Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Taking off my Hijab

I have finally done it.

This wasn't an easy decision. I had been struggling with it on a daily basis for the last five years. During the final years of my undergraduate degree, I was constantly reminded of how much my personal beliefs clashed with those of the Islamic orthodoxy. It's hard to reconcile my mix of libertarian, socialist and humanist values with the conservative ideals of the orthodox Muslim community that I inadvertently become a part of as a Hijabi.

At the same time, as the only visible Muslim in my undergraduate program (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) I became the de facto representative of all one billion or so Muslims to my classmates. I was always conflicted between expressing traditional/orthodox Muslim beliefs and my own.

Do I support gay marriage? Yes. Does (traditional/orthodox) Islam? No.

During my first stint in graduate school, I became somewhat of a novelty. Here I was, a brown female visibly Muslim scientist working in a white, male dominated field. I organized academic journal clubs, hosted international researchers and attended conferences both at home and abroad. I was the only Hijabi in my field and I'd like to believe to think that I challenged commonly held stereotypes about Muslim women. There were some advantages to wearing the Hijab in this situation. I was "exotic".  My research got a lot more attention than it normally would. People remembered me. I enjoyed the surprise on people's faces when they realized that I was the fisheries scientist that they were meeting with. But this attention wasn't always positive. When I was interviewing for PhD positions, I was almost always asked why someone from my background was pursuing research in aquatic ecology.

On a personal level, I no longer hold the same religious perspectives that I did when I started wearing the Hijab a decade or so ago. During my undergraduate studies, I took Islamic history classes and was surprised to find out that the practice of veiling in the Arabian peninsula predates Islam and was used as a class identifier. Women belonging to the families at the upper levels of clan and tribal hierarchies wore veils. Furthermore, the two verses in the Quran that are interpreted as an injunction for women to veil themselves, only call for women to dress modestly and do not specifically mention hair. The more I read, the less convinced I became.

 So I've decided to take it off for now. It feels dishonest to represent myself as an orthodox conservative Muslim, when I'm not. I'm tired of representing all Muslims, Islam and dealing with assumptions of both the Muslim community and the general public about who I am and who I should be. For once, I just want to represent myself. My religious belief is not my defining identity, but it is an important one for me. I'm unsure of how to feel Muslim without the Hijab. (How do all the non-Hijabis and Muslim men do it?????).

I don't know what is going to happen. I might put the Hijab on again. I might take it off permanently. For now, I just want to see what life is like without it.


  1. "To thine own self be true". It is not my business to judge or comment on your decision except to express admiration for being flexible enough to change your mind about things and remain true to yourself.

  2. The hijab is a type of uniform in a way and obviously meant to be an equalizer - as all uniforms are. But as you pointed out, the hijab is also an instant identifier that causes you to be classified. The way we dress is an expression of our personality. To take off the hijab is to allow your personality to shine through.
    I never quite understood why Muslim men are allowed to wear blue jeans and T shirts while their sisters, girlfriends and wives wear the hijab.
    Still, it must feel strange to you. Do you feel naked?

    1. "the hijab is also an instant identifier that causes you to be classified."

      thats how hijab started and later I became mandatory.

      Why women are not asked to have beard? because they don't grow? right?

      in the same way men don't have the developed physical parts to be taken care of.

      I'm feeling sorry for the author. because she is confused about her own thoughts and Islamic beliefs.

      I'll explain a bit. Islam is about total submission. no matter what others think or say. and the word Muslim means "the one who submit or not controlled by himself"

      There is a saying of Prophet Muhammad SAW. it states like this "Islam came poor and it will become poor" that means that It look strange when it started and again it will become strange as nowdays It has become. even in our Muslims societies muslims think that the girl wearing hijab or boy have beard as old-fashioned or maybe has less exposure. having less education or don't know the world which we know. thats what they say.

      thats what makes the practicing muslims stranger and identifiable.

      BTW if you really want to practice Islam and worried (or don't want to answer them all the time because you don't have sufficient knowledge) about the questions that non-muslims are asking. then I think you'd migrate to some Muslim country :)

      I personally believe that you'll wear it again. because you'd not like to repent when you'll get older. What is your priority?

  3. Why do you think that you would want to put it back on again if you feel that it represents an ideology you don't support?

  4. @Misha
    Sorry for the late response. I really appreciate the feedback and your open minded support.

    Wearing the Hijab doesn't automatically mean not showing your personality though your clothes. The Hijab (headscarf) can be worn with a variety of clothing; South Asian, Middle Eastern and Western, in my case. When I was wearing the Hijab, I was wearing the clothes that I wanted to wear, those that I felt refleected who I was and were modest (no cleavage, legs etc) as per the rules of Hijab. There is NO injunction in Islam against women wearing jeans and T shirts as long as the rules of Hijab are followed. I took off the Hijab because wearing it meant that I was a conservative/orthodox religious person. I am still religious, but I don't align myself with these beliefs, so I felt like a fraud. It took me a couple of days to get used to not wearing it. I never felt naked, just strange. Then I started worrying about how to deal with my hair....

