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On Wearing the Hijab and Being "In-Between"

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Nour Awad has been wearing the hijab for eight years. They haven't all been easy. [Photo: Nour Awad]
Nour Awad has been wearing the hijab for eight years. They haven't all been easy. [Photo: Nour Awad]

As I whiz down Agricola St. on my bike, going to work at a screen-printing collective, I find a certain comfort in knowing that my hijab is safely tucked in under my blue helmet – as those few minutes on my bike give me a certain amount of anonymity that walking doesn’t.

My hijab has become like a flare, signaling judgment from people left and right – creating unnecessary attention.

(This is about to get real personal, so if you start getting uncomfortable, think about how I feel.)

I decided to wear the hijab in 2004. I know it is hard to believe, taking into account public perception of Muslims nowadays, but I did choose to wear it. No, my parents did not force me to wear it, it was MY choice. In fact, my mum, who decided to wear the hijab at the age of 37, tried to make me wait a while longer before I made that decision, as it is such a big commitment – but I protested. And now, looking back, I wish I had waited.

There were a number of reasons that pushed me to put on the hijab. Of course, there was the religious aspect of it: it was a time when I had a deeper spiritual connection to my faith and I felt wearing the hijab was a step closer to that connection; but, thinking about it now, I will also admit that a big portion of it was peer pressure. Two of my best friends had just started wearing the hijab and were constantly asking: “when are you going to wear it, Nour?”, “don’t you think it is about time?” and so on – you get the picture.

The hijab has become such a hot topic in the last couple of years that I have realized how important it is to be honest with myself about it, rather than spend my life trying to explain myself to curious passersby.

I should clarify here that I do not speak on behalf of Muslim women, or fellow hijabis. This is my experience and only mine. I take full ownership of everything I say and I am telling it to you in the hope that you understand a little more about the complexity of the “hijab experience.”

Please, please, please do not assume that all Muslim Arab women have the same experience, thinking, or reasons for wearing it as mine!

Also, note that not all Muslim women are covered – and that is okay. We are all different and we have all been through distinct things that have shaped who we are now, and our choices. We all come from different countries and different families. Just like all Canadians are different, so are Middle Easterners.

To start, I want to get rid of any crazy stereotypes and preconceptions about me as a Muslim Arab woman. No, I am not oppressed; no, I am not a fundamentalist; no, my parents did not attempt to marry me off at the age of 9 to a man 20 years older than me; no, I am not an extremist; no, I don’t just wear black; no, I am not filthy rich; no, my dad does not own an oil company; yes, I can shake hands with men; yes, I am liberal; yes, I am educated; yes, I can speak and write English fluently; yes, I am a strong, empowered independent woman; yes, I do have a choice.

If you continue to hang on to the image of long draping black cloaks, sad-looking droopy eyes hiding behind the niqab – face veil – and an oppressed lifestyle as your sole idea of what makes a Muslim woman, then I am sorry to break it to you, but you hold a one-dimensional perspective shaped by what skewed media outlets want to show you about a part of the world that is currently negatively portrayed.

I am not saying that there aren’t Muslim women out there who do not lead oppressed lives and are being forced into a certain lifestyle; all I am saying is, stop putting ALL Muslim women into one box. It’s judgmental. And wrong. We are all different. We just have one thing in common – the hijab – that’s it!

I am pretty relaxed and diverse with how I like to wear my hijab – It really depends on my mood, what I am wearing and, sometimes, the weather. Sometimes I like to wear my hijab in a more “traditional” style; this is when I rest the centre of the fabric on the crown of my head and then turn one side of the fabric around my face so it frames it – usually I tuck the excess fabric underneath so it rests on my shoulder.

On other days I like to tie my hijab like a bandana, where I make a regular knot or bow at the nape of my neck. When I feel like being fashion-forward and edgy I tie my hijab in a turban style – a style which, though usually associated with particular Eastern regions and religions, has lent an exotic hand to the West by making cameo appearances in magazines like 1970’s British Vogue features or movies like Sex and the City 2.

Finally, on cold I’m-not-so-bothered days, I tuck all my hair under a beanie.

Often I get asked if I am “subjugated,” but the truth is the hijab does not make me feel oppressed. It’s the questions that people ask; it's society that treats me like I am from outer space – “interesting” and “exotic” – that make me feel oppressed. I have only felt oppressed by people who choose to exclude me from certain parts of society because of an item of clothing I chose to wear.

The reason why society, in my opinion, is the main oppressor to covered women is because it holds this stereotype – this idea as the standard of how covered women should act, behave, say and be. So when they don’t – it is outrageous, it is misunderstood, it is not tolerated.

