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Dawah and Interfaith

Conversation of Curiosity

Published

By: Israa Alrawi

He sat across the table gazing at me. His mouth opened as if he meant to utter something, but he held back. Then he finally decided that his wonderment could no longer hold him back. He said, “I am sorry but I have to ask, how do you manage to wear that in public so nonchalantly?”

Ah, yes, the Hijab; a conversation that many of my hijabi Muslim sisters know very well and most likely discuss regularly.

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It’s not that he wasn’t familiar with the hijab. He, in fact, was a Muslim himself, but his amazement spanned from the fact that, as he put it, “You seem unfazed by the criticism and negativity about it.”

I leaned back, smiled and replied, “Because I knew the responsibility that would come along with wearing the hijab.”

He was puzzled, so I elaborated:

You see I understood that wearing hijab was going to be a great responsibility, especially living in the West. I always knew that I would eventually wear it at some point in my life, because I do believe it is mandatory, but that was not the only thing I thought about. I remember standing in front of the mirror and trying on the hijab for the first time. I didn’t think about how it looked on me or how it altered my appearance. The only thing that ran through my head was the following verse:

“And fulfill the Covenant of Allāh when you have entered into it, and break not the oaths after you have confirmed them, and indeed you have appointed Allah your surety. Verily! Allah knows what you do. And be not like her who undoes the thread which she has spun after it has become strong, by taking your oaths a means of deception among yourselves…” [An-Nahl 91, 92]

 This was an oath I decided to take with Allāhsubḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He): I will represent Islam to the best of my abilities. I will not be offensive or aggressive in my ways of communicating the true meaning of our beautiful and just religion. My outward appearances and practices will be one and the same as my inward intentions.

Wearing hijab, especially in the West and post-9/11, is not an easy task for us Muslim women because, unlike our male counterpart, the hijab makes us an outward symbol of Islam. It no longer means that Islam is just between you and Allāhsubḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). It also means that now you are a walking da’wah. Your actions, thoughts, and even silence are linked to Islam. It is a great responsibility, and on that note, we should not be too sensitive to the reaction of others, simply because they fear it or pity it out of ignorance.

Rather, one should educate oneself and be sound in the decision of donning it. Don’t take it as a burden but an honor that Allāhsubḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has bestowed upon you to be an outward symbol. But also take care of knowing the responsibilities that come with this honor. The hijabi woman is easily associated with knowing and answering questions about Islam, so our duty becomes two-fold: to preserve our modesty and educate ourselves in order to represent Islam correctly.

So, just like the Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) took on the great responsibility of fulfilling his covenant with Allāhsubḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to deliver the beautiful message of Islam, I, too, take on that responsibility when I wear the hijab.

He sat back; his wonderment turned into admiration. He had no words, just a nod of understanding.

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Ibn Percy

    April 24, 2012 at 9:19 PM

    It’s a difficult task for Muslim women who observe the hijab in the West.  By default they automatically are representing Islam.  Even brothers with beards aren’t necessarily defined by Islam like sisters who wear the hijab.

  2. Christiana

    April 24, 2012 at 10:09 PM

    I find the big deal some Muslims make over the hijab a big yawn. Growing up in the United States, Roman Catholic nuns wore black habits (some still do) that covered all of them, with large beaded rosaries around their waists. In Amish communities in Indiana where I travel weekly, women wear longer dresses and caps, homemade, uniform in style, and the men wear hats, bib overralls, and long sleeve shirts. Individuality, whether in groups or solo, is part of the American fabric of life, and whether you want to wear your PJs and bunny slippers all day, or a paper bag over your head, well, no one really cares except the TSA. What does perplex me is the seeming self-pride, an absence of humility, of some Muslim women. Whereas the Amish women I know are very private, quiet, and humble about themselves (they do not own mirrors, do not allow photos of themselves, allowing their actions, like the Catholic nuns, to attest to their humility), I observe Muslim women gathering outside a local mosque near my home wearing jeans that look as though they have been spray-painted on, with 3-inch stiletto heels on knee-high boots. Sure, their hair and ears are covered; so what?  And as for “…his wonderment turned into admiration…”   Get over yourself. Pride is indicative of self-worship.

