Headscarf in Islam
Social Issues
Question asked by .
Answered by Siddiq Bukhary

The following query may be a bit blasphemous but I shall ask anyway as it has been preying my mind for a while.

It is about the headscarf, which I do not wear, though I do not dress provocatively. At the moment, my mind is locked with the present opinion I have about wearing the headscarf; no amount of reading religious material and even persuasion from my mother seems to change this thought.

Firstly I don’t feel very comfortable in a scarf; I just don’t think it is me. You may say ‘you should try it’. Well, I have and this is why I know that I am not comfortable with it. I wore the scarf for two years when I went to college where there were male students as well. However, this practice, which lasted two years as I just said, did not change me nor did it make me a better person. I stopped wearing the scarf a year ago and I have been the same person throughout. I have still not done anything extremely sinful; all I do is go about my own business. I think the scarf has lost its value, as there are girls who wear Hijāb and they indulge in bad things, something which I have never done.

From what I know and have read, the scarf is to purify one’s soul. But it obviously does not work in all cases but then I also know it is to purify others’ soul as well; it precludes the members of the opposite sex from thinking in negative terms. But from my experience, headscarf does not fulfill these objectives either. I also know that the Qur’ān does not completely prohibit you to go out without a scarf. What I think is that you are either a good person with good intentions or you are simply not. I feel I don’t need the scarf to purify my soul as I have other things such as my parents, common decency and self-respect. Does it make me a weak Muslim if I don’t wear one?


I do not find anything blasphemous in your question. Leading a life without ambiguities and attaining intellectual satisfaction and confidence is the right of every individual.

Your query pertains to that part of Islam which constitutes social fabric of the Muslim society. Before responding to your specific question, I would like you to have a look at the verses relevant to male and female interaction.

Say to the believing men that they should guard their gaze and cover their private parts. This is purer for them. And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should guard their gaze and cover their private parts; that they should not display their ornaments except what [must ordinarily] appear thereof; that they should draw their head covering over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O you who believe turn you all together towards Allah that you may succeed. (24:30-31)

It is evident from these verses that the Muslim men and women should abide by the following.

1. In case of mixed gatherings, men and women should guard their gaze.

2. Their dress should properly cover their private parts.

3. Women should not display their ornaments except for what is worn on hands, face and feet since these are not ordinarily covered. They may also display their ornaments before the list of relatives mentioned in the verse.

4. Women must cover their bosoms.

5. Women should also not adopt ways which are bound to attract the attention of the opposite sex.

You must have noted that covering the head has not explicitly been mentioned in these directives.

In spite of the above fact the question still stands why Muslim women have been wearing head coverings. Should they still do?

Actually it needs to be appreciated that these directives are the manifestation of that minimum level which is required at any rate. The Sharī‘ah does not give us a comprehensive list of all that is good and bad; all the decent acts which should be adopted and all the bad deeds which should be renounced. No doubt, the Law of Allah does guide us; its directives are indicative of the overall spirit which should reflect in our social, political and economic life. We are not provided with meticulous details about the structure of the Muslim civilization. Head covering is nothing but a manifestation of this spirit which has perpetuated all through the ebbs and flows of Muslim civilization. In other words, the head covering has not been promulgated by the Law yet its perpetuation exhibits the inclinations of Muslims in matters of Hayā (modesty).

Just a handful of dust shows the direction of wind; similarly a minor thing like dress or observance of some other social norm can indicate what a particular person is all about.

The ultimate aim of the religion is the purification of the soul; towards this end it urges and guides its followers. But this purification is not merely an abstract thing. Our outer being plays a major role in achievement of this end; and therefore the choice of ‘forms’ is essentially important to retain and nourish the substance. Hence proper dress code is a fundamental thing for cleansing and purifying our soul.

One can argue that scarf is not included in the proper dress code and people may differ upon the definition of what is proper. In this regards, our parents and the society in general does help us decide what is proper; our conscience no doubt also facilitates us in choosing what is right since as we contradict what our conscience says ‘proper’, it pricks us terribly. However, if a Muslim lady decides most sincerely that head covering does not fall within the ambit of proper dress, she will not be held accountable since what she decided was based on her sincerity as the matter has not been addressed directly by the Sharī‘ah.

You tell us that you stopped wearing the scarf a year ago and you have been the same person throughout and that you have still not done anything extremely sinful whereas these girls who wear headscarf do bad things.

I say you should be thankful to God, like we all should, that He has saved you and covered you; I wish you the same in future also. Wearing or abandoning the scarf has nothing to do with sins or virtuosity directly. It has been your commitment and perseverance which has helped you a lot. Scarf is just a symbol of such commitment which a Muslim woman nourishes inside. I therefore feel that this symbol should be preserved. If one already possesses a furnished house, well and good; but without proper ‘façade’, how would it look like? Façade has its own importance and that importance should be given due weight. 

We need to remember that things do not lose their values just for the malpractice of some ignorant people. Values are values, and they remain so forever. The deeds of some girls cannot deprive headscarf of its value. Everyone is responsible for his acts and what disposition he adopts. The deeds of others are no excuse for letting go of good deeds. A person who offers prayers five times a day regularly but also deceives others does not provide me with an excuse to renounce the prayers. We should never underestimate a virtue. Small virtues sometimes lead to the bigger ones. We ought not to forsake anything good we possess; we must always nourish it. For now, you have been wearing scarf for the sake of your mother; it will become beneficial when you wear it on your own being conscious of its value in the perspective of Hayā and Islamic civilization.

You tell us that a person is good with good intentions otherwise not. No doubt good intention is a prerequisite for each and every action but mere intentions are not sufficient. It is the deeds, which prove the veracity of the intentions. Why do you want to maintain yourself at the minimum level when you have the capacity of higher one? You feel that you don’t need the scarf to purify your soul but if a lady feels ‘shorts’ are good enough for purification then what will happen. Other people cannot judge purification from your feelings or claims. Should there not be something palpable?

Finally, I would like to add that preserving and protecting our Īmān (faith) is the core issue about which we must be very sensitive. Īmān is like a candle, if you put it amidst the blowing winds you will  end up putting it out; and if you put it in a room away from the winds, it will live long. Similarly if you build around your Īmān the walls of optional acts it will save and strengthen the obligatory ones; which are obviously the primary requirement of Īmān. Wearing of scarf is among the optional acts and we should not underestimate it.

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