My experience here in Halifax has not exactly been one of a welcoming nature. I moved here in December 2010, and over the past two years I have been faced with questions, questions and more questions. Not that I mind answering questions; it just can be so tiring to feel like you constantly have to explain yourself and who you are beyond that piece of fabric, when that is all people want to know about.

Of course, there have been many positive experiences, from the odd compliment here and there to people who look beyond the veil and appreciate who I am and what I can do.

However, there have been quite a few negative experiences as well. For instance, on Canada Day this year, my mum wanted to go check out one of the free jazz concerts being held at Public Gardens. As we reached the sitting area, she found an empty seat on a bench next to a white senior male and decided to sit. As she sat down he got agitated, pushed her off and shouted “go back to where you came from” – all on Canada Day.

Even among Middle-Easterners, being a veiled woman can be quite difficult; I find it particularly hard to find my place. Why? Because I like to classify myself as an “in-between” person – I live my life moderately and in the middle between crazy and traditional. You see, “traditional” or, as I would like to call them, “up-tight, old-fashioned and narrow-minded” Middle Easterners don’t accept people like me because I am too open-minded for them. They don’t understand why I don’t conform and behave like a veiled woman should – whatever the hell that is.

Then you have the crazy, party-animal Middle Easterners who don’t accept me either because they assume that I am “boring,”“conservative,” “afraid,” not “fun” enough and so on.

My life with the hijab has really been a life filled with judgment from everyone. The West judges me by assuming I am oppressed and “conditioned since birth” to a certain doctrine; traditional Muslims judge me because I allow myself to go to a party with alcohol and dance with guys and do unconventional things for a hijabi; non-covered Muslim women feel sorry for me because they think that they are more “liberated” than me; and the list goes on and on.

Of course, I have met many people from around the world who have been nothing but loving and welcoming. But, I can’t help feel that the judgment outweighs the experiences I have had of people just being open and welcoming about what I’m wearing.

Putting the hijab on is a really big commitment for a woman, a commitment that over the years she might struggle with – like I have in recent years. It is not a clear-cut path that one decides to embark on and will never want to stray from.

By decreasing the amount of stress you put on the fact that a woman is wearing the hijab you might allow her to have the space she needs to be comfortable with it and with her decision. It will also allow her to have a safe environment to choose who she wants to be with it – and if she ever decides to take it off – without it, all free of judgment.

I found it incredibly disappointing in 2011 when foreign journalists asked Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize Winner Tawakkol Karman about her hijab and how it is “not proportionate with her level of intellect and education” – clearly showing the judgment they hold of covered women being oppressed and uneducated.

Nonetheless, her reply shut them up quite well: “man in the early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I’m wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilization that man has achieved, and is not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is regressive back to ancient times.”

Or as Mark Twain once said: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

Let’s try to be okay with whatever people wear – whether it is a bikini top and shorts, or a black cloak – as long as that person feels comfortable with it and feels it represents who they are. It is not your place to think you are better than them just because you make a different choice.

It is just a different way of life.


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1747 words



I respect your individuality and point of view and could perhaps add some corollaries that give insight to a little cause-effect to worldly reaction to your personality.

I was raised in the Protestant United Church - having had my own questions - as soon as I went to University I took a course in World Religions; at the end of it all I dropped through the chute as a "child of the Universe". My Father died when I was 12 - I created my own rules thenceforth based strictly on watching older people - the result - my only prejudices are to behaviour - nothing to do with colour, religion, nationality etc.

Anyway, this isn't about me. I went to Grad school in Business and learned a very interesting rule. Almost 100% of the sales come from 20% of the market - meaning the other 80% doddle most of the time. After finishing school - this was so interesting to me I began to apply it on societal issues - and it works. EG. on an issue ,like your hijab - 80% will yell 'bloody murder' one way or the other (and do nothing)  ,20% will understand and respect you. So if you disseminate further - the 20% probably have a higher education - the 80% are 'feely' reactionaries - the dogs without bite.

It's a question of intellectual levels - NOT intelligence (can't determine that easily) - 20% ,probably educated, take the time to intellectualize, 80% don't. As someone in the middle of it all, you just accept it is what it is. You won't move the 80%, they don't have the capacity to listen - you just enjoy the company of the 20.

Personally I have found this approach gives me a lot of peace - it eases the frustration of not being able to move the stone wall back 10 feet.

Good luck with it, I enjoyed your blog.



Misconceptions about hijab and other issues

Esselamu Alejkum we rahmetullah we berekatuh!

First of all, this thing you wear is not hijab. Correct way is also cover neck and not show your full face. Ok?