    • Maryam

      April 25, 2012 at 9:06 AM

      Hi Christiana, 

      I personally know muslim women who don’t allow their pictures to be taken, who don’t use makeup or shape their eyebrows, and  they completely  reflect humility even via their actions. The posses both inner and outer hijaab. Some even choose to wear niqqab to ensure their humility stays intact.
      They are the real muslim women. 

      But doesn’t media label them as oppressed, or say that they dont integrate.
      Those you have seen are the ones who don’t like to be labelled as oppressed, because they care about society’s opinion. They dress like that inorder to integrate. 

    • Beardedman

      April 25, 2012 at 1:48 PM

       Christiana,

      As a Muslim, I am in awe of your observation. Hijabi Muslim women need to get off high pedestal, and stop protraying themselves as the “greater Muslim.” What non-sense that bearded male counterparts do not have face the bigotry that these “hooris on Earth” face? With a beard, it is a struggle for me day in and day out to go to a prestigious law school and to interact with non-Muslims.

      • Abu Yousuf

        April 26, 2012 at 10:08 AM

        Salaam Alaykum Bearded,

        I am in awe of you going to a secular law school to learn secular law that often conflicts with Islamic law. I hope you will use what you learn to join CAIR or some other organization defending Muslims. As for Christiana, she is dead on in her observation of the western Muslimah. These cackle of so-called hijabis flock around with demeanours matching exactly that of those they see on TV – Kim Kardash, Hannah Montana, Monica Lewinsky, Olivia Newton John (I guess the last one is a little dated). Nevertheless, you are absolutely right Christiana, that these western Muslimah (the majority of them) lack humility, shyness, and a plethora of good qualities that I guarantee you will see in Muslim women who grow up in Muslim countries and thus I invite you to visit a Muslim country. The Muslim woman of the west is a product of the west and the amish and other groups have the dignity and wherewithal to lead lives independent of the larger society. While Muslims in the west once were heading in that direction, a couple of things have repelled us in the other direction: 1) a number of western Muslim speakers have brainwashed Muslims into forced integration (some of them even encouraging hosting superbowl parties for their white christian and jewish neighbours) 2) we have a prophecy in our books that the greatest test for our people would be wealth, and so you find that we cannot lead independent lives like the amish due to our collective lust for wealth.

        • Shahzad

          April 30, 2012 at 4:05 PM

          Wow. The generalizations I’m reading in your post are mind-boggling.

        • Mjlmutte

          May 3, 2012 at 1:09 AM

          Interesting. While I thank you for your kind invitation to visit a Muslim country in order to view “a plethora of good qualities that I guarantee you will see in Muslim women who grow up in Muslim countries”, I fear I would be at the top of those uninvited to actually enter many/all(?) Muslim theocratic countries. You see, as an Evangelical Christian, every Sunday, including superbowl Sunday, is my day to worship my God and attend Bible study with my husband.  So we actually decline all superbowl Sunday party invitations. And besides- I never travel anywhere without my Bible and first checking to make sure a Bible-believing, Evangelical church is available for Sunday worship. Am I correct that I would find my needs difficult to meet in Muslim countries? I heard any Christian, including foreign travelers, would be persecuted for even having a Bible in their luggage. Thank you, readers, for your kind patience in answering my serious questions. 

          • Nsid

            May 10, 2012 at 8:46 PM

             hey there,
            Every Muslim should worship and study Islam at least 5 times daily (compulsory prayers), and not just on a single day, say, Sunday (or Friday for us). However, that is easier said than done and some may do it to show off rather than with integrity. Even I recently REALLY started praying and learning Islam, but I’ve had a beard for longer than that. And when you do this properly you are less likely to boast about how good you are (seen that in myself) ….
            Allah has said that even if a grain of pride/arrogance is in a person’s heart, that person cannot enter Jannah (Heaven).

            Allah doesn’t like the arrogant (http://quran.com/16/23) , and therefore, I feel that all muslimahs who wear hijab shouldn’t take pride in it, but know that they are simply fulfilling their covenant with Allah. Nothing more. I have personally observed hijab clad girls and bearded boys playing the fool and then imposing their righteous weight, but on the other hand I have also seen people similar in appearance but with more humble and “Islamic” natures.

            And as far as I know, the Prophet himself didn’t persecute a non-muslim unless that person was clearly intending to harm muslims. I do not know what countries you speak of (where you can’t even carry a bible), and if you are right, then those countries are wrong to do so. Only Makkah (like, say, the Vatican) is only allowed for muslims by Islamic law.

