The Hijab Factor

I’ve been wearing hijab for approximately 3.5 years now. Long enough to have experienced the amazing sisterhood and occasionally its ugly twin sister, condemnation, but not long enough to have forgotten what it was like as an undercover (ironic, isn’t it) Muslim. I have to admit that it was pretty fun sitting in tutorials about Islam without having to say again and again that no, my dad/brother/non-existent husband did not force me into wearing hijab. It was fun going to job interviews and not being quizzed about my religion instead of my work experience. But it wasn’t always fun being part of the Muslim community as a non-hijabi. At times I felt the need to prove to others that just because I wore a t-shirt didn’t mean that I skipped my prayers or dated boys. I worried that observant Muslim men wouldn’t consider me, then worried in turn that if I put on the hijab some Muslim guys wouldn’t consider me.

Like the scaredy-cat I am, it took aaaages for me to finally put it on, but it’s now as much a part of me as my hair was. As for marriage, I’ve observed a whole lot of different scenarios in the community. In volunteering circles, it’s become a lot more common for non-hijabis to be welcomed with open arms. Consequently, their male counterparts will get plenty of opportunities to get to know them beyond their external appearance, and as such, draw more informed conclusions about their level of religious practice. But this doesn’t mean that it’s an even playing field. There are plenty of guys who wouldn’t consider a girl who doesn’t wear hijab, regardless of her level of religious observance. It’s not that they dislike women who don’t wear it or see them as inferior; they simply feel that hijab is a pre-requisite in a potential wife.

Before you decry the apparent unfairness of it all, bear in mind that there are just as many, if not more guys who specifically do not want to marry a woman who wears hijab. They fear that she will be too observant, forgetting that there when it comes to practice there is no such thing as too much. Some of them come from cultures where hijab is uncommon, and as such they are unsure of how to relate to a woman who wears it. Many of these guys do not wish to be identifiably Muslim, and with a wife on their arm in hijab anonymity goes out the window. Goodbye blending in, hello stares, glares and ‘bewares’. Undeniably life becomes a lot more complicated as a visible member of a minority group, and while it saddens me that guys would discriminate on this basis, part of me understands their fears and concerns.

While I’ve mentioned attitudes on either end of the spectrum, from what I’ve observed a large chunk of Muslim guys fall somewhere in the middle. Their stance can be summed up as ‘hijab would be nice, but if she’s nice I’m happy’. For these guys, hijab is a bonus rather than a pre-requisite. They would support their wife’s decision to wear it and even gently encourage it, but they feel that there are more important factors to take into consideration than whether or not she wears hijab. If  I’m correct and this is the most prevalent attitude, women who don’t wear hijab in fact get two bites at the cherry: they will be considered by these guys as well as the ones who refuse to consider hijab-wearing women. But it doesn’t always feel like a win. When speaking to these girls they have referred to a seeming need to display the extent of their religiousity; they are assumed to be not as observant as girls in the hijab and so must put in some work to show that this isn’t necessarily the case.

Hijab-the icing on the cupcake, or the entire cupcake?

Hijab-the icing on the cupcake, or the entire cupcake?

I don’t intend to condemn any of the above attitudes. After all, people certainly have the right to filter out potential partners based on whatever criteria they see fit. If a guy prefers a girl in hijab, that is in fact understandable and perhaps commendable. God knows hijab-wearing women don’t experience many forms of positive discrimination, so I’m happy to take this one! But I also know plenty of amazing sisters who do not wear hijab, and I would hate to think that they are automatically pigeonholed as irreligious. (My pre-hijab self was pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.) My point is just that in different contexts, different considerations come into play. My point is also that hijab rocks, and if a guy doesn’t think so, he isn’t necessarily a bad person, he just isn’t the guy for you.

Have you ever experienced discrimination on the basis of wearing hijab from a potential suitor? Or on the other hand, have you ever experienced discrimination for not wearing it? Guys, what are your thoughts on how important hijab is in a potential partner?


18 responses to “The Hijab Factor

  1. Shamaila Khan

    great article zee, love your work 🙂 this article reminded me of the first time i met you several years ago, which was incidentally also one of the first times you had worn hijab! it was in newtown, with sana G – i think we watched a movie and i definitely remember consuming copious amounts of cake and gelato. cant believe that was 3.5 years ago 🙂
    anyway to the article – definitely experienced discrimination from the Pakistani-South Indian community for my decision to wear hijab. Hijab is not as common our us as it is for our Arab counterparts – i was told by a lot of people, by even my own grandmother, that wearing hijab would make it difficult for me to find a man. nobody ever told me to take it off, thankfully… but there was definitely a sense that people thought i was ‘too religious’ and slightly backward for wearing it, and that it turn raised questions about how compatible i would be with a ‘modern’ kind of guy. the consenus was reached that a hijabi girl would only be really compatible with a guy with really traditional values, in other words, a FOB. this was despite the fact that as a born and bred penrith-ite, i was pretty much a bogan in disguise lol… so in the early years i felt like i was on a constant mission to prove to people that while i wore hijab, i was still ‘normal’, i.e. i listened to music, liked going out, had trouble with praying five times just like everybody else, that i wasnt a judgemental wahhabi lol, etc. This was particularly the case when i getting to know guys and their families, for marriage purposes. I will admit, after a few unsuccessful shots at finding ‘the one’, i did start to feel that maybe the hijab was what was holding me back (it wasnt of course, i can see that now in retrospect. but the talk, and the emotions involved in the whole suitor process, did get to me). i remembered feeling extremely surprised after learning from a lebanese friend how in arab culture, NOT wearing a hijab is seen as a possible obstacle to finding a guy, and wishing guys from the subcontinent were the same (or their families – i noticed the guys seemed to have less of a problem with my hijab than their mothers did).
    anyway happy ending – i did find a guy who not only ticked my boxes, but actually prefers me in hijab, alhamdulillah. so there is hope, despite what the aunties say 🙂

