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Protection from Skin Cancer — and 101 Other Reasons for Wearing Hijab

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While yes, that is one of the benefits of wearing ḥijāb, that is not the reason why we wear it.

I decided to start wearing ḥijāb the year the Twin Towers fell. I was eleven years old and firm in my decision, but had not yet experienced my “Aha! Islam is the truth!” moment that many “born Muslims” experience at some point. From that point on, I, along with all of my fellow ḥijāb-wearing sisters, became a walking billboard for Islam. I realized that although not all sisters are into da‘wah or want to be explaining and defending their faith all the time, we are all thrown into the da‘wah scene the moment we step outside wearing ḥijāb.

It all started in 7th grade… I was in public middle school and one of two ḥijābis in the entire school. It being the year after 9/11, I was fairly accustomed to filthy looks, “You poor ignorant, oppressed dear!” looks, terrorist comments, and “Go home!” comments, but mostly it was the questions… questions that I did not know how to answer given my age, nor did I have the confidence and firmness of faith to be able to answer with conviction. For example: A couple of days into school, a concerned teacher came to me saying, “Honey, you’re in America now. Don’t you know the Taliban can’t get you here?” I tried to explain that, in fact, I was born in America, my mom was whiter than white can be (and was not even Muslim for that matter), and my wearing ḥijāb had nothing to do with the Taliban, but my response came out sounding like a brainwashed excuse.

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Soon after, during P.E. class, I was sitting with a new friend I had made. After walking on the track, I was fixing one of my ḥijāb pins when she turned to me confused, asking, “Waaaait… Doesn’t it hurt when you put those pins on your head?” I attempted to do what I do best and make humor out of the situation, so I sarcastically told her: “Oh no… When we are babies, right after we are born, they drill small holes in our skulls so that we can put pins in them to keep our ḥijābs on later.” The look of complete and utter horror on her face told me she did not catch my sarcastic tone. Oh well, there goes another friend… But the most common question of all, the “Why do you wear that?” question, was one that I would generally shrug off by saying, “Oh I’m Muslim so that’s why I’m wearing this.” And thus began my evolution on how to answer the “Why do you wear that?” question.

As I grew older and hung around different sisters of various ages and levels of Islamic practice, I realized that although my answer to the question was pretty lame, at least it was less confusing than the “It’s for protection” answer that most sisters gave… Okay, okay, I can understand from an Islamic perspective that ḥijāb is a protection from the eyes of non-mahram men, but for a non-Muslim hearing that answer with no further explanation, I can only imagine a couple of options going through their mind:

Option A: “Okay, maybe she means protection from the heat of the sun and skin cancer.”

Option B: “Okay, maybe she means that her father/brother/husband will beat her if she does not wear it, so she has to wear it for protection.”

The reality is that a large number of sisters, ranging in age from pre-teens to older married women, do not know a simple way of answering why we wear ḥijāb.

At some point in my youth, alḥamdulillāh, I was blessed to come into the company of an amazing group of brothers and sisters who were active in the field of da‘wah. They took me and a couple of my fellow youngsters under their wings and began to train us, teach us, and help us become confident in our beliefs and actions.

So why do we wear ḥijāb and how do we answer the “Why do you wear that?” question in a manner that not only explains why, but also seizes a beautiful, golden opportunity to open a da‘wah discussion with someone.

Questioner: “Why do you wear that?”

Muslim Sister: (smiles) “Well, I’m a Muslim, and as a Muslim, the most important thing to me is to believe that God is One and to worship Him alone (tawḥīd mentioned, check). That also includes following the guidelines that God asked of us. The reason I wear this is because it’s something God asked me to do. So that’s the REASON I wear this, however, after choosing to wear it, you realize there are countless benefits that come with it, among them are:

(The following points are ones I’ve found hit home the most with people. At this point, you can gauge what you think will resonate most with the person, and based on the amount of time you have, you can choose to mention some or all of these points)

1. Blessing of modesty: (If the questioner is a woman, going on a modesty rant will usually hit home hard.) This point can go something along the lines of: “When I dress like this, I’m forcing men to look at me for who I am, for my personality, and for what I say, rather than how cute I look that day.”