        • burqa barbie

          May 13, 2012 at 9:08 PM

          ” with demeanours matching exactly that of those they see on TV – Kim Kardash, Hannah Montana, Monica Lewinsky, Olivia Newton John (I guess the last one is a little dated).”

          Your entire argument is dated. Monica Lewinsky? Hannah Montana? 

           ” a number of western Muslim speakers have brainwashed Muslims into forced integration (some of them even encouraging hosting superbowl parties for their white christian and jewish neighbours)”

          What! An outrage! Who says theyre brainwashed? Perhaps you should acknowledge they are choosing to do it?

          “we have a prophecy in our books that the greatest test for our people would be wealth, and so you find that we cannot lead independent lives like the amish due to our collective lust for wealth.”

          Then wouldnt staying away from society and leading a simple “old” way of life secluded from others protect you from getting corrupted by wealth?

          • burqa barbie

            May 13, 2012 at 9:10 PM

            But the bigger question is; are they providing Superbowl parties for their black and brown Christian neighbors?

    • Muslima in training

      April 25, 2012 at 9:39 PM

       You need to experience the hijab in order to fully understand why it’s such a big deal. You are in essence saying NO to many social customs and norms of the United States- short, tight clothes, etc. You say “…Muslim women gathering outside a local mosque near my home wearing jeans
      that look as though they have been spray-painted on, with 3-inch
      stiletto heels on knee-high boots”… Those girls aren’t wearing the “hijab”. They aren’t covering themselves, so it is impossible to compare a hijabi and non-hijabi; there’s an apparent difference. And as for your comment to “…his wonderment turned into admiration…”, please understand that the man’s admiration is due to the fact that this young woman is covering herself in a society where UNcovering is considered OK to do. But, Allah (swt) knows best. I hope you understand where I am coming from.

    • RCHOUDH

      April 26, 2012 at 6:01 AM

      Your comparison between nuns and Amish women to Muslim women would apply if the nuns and Amish were constantly being scrutinized and questioned about their actions due to paranoia over their way of life “taking over” the US by some members of society unfamiliar with their religion (the nonsense surrounding “creeping shariah”).  And you have to understand that while some similarities exist between how Amish and Muslim women are viewed generally, there are also stark differences. So for example, while both women may be viewed as being supposedly “passive and subservient”, the similarity ends there because Muslim women will have to deal with the added negative stereotypes of being “oppressed” and even “dangerous” to Western society, due to imaginary fears of “Muslims taking over”. This “othering” of Muslims is compounded even more if they can’t pass for being white. So I personally wish I could go about my life without having to answer to stereotypes and suspicion (this is different from someone expressing genuine curiosity about Islam, of which I have no problem dealing with). But until that happens, I can understand the author’s point about how hijab (and sometimes the beard for Muslim men) can invite attention (some of which is unwanted). As for what you mention about the young Muslim women dressing in stilettos and tight jeans, I can understand the confusion and hope you understand that even amongst Muslims, not all of us understand the proper concept of hijab, which involves the qualities you mention seeing among the nuns and Amish, such as humility and piety. No sense of pride or ostentation should be indulged in when one properly observes hijab.

    • Tamimix

      April 27, 2012 at 7:27 PM

      Christiana I guess the difference is you find muslim women in public; working; making laws; performing surgery; teaching your children; drinking coffee at the cafe, and winning gold medals; incorporating themselves with the world on a larger scale than nuns or te Amish…not in a church or a private community. Also we are, for the most part, portrayed as a negative part of society. Nuns and the Amish dont recieve threat letters on a daily basis because of the way they dress and if they do…it’s not on a news.

    • PlaysFair

      April 29, 2012 at 6:16 PM

      Christiana is more than correct in her statements. You all keep playing this “oppressed victim” card that makes it seem like it is such a daily struggle to even walk out of your house when you are wearing hijab. Yes, I understand the fact that you have received threatening letters and have had suspicions and rumors about you and your religion, but you can not honestly say that EVERY SINGLE woman who wears hijab is personally attacked, can you? Your wearing of hijab is as “strange” to us non-Muslims as us wearing sleeveless, strapless, tight, baggy, pierced, dyed, studded, tattooed clothing and accessories. Most of us see you all as different or maybe “foreign”, but how many of you call us trashy? Unreligious? Damned? Without a purpose? If anything, Muslims are MORE judgmental of people that don’t dress in hijab or as conservative as Muslims. You tell your children to avert their eyes, you pray for our souls, the list could go on. 

