Khadijah Stott-Andrew questions the assumptions we make based on a sister’s level of hijab.
Hijab is a topic never far from the mind of a Muslimah, whether she wears hijab or not. However, ‘hijab’ instantly implies the scarf wrapped around the hair, possibly with an abayah thrown in. Many of us forget the implications that piece of material should have on our overall character. Hijab is an act of modesty, an act of haya’. If someone is described as modest or humble, is this in reference to their outer appearance or an internal quality? Modesty comes from within; it affects the way a person carries themselves, the words they say and the way they treat the people around them. Unfortunately, internal modesty is a feature that is frequently absent from hijab lectures and study circles.
When a sister takes her shahadah, or a little girl develops maturity, the floral print hijabs come out, the YouTube tutorials are on repeat and each sister finds her own style of hijab and her own way of fulfilling the commandments set by Allah… But, how many sisters are told about the internal modesty they should carry with them at all times? Hijab is not a statement to the world; it is much bigger than that. Hijab should be a reflection of what you carry inside you. It should reflect your love of Allah SWT, your kind words, your compassion and your humility. However, many have fallen into the trap of allowing their hijab to work purely from an outer perspective, rather than it being an inside-out reflection. Allah SWT knows those who wear hijab simply because their friends do. Allah SWT knows who only wear their hijab because they think it’s fun to style. But most importantly, Allah knows those who wear their hijab with a sense of superiority over those who don’t.
I used to be a judgemental hijabi. It would frustrate me to see a sister without hijab; I was unable to understand any objections she may have to wearing it. I would make assumptions about a sister’s character, her likes and dislikes, even her level of iman based on the level of coverage she practised.
Yet all that changed when I met a sister who was newly practicing. Knowing she didn’t wear hijab before I met her, I was told she intended to wear the hijab after her upcoming wedding. I interpreted this as an empty gesture. This was an interpretation I had absolutely NO right to make and it reflected an inner flaw that I had not yet realised.
Through the grace and wisdom of Allah SWT, I agreed to meet this sister. I was reluctant due to a poor assumption that just because she wasn’t wearing hijab, we would have nothing in common, nothing to talk about.
The sister arrived at my house, nervous at meeting so many new people in such a short space of time. She was in fact wearing a headscarf. Her countenance was sweet, her manners impeccable and she relaxed enough to chat happily with me and a couple other sisters. To my complete and pleasant surprise, this sister and I were awfully alike. We had a lot in common, our sense of humour similar and our opinions on a lot of matters were identical. Even when we differed on certain topics, we were able to discuss them happily and with open minds, learning from each other. The more I got to know her, the more I loved her. Over the year following her marriage, her level of hijab did actually increase, and her beautiful personality remained the same.
What made this sister’s transition to hijab so effortless and inspiring was the simple fact that she had nurtured her inner hijab. She had developed a sense of modesty within herself and embraced the wisdom of Islam in her heart. The companions of the Prophet SAW, on hearing the prohibition of alcohol, threw their drink away until the streets were almost swimming with alcohol. The companions were able to happily make this sudden change because the foundations of their iman were solid. They had nurtured their souls with complete, unwavering conviction in Allah and love for his guidance. Similarly, this sister had devoured Islamic books, one after the other and listened continuously to lectures and Qur’anic recitation. Ultimately, this built a conviction and love in her heart for Allah’s laws and wisdom. The fact that her husband wanted her to eventually wear hijab was irrelevant to her decision. She started wearing the hijab when she felt ready to wear it for her Creator, when she had built her foundations of iman and increased her knowledge.
Meeting that sister, who is now one of my best friends in the world, was a gift from Allah SWT because it saved me from a crippling disease that was slowly destroying me. I was young and deluded into thinking hijab was merely an outer statement. Yet this wonderful sister taught me that every Islamic obligation must come from inside to then be reflected on the outside. No one is denying that hijab is an essential obligation for a Muslimah – but it must mirror what is inside our hearts.
Al-Junayd, may Allah have mercy on him, said: “Haya’ [modesty] is seeing the Signs, and being aware of one’s shortcomings. Out of these two will arise a state of hayā’. In reality, hayā’ is a character trait that encourages a person to avoid shameful things and prevents one from neglecting the rights of the One Who deserves them most.” (Riyadh Us-Saaliheen)
It will take more than one article to focus on the many, many ways someone can display haya’ in their actions, so I want to focus on a single phrase from Al-Junayd RA: being aware of one’s shortcomings.
Allah SWT did not place us on the earth to pass judgement on each other, He did not bless a Muslimah with the courage to wear hijab so she can be a comparison to those who don’t. As the past few years have taught me, a sister in hijab may backbite in the masjid and regularly miss fajr, whereas a sister without hijab could make every single prayer time, including her sunnahs, and treat those around her with kindness and respect.
Be aware of your own shortcomings – which obligations do you struggle with? Which of your character flaws could benefit from reflection and du’a? These are the hard questions we need to ask ourselves. Just like I had to ask myself why I made unfair assumptions about a sister I had never met, just because I was told she did not yet wear hijab.
So next time you feel the need to correct a sister on her attire, take a moment to reflect on yourself. For all you know, that sister may have a purer heart than you.
This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of SISTERS Magazine.