    @anonymous Sept 28 9:54
    It's not just about the ideology, but whether I feel more myself wearing it than not wearing it. I'm trying to figure out how I want to express myself, including my religious beliefs and if wearing the Hijab ends up being more true to me than not wearing it, then I might put it on again. Also, I loved being able to shatter stereotypes about Muslim women, especially Hijabis as being meek and oppressed and uninterested in Science and Mathematics. I love Mathematics, Statistics and Theoretical Ecology, so it was great seeing people grapple with their preconceived notions of who I am and who they thought I would be. I miss this, especially since global muslim communities need positive role models that aren't just experts in Islam or the Middle East. But I don't want the burden of solely representing my ethnic/religious community anymore. I am more than just Muslim and Pakistani and I would like to be able to express myself without worrying about whether or not I am doing a good job in paving the way for other Muslim and/or Pakistani men and women in my field


    in case you haven't seen this and want to respond for yourself.

  6. There appears to be a regular clash in your thoughts and actions. One you have discussed here, the veil problem. The other, which is evident from this very post, the title of your blog contains the word "Roti" which does not belong to your present culture.
    Any how, by removing veil, you have tried to prove that you are not a hypocrite because wearing dress of a Muslim women but not obeying the commands of Allah in hypocrisy and has no reward.
    I lived in European countries where they say "water is for washing". They drink Bier (Bear). I followed the practices of Islam which were generally appreciated there being not than 5% who objected. Though my food likings used to create difficulties for my local friends / colleagues
    May Allah guide me to the right path.

  7. @anon

    Thanks. I did check out the link and joined in the discussion

    @Iftikhar Ajmal Bhopal

    I'm not sure what not wearing the Hijab and using the word Roti have to do with one another. Roti as a word belongs to the culture of the Indian subcontinent, so even if you think that by holding the set of beliefs that I do and not wearing the Hijab, I am no longer Muslim (fyi, you DON'T have the right to decide who is Muslim and who is not), that still doesn't change the fact that I am Pakistani and hence "Roti" still belongs to my culture.

    I don't expect everyone to agree with my decision, but I do expect a certain degree of respect as a human being. Since my beliefs don't fit in with your perception of Islam, you have decided to call into question my faith and committment to my religion, which is patronizing and disrespectful because it assumes that only your intepretation of Islam is the right one. You DON'T have the right to decide who is Muslim and who is not. Lastly, I am only answerable to Allah, not to you. And since there is no specific mention of the word hair in the Quranic verses asking women to dress modestly (fyi, I can read and understand Arabic), by not wearing the hijab I am not breaking any command of Allah.

  8. I am not a religious scholar and had taken up the psychological view of you post. I am sorry if I hurt you for which I had no intention. Further, I didn't dub you as non-Muslim. Here failure of communication has occurred which is quite usual because perceptions of communication depends on the individual’s frame of reference and the environment he lives in.
    If a person claims to be a physician but, knowingly, follows some and not all of the practices of physician, his act becomes hypocrisy that is what I tried to say.
    Now, please, educate me what is conservative Islam and what is orthodox Islam?
    What I have studied during the past over 60 years is only Islam without any prefix or suffix.

  9. @Iftikhar Ajmal Bhopal

    Your physician analogy fails because Islam, like all monotheistic religions is based on a set of beliefs. It is the beliefs that define a believer and NOT the practices. Yes, as a Muslim you have to pray/fast ect, but you can also pray, fast and not believe in Allah, or believe in Muhammad as his prophet. Doing a particular set of actions does not make some one Muslim, their belief does. The concept of the five pillars of Islam: Shahadah, Salat, Saim, Zakat, Hajj is useless without the following three beliefs: Belief in Allah, Belief in Prophet Muhammad as Allah's prophet and the last rasool and belief in the day of judgement. It isn't hypocrisy to not pray, fast etc, but hypocrisy to do all those things without having the three beliefs mentioned above.

    As to the question of the Hijab, whether it is an actual practice of Islam or not is debatable because wearing it is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the Quran. There are several ayats which mention dressing modestly for women and men, but nowhere does it state to cover your hair. Considering that the Quran is extremely explicit in describing wudhu, if hair was an important part of being modest, the Quran should have mentioned it like it explicitly mentions hands, face, arms and feet when describing the process of wudhu. The covering of the hair is interpreted from ayats making general statements about modest dress, hence you cannot make the claim that covering the hair is an Islamic practice, because it is not mentioned explicitly in the Quran like other practices such as Salat, Saim, Zakat and Hajj. If Allah (assuming that he/she/it exists), wanted women to cover their hair why didn't he explicitly mention it when he explicitly mentioned salalt, saim, hajj and zakat as wajib(obligatory).

