Why Moslem Women Wear Headscarf
I got a tag from Mulia about wearing a headscarf. It’s interesting that she brought this issue up because people have been asking me about it a lot, especially when I was in Australia. And I never thought about writing this issue in my blog. I would like all my friends who wear headscarf to continue this tag: teh Senaz, mbak Ina, Mika, and for those whose names are not mentioned (sorry if I missed out some ppl).
I started wearing headscarf when I was 15 years old. I forgot when the exact time was, but I think I wore it in the end of 2000 or in the first month of 2001. I was in my first year of High School at Madania and I lived in the school’s dormitory for most of the time. I got the inspiration to cover my hair from my seniors at school. Some of them wore headscarf for one month during Ramadhan, perhaps as a sign of respect for the Holy month and a sign of guard to prevent them to do something bad. Whether they committed sin (once again) after Ramadhan, it’s entirely not my business. But their move did inspired me to wear headscarf, not temporarily, but for the rest of my life.
To be honest, it was not a very hard decision that required me to think for days whether or not I should wear a headscarf. I guess, one of the reasons was that I lived in Saudi Arabia. I went out with my headscarf on all the time — although my hair was sometimes still revealed, I tried to cover it to prevent unexpected comments or lusful stares from men on the streets. It was when I traveled out of the country (for example to Indonesia) that I did not cover my hair. So I was used to wearing headscarf already and it was just a matter of extending my routine and making it happen in other countries.
Making a decision in fact was easy, but doing it was much harder than I thought. I remember there was a time during my first few weeks of wearing headscarf that I began to question it, could I seriously do it? And there were times when I thought I would just give the whole thing up. I couldn’t remember it exactly why I thought that way, but yes, there were obstacles and difficulties. But the only thing that kept me going was my commitment. I reminded myself again and again that I committed to wearing this, therefore I needed to work much harder and to never give up.
In the first one month of wearing headscarf, I felt that everything was so troublesome. We usually woke up every day (at Madania) early in the morning to perform Fajr prayer in the mosque. And I used to go to the mosque wearing my pajama; I did not have to wear jacket or change my clothes. So it was quite different when I started wearing scarf. I had to change my clothes and cover my hair every morning. There was a time when I was so lazy of changing clothes, I decided to wear abaya when going to the mosque. My friends laughed at me and asked me, “Amalia, are you going to a funeral later?” Hahaha. There was also a time when I forgot to cover my hair when I went out of the dorm — which made everyone screamt at me hehehe. But of course those things were just a matter of getting used to the whole situation.
My family in Jeddah did not know that I started wearing headscarf until I went back to Jeddah few months later. My mom was surprised with my decision but she was pleased. She had told me before that she would prefer her children to wear scarf, but she’s not strict about it. As long as we wore modest clothes, she wouldn’t complain. As for my dad, he never really care about it — it’s all up to me.
For me, wearing headscarf is my way of devoting to God. When I decided to wear it for the first time, my knowledge of Islam was still so lacking. I went to Indonesian schools for 12 years, it was not until I studied at Madania that I learnt about my religion in more detail — studying about Hadith, history of Islam, Fiqh, and many more. It was the first time that I was allowed to question my religion (for example why do I have to do that? why Islam prohibits us to do this? Why that? why this?) and I got the answers. It’s a totally different case for my sister and brother who went to Arab schools and got to learn Islam in detail, memorise Al Qur’an and Hadith, etc. Wearing headscarf was for me the beginning of my journey to know my religion better and my promise to Allah SWT to be more devoted to him more than ever. Headscarf is like a reminder for me. Besides Al Qur’an and prayers, headscarf is an object that always reminds me of God, because it stays with me wherever I go. It is a guard that sometimes prevents me from doing bad things. Being apart from my family for the very first time and living in a country that provided me more freedom made me curious about so many things. I wanted to explore all things that I had never been exposed before. And by wearing headscarf, I felt that I was always reminded to stay on the right path.
When I lived in Australia, people were curious about the headscarf thing. Some people knew that some Moslem women wear headscarf and some choose not to wear it. But some of my friends did not have a slight idea. They only knew one thing: if you are a woman and you are a Moslem, you must wear a headscarf; which is of course not true. I told them that there are many Moslems who do not wear headscarf and it’s a matter of choice. They also asked me many questions, including why Moslems have to cover their hair. I barely got into too much detail when explaining them about this. Because I knew that it wouldn’t probably make any sense for them. If the situation was like in Saudi Arabia, where men on the streets stared at women like they never saw women before, I could perhaps explain to them that covering hair and wearing modest clothes would prevent girls from unnecessary stares, harassment, and comments by men who had nothing better to do than checking on strangers. But believe me, this argument would not make any sense for them, because they didn’t live in a similar condition. How can a guy be so “wild” just because he sees a woman who does not cover her hair?? That’s insane. So I just gave them easy examples of nuns who always cover their hair — it’s similar with what we wear. In fact, some people were actually surprised when I told them that Christian and Catholic women are asked to cover their hair as stated in Bible — and Qur’an also states that we women have to lower our gaze and guard our modesty. Barely people knew that years ago Christian, Catholic, and Jewish women used to wear headcovering when they went out. However, as you know, this practice is no longer common nowadays, although a number of women still practice it. Some women wear wigs to cover their hair and some only cover their hair when they go to Church. Amazingly, we are the only one who still maintain this practice Alhamdulillah. I’m so proud of you all, Moslem women!
After years of wearing it, I treat headscarf as everyone treats clothes or underwear. If you want to go out, you won’t go without your clothes on, will you? And this is how I explained it to my friends: treat headscarf like you treat your clothes hehehe. Wearing headscarf is not troublesome for me. I got used to it and people should never never never ever feel worry about it. My housemate used to feel sorry for me whenever our guy friends came, because I had to quickly cover my hair and wear something “proper”. It took me sometime to convince them that I didn’t feel annoyed or troublesome. I seriously didn’t want them to feel sorry for me. It made me uneasy. This is my choice, this is what I do everyday, this is part of my identity, and I tremendously love it! People did tell me that they felt sorry that I couldn’t show my hair or other part of my body. I seriously didn’t know how to response, coz I felt grateful that I didn’t show them! Often time my friends were also surprised to find out that I still kept my headscarf with me when I was in a non-Moslem country like Australia. Well.. for me.. a set of clothing consists of a top, a trouser/skirt, and a headscarf. So if I don’t wear one of those, I will feel bloody naked . I don’t feel confident without my headscarf on. That’s the truth. That’s perhaps the simplest reason I could give to my friends. The other reason is — like I mentioned before — my commitment and my promise to Allah SWT. I feel upset if someone breaks his/her promises and I figure God will feel the same way.
Sometimes when people asked me why I chose to cover my hair, I would say that it’s a surprise for my future husband hahaha… I’m saving it for him later lol. Anyway… One thing I want to stress is that wearing headscarf does not necessarily makes me secure and safe. It really depends on where I live. In Indonesia, I always feel so safe to go out because of my headscarf. Strangers on the streets respect me and they usually don’t have the intention to mess up with me. However, it’s a different case when I’m in Saudi Arabia. Wearing headscarf never makes me feel secure here, because everyone is wearing it. Men are still brave enough to mess up with me even though I wear headscarf. I need to cover my face too if I want to feel totally safe here. In Australia, well, I had been treated badly before because of my scarf, but overall,… in general people respected my decision and my belief. It’s not so much about feeling of security when I was there. It was so much about breaking the stereotypes. I always reminded myself that I was treated badly because those people had a narrow mind and it all thanks to the negative stereotypes promoted by the media and society. Sometimes I felt that I had to approach them first and make the first attempt to make a conversation with them until they feel comfortable enough to communicate with me. People did sometimes surprise to find out a girl wearing headscarf who can socialize with anyone, loud (like me), can wear colourful clothes (see mbak Ina’s post) or perhaps active like Mulia. They thought that Moslem women who cover their hair were hard to be friended with, introvert, do not mix with different cultural groups, and have no freedom. But it made me grateful that I got a chance to open up their minds and challenge their views regarding this issue.
I agree with Mulia regarding people who complain about the attitudes of women wearing headscarf. We are human, don’t treat us like we are not meant to make mistakes! All of us never want to and will try not to disgrace our religion, but please understand that mistakes do happen. I am not perfect; I did bad things, I hurt other people’s feelings, and I committed sins. I become rebellious and wild when I want to and I can be cruel and mean to some people. Expectations and pressures from people around me are quite overwhelming. Over the years I tried to ignore the comments that I received from others and I learnt how to define and set the behaviour and characters for myself that I consider good or beneficial to me and other people. But one thing I love to being covered is that people treat me differently when socializing with me; they would try to be more careful. They wouldn’t ask me to go out for clubbing or drinking, for example. They wouldn’t even try to influence me with such things. When I was in high school, I viewed this as a benefit because I was not introduced and exposed to such things. I was still a teenager and I was not brave enough to say NO to every “offer”. Curiosity was the only reason. So that’s why I think it would be much harder for me to guard myself had I been exposed to them.
When it comes to covering hair, I tend to be less strict. Sometimes I don’t wear headscarf at home when my uncles (or people who live with us, e.g. our driver) are present. I go to a mixed gender hair salon. I used to swim without my headscarf during the first 3 years after my decision to cover my hair. Though nowadays I never feel comfortable doing it (and I can find swimsuit which covers my whole body these days). I did try to wear longer and looser shirts or tops for the past one year, but it’s not always a guarantee. Wearing headscarf does take a number of steps to get you to the position you want to be (i.e. how much you want to cover). This is what we call the level of modesty. What makes this interesting is that the level of modesty in my family varies. I can argue that my sister is the most covered person in the family; she wears headscarf at home if any men (besides our dad) are present and she would wear longer clothes than I do. My mom, on the other hand, is like a mixture between my sister and I. I still remember a friend of mine was surprised to see my mom wearing jeans hehehe. Well, jeans is just like any other trousers, right? Anyway, no one sets this modesty level for me, for my mom, or even for my sister. It is purely our own choice and it’s based on the influence that we got from the teachings at school, people around us, and the environment we live in. The level of modesty of women in Arab countries also vary. Iranian women would wear a headscarf with part of their hair shown, some women in Saudi Arabia would prefer their face veiled, and some would only cover their hair.
Of course, wearing headscarf is not only about being covered. It is about protecting our physical appearance, sexuality, and private parts. It is about being modest about both our appearance and our personality. It is about having a freedom of expression. It forces people to judge you not by physical appearance, but by your inner beauty. And most importantly, it is about our submission to Allah SWT and obeying Allah’s command. There are several methods one can do as a way to devote to Allah SWT. Wearing headscarf is only one of them. Women who wear headscarf do not necessarily be more devoted or more closer to God than those who do not wear one. They also do not necessarily have a better personality than those who choose not to cover their hair. Wearing headscarf is my own choice. I expect people to respect my decision and I expect myself to respect other people’s decisions. Whether or not a woman covers her face, wears headscarf, or not wearing headscarf at all, the most important for us is to judge her by her personality, behavior, and heart rather than what she wears.