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Exploring Islam in the US: What's a Hijab?

Updated on January 23, 2014

Depending on what part of the United States you live in, seeing Muslim women in hijab may or may not surprise you, but why do they wear them? They look so restrictive and stifling. If you're completely clueless and want to learn the facts, you have come to the right place. Islam encourages all people to pursue knowledge and understanding, ridding themselves of assumptions and replacing them with truth.

What a Hijab Isn't

Muslim women do not wear hijab to be "submissive." They are not oppressed by their families, communities, or religious beliefs. Their hijab is not a symbol of their faith, although non-Muslims recognize those who wear it as followers of Islam. The hijab is not reserved "only for Muslims." No one will be offended or get mad if you decide to wear a headscarf to cover your hair and neck.

A Hijab doesn't make its wearer an immigrant. Many American-born Muslims and converts choose to wear hijab as part of their spiritual development to bring them closer to God (Allah).

Women do not wear a hijab to "stir things up." They are not trying to cause trouble or get on your nerves, they are just following the Quran, among other reasons. Many Muslim women choose not to wear a headscarf as part of their daily dress in order to avoid controversy, or because they interpret that it is not a requirement of Islam today.

Modesty the Islamic Way

Not all American Muslims feel the need to be so extreme in their modesty that they put on a headscarf every morning. The sects of Islam and the individuals within each define appropriately modest dress differently concerning both men and women. However, most scholars agree that Muslim women who want to be pious and follow the Quran as God's word, should dress in ways that doesn't expose more than their hands and face, or hint to their body shape.

This form of dress is encouraged in the Quran in order to maintain respect and equality between both sexes. With men and women's sexuality less exposed, it becomes a non-issue that allows for intellect and reason to be the focus of interaction between the genders. Being modest allows women to cast off Western concerns about her body, self image, and sex appeal, freeing their minds to pursue personal and spiritual life goals.

A woman dressing in a headscarf and concealing her body under loose-fitting clothing affects not only other Muslims, but anyone who comes in view of her. Islam is a community focused religion, and this form of dress has communal benefits by encouraging good behavior in those around Muslim women and assists in preventing promiscuous, distracting thoughts. It transforms not only those who choose to dress in hijab, but also surrounding individuals.

Doesn't it Get Hot in There?

Yes, but not as hot as you think. Islamic women have been avoiding heatstroke for centuries, but modern technologies make staying cool in full-length clothing easy in the Western world. Modesty doesn't mean dressing like it's winter with layer upon layer.

The easiest summer wardrobe consists of maxi dresses and jersey knit cardigans and covers, a must for any modest woman, Muslim or not. Full length skirts and a large top are just as effective. Other options can be found at your local sporting goods store. There is all kinds of workout gear that's built to keep you cool by wicking sweat away and drying quickly. Cotton can be the enemy when dressing for full coverage, so many women opt for "running" attire including sports bras over-sized long sleeve running shirts from brands like Nike, Under Armor, and Asics.

Interpretations on Attire

Where the Bible focuses on individual salvation and atonement the Quran seeks to represent the ideal community in which its followers can live a life honoring Allah. Muslims living within a Westernized culture have communities that clash with their Islamic beliefs. They must find ways to blend the teachings in the Quran into their lives to help shape their communities into friendlier environments.

As mentioned earlier, not all Muslim women follow the strict Islamic dress described in the Quran and Sunnah. The dress is not a specific pillar of Islam, that is it is not part of the backbone or defining qualities of the faith. So, many view it as something they may partake in at a different point in life or never.

On the other hand, women who dress in hijab may consider modest attire to be a part of the first pillar of Islam, which is the recognition that Allah is the One God and that Muhammad (pbuh) was his prophet. This implies complete submission of oneself to Allah and as many of his Quranic commands as possible, including dress.

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