    Lastly, there isn't only one Islam, since parts of the Quran are sufficiently ambiguous to merit more than one interpretation. This is why you have different sects. If you have only come across one Islam over the past 60 years, you need to start reading more Islamic literature. If there is only one Islam, then why do we have the theological differences between Sunni and Shiites? Why do we have the Hanafi, Hambali, Shafai and Maliki schools of thought in Sunnism? Why do we have Wahabis, Deobandis, Barelvis? Why do we have chisti and nizami sufis? Due to ambiguous language in the Quran, many ayats can be interpreted in a number of ways and these interpretation lead to different schools of thought.Shiite Islam is not the same as Sunni Islam even though they agree with the three beliefs that I outlined above. No one person perceives the world in the same way as another, so why do we expect there to be only one interpretation of Islam. To say that there is only one Islam is either being extremely naive or delusional about the way that Islam is interpreted and practiced by its followers. Also, before you say that Islam is not being followed correctly, hence the division, I would point out that what you consider to be correct is very different from what I or any other person would consider to be correct.

  10. Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do. (Noor:30)
    And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap their veil over their Juyubihinna and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, their brothers' sons, their sisters' sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.(Noor: 31)

    Dear all, I am not religious scholar not a conservative Muslim. But I read and try to understand the holy book according to my own intellect. As the above two ayats show that "lowering the gaze and protecting private parts" is the injunction same for both male and female. So why all focus on the modesty of women only, we should also focus on men modesty too. Secondly, "veil over Juyubihinna" is extra caution for women. Now, Jyubihinna is different for different scholars. Some include chest, neck. some include even forehead and hair; and others include face in it too. And I dont consider myself authority on Fiqah, so cant say what is the true interpretation.Thirdly, the internal modesty (sharm-u-haya)and character is the true essence of Islam. Lastly, I want to say that, this reply is just my own stance and doesn't mean to disrespect the views of others. Stay blessed

  11. Madam! You need to read Qur'aan Shareef carefully and, if possible, supported by Hadith.

    Surah 33 Al-Ahzaab Ayah 59
    “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.”

  12. @Bilal Afzal

    As you pointed out, there are various interpretations of what Jyubihinna is. Since scholars themselves can't agree on what parts of the female body the term Jyubihinna covers, you can't assert that the covering of the head is wajib.

    @Iftikhar Ajmal Bhopal

    I have read the Quran carefully (I don't rely on translations, since I can understand Arabic) and there is no specific mention of covering the hair for women. The mention of cloaks in above ayat in Surah ahzaab makes no specific mention of hair.

    In terms of hadith, there are a number of problems with both Sahih al Bukhari and Sahih al Muslim since many of the hadith that they have collected contradict each other, nevermind that both Bukhari and Muslim compiled these hadith at least a 100 years after the death of the Prophet. Considering that people have difficulty in remembering word for word a conversation that occured 5 minutes ago, it's difficult to believe that the hadith themselves in these collection have been perfectly narrated from the Prophet. In terms of the issue of isnad (chain of narrators), which both Bukhari and Muslim considered when collecting hadith and Abu Hambal, Ibn Madini and Ibn Main verified, this still doesn't verify whether the hadiths were perfectly narrated. So I don't consider hadith to be a good support for interpreting the Quran.

  13. You do not rely on translations by scholars because you can translate Qur'aan Shareef yourself. I wonder why well-educated Arabs also attend Islamic studies university to learn Quraan Shareef?
    Also you appear to be not believing in Hadith because that was written a 100 years later. Please be informed that registering of Hadith had started in the life time of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him). It was only given book form by some scholars of Islam like Bukhari, Muslim and others. By the way how you came to know from Qur'aan Shareef details of 5 daily Salat, viz how to pray, how many Rakat and what to recite in it?
    May allah grant you ability to know Arabic language well and learn the way to learn Qur'aan Shareef

    Cloak a loose outer garment such as a cape, something that envelops or conceals. Do you know how cloak was being worn by women in those days? Christian Nuns still use the cloak though most of them have reduced it's size. I was and is being worn on the head.
    Cloak is old Spanish word for head covering

  14. @افتخار اجمل بھوپال

    I do not rely on translations beacause I have worked with Quranic Arabic. You mention that the hadith were registered during the time of the Prophet. While Hadith may have been written down during this time (no evidence for this, other than perhaps other hadiths), this still does not mean that these hadith are a true representative of the exact words of the Prophet. While many hadith may contain the essence of the Prophet's message, there is no guarantee that they utilize the same words as the Prophet had utilized, thus the emphasis and the connotation of the message may be different. I don't disregard hadith. I just don't consider them a reliable resource.

