Back in 2006, I developed a lecture titled, The Unveiling: The Truth about the Muslim Woman, that I presented in various universities across the Northeast U.S. I had only been Muslim for six years at the time, but I felt it was my duty to speak my truth, to speak our truth, as a young, veiled Muslim woman. It was a way to educate those outside our faith about what hijab means to us during a time when the media continuously portrayed the hijab as repressive. Over 15 years later, the narrative has not changed; the negative opinions of hijab persist.
Now as a parent of two girls, I am even more compelled to speak out on this topic, but not behind a university podium. Instead, this is a conversation that needs to begin at home. In a world with so many negative views about the hijab, it is our responsibility to respond with confidence and impart this sentiment in our children.
Note that in Islam, the term hijab does not simply mean a headscarf; it is a code of conduct that encompasses ethical behavior, modest dress, and Islamic manners. For the sake of this article, however, we will use its common definition, which is a veil or headscarf worn by Muslim women.
To Veil or Not to Veil
The hijab has become a polarizing topic even in the Muslim world. Over the years, a handful of Muslim girls and women I know personally have removed their headscarves after choosing to cover. They decided to do so citing different reasons – some found it too restrictive, others feared becoming the target of hate crimes, and there are those who heard lectures or read opinions by feminists who argue the Islamic veil is not a religious obligation. They argue that what has come to be known simply as hijab is only cultural, and that women may wear whatever they want based on modern fashion. High heels, revealing tops, jeans, and even tight yoga pants; anything goes if it is in style and acceptable in the society in which a woman lives. This opinion is appealing to adolescent girls especially, because of the constant pressure they face to be sexy and attractive.
For many women, hijab is empowerment, but for others it can be intimidating. The youth are particularly vulnerable to the negative hype surrounding the hijab because they are not yet grounded in their faith, unfamiliar with the rulings outlined in the Quran and the Sunnah, or uninterested in being a walking billboard for Islam. Girls may feel they already deal with enough pressure being a teenager in America without the added stress of hijab. However, they should know that it was never meant to be so difficult. Allah reassures us in the Quran:
“… Allah intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you.”
(Surah Al Baqarah, 2:185)
Ibn Kathir mentions in his tafsir of this verse that it is reported that the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, advised Muadh Ibn Jabal and Abu Musa Al-Ansary, may Allah be pleased with them, when he sent them to Yemen, saying:
“Treat the people with ease and don't be hard on them; give them glad tidings and don't fill them with aversion; and love each other, and don't differ.”
Whatever people’s opinions may be, the reality is that veiling is not something that Islam introduced to the world. A modest dress code was observed by women (and men) from other faiths all over the world until fairly recently. Unfortunately, those who oppose religion altogether or are ignorant to the teachings of Islam, have created campaigns of misinformation that target Muslim women. The staunch opposers of hijab in the West, for example, fail to mention that veiling is part and parcel of Judeo-Christian tradition, as well. Nevertheless, hijab has been politicized in such a way that there are legislators in some countries fighting to ban the veil while activists struggle in others for their right to remove it. It almost seems like opposing parties are playing tug-of-war with a headscarf while Muslim women stand on the sidelines!
Not only is the hijab a topic of contention in politics, paradoxically it has also become a fashion trend. Veiled women are strutting down runways, posing on the cover of magazines and in advertisements, starring in movies, and actively engaging millions on social media. The lines have blurred when it comes to the reason why girls and women wear the hijab – is it to make a political statement, follow pop culture, or for its true purpose: to fulfill a Divine commandment?
What is clear is that for far too long, Muslim women have allowed others to define who we are, how we should look, and what our modesty represents. Those outside our faith are fighting to influence how we perceive a very personal spiritual inclination. It is time to metaphorically snatch the veil back from those who should have never been part of this conversation in the first place. In its many forms and with its various names, the hijab’s purpose is not to eliminate beauty, but to enhance it. Even those who do not wear it can agree.
Hijab Is Beautiful in Many Ways
Below are just some of the many ways hijab is beautiful:
The hijab is powerful.
Veiling has existed since the dawn of time, but everyone seems to have an opinion about the hijab in Islam. One argument is that somehow the hijab is restrictive – holding women back from seeking education, participating in society, achieving career ambitions, being loved, and leading meaningful lives. However, this very claim demeans women by insinuating that they cannot achieve success unless they put their bodies on display. A woman’s worth and freedom is then determined by society’s standards, rather than what her chosen faith ordains. Islam uplifts us with timeless guidance transcending the whims and desires of men.
Hijabi supermodel and UNICEF ambassador, Halima Aden, quit the mainstream fashion industry after a brief, but successful modeling career. She criticized the fetishizing of hijab and what she called “hijabi tokenism” in the media. One of her famous quotes addressing Muslim girls is: “Be who you are. It's easy to feel like you have to blend in, but it takes courage to live your life with conviction and embrace the person that you are.”
In a world where the fashion industry dictates what women wear, we must stop and question who is designing the clothes and why. Instead of falling slave to everchanging trends, why not choose a style that is ageless? Like Aden, as Muslim women, we choose dignity, empowerment, and the freedom to follow our faith.
Women are honored in Islam.
Behind the minbar on Fridays, in countless sermons, and during the introduction at Islamic gatherings we hear the following verse from the Quran repeated:
“O humanity! Be mindful of your Lord Who created you from a single soul, and from it He created its mate,1 and through both He spread countless men and women. And be mindful of Allah—in Whose Name you appeal to one another—and ˹honor˺ (the wombs) family ties. Surely Allah is ever Watchful over you.”
