Sunday, March 13, 2011

Let's Talk About Hijab

When we hear the word hijab, or (head) cover, we immediately picture a Muslim woman wearing a scarf and perhaps a long, loose-fitting dress. We might even picture specific women in our community who fit the bill. But this word very rarely (if at all) makes us picture a man.

The men of the Muslim community are especially good at spotting hijabi women (those who choose to wear the scarf) who are not properly covered (according to the standards set by their mental picture of a hijabi woman). This superhero-like ability allows for them to rush over and" kindly" let us know that we have a hair out of place or that our ankles are visible.

"Astugfirullah! All your hair is showing!"
"Those pants are way too tight!"
"This is not the appropriate dress of a modest Muslim woman!"

Ok. So perhaps men need to be a bit more considerate in their approach.

But as nice as it is to know that Muslim men are so concerned with the hijab of Muslim women, it would be nicer to know that men were just as concerned with their own hijab. (What?! Hijab for men?!) Yes. Men have to wear hijab too.

Allah says in the Qur'an, "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." [24:30]

For men, the hijab entails covering everything from the navel to below the knees. From the perspective of a hijabi woman, the male dress code doesn't seem nearly as difficult to incorporate into a modern American society as does the female's. Yet time and time again, we see Muslim men lifting their shirts to wipe their sweat from their brow during a basketball game or wearing shorts that come above their knees, consciously exposing what they should be covering.

In addition to the clothing requirements, the male hijab includes lowering one's gaze. When a woman approaches her male classmate simply to ask to borrow his notes from the previous lecture, the community attacks her as if she has committed some terrible crime. But when men gawk at the posters of scantily clad actresses hanging outside of movie theaters or even on the walls of their rooms, no one has any desire to address the situation.

As a woman who struggles daily with opposition toward her choice to cover, I cannot understand why some men see no problem with scolding a woman on the way she dresses when they themselves a- haven't got a clue about their own hijab and b- will never have any idea how much courage, confidence, and faith it takes to choose to wear a scarf out in public. Male hijab is essentially effortless as most men in society (both Muslim and non-Muslim) dress in a way that agrees with the Islamic requirement, making it virtually unnoticeable.

The hijab of a woman is much more noticeable (to say the least) and a clear symbol of one's faith which is often why it takes time for women to decide to implement the hijab into their lives. Any effort toward wearing hijab that a woman makes, even something like choosing not to wear a bikini when she goes to the beach with her friends, needs to be acknowledged and respected. Women in society today have enough pressure to conform to the images of women portrayed in movies and television. We don't also need the men in our community to pressure us not to conform. And we especially don't need this kind of pressure from men who could care less about their own hijab.

May Allah make following our religion and expressing our faith easy for both men and women.