One day my 18-year-old son, messaged me:
Then the next day, he sent me screen shots of a conversation that took place between him and his friends on Twitter.
Before I share those tweets, I just want the readers to know that these young men’s ages range between 18-21. They are raised in practicing Muslim families by parents whose second home is the masjid.
They are well-mannered, polite and the kind of boys you would want your son to be friends with.
A few more comments from different young men.
My daughter chimed in.
The conversation continued, diving head-first into the complex connections between faith, free agency, external modesty and internal righteousness, but this is not an article about any of those things. Nor is this about the obligation of hijab. Hijab is an obligation— that is not up for discussion.
Rather, this piece is about how forcing hijab on our girls is a damaging mistake that fails to meet its end goal- a woman’s ownership of her spiritual submission to Allah. From west to east, I have seen girls suffering spiritual damage when they are forced to wear hijab.
We’ve probably all met a girl or two who was forced to wear hijab and consequently resented it. When I was in high school, there were only two students who wore hijab. One was myself, the other was a girl would take off her hijab in school and would wear shorts, mini skirts. That was my first interaction with a girl who was forced to wear hijab.
Since then I have met countless others, and most of them remove it at their first opportunity. I live in the Middle East now, and while hijab is not mandated by the government in Qatar, it is still a symbol of family honor. When enforced by family members, the result is the same. Girls I have spoken with hate covering and not only remove hijab as soon as they get their first opportunity to do so, but also dress less modestly than the girls who are not forced into it.
There are also girls who are certain about their faith and are convinced that wearing hijab is the right thing to do, but tackling inner temptations can take time. It is not easy to wear hijab, especially in this time of so much emphasis on physical beauty and appearance. Many of us can identify with the constant social media bombardment.
In either case, when a girl resists, she is judged and looked down upon. Hijab is forced. She may wear it to school but she ends up resenting it. A girl in doubt, becomes even more doubtful as she starts to perceive the whole religion of Islam from the lens of “being forced” with no room for questions or discussions. Consequently her conflicts intensify and her confusion turns into bitterness and resentment towards the faith.
Hijab itself is not the issue, rather it is the forceful approach that starts the damage. Sometimes a girl is not convinced of her faith yet. She may have questions that she is afraid to ask. She may have doubts that need to be addressed and discussed wisely. But, while she’s struggling with internal conflicts and confusions, she’s forced to wear something that’s not only spiritually symbolic but takes a lot of strength to put on.
Islam or Islamic rulings should not and must not be shoved down someone’s throat. The ideal “sunnah way” of spreading this faith is through teachings, and patience and wisdom. The girls need to understand their religion first, build a connection with their Lord first, love their faith and their Creator, only then they will be ready to “hear and obey”.
Our youth, including preteens, are struggling to hold on to their faith, even the ones in Islamic schools. Some of them are even secretly atheist or agnostic, grappling with basic theology while we debate dress code.
Perhaps it’s because absence of hijab is obvious, but absence of faith is not.
There is so much emphasis on the ritual of hijab that we totally forget: every ritual starts with spiritual submission, and that spiritual submission stems from conviction. Conviction is the root of submission, and submission is the basis for ritual. When we have not nurtured the roots, and we instead focus on the branches, how are we expecting a healthy tree to be sustained?
The whole point of Islamic Schools is to have a platform for our future generations to learn their religion and become proud Muslims, not “suppressed” Muslims. Islamic schools should instill proud Muslim identity in students first, and that for sure cannot be achieved by forcing them to do something they don’t fully understand or may not be ready to adhere to.
We send our children to Islamic school to gain the knowledge that they need to develop conviction. In order for hijab to be the long-term, it must be the manifestation of belief in Allah and complete conviction of His rulings, and not just “because we said so.”
Dare I say, I would rather our Islamic schools produce die-hard Muslimahs who are completely convinced of their faith – with or without hijab – rather than girls who wear hijab but are doubtful of Allah and Islam. I have counseled both type of girls. And the ones who resent their faith are the ones who were almost always forced to wear hijab.
As a youth counselor, I’ve seen the type of spiritual crisis that fixation from others on hijab causes. Hijab in of itself may not even be the problem, if we can learn to handle this issue wisely and patiently, giving our girls room to question, to learn, to understand and then to absorb.
It doesn’t help that the Muslim culture seems to have an unhealthy fixation on hijab, making it equivalent to the foundation of Islam. Girls in hijab are automatically assumed to be pious and righteous, and girls without it are automatically assumed to be failing in their faith. There are copious amounts of memes that perpetuate this.
The status of her hijab doesn’t make a woman fall in or out of Islam or its core beliefs. Faith is built on six principles- belief in Allah, the angels, holy revelation, the messengers, the Day of Judgment, and the Qadr of Allah. For whatever reason, a Muslim woman can believe in all of these things, and yet not be wearing a hijab. Conversely, a woman can wear hijab while believing in none of these things as well.
It’s the same for the five pillars of Islam – Declaration of Faith, Hajj, Charity, Prayer, and Fasting. A Muslim woman can be actively practicing all of these without wearing hijab on a daily basis – and while she absolutely should be wearing a hijab, her failure to do so does not cancel out her faith or her practices that stem from that faith.
Hijab is a manifestation of faith, not the sole indicator, and certainly not a replacement for it. Forcing a girl into hijab doesn’t mean she’s a “good Muslim girl” and parents can call it a day. The sooner we understand this, the sooner we can start focusing on the inside of our girls, so their faith can shine through to the outside.
This obsession and fixation on hijab has left many of our Muslim sisters handicapped in spiritual development, as well as socially isolated from and within the Muslim community. We have all experienced it. I was once a part of it– “The Niqaabi Cult”, who felt entitled to judge any sister who wasn’t covered or wasn’t “covered enough”. We excluded them. There is a “Hijabi Cult” too, and while not every Muslim woman in hijab or niqab is guilty of discriminating against those who don’t, the cultural fixation on a woman’s dress-code being an indicator of her social worth is certainly a contributing factor in its existence.
Some may argue that if Hijab is not mandatory in Islamic schools and some girls don’t wear it, then it could encourage the girls who do wear it, to remove it. I would say that our teachers should be trained to handle such situations wisely. They must focus on building and celebrating the strength of those girls who choose to wear hijab, and encouraging and building the strength in those who feel too weak to wear it yet.
If teachers know which girls aren’t ready yet, they have the opportunity to discover why. Is the issue with her belief and conviction? Is the issue with her understanding of this ritual? Is she convinced, but just needs some time and room for spiritual growth? Being able to identify and remedy such problems is a more sensible approach to helping girls grow into hijab, versus assuming there is no problem because they’re all mandated to wear one with the uniform anyway.
Teachers can take the an opportunity to prepare our girls to step into the real world, where many Muslim women don’t wear hijab. Our girls will be challenged from all fronts to keep their hijabs on from both Muslim and non-Muslim influence. All the more reason for an Islamic school to be the training ground for our girls to grow into, and solidify their commitment to hijab so that they’re better prepared for the real world. Compare this to a situation where hijab is worn without meaning, and taken off with the rest of the uniform once the school day is done.
Wearing hijab is not easy for many women, no matter how early one starts to wear it or how late. It doesn’t get easier with age and time either. For some it is harder than the others, and this does NOT reflect a person’s state of iman. In fact, the harder it is for one to wear hijab, the more rewarding it will be for them to do so.
I pray to Allah that we become the believers who help one another with right knowledge, patience, wisdom, sincerity; and not the ones who judge other believers and feel entitled in their religious-superiority.
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