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Addressing the Elephant: Removing the Hijab & the Ummah’s Obsession With It

by in Culture & Lifestyle on 8th January, 2019

A growing trend

 In today’s society, the hijab has become a key identifier of a Muslim woman. From turban styles to the traditional Arab conservative headscarf, everyone has an opinion on the laws in the Quran. In recent years, it has become somewhat of a growing trend, whereby some Muslim women living in the Western world have now decided to remove the hijab and no longer wear it. With influencers and fashion bloggers amongst those who have removed it, or publicly expressed their doubts in wearing it, the subject of the hijab has brought about plenty of conversation. For a duty that is so clearly stated as compulsory in the Quran and hadiths, the hijab brings about such an extreme set of opinions. While many Muslim women are proud and happy to discuss their journey towards the hijab, it’s crucial the Muslim community also attempts to understand the decision made by some women to stop wearing the hijab. The following quotes in this article are from women in our community who have shared why they decided to remove the hijab, compiled by the Amaliah team, in order to guage ad unpack why those who have removed the hijab have.

Islam’s true meaning of hijab

 Before we delve into the reasonings some women may have to remove the hijab, it’s important to understand what Islam teaches about the hijab, and to distinguish between the concept and the physicality of the headscarf. Islam emphasises the idea of modesty and decency, particularly between interactions of those of the opposite sex. While specific dress codes are illustrated for both men and women in Islam to maintain that modesty, the term hijab has become synonymous with the headscarf worn by Muslim women. Some scholars have said that the Arabic word hijab means “partition” or “barrier”. It pertains to not only how men and women dress in Islam, but also how we conduct ourselves around one another. Due to the continuous gendered conversations centred around the hijab, the fact that this idea of modesty in Islam also includes men is often forgotten.

Why do some women start wearing the hijab?

 For many Muslim women, the decision to take on the physical manifestation of the hijab by covering their hair is something they choose to wear due to Islamic teachings of modesty. For some, they use it as a means to grow in their faith and become closer to Allah.

“I started wearing the hijab shortly after I turned 20. I had some flaws and thought wearing the hijab could help me sort some of them out.”

 Others may choose to wear it due to the environment they are in. Perhaps they go to an Islamic school, live in a society where many Muslim women wear it, or are surrounded by female family members and friends who all wear the hijab, and so are influenced to do so too.

I started to wear the hijab at the age of 11 during school hours because I attended an Islamic high school and it was part of the school uniform but did not wear it outside of then. When I joined a Catholic school for Sixth Form, I did begin to question my identity and being surrounded by friends who had worn the hijab for years, it seemed like the obvious choice to make to understand my identity.”

 Whatever the reason, it is important to remember it is a personal journey and a woman’s choice- when they choose to start to wear it. Yet for a practice that is compulsory in Islam, why are an increasing number of Muslim women choosing to take their hijabs off?

Why are women removing their hijabs?

 Political Climate

The current political climate across the world isnt exactly an atmosphere of ease for a Muslim woman, particularly those that visibly adhere to Islam and its practices. It’s created a feeling of fear amongst some Muslims as we‘ve had to deal with a rise in xenophobic and Islamophobic attitudes. With incidences of visibly Muslim women being pushed onto train tracks, and threats made on the Muslim community, such as “Punish a Muslim Day”, wearing the hijab can at times make Muslim women an unfair target. Veiled Muslim women have become representatives of the Muslim community thus becoming unwarranted targets to Islamaphobes. While being a Muslim is a blessing, sometimes being a representative for a 1.5 billion community members can be a burden and it can be easier to disassociate in public by simply removing your headscarf.

“Being the only girl in my family and then wearing the hijab, my family became concerned about me wearing it last year after the terrorist attacks. My decision to remove it was not an easy one and was something I had been thinking about for at least two years before I actually took it off.”

 Social Pressures

Whether it is through pressure from family or friends, the lack of a support system, eurocentric beauty ideals, the workplace or negative influences, societal pressures are all around us and can lead to anyone feeling as though removing the hijab will help them navigate their place in this world more easily. We can’t deny that at times the Muslim community can be a little judgemental which doesn’t help. All you have to do is look at the recent abuse one Muslim influencer has received due to her struggles with and her removal of the hijab, to the extent where she had to call out the “toxic hijabi community”. It’s already difficult being the “other” in a society where there’s fewer of you and little representation, that it may feel easier for some to forego wearing the hijab for some time.

“I have seen that some women including myself, remove it as they feel they can integrate into the world of work more easily.”

 Wearing the hijab can also bring about expectations to look and behave a certain way, and to convey a particular character in society. Whether you want to or not, wearing the hijab makes you an unofficial ambassador for Islam and Muslims everywhere, both amongst Non-Muslims and Muslims alike. Due to this, often those of us choosing to cover are held to a higher standard next to Muslim women who are not wearing the hijab. This is wrong and “hijabis” shouldn’t be judged more harshly than their “non-hijabi” counterparts, or even Muslim men.

“I believe in the hijab as a concept, as a practice of modesty, but felt less and less convinced by the idea of having to cover my hair to achieve this.”