    • Omg HI! 😀 hehe I know subhanAllah, how time flies. I totally understand where you’re coming from with it not being common amongst desis, it’s quite similar with Cape Malay South Africans, though do you feel like the younger generations are starting to wear it more and more? It’s almost like a rebellion against their parents lol. But yeah, it’s really hard because you simply can’t please everyone and in wearing hijab you ultimately please Allah swt, so if there are guys turned off by that then it’s totally their loss. I think it’s just a lack of understanding about what hijab is-it’s not some symbol of backwardness as you say, it’s an act of worship. So happy you found that special someone who appreciated you exactly as you are 😀 alhamdulillah.

  2. I’ve worn hijab since I was 13, so I don’t know what it’s like to have a pre-hijab life as an adult. Going to an Islamic highschool in Sydney made it easy to wear hijab, but I didn’t fully appreciate the meaning (and the controversy!) behind it until I reached uni. Alhamdulilah instead of going the other way and shunning all things Islam, I finally had the impetus to really study my deen and figure out why exactly I’m doing what I’m doing, especially if makes me stand out so much. Studying Islam in Jordan and then going on Hajj really sealed it for me, and gave me that quiet, solid strength to be at peace with who I am, hijab and all.

    So how does this link back with marriage? The hijab wasn’t a point of negotiation for me. Sure, until I got married at the age of 27 (almost 28), there were moments where I wondered if I would ever get married, but the thought of uncovering for the sake of snagging a husband never crossed my mind. If he couldn’t accept me, then he wasn’t for me. Simple! Marrying a man on the same spiritual page as me was a deal-breaker for me. I think having supportive family, friends, and a community of concerned (and religious! None of this ‘Oh you’d get a husband if you took that thing off’) surrogate aunties REALLY made a difference. They grounded me, and I knew I always had loved ones to confide in. It would have been much, much harder, I’d imagine, if I had a ‘hijab-hostile’ support network, or if I had a very flimsy, cultural understanding of the value of hijab.

  3. Definitely, those support networks are so important, because as you said it wouldn’t even cross your mind unless people started planting doubts in your head about it, like ‘oh, if you didn’t wear hijab you’d be getting so many more suitors!’ If you have a lot of hijab-wearing women around you, it’s naturally much easier to stick to your guns. Plus those support networks tend to hook you up with guys who also have o issue with hijab and in fact tend to see it as a pre-requisite 😉

  4. Can I ask you lovely ladies (and I understand this is a really personal question!) what the decision making process was like for you in deciding to wear hijab? From just this blog post, it seems to me like the men in your life had very little to do with your decisions- is this the case?

    As a totally unrelated thought, I’ve often wondered why non-Muslims are so afraid of the hijab (that’s the only way I can really express the place I feel the ignorance originates from- a fear of the unknown and a lack of understanding) when the pinnacle of piety for Christians are the Nuns who dress in a similarly modest way!!

    As usual, love your work 🙂

    • Thanks Eden! It’s a hard question to answer because the decision-making process differs so much from person to person. Every woman who wear hijab has her own story. Mine’s not really that interesting lol, it’s something I always wanted to do-it was just a matter of working up the courage to do it! 😀
      You have a point there about people’s fear and dislike of the hijab. It’s often a fear of ‘the other’ and a fundamental lack of understanding of what hijab is and what it signifies. It seems like it’s hard for people to comprehend that someone could actually choose to wear it, and so they then attribute it to either being forced or being ‘brainwashed’.

    • Eden, what are your own thoughts on hijab? Have they changed over the years? I think non-Religious people differ from Christian’s on their fears on the matter don’t you? As a Christian I happen to like headcoverings, be they hijab or chapel veil or whatever. Modesty is good. But I do understand some people feel that one headcovering is part of a “uniform” of the “other team” so to speak.

  5. Shamaila Khan

    Hi Eden!
    I wore the hijab because I felt like it was another step in the path to becoming more God-conscious. Its harder to do things that go against the teachings of your religion when youve got such a big reminder of what you represent right there on your head (in public at least). I thought that wearing the hijab would help me to stay within my boundaries, and help make other people see and understand those boundaries as well.
    No man had anything to do with my decision to wear a hijab 🙂
    As for the fear of hijab, I agree with Z about people’s fear stemming more from ignorance as to what the hijab means to its wearers. There are people that look at us and assume, that because they would never wear something like that, that we must be suffering beneath it, and have been forced into putting it on. In reality, the hardest part about wearing hijab is facing that judgement and condescension from the very people trying to ‘save’ me from it.

