Hijab4Men Should Make You Uncomfortable – Here’s Why

If you’re in a relationship with Facebook like I am (almost nine years, baby!) and your friends list consists primarily of MSA buds, taraweeh teams, the masjid gossip brigade and all those others who fall into some form of the Muslim crevice of society, then you’re probably more than familiar with all those images/quotes/anecdotes that promote the ‘right hijab’. You know what I’m talking about right? Those pictures that provide lollipops and pearls as parallels to the Muslim female body; those unauthenticated-yet-so-perfectly-pontificated anecdotes about conversations between Muslims and non-Muslims; those prayers for guiding ‘sisters’ towards the ‘right path of hijab’.

Yeah, those.

Imagine my surprised delight then when I noticed images like this and this popping up in my Facebook newsfeed. For the first time, I was seeing those very analogies, anecdotes and written prayers that had long been directed at me – a Muslim woman – being directed, even if satirically, at my male co-religionists. While I was blessed to have been raised in a home where the principle of modesty in dress, action and gaze was emphasized equally for men and women, I still grew up knowing in that way we often know through peripheral observations that the community expectations of dress for both men and women were wholly different. The key difference and result of these expectations is that for women when it comes to wearing the hijab,  her spiritual center is made reliant on the headscarf. A Muslim woman’s beauty is in her hijab because it is apparently the best way she can show devotion to her Rabb.

Not her prayer, not her adab, not her character, not her knowledge, not her perseverance through her struggles and not her imaan and her tawakkul. We seem to conflate all of these with what she wears instead of focusing on her. In this ironic sense, we end up objectifying her as a pearl, a lollipop: incapable of anything else but being consumed, looking (tasting? ugh #haramadan) beautiful and necessitating ‘protection’.

We don’t speak of the faith of the Mothers of the Believers (RA), daughters (RA) of the Prophet (S) or Maryam (AS) in terms of their dress – instead we focus on their character, their personalities, their contributions, their faith, their trials and tribulations, their revolutions. We never say that what made these women great women – great Muslim women – is that they covered themselves. Their greatness and devotion to God does not hinge on what they wore. This is not to say their dress did not matter – but it is to say that they weren’t what they wore and we don’t make them into what they wore.

So why are we turning the women of our faith into what they wear?

None of this is to, of course, lessen the position of the khimar in Islamic law. Islam has normativities (I know, everyone tumblr_m8e75llizP1rq40r4o1_1280freak out right now) and while we can disagree with the normativities, it doesn’t mean they’re not there. The thing is, if we want to talk fiqh, then let’s talk fiqh – because men, too, have legal obligations when it comes to what they wear and how they wear it, including their beards – which are fardh (albeit with some difference of opinion) in all the five schools of jurisprudence, with Shafi’i having some leniency on shaving (makruh as opposed to haraam, but there’s also ikhtilaf). But we just don’t have that same emotional and religious investment in the requirements of modesty for men. If we did, as some of you most likely will try to argue, the discourse on Muslim men and women’s clothing wouldn’t be so radically different.

In fact, the discourse on Muslim men’s dress would be, well, existent.

Hijab4Men is hilarious but it should, at the end of the day, make you uncomfortable. If you think it’s making fun of Islamic jurisprudence or the Sunnah – you’re right. But you’re only right insofar as you understand that those reminders directed at the “sisters”, from which Hijab4Men borrows near verbatim, are no less offensive. Hijab4Men isn’t what’s offensive. It’s that language that treats us women like infants, the language that reduces our faith, practice, identity and existence to what is ultimately part and parcel of our faith – it is not our faith.


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    Sana Saeed

    Sana Saeed is a producer at AJ+

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    • Arya

      God bless you for such an amazing piece!

    • Jocelyn Roberts

      Beard and trouser shaming has actually been around for a while. I remember seeing a post last year where someone was questioning Imam Suhaib Webb’s authority as an Imam because his beard was “shaped and trimmed”.

      Here in South Africa, the Jama’at goes to Muslim’s houses and sometimes tells people they are going to hellfire if they don’t wear short pants and grow out their beards.

      But you’re right, we need to stop infantalising Muslim women. We do it with everything, not just clothing. Biggest example I can think of right now is a woman’s right to keep her own finances separate from the household finances. Shouldn’t that be empowering? Shouldn’t we sisters be building mosques, madrasas, Universities, funding scholarships, building hospitals, etc?

      Instead, we’re “empowered” to spend our money on frivolities like abayas…. like we’re kids with an allowance. Eish.

      • Rin

        Isn’t that shaming women a little bit though, telling them they’re petty for spending on -gasp- clothes? As if they’re not allowed to enjoy nice things for themselves, things with no other no purpose? Women are expected always to think of the community -everyone- first, not men.

        • Jekyll

          So miss Freud that is what you got out of her comment ? Really ?

    • Yacoob Soni

      I think the highlighting of the ‘male hijab’ is valid and a applaud you for it.

      But the the point about judging a woman’s devotion to her creator by her dress and not the other points needs a better understanding. Her dress or covering of her parts that should not be viewed by non mahrams is fard. There after her devotion begins. Just as it is fard upon a man to cover from above his naval to below the knee, which is lacking today. Men or woman not covering these fard portions are in constant sin and no worship is accepted while in this state therefor there is no devotion to ones creator in this state.