2. Identifies you as a Muslim: “Wearing ḥijāb identifies me as a Muslim, so anywhere I go, anyone who sees me immediately knows what I believe and what I stand for.”

3. Something found in all Abrahamic religious tradition: “A lot of people are confused by what I wear and find it to be something weird and strange. It’s interesting because if you look at righteous women throughout history, they were always covered in a similar way. Even today, nuns and Orthodox Jews cover their hair.” Many times it’s effective to ask: “Have you ever seen a picture of Mary, the mother of Prophet Jesus?” (Note: This also shows that Muslims believe in Prophet Jesus) “What is she wearing in the picture?” Their jaw drops when they realize she is wearing ḥijāb.

4. Dress code for both genders: “Allah gave both women and men a dress code. The reason it’s different is because of physical differences and differences in the way each gender thinks.”

At the end of the day, although it’s very important to know why we wear ḥijāb and know how to explain it to others, having the answer down is not enough. We know that da‘wah by actions is ALWAYS more. The fact is, when you look the way we do, people are always watching you and what you do. You could act in a certain way or do something good that sticks in someone’s mind and eventually brings them to Islam, or vice versa. This doesn’t mean that we should wait until we get to a “high enough level” before beginning to wear ḥijāb, but it’s merely a reminder for us to remain conscious of our behavior and our actions.

Interestingly enough, even the way we choose to wear ḥijāb is da‘wah. I’ve had countless non-Muslim women approach me and ask me why some Muslim women wear skin tight clothing or full faces of make-up while wearing a scarf on their head. We would never expect non-Muslims to notice anything like this, but interestingly enough, they do.

Lastly, as Muslim women, having confidence and being well spoken and firm in our beliefs and actions has a huge impression on non Muslims. It makes them respect you and want to know more, rather than pity you and feel sorry for you.

At the end of the day, it’s all about our actions while wearing ḥijāb, the level of confidence in our demeanor when we explain our religion, the manner in which we choose to wear ḥijāb, and lastly (and least importantly) how we answer why we wear ḥijāb.

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Nadya Aweinat is a Batman loving tajweed geek who spends her days hiking, learning and teaching Qur'an, and enjoying the year round superb weather of Southern California. By the mercy of Allah, she recently completed her memorization of the Qur'an and is working on completing a degree in Speech Pathology.

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Muslimah

    October 1, 2012 at 1:48 AM

    Love the post! Hijab is not just the cloth but our attitude as well.

    Also, Hijabi sisters shouldn’t forget to get some beneficial Vitamin D into their bodies when they get home. We can, unfortunately, be the most at-risk group for Vitamin D deficiency if we are not careful. A blood test should rest your mind at ease, and if you do have it – sunlight needs to directly hit the skin of your arms and legs for at least ten minutes a day. Not more than that. Over-exposing your skin can cause skin cancer. Live healthy!

    • Suaim

      June 7, 2016 at 12:44 PM

      If a person is enough educated. Then they should know that vitamin D is not just produced from sun. You can also find in lots of food.

    • Luzita

      October 13, 2016 at 7:31 PM

      Actually Vitamin D travels from the skin where it is made and is activated and stored in the Liver, and therefore it does not matter which part of the body is exposed to Vitamin D. It can be just the face and hands, and these can receive enough UV light to make Vitamin D for the body. If a reasonable amount of time is spent in the sun this can enable the whole body to benefit from the higher levels of Vitamin D which is distributed from the Liver and kidneys.
      Vitamin D from the diet or dermal synthesis from sunlight is biologically inactive; activation requires enzymatic conversion (hydroxylation) in the liver and kidney.
      We can get enough sunshine by every day activities eg. Hanging out washing, gardening, playing outside with children, walking or cycling or even just shopping outdoors.

  2. beent

    October 1, 2012 at 4:33 AM

    Masha Allah sister keep up the good work. Alhamdulillah we are muslims and i love wearing the hijab.