  6. Reblogged this on Emboldened Hearts.

  7. Salam sis, firstly masha a Allah for being a hijabi, indeed it is wonderful. I have been a Muslimah for a bit over a year and took to hijab within a 6 weeks, it just felt so right 🙂 Not so much discrimination but more my parents were not happy with me and hijab so it took until about 2 months ago for me to now wear hijab in their company, Alhamdulillah they are doing well 😀

    As for the reason for hijab, it is because Allah (swt) in the Holy Quran has commanded us to wear it and if we love Allah (swt) purely then we wish for His pleasure. All the other reasons given for hijab are of no importance beyond this is what Allah (swt) wants from us. Our dear sisters do need to be encouraged to understand by not wearing hijab they are simply expressing their choice to disobey Allah (swt). As far as men, why would any sister want to be with a man that is happy if we displease Allah (swt), that simply means he is wanting to be with a woman that is happy if he displeases Allah (swt).
    May all sisters be blessed with a pious spouse that wishes they please Allah (swt), Ameen

  8. Salaam alaykom sis, beautiful post mashallah. I indeed enjoyed reading it.:)
    I’d like to thank you for this post. I personally think, that hijab is a “way of life” and it does not mean the piece of cloth a woman wears on her head. It is her attitude and her heart. You can wear hijab (which does not mean just covering your hair and then wearing clothes which catch other people’s attention, but simply “covering”, namely being modest) and behave like a non-hijabi and wear no hijab and behave like a hijabi. So, if a woman decides to wear hijab, she is making a statement. A strong statement and she has to stick to that statement. Like Malcolm X says:”I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he is wrong, than the one who comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil.” However, you can make the same statement without hijab. Hijab is in your heart. It is not the outside look, for me. And I am a muslimah who does not leave the house without her abaya and hijab. That is what makes me feel more connected to Allah. it reminds me every of who I am and I feel more comfortable. At the same time, I believe that a woman who does not wear hijab might feel as connected to Allah as I do. So, if the community judges, that should not be a problem. they are just people. Allah knows about our intention and that is what counts. And we do not need to proof that to the people. That is one of the main reasons I stay away from the community. lol. Simply cuz I am religious and spiritual, which means my daily purpose is to “connect to Allah” through prayers, intention and behaviour rather than “being part of a community”. You inspired me to blog about this topic as well sis. Thank you so much. Love x

    • I can definitely understand why being part of the community can be detrimental to your iman! I also completely understand your point about the intentions being in the heart. Thanks for reading!

      • Your piece of writing is full of insights and worth sharing. Thank you for posting it and dedicating time writing your thoughts up. Beautiful.

    • Salam sis, I do get what you mean but the truth is Allah (swt) asks us how to worship Him, he told us to wear hijab and it is described what that is – indeed it is inner and outer. I think the response to sisters not wearing hijab who say but I have Allah (swt) in my heart and Allah (swt) knows my intentions… is if you have Allah (swt) in your heart and pure intentions, then you will want to please Him, and he has told us clearly how to please Him in all ways, from how to pray to how to eat. Among that instruction for women is to wear hijab and act with modesty ( indeed men must wear hijab and act with modesty). So a heart that is only filled with Allah (swt) then it wants to obey Allah (swt) because obeying Allah (swt) pleases Him. By obeying Allah (swt) what it does is remove our ego – the bit that says ‘yeah but’ when asked to do something. 😀
      As far as what people say, indeed that is not the point.. hijab is not for the benefit of others, it is because Allah (swt) commanded it for us.
      Also intentions indeed have to be good, but generally where there is an intention it is followed by action – without the action it is kind of useless. We all know what it is like to intend to exercise more in order to get fit… but if we do not actually exercise then no matter the amount of intending to get fit will result in improved health 😀
      Hugs xxxxxx

      • Salaam sis:) you are so right. Totally agree with you and mashallah you put it in a very nice way. I hv just observed some qu ran teachers scaring some young new reverts off by being very very strong in their words and making islam sound it is all bout halal and haram and by doing so these people are presenting Islam from the outside in and not from the inside out. It is bout loving Allah and not fearing Allah. So yes you put hijab on because you love Allah not because you fear him. But some girls need more time because of social stress … So I think we need to help them to see Islam as a way towards love for Allah. And I think we need to show them that Allah knows their intention and loves them anyways cuz it is true. Allah is all forgiving and the most merciful and eventually they will put hijab on. With time of course inshalalh. I am a revert and I hv been asked since I converted how long it took me to wear hijab and I said I did it immediately but that is cuz Allah called me… Allah called me to Islam and it was just natural wearing it. Some girls don t find it that easy. It is a progress… And if you pray to Allah to help you strengthen your eman Allah will help you. Allah is the all hearer subhanallah:) sis how else can we approach this matter and help our sisters ? Love xxxx

  9. Reblogged this on poeticlyric and commented:
    Interesting piece of writing worth reading:)

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