Wearing a hijab is obligatory (fard), sister. Here's proof:

Obligation of Hijab as Stated in Qur'an

"O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (jalabib) close round them (when they go abroad)..." (33:59)

Ibn Rushd in Bidaya al-Mujtahid (1:83) said that this verse has been adduced as proof that no part of a woman's body should be evident to those who are not among the prohibited degrees of relationship (mahram) or her husband. Al-Qurtubi in his commentary on the verse said that the jilbab is the cloak that conceals all of the body including the head.

"And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms..." (24:31) "…only that which is apparent" applies to women’s face and hands.

"... And when you ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) anything, ask it of them from behind a veil. . ." (33:53) Al-Qurtubi said in commentary of this verse: "The consensus of Muslims is that the genitals and backside constitute nakedness for men and women, as well as all of woman except her face and hands, but some disagreed about the latter two." This means the consensus of Muslims included them in the definition of her nakedness based on verse 33:59 and the hadith cited below.

Obligation of Hijab as Stated in Hadith

Among proofs for the veil in the Sunna are the following authentic hadiths (traditional reports) of the Prophet – (s):

"Ayesha (r) reported that Asma’ the daughter of Abu Bakr (r) came to the Messenger of Allah (s) while wearing thin clothing. He approached her and said: 'O Asma’! When a girl reaches the menstrual age, it is not proper that anything should remain exposed except this and this. He pointed to the face and hands." [Abu Dawud]

Ibn Qudama in al-Mughni (1:349) explained that showing the face and hands are a specific dispensation within the general meaning of the hadith "All of the woman’s body is considered her nakedness [to those outside the mahram relationship or her husband]." (al-mar'atu `awra)

`Ayesha (r) said: "I used to enter the room where the Messenger of Allah (s) and my father (Abu Bakr) were later buried in without having my garment on me, saying it is only my husband and my father. But when 'Umar ibn Al-Khattab (r) was later buried in (the same place), I did not enter the room except that I had my garment on being shy from 'Umar."

The Prophet's specification to Umm Salama that women should also cover their feet in prayer, narrated in the Sunan. This included the feet into the definition of her legal nakedness. "Women who are clothed but (at the same time) naked , turning their heads sideways this way and that like the humps of the camel, shall never enter Paradise nor even smell its fragrance."

Ayesha r.a. said: "By Allah, I never saw any women better than the women of the Ansar (i.e. the women of Madina) or stronger in their confirmation of Allah's Book! When Sura al-Nur was revealed -- "and to draw their 'khumur' over their bosoms" (24:31) -- their men went back to them reciting to them what Allah had revealed to them, each man reciting it to his wife, daughter, sister, and relative. Not one woman among them remained except she got up on the spot, tore up her waist-wrap and covered herself from head-to-toe (i`jtajarat) with it. They prayed the very next dawn prayer covered from head to toe (mu`tajirat)."

2.) Shaking hands with men that's not you avret (approved) is forbidden. Here's proof:

Shaking hands (and touching) members of the opposite sex when not related, is not permissible for Muslims according to the teachings of Islam.

First: It is not allowed for a believing man to put his hand in the hand of a woman who is not allowed for him (mother, wife, sister, daughter, etc.). Whoever does this has wronged himself (sinned).

There is a Hadith from Ma'qil ibn Yasar, saying; The Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) said, "It is better for you to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle than to touch the hand of a woman who is not permissible to you."

This alone should be enough to keep away from this action and to instill obedience to Allah, as it implies touching women may lead to temptation and immorality.

Ayesha, the wife of the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) said: 'When the believing women migrated (to Medina) and came to the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) they would be examined in accordance with the words of Allah (in Quran):

"O Prophet! When believing women come to you to give you the Bay’ah (pledge of allegiance), that they will not associate anything in worship with Allah, that they will not steal, that they will not commit illegal sexual intercourse, that they will not kill their children, that they will not utter slander, intentionally forging falsehood (i.e. by making illegal children belonging to their husbands), and that they will not disobey you in any Ma'ruf (Islamic Monotheism and all that which Islam ordains) then accept their Bay’ah (pledge of allegiance), and ask Allah to forgive them, Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful". [Noble Quran 60:12]

Any of the believing women who accepted the conditions of the verse and agreed to live by them were considered to have offered themselves for giving their oaths of allegiance. When they declared their commitment to do so, the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) would say to them, "You may go. I have confirmed your allegiance."
I swear by Allah, the Prophet's hand never touched the hand of a woman. He would receive their oath of allegiance by spoken declaration. I swear by Allah, the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) never took any vow from women except what Allah had ordered him to take and his palm never touched the palm of a woman. When he had taken their pledge, he would tell them he had taken their oath from them orally. ' [Sahih Muslim]

The Prophet of Allah (Peace and blessings be upon him) did not touch women who were not permissible (shaking hands, etc.). This despite the fact the oath of allegiance was originally given by hand. So what about these other men going around shaking hands?