  3. Abdul-Qadir

    October 1, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    Assalamualaikum,

    I have only one complaint about this article. I wish it would have come out last week because I had the chance to use some of these answers. JazakAllah, and may Allah increase your knowledge and bless your life.

  4. Yasmin

    October 1, 2012 at 3:03 PM

    Jazakallah khair for this great post! I love how you mentioned that as hijabis we must be careful of the way we act because wearing the hijab truly makes us the flag bearers of Islam!

  5. Hijaabi in the rain

    October 1, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    Great post masha’Allah tabrakallah . Keep up the good work

  6. Asmeeni

    October 2, 2012 at 3:41 AM

    Mashaallah I love this article. Very simple to follow and love the sequence you put your points in and the way that in the very beginning you steer the conversation towards tawhid which is the major issue, hijab being, compared to it, an issue of less importance. Jazakumullah Khairan for this.

  7. ovais

    October 2, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    mashallah

  8. RCHOUDH

    October 2, 2012 at 12:02 PM

    Mash’Allah well said sister! At first when I saw the title about “protection from skin cancer” I was concerned that your article would actually justify hijab through using that reasoning! Trying to justify Islamic rulings based on our own limited reasoning is never good, because people always come up with counterpoints against what you state. Just stating that you do it for the sake of Allah SWT (and then adding what you think resonates) should be enough like you say. And hopefully then the conversation can actually shift towards explaining the Islamic Aqueeda to someone (when they ask how you know Allah exists and that Islam is the correct Deen). And of course practicing what you preach is most important! Modesty isn’t just related to dress, your behavior also has to reflect that modesty (by not being showy or ostentatious, by treating others well, etc). And can I just add that whenever someone says that hijab doesn’t protect you from sexual harassment, in a way that’s true because just dressing modestly isn’t enough, both women and men have to display modest behavior towards each other (by not treating each other as sex objects, by respecting each other’s boundaries, by helping each other out, etc).

  9. Safia Farole

    October 2, 2012 at 8:25 PM

    Mashallah, great article Nadya! Thank you for the advice on how to give effective dawah on this topic!

  10. onechinesemuslimah

    October 2, 2012 at 11:00 PM

    assalamualaikum wa rahmatulahi wa barakatu

    nice post masha’Allah! Not sure if you read this, or if anyone reads this.. but also a great way to answer a question is with a question.. i.e:

    Q: ” why do you wear that (hijab, niqab)?”
    A: ” Why do you wear clothes? ”

    Ideally, the one asking why we wear hijab would answer with “well i wear clothes to cover” and then we would respond “well I wear hijab to cover, it is my idea of modesty” …. so on and so forth
    this is a great way to open up a topic of conversation since a Muslimah and a non-Muslim have different views on modesty which leads to a general discussion on Islam insha’Allah!

  11. funiyyah hassan

    October 13, 2012 at 5:08 AM

    Salam•i really like dis program•

  12. Khaalidah

    October 15, 2012 at 8:01 AM

    This was an awesome well presented article. Its funny to me that some women get this question more than others. I’m rarely asked this and I work in the public eye. Women frequently ask though if its hot. And they say they just couldn’t wear it. I ask them in turn, if there is anything they are willing to do for their God.

  13. berserk hijabi

    June 8, 2013 at 12:52 PM

    Great article,however, the reason of “it forces men to look at me for who I am,not how cute I look that day” didn’t really feel appropriate. One:You can be a super-modest hijabi with a jilbaab/abaya and no makeup but if you have a pretty face,guys CAN and WILL notice. I have a friend who once saw a guy in his car driving past the sidewalk she was walking at twice or thrice just to look at her.And she was wearing abaya,a hijab and all that. Also, how can a guy “know you for who you really are” if you don’t engage in unnecessary conversation or get to know them(which are both not allowed)?So yeah. The other explanations are great.But this one didn’t ring too true. The fact is, you cover up a certain amount of beauty when you wear hijab,but not all of it. I don’t wear niqab, but I think that if you really wanted someone to judge you solely by who you really are,hijab is just not going to cut it.
    Jazakallah khair for the article.