      Just because people have questioned their safety and your appearance doesn’t mean they have completely oppressed you. Black people have dealt with much worse in America strictly by the color of their skin, not based on what they wear. Choose your battles wisely and the way you choose them before you start playing your “victim” cards.

      • burqa barbie

        May 13, 2012 at 9:46 PM

        At one time it wouldnt be seen as strange, such as in the 19th century or during the Puritan era. But even nuns are made fun of for looking like penguins and amish, quiverfull and fundamentalist polygamous mormons who live on compounds are (rightly) seen as dowdy. It has to do with liberalism stemming from the renaissance and liberalism that examined how the Native American people were treated and inferiorized because they showed more skin than the Christian people. They were treated as heathens for merely showing their flesh. It also has to do with progressive attitudes torwards women and not forcing docile roles and double standards of sexual piety on them.

      • burqa barbie

        May 13, 2012 at 9:52 PM

        Not to mention, but Muslims are huge homophobes. They have no problem coopting from the homosexual/bi community but give nothing back. They didnt even bother to drop the ‘o’ stemming from the word homo in homophobia when they concocted their Islamophobia word.

    • Anon

      May 9, 2012 at 3:46 PM

      Bismihee Ta’aala

      I have to say that in my opinion, this is one of the best comments I have ever read in my life.

      And yes I am a Muslim alhumdulillah.

      I

  3. Yerima K

    April 26, 2012 at 9:47 AM

    Assalam alekum, 
    i wonder to myself at times if most muslims are ignorant of the below hadith or being ‘liberals’ about:
    It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “There are two types of the people of Hell whom I have not seen. People with whips like the tails of cattle with which they beat the people, and women who are clothed yet naked, going astray and leading others astray, with their heads looking like the humps of camels, leaning to one side. They will not enter Paradise nor even smell its fragrance, although its fragrance may be detected from such and such a distance.” Narrated by Muslim, 2128.  

    this is case with most girls placing a scarf on their heads but calling it hijab, whilst they have clothes that look “sprayed on”.
    there are no chimera with regards to the obvious.
    May Allah guide us all

  4. Schvach Yid

    April 28, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    I appreciate Christiana’s remark about ‘basaata’ ending at the shoulders of some devout Muslim women. It’s a sight to see young woman who dress to profess religious modesty show off everything they possess except for their hair. Some of their behaviors are inappropriate as well. It seems that perhaps one can spot, on occasion, a hijabi who has been properly raised in the tradition as opposed to one who may be a newcomer.  On the other hand, it is very obvious to me that many women who choose to wear a hijab tend to conduct themselves with a high level of dignity and self confidence. I have come to view the wearing of a hijab as a sort of religiously-based power statement, given the animus that so many non-Muslims feel for Islam. It’s respectable, and as far as I’m concerned, appreciated. BTW, during last Ramadan I ‘bumped’ into a hijabi in the elevator at work. I wished her ‘Ramadan Mubarak’. She asked if I’m Muslim; I answered, ‘no’. She has avoided me ever since. I hope it’s modesty and not bigotry. 

    • burqa barbie

      May 13, 2012 at 9:49 PM

      Why is it that there is such a elaborate focus on what women wear as compared with men? Do you not see men running around showing their navels and knees? Jersey Shore? Bachelor shows, Playboy, reality tv, ect? Why dont you ever focus on men?  

  5. sara

    May 18, 2012 at 11:14 PM

    Assalamua alaikum. Hmmmmm. Alot of lessons here, Mash Allah. First is humility. We are reminded that to walk with arrogance and consider ourselves great Muslims is so unislamic, and has hurt so many, most especially ourselves. We are reminded that to place all Western Muslimahs in these condemning categories and all from Muslim countries also is just as arrogant, and unjust. We are reminded that sisters from each can learn so much from each other, Alhumdulillah. I am Western raised and living. I don’t wear tight clothes or makeup or conduct myself like a Kardashian, but I have been able to help the downtrodden and speak against injustice because I am outspoken and an activist. However, this activist has learned much about patience, faith, humility and quiet strength from my sisters-in-law from a Muslim country. The Quran and sunnah encourage us not to let shyness get in the way of our Islam, and to be truly humble, modest, and chaste—not to mention patient and wise.

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