    With regards to cloak, I am aware of the meaning of the word as well as its usage as a garment. However, I do find your interpretation of cloak as a hair covering very mistaken. During the early Islamic period, the cloak was being used by both men and women and not primarily for covering the hair. Cloaks are worn on top of clothing and are not specifically used to cover the hair. In fact in pre-Islamic Arabia, different words were used for hair covering (veils) and cloak, indicating that they are not the same thing. Also, Arabic is a semitic language which has no roots in Spanish, a Neo-latin language, so I'm not sure how the meaning of the word cloak in old Spanish is related to it's usage in Arabic.

    My final point is that the covering of a woman's hair in Islam is not as cut and dried as you make it out to be. It is not explicitly mentioned in the Quran and Islamic scholars from all sects disagree as to whether the Hijab is prescribed and what exactly constitutes the Hijab. For you to insist that there is only one interpretation (yours) and ignore all other contradictory interpretations is intellectually myopic and does not add any value to this debate.

    This is my final comment to your belligerent insistence that there is only one interpretation of Islam and that it is the one that you believe/have been taught to believe. I would suggest that you start reading Islamic literature across various sects from a non-biased, secular perspective. Islam, it's interpretations and it's history are more complex than you make them out to be.

    I will be removing any future comments that make continue to make inane assertions without any evidence. You have had ample opportunity to state your opinions on my post, for which I am thankful, but I have neither the time nor the interest in continuing a debate that is neither civil nor informative.

    1. Are you familiar with the science of hadith? And how it holds up against the core principles of logic and the scientific method?

      I strongly suggest you sit down with someone who speaks your "language" and the language of hadith to help you understand.

      The hadith is one of the must amazing things about Islam - among other things an incredible quality control mechanism - it is one of the proofs of why Islam is last and final message since through the science of hadith Islam addresses weaknesses in other prior traditions.

      Many of the people who accepted hadith were people who brought us logic and the scientific method.

      The first step to learning is to unlearn - realizing that one does not know.

  15. I know that you will delete my comment. You are at liberty to do that but one thing has become evident, you are a narrow-minded and intolerant person while you profess otherwise, and this is hypocrisy.
    You have failed to let me know where from you came to know details about Salat (Namaz) because it is only Hadith that tells us.
    Be pleased with your own assertions. I have done my duty. After today I will not try to visit your blog to see your illogical ideas.
    May Allah guide me to right path

  16. @Anon 4:11

    There is no science of the hadith. Since I am a trained scientist (more specifically a mathematical ecologist), nothing about the study of hadith conforms to the principles of logic or the scientific method.

    If hadith are so amazing, why do certain hadith in Bukhari contradict each other? For example in Sahih Bukhari 1:4:159: (Narrated by Ibn 'Abbas) The Prophet performed ablution by washing the body parts only once. However, Sahih Bukhari 1:4:160 (Narrated by Abdullah bin Zaid) The Prophet performed ablution by washing the body parts twice.

    Your assertion that "Many of the people who accepted hadith were people who brought us logic and the scientific method." is incorrect. Neither Plato, Aristotle nor Roger, Francis Bacon and Galileo who are considered to formalize logic and the scientific method ever accepted hadith. Scholars such as Ibn Al-Haytham and Al Biruni were Muslim (assuming that they accepted the hadith), but they do not constitute a majority of the promulgators of logic or the scientific method.

    I agree that the first step it to unlearn. I am very aware that the majority of the phenomenon across the universe are unknown. However, you seem to assert that the hadith are a proof for the legitimacy of Islam as a religion. Considering the many contradictions present in both Bukhari and Muslim (as I pointed out), you might want to unlearn that assertion.

    @Iftikhar Ajmal Bhopal

    In terms of Salat, there is consensus among scholars across all sects as to the number of rakats and times of prayer. There are differences between the Sunni and Shiite sects in posture (arms folded versus unfolded) and the duas which can/should be recited, but there is general agreement over what constitutes the qayam, rukuh and sajdah. I am aware that this consensus is achieved using hadith, but these hadith are taken from different sources across different sects (Sunni: Bukhari, Muslim and Shiite: Bihar-ul-Anwar, Mafatih ul-Jinnah). There is no such consensus over Hijab \across both hadith and scholars.

    I find it rather interesting that I am the hypocrite and narrow minded person by pointing out the flaws in your assertions such as "there is only one version of Islam". Instead of admitting to the flaws in your arguments, all you have done is provide other arguments which when examined are equally untrue. I have engaged in debate with you on civil terms, but you have repeatedly asserted that I am a hypocrite, narrow minded and ignorant of Islam.

    It's hypocritical and illogical to make untrue assertions and not admit to them. It's narrow minded and intolerant to assume that just because the other person does not agree with your understanding of Islam, that they are not on the right path. Finally, it is NOT your duty to "correct" other people, especially since all your actions are not "correct" either.