  14. Pingback: Day 19: Hijab Porn and the Futility of Thought Control | 365 Days of Hijab

  15. hijab shop

    January 16, 2014 at 1:26 PM

    very interesting, really well presented mashaAllah, gonna be using some of those points lol!

  16. Jane

    February 4, 2014 at 6:33 AM

    I’m curious that if as you say, one wears a hijab to prevent one being judged on skin colour, looks, makeup etc, then why aren’t men encouraged to wear the hijab?

    Men should also be encouraged to not be judged on looks or hairstyle. Men are also vulnerable to sexual exploitation (see ads with skimpily clad men) Wouldn’t the best way be for men to wear a hijab?

    • Amad

      February 4, 2014 at 6:57 AM

      I think facts and statistics belie this sort of equivalence.

    • Umm ZAKAriyya

      February 4, 2014 at 1:04 PM

      Of course , men have hijab too . But it’s not the same as for women for obvious reasons.

      Hijab has 2 parts to it both of which men and women must follow :

      1)modesty in character( includes lowering the gaze, being chaste etc )
      2)modesty in clothing

      The 1st part/ lowering the gaze ,and not staring at women is far more strict for men than is for women . Practicing muslim men don’t look at women’s magazines or watch porn etc.

      2nd part : men in islam , are required to cover certain areas of the body too .on top of that, there’s an etiquette for dressing for those who would like to be more modest .

      You wouldn’t see practicing muslim men on billboards wearing skimpy clothing or wearing an underwear on the beach .

      • Umm ZAKAriyya

        February 4, 2014 at 1:06 PM

        Infact the verse about modesty for men comes before that for women in the quran :)

    • Leenzay

      August 14, 2014 at 11:28 PM

      The meaning of hijab directly is screen/cover (it’s hard to explain in English)… so guys in Islam even in their own way have their “hijab”. Hijab isn’t directly meant to a piece of cloth; but rather than to screen oneself. This is done by wearing the veil, AND having Haya (being not blunt). So guys have to also have their own hijab…just not in the way of a cloth.

      They are told to wear modest clothes (they have different guidelines than women). They are told to not hit on/date/flirt/do zinnah (any sexual kind of act before marriage). They’re hijab is probably equal to (if not fully) to the women. So yes they do have “hijab” also in a way which they are commanded upon.

      Hopefully i helped plus wouldn’t it be kind of odd for guys to wear the veil (that would be way to funny)

      • aleya

        September 3, 2015 at 7:30 AM

        But why would it be ‘too funny’ for a man to wear a veil?
        Other commenters have said that men have their own hijab, and must also dress ‘modestly’. why is it not considered immodest for men’s hair to be uncovered? what makes women’s hair different? why do some women cover their faces too? why do men not cover their faces?
        i haevn’t read anything in the q’ran which suggested that these rules come from allah. it seems like they’ve been invented by humans over the intervening years. invented by men actually, not by women, which is why similar rules exist for orthodox jewish women and christian nuns.

  17. Sakinah

    April 22, 2014 at 9:50 AM

    This was a great article! :) I love your suggestion to simply state it is what Allah swt asks us to do – and then to add what we see as a personal benefit(s). It’s a simple way to explain the truth and easier for non-Muslims to digest… and naturally adds the opportunity for more discussion. Great idea!

  18. Rena

    September 27, 2014 at 3:41 AM

    This entire article is about coming up with an excuse to defend hijab. And the sad thing is a lot of it is about gaining respect so, is it impossible for a woman to look beautiful and be respected at the same time? Do we have to cover the beauty god gave us in order to receive basic human rights and equal treatment?

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  20. Halimah

    December 28, 2015 at 11:42 AM

    This was beautifully written. I glad that I came upon it because a lot of people have been asking me and although I knew why, I couldn’t properly explain to them why. Knowing that it has one reason and many benefits is also an eye opening view that has changed mine.

  21. mina

    April 22, 2016 at 1:29 AM

    this was the greatest hijab story i’ve ever read. i was wondering if you don’t mind i could narrate your story in my class presentation?

    • Nadya

      April 22, 2016 at 2:18 AM

      Of course inshaAllah

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