 Loss of conviction & feeling unfulfilled

For some women, removing the hijab can also be due to the loss of conviction in what wearing it symbolises. Many women talk about making the decision to wear it in order to get closer to Allah, to increase their deen, and to better in their faith. But what if by wearing the hijab none of that happens? There’s no profound moment, or reawakening or epiphany. The whole experience can, in fact, be disappointing and challenging to deal with as it doesn’t evoke the emotions and motivate you the way you thought it would.

“I started feeling doubts about a year and a half into it. I felt so disconnected from wearing the hijab.”

 Unfortunately, the Muslim community, whether consciously or subconsciously, tends to hold Muslim women who do wear the hijab to be more accountable for their actions and are more critical of their behaviour. This pressure to look and conduct yourself in a certain way, as well as the criticisms one might endure,  are enough to drive a wedge between a Muslim woman and the hijab.

“I took off the hijab because I thought I was tarnishing the image of the hijab and felt like I didn’t respect it enough to wear it.”

 What misconceptions do we need to forget about women who remove the hijab?

 They’re lost

It’s easy if you’ve never experienced any of these struggles to regard women like these as weak, or lacking in faith or much worse. However, it doesn’t make them any less Muslim. If anything, we’re all the same; each of us is on our own personal journey of faith, struggling to be the best possible Muslim in a world filled with so much temptation, desire, and influence.

“In the beginning, I tried to make my relationship stronger with Allah by reading more and praying on time. I wish people knew that women make the choice to wear the hijab or not. Some people have approached me asking why are there different types of Muslims, for example, what’s the difference between women who wear and do not wear the hijab?”

 They’ve left Islam

In recent debates on Muslim Twitter, there have been unjust comments made that women who have removed their hijabs can no longer be considered followers of the religion.

“I started wearing the hijab as a way to help me work on my flaws. I also then took off the hijab as a way to help me work on those flaws. My relationship with Islam/Allah has not worsened. I am reconnecting with my deen and practising more than I was before. Just because I have taken it off doesn’t mean I have diverged from the entire religion. I still say my prayers, I constantly remember Allah (swt) and aim to keep my Iman in good shape as much as possible. Instead of dismay, I wish people would be supportive of my struggles and help me at my own pace. The ‘advice’ isn’t really ‘advisory’.”

 It’s important to remember as an Ummah that we are all going to have aspects of our religion that we are going to find a little more challenging than others. When a woman makes the decision to remove her hijab, it also doesn’t mean that she is going down a dark and twisted spiral, nor does it mean that it is a final decision. “I feel that the biggest misconception about women who decide to remove the hijab is people often think she is now going to off the rails: drinking, smoking, inappropriate relationships with men. It’s not a snowball effect of bad behaviour.”

 Just like she came to it once in her life, she may choose to return to wearing the hijab again later.

“I really want to try wearing it again. I regretted it so much when I took it off, and now I feel as though I have sailed away from it, but I know I can return to it whenever I want. I felt proud wearing it and can say the grass really isn’t greener on this side.”

 They no longer adhere to Islam’s teachings of modesty

Choosing to take off the hijab is not a signifier of wayward behaviour or a decline in modesty, nor does it signify leaving Islam. We need to remember that the hijab does not instantly make a Muslim woman more practicing or a “better Muslim” than one who does not wish to cover her hair. In fact for some women, maintaining a modest appearance is still important to them despite their removal of the hijab.

“I like to think I still dress relatively modestly. It did ever so slightly affect my lifestyle but I learnt a lot about myself, as well as my likes and dislikes. It made me mature and realise certain choices aren’t as fulfilling as I thought they would be.”

 Where do we go from here as a community?

 We shouldn’t be spreading  hate and abuse, or shaming women who are using their agency and rights awarded to her from Allah to do what she has decided is best for her. As a community, we’re quick to tell the outside world that the hijab is a choice when they argue that it is a sign of oppression. Yet when we vilify women who take this step in their lives, are we really making the hijab a choice for women, or trying to pressure them into wearing it?

“I suppose I took it off because I thought I was missing out on the best part of my twenties. The truth is that I wasn’t. The less “honour culture” is associated with wearing the hijab, the better. It is ultimately all about deen and pleasing our Creator. Do it for the right reasons and do not let people force or influence you into something so big”

 The hijab is not about what others think, but instead about submitting ourselves to Allah (swt). It is an act of worship that should be only done for our God and not to please other people. We place so much emphasis on the exterior concept of hijab, that we forget that hijab is so much more than a head covering.

“The advice I would give to any woman thinking about removing the hijab is to keep hold of your faith as much as possible and surround yourselves with kind, understanding people.”

 As an Ummah, we are failing one another. We continue to criticise instead of pulling one another up. We should be encouraging these women until they feel ready to embrace the hijab again, and if they decide not to, it is not our duty to judge. Judgement and criticism can be counterproductive and push those that already feel excluded, further away from the Ummah and their faith.

The hijab is a personal decision and by no means should we not have constructive debates over aspects of our religion. However, we need to have empathy and understanding to continue to encourage each other to grow in our faith. At the end of the day, we will all face Allah’s judgement and that is what matters the most.

Aisha Rimi

Aisha Rimi

Aisha Rimi is a recent French & German graduate who has had a passion for languages since she was young. She can now speak four languages! Born in London and raised in Cambridgeshire, Aisha loves to write and travel.