(Surah An-Nisa, 4:1)
This verse in the Quran, is from the chapter which is called An-Nisa, or “The Women” in the Arabic language. In the very first verse of this chapter dedicated to women, Allah calls on humanity to worship Him as our Lord and Creator and He then commands believers to reverence the wombs – that exclusively feminine part of ourselves that carries life and represents the bonds of family. The cynics will argue that the Quranic teachings are detrimental to women, when quite the opposite, the Quran honors and uplifts us from the very beginning.
There is beauty in veiling.
What is a queen without her crown? Our Creator has gifted humankind with clothing to honor and beautify our bodies. He says in the Quran:
“O children of Adam! We have provided for you clothing to cover your nakedness and as an adornment. However, the best clothing is righteousness. This is one of Allah’s bounties, so perhaps you will be mindful.”
(Surah Al-A’raf, 7:26)
In the very next verse, Allah warns us that because we have been presented with this unique gift, Satan is determined to take it away from us out of spite. He says:
“O children of Adam! Do not let Satan deceive you as he tempted your parents out of Paradise and caused their cover to be removed in order to expose their nakedness. Surely, he and his soldiers watch you from where you cannot see them. We have made the devils allies of those who disbelieve.”
(Surah Al-A’raf, 7:27)
From these verses, we gather that Shaytaan and his forces of evil will stop at nothing to strip humankind of their bounties. Of these blessings is the “clothing of righteousness” – the hijab – a symbol of obedience that is hated by the disbelievers. This explains what we have been witnessing for over half a century – an all-out attack on modesty as defined by Islamic standards.
Shaytaan’s minions in the media and the fashion industry have been gaslighting Muslim women for so long that many of us are confused and questioning a part of our tradition that was never a problem before the 20th century. The truth is our tradition is one of honor and piety and a gift from our Lord. To protect ourselves and our families from falling prey to those who seek to taint our faith traditions, let us remind each other about the beauty of hijab.
Our success lies in our faith.
Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah, our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Verily, Allah does not look at your appearance or wealth, but rather He looks at your hearts and actions.”
There are those who say that hijab hinders women from seeking worldly gains or that hijab makes a person look ugly or backwards. However, their standards of beauty or success are irrelevant. We only seek our provision from the One who is Self-Sustaining and who is the Ultimate Provider. Allah promises endless rewards for those who bear mockery and insults with patience. He says:
“You ˹believers˺ will surely be tested in your wealth and yourselves,1 and you will certainly hear many hurtful words from those who were given the Scripture before you and ˹from˺ the polytheists. But if you are patient and mindful ˹of Allah˺—surely this is a resolve to aspire to.”
(Surah Al-Imran, 3:186)
Our hijab is our superpower!
Not all superheroes wear capes. Muslim women wear hijabs! Think of a woman’s aura as her secret identity, and the hijab as a uniform. Women and girls are often harassed, exploited, and hypersexualized today, but Islam enforces the simple solution to this problem by prescribing modesty for everyone. We are encouraged to preserve our chastity and protect ourselves from unwelcome glances and advances. Men also observe a modest dress code, a small detail often excluded from conversations about Islamic etiquette. For the sake of this article, however, we are focusing on Muslim ladies.
The Benefits of Hijab
There are so many benefits to hijab:
1. It serves as a protection for both men and women, by establishing a barrier between what they want the world to see and what they do not.
This benefit is mentioned explicitly in the Quran in the following verse:
“O Prophet! Ask your wives, daughters, and believing women to draw their cloaks over their bodies. In this way it is more likely that they will be recognized ˹as virtuous˺ and not be harassed. And Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
(Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:59)
2. Hijab serves as a barrier from committing immoral acts or sins.
It not only entails the outer garments of men and women, but it also involves proper Islamic moral conduct, attitude, and behavior. The Muslim woman is a representative of Islam everywhere she goes. Her hijab reminds her that she is unique and has a reputation to uphold in front of others, but more importantly, in front of Allah.
3. Hijab also distinguishes a believing woman from a disbelieving woman.
Although the veil is common in other religions, generally Islamic attire is distinct and unique. On the other hand, it is a unifier for those who wear it, making them part of the visible, global Islamic community. By wearing hijab, a girl is automatically recognized and respected as a Muslim by her peers.
4. Contrary to what we see and read in the media, the hijab is liberating.
A woman is capable of choosing her own style. It also frees girls from the day-to-day hassles of hairstyling, excessive make-up application, and uncomfortable clothing. Muslim women are not forced to live up to unrealistic standards of beauty. Islam teaches the woman that her worth lies in her commitment to her Lord, and her righteous actions. Her outer beauty is something which is reserved for her loved ones, like her family and her husband. What makes a woman beautiful and worthy of respect outside her home is her intellect and moral character.
5. Hijab inspires humility and submission to Allah’s Will.
The hijab, like a uniform, keeps a woman mindful of her purpose. She is encouraged to always be humble and compassionate towards others.
Finding Beauty in Submission
The most important thing that we must know about hijab is that it is a commandment from Allah. It is not a trend, a political agenda, or a fashion statement. The number one reason why the hijab is observed is because it is a direct commandment from Allah. Yes, there are other reasons, but this is enough for us to observe hijab or, at the very least, respect hijab. We believe in Allah and we follow His rules. If a person is working for a company which requires them to wear a uniform, there would be no question about it. When it comes to our Creator, we wear the uniform that has been prescribed for us without question. When Allah commands something, then we say, “we hear, and we obey.” Once our girls internalize this lesson, they will not challenge the commandments outlined in the Quran. With so much negative backlash against Muslim women and hijab, the goal is to inspire them to be firm in their faith. That confidence is what makes one truly beautiful.
Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish (hablamosislam.org). She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam.