortable with - for me that was a no brainer - I was much more comfortable there in a headscarf.

Me on holiday.

When I was a practising Christian, I made friends with some Muslims. I decided then, if I was sincere in my friendship,  it would be better not to eat pork, and to refrain from drinking alcohol, certainly in their presence, and maybe even altogether, on the guidance I read in Romans chapter 4

It's actually a really beautiful scripture that I encourage my Muslim friends to read too:

'If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love... the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit...  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification... it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble... Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.'

The whole message of these verses is that you should not let what you eat, drink [or what you wear] come between you and others - if someone is going to judge you on these things they will not see past that to your faith, so it is better to remove these obstacles for the sake of peace: ie. if someone thinks drinking something is wrong, don't drink it - it's only a drink and there are more important things than that. I wanted my Muslim friends to understand my faith in God, and in order for them to see past what I ate and drank and wore, it would be better to remove those obstacles - not eat pork or drink alcohol, and to dress modestly - this was my way of showing respect and building our friendships.

The exact same principal applies for me now as Muslim. My objective is to show respect, build friendships, see past external things, and not draw attention to my appearance. When in a Muslim society, it is therefore completely natural for me to wear a headscarf - maybe in some countries even a veil (have never experienced that but would do if it helped with communications). If however I wore extra clothes when say visiting a tribe in a jungle, rather than put on a headscarf, for me personally I would be much more inclined to put on some face paint or whatever else might help them relate to me - I would probably draw a line at going topless however, that would be a little outside of my comfort zone.

The core message in regards to clothing in Islam is one of modesty, both for men and women. It's actually the exact same principle in Christianity too. At the time and place of Mohammed pbuh it was entirely appropriate for a woman to cover her head - it was a traditional 'norm' and not only that but was (and is still) extremely practical, protecting from sunburn and sand storms, as well as protecting a woman from the gaze of other men at a time when women were sadly lacking in basic human rights (before the acceptance of the message that the Prophet pbuh brought at that time).

Of course it wasn't just the Muslims that wore the headscarf (or hijab) but Jewish and Christian ladies too - and this tradition went on until today. Even in church I remember as a child some of the older ladies would put on a head scarf for the Sunday service, and of course nuns are usually dressed in full 'hijab'.

I love the headscarf. Not only is it practical, protecting from sun, wind, and all the elements, it also means goodbye to 'bad hair days'. No need to worry if your hair has been brushed or is looking a bit greasy, no need to spend hours trying to perfect that latest hair style in the morning - just pop on your headscarf and you are done. And what if you have cancer and are being treated with chemo - isn't it wonderful that these ladies can go out without any worry at all about people staring at them? And what about those older ladies who are losing their hair or going gray - no worries. Just fabulous in fact!

So why don't I wear it. Well, here is the thing, I did try it, for a few days, to see how if felt. The great thing is (in a none Muslim society) spotting other Muslim sisters and being able to exchange 'Salam' to them, without any surprise. The not so great thing is feeling other people either stare at you or look away from you, giving you the cold shoulder, or worse still, approaching a group of skin heads guys on the pavement and bracing yourself for the nasty comments which may or may not come - or having to cross the road in the first place to avoid such a confrontation. A strange experience I found - but the difficulty in wearing a headscarf, being the type of person I am, would actually only encourage me to wear it more - as a statement really - I like to push boundaries.

This was me in 2012, trying out wearing a headscarf when campaigning in Ireland, on behalf of the Bahraini medics who were tortured and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences for treating injured protesters. Far more important than what was on my head was what I was speaking about. 

My husband asked me to consider carefully if I wanted to wear it or not - he is a Muslim, but he said to me that he thinks Islam is not really about a headscarf - people get carried away with it. I should not feel that I am being pressured to wear one and should give consideration to the society I am living in and also to how my Christian parents might feel - and I think this was really important advice.
So I prayed about it. Should I or should I not? What was the important thing for me to do, at this time and place in my life? And how can I best serve society, at this time and place? For that is my ultimate objective, to please God, through my service to mankind.

Regarding scripture, I was not at all convinced that wearing a headscarf was a crucial component of Islam - I felt the arguments on that front somewhat unconvincing. Without going into too much detail, one discussion in favour of the headscarf based on evidence in the Quran can be found here: An argument against wearing the hijab, based on what is written in the Quran, can be found here: 
I'm not saying whether either is right or wrong, I think what is important is that each individual prays about the matter, uses their God given intellect, and takes a decision for themself, in good faith, based on the information they have and their current circumstances.

If you look at the overall message of Islam, actually this makes up one tiny fraction of the Quran - yet in today's world anyone might be forgiven in thinking it is one of the most important issues for a woman, and a sign of their faith regarding how much of her body she covers or not. What is clear however is that modesty is important - but the exact details are open to interpretation - and I believe consideration must be given to society and individual circumstances. Far more important than what we wear is what is in our hearts, and it is our hearts that change us, from the inside out.

If I was to wear a headscarf because I believed it is beautiful - for sure that was defeating the objective of modesty. If I was to wear a headscarf because it was practical, or to fit in, then that's fine - but I had to be honest with myself about my motives. I wanted to please God, I wanted to do what was right in my heart, and to serve humanity to the best of my ability. Deep down I knew my place in society is as a bridge, between the Muslim and 'the Western world' - and right now, living in the UK, putting on a headscarf I felt would put up a barrier between me and those people I felt I most need to talk to about Islam, at a time when I know I must try to break down barriers.

It was for this reason above all that I decided not to wear a headscarf, for now, for me at this present time in my life in this place. In the future, or in a different place, you may or may not find me wearing a headscarf. For now, as an added bonus of my choice, which brought me peace, I get to represent the hundreds of thousands of Muslim women who do not wear a head scarf for their own personal reasons, and to help break down the stereotype that all Muslim women wear a scarf - we don't. Some do, bless them all, and some don't, bless them all too. May I encourage you all to look past the superficial, to consider first the heart, to respect individuality and freedom of choice.

1 comment:

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