Umaymah bint Raqiqah said: 'The Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) said, "I do not shake hands with women (not permissible to touch)."'

Second: It's not permissible to shake hands even with a barrier (such as a garment) in between. There is an unacceptable narration (Da’if; not authentic) saying the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) used to shake hands with women from beneath a garment. Al Haythami said: 'This was narrated by At-Tabarani in Al-Kabir and Al-Awsat. The chain of narrators includes 'Atab ibn Harb, who is Da’if (weak in narrations).

Waliyyud-Din Al-Iraqi said: 'The words of Ayesha, "He used to accept the women's oath by words only" means he did so without taking their hands or shaking hands with them. This indicates the Bay’ah (oath) of men was accepted by shaking hands, as well as words, and this is how it was. What Ayesha mentioned was the custom.'

Some Mufassirun (type of scholar) mentioned that the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) asked for a vessel of water and dipped his hand in it, then the women dipped their hands in it. And some of them said he did not shake hands with them from behind a barrier and had a cloak from Qatar over his hand. And it was said that 'Umar, may Allah accept from him, shook hands with them on his behalf.

None of these reports are true, especially the last one.

How could 'Umar, may Allah accept from him, have done something the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) would not do?

Sheikh Muhammad Abdul-Aziz bin Baz (Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, d. 1999), Allah's Mercy on him, said:

'The most correct view in this (shaking women's hands with something in between) is not allowed at all, because of the general meaning of the Hadith, wherein the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) said, "I do not shake hands with women (who are not related)" in order to avoid the way leading to evil.

Third: The same rule applies to shaking hands with older women; it is also forbidden due to the general meaning of the texts on the issue. The reports saying it is permissible are weak (Da’if).

Al-Zayla'i said: 'As for the report saying Abu Bakr used to shake hands with old women, it is Gharib (strange in its chain of narrators, not acceptable in this case).

Ibn Hajar said: 'I cannot find this Hadith."

Fourth: We now list the opinions of the four schools of jurisprudence (Madthabs):

With regard to the views of the four Imams, they are as follows:

1- Hanafi Madthab (Imam Abu Hanifah):
Ibn Nujaym said: 'It is not permissible for a man to touch a woman's face or hands even when there's no risk of desire because it is Haram in principle and there is no necessity to allow it.'

2- Maliki Madthab (Imam Malik):
Muhammad ibn Ahmad ('Ulaysh) said: 'It's not permissible for a man to touch the face or hand of a non-Mahram woman (not related), and it is not permissible for him to put his hand on hers without a barrier. Ayesha, may Allah be pleased with her, said: 'The Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) never accepted a woman's oath of allegiance by shaking hands with her; instead he would accept their oath of allegiance in words alone.'

According to another report: 'His hand never touched the hand of a woman, instead he would accept their oath of allegiance with words alone.'

3- Shafi'i Madthab (Imam Ash-Shafi'i):
Imam An-Nawawi (author of Al-Arba’in An-Nawawiyyah and Riyadus-Salahin) said, "It is not permitted to touch a woman (not properly related) in any way.

Waliyyud-Din Al-Iraqi said, 'This indicates the hand of the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) did not touch the hand of any woman except for those permissible to him, whether in the case of accepting their oath of allegiance or in other cases. If he didn't do it in spite of the fact he was infallible and above suspicion, then it is even more essential for others to heed this prohibition. It appears from the texts he didn't do it because it was forbidden for him to do so.

The Fuqaha’ (scholars of jurisprudence) among our companions and others say it is forbidden to touch a non-Mahram (not properly related) woman even if it is touching any part of her body that is not a part of her 'Awrah, such as her face.

But their differences of opinion occurred regarding looking (at them) when there is no desire and no fear of Fitnah (serious calamity). The prohibition of touching is stronger even than the prohibition of looking, and it is forbidden when there is no necessity to allow it. In the case of necessity, such as medical treatment, removing a tooth or treating the eyes, if there is no woman available to provide the treatment, then it is allowed for a man to do it because of the necessity.

4- Hanbali Madthab (Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal):
Ibn Muflih said about Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, that he was asked about a man who shakes hands with a woman. His answer was, 'No' and it was emphatically forbidden. When he was asked about shaking hands having some cloth in between he said, 'No'.

Sheikh Taqiyyud-Din also held the view it was prohibited and gave the reason, touching is more serious than looking.


beautiful video for you, dear sister...


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