      And just to bring some perspective on the sisters mentioned. The reason why they are spoken about in said light is because their dress and fard acts were a given and not in any question at all.

      My humble opinion only.

      • Brenda Murphy

        “No worship is accepted”? I’m not sure how you can make this assertion would you care to clarify?

        • Yacoob Soni

          Should you perform an act of worship and the areas that are fard to be covered are exposed then the worship is not accepted nor is the obligation discharged. It is required to be repeated. Allah is merciful and tolerant but we are required to fulfill the portions that are within our control ie. cover the area, make proper intentions, find out the correct methods, etc.

      • Danielle Bastawy

        It isn’t just that a man must cover from his naval to below the knee, but he shouldn’t wear pants tight enough to outline his shape. The same is said for women. At most masjids that I go to, I see the many of the men wearing tight jeans while any women wearing jeans cover them with long shirts — most women aren’t wearing jeans, so it typically isn’t an issue.

    • Ahmed Saleem

      “We never say that what made these women great women – great Muslim women – is that they covered themselves.”

      Yes, because it wasn’t an issue for them. The wives of the Prophet (pbuh) were even prescribed to veil themselves, and they did it willingly to please their Lord.

      “Not her prayer, not her adab, not her character, not her knowledge, not her perseverance through her struggles and not her imaan and her tawakkul.”

      Okay I agree with the general sentiment, a person’s inward state is no doubt, much more important. But how can we divorce character and adab from hijab, when it’s hijab that lays the foundation for social interaction? Doesn’t prayer require hijab, at home and in the mosque? The wives of the Prophet (pbuh) passed down knowledge from behind veils! It seems to me that none of these things you mentioned are separate from hijab. The great Muslim women of the past, the role models for women today; who lived, persevered, taught, and made a difference were all hijabis, if not niqabis. This aspect of a woman’s life is not somehow separated from the rest of her.

      They were strong, influential members of the community and like any influential Muslim, they fulfilled the basic requirements of the religion and much more. It is understood that they all observed hijab, which is why there is no need to discuss it. People of influence become representatives of the faith and have a responsibility to uphold it at least in the public realm. A Senior Online Editor for Islamic Monthly would fall into this category.

      I love the concept of hijab for men. Yes, there are requirements for men in regards to clothing, and most men really fail to wear loose clothing, beards and some sunnahs such as caps, including myself. But why is hijab for men funny? It’s funny because it’s absurd.

      Muslims put more emphasis on the appearance and behavior of women rather than men, because the Qur’an does so. We are all aware of the verses on hijab and haya. After mentioning the duties of men in one sentence, Allah dedicates a whole paragraph to women in Surah An-Nur. Of course, we know that this emphasis on women is not because of some sort of inequality, but different gender roles that require greater privacy, care and protection (sorry if this sounds like the lollipop metaphor, but these are actually the real reasons according to the Qur’an). Men, of course have equally important commandments for dressing and behavior, but they are different from those for women. This is why if you put men in the same situations as women, it becomes funny and absurd.

      • Sana

        Thank you for the comment, but I’m afraid you missed the point while making my point. I was not discussing the fardh of wearing hijab, but the reduction of Muslim women to their hijab as the centrifugal force in their faith.

        And thank you for reminding me of my responsibilities — again, made my point for me!


    • Ned Stark

      You know, its always this type of article that attempts to rationalize and legitimize a frame of thinking that side steps a truth in favor of making excuses for doing what you like and thinking its right even if that isnt true.

      There IS a right way of wearing a hijab. I, of course, agree that we’re making what we wear and what we teach others to wear more important that being a decent human being, but too often I see authors like this dismissing a logical rule in favor of screaming “ITS MY PARTY I CAN CRY IF I WANT TO!”. And doing it right is still part of the damn package…for gods sake.

      The current fashions, for example, are bang hijabs (with a girls bangs hanging out the front), centerpiece hijabs (made to look like a wedding centerpiece or bowl of modest brightly colored ridiculous fruit), or scalp hijabs (made to replace hair with a cloth baldness and exposing just about everything else). And, lord knows what else. The hijabs attract the same attention they were meant to refuse. It hardly makes sense. Either wear it right or dont wear it at all. Ive met so many wonderful girls who dont wear hijab and arent hypocritical enough to wear it so pretentiously. I often find myself respecting them more than those who wear hijab with all the games being played. Of course, thats also attributed to the fact that many hijabis are terrible people and dont honor the hijabs on their head…oh well.

      Fashion and the myth of freedom from self expression isnt a good enough excuse to do it wrong. And you can throw whatever you want about me not having the authority to say whats wrong or right but lol…I dont think I need that authority…its pretty damn simple and logical. Islam was given to the simplest and most complex of minds. A destitute can practice and a high minded author of blog posts can too. Logic tells me a hijab is simple modesty and covering of your attractive parts. Grooming means keeping your beard and hair in check and presentable.

    • sorry

      do you think you would be having this conversation if you had been raised your whole life in the Arabian peninsula or the Levant? Don’t you think the only reason you’re having this kind of conversation is because you have been influenced by Western ideas?
      Honest question. But the kind of ideas and articles in this piece seem culturally removed or discontinuous with most of the lands where Islam originated and was first adopted.

    • Keena

      Love this article! Totally on point mA