Last Updated on August 3, 2021 by Nina Ahmedow
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Muslim women who don’t wear hijab are in the unfortunate position of getting a lot of outrageous comments from Muslims and non-Muslims alike, starting with seemingly innocent questions like “can you be Muslim and not wear hijab?”
While I understand that non-Muslims don’t necessarily know a lot of things about Islam and may want to ask certain questions, there are some things that are really insensitive. Some questions are better left to Google if you’re not willing to actually read a book on the matter.
On the other end of the spectrum, many fellow Muslims tend to feel like somehow their comments are actually welcome.
In order to make things very simple for everyone, I hereby present to you the twelve things you should never say to Muslim women who don’t wear hijab. Because non-hijabi Muslim women don’t want to hear these comments.
1. You’re one of the good Muslims, right?
First, this comment assumes that Muslims are somehow bad people. Trying to elevate me to the status of “VIP Muslim” because of the way I dress is not going to make me feel as “honored” as you might think.
Second, not dressing in a way that some people expect Muslim women to dress says very little about actual belief systems. A Muslim woman without hijab is not a “better” or “worse” Muslim.
2. You can’t be feminist and Muslim.
This one comes from both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. And it’s a statement that Muslim feminists have to hear regardless of how they dress. Islam and feminism don’t contradict each other at all.
On top of that, please don’t tell me if my different identities match or not. You don’t decide what I can or can’t be. I am both of those things, and your opinion will not change how I identify.
For more about why feminism is important for Muslim women read Mona Eltahaway’s book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. (Of course, the book is available on Amazon, but I think it’s a much better idea to support local, independent bookstores. BookShop is a certified B corp and gives 75% of their profits to bookstores, authors, and others in book publishing.)
(By the way, I also get this sometimes for being vegan. Guess what, there are actually a ton of vegan recipes from Muslim countries, so it can’t be all that un-Islamic.)
3. Finally, somebody who accepts our Western values./You’re Westernized.
To the non-Muslims: If by Western values you mean things such as paying women less than men you can keep those to yourself.
To the Muslims: If by Westernized you mean that I don’t believe women need to hide their bodies then yes.
There are different reasons for not wearing hijab, but trying to be more “Western” is not usually one of them. Muslim women without hijab are simply being themselves.
4. But other Muslim women I have met wear hijab.
You know, other Christians I have met like to wear skirts. But that’s not really relevant to their religion, is it? The hijab is not a symbol of religiosity. Someone who wears it is not more or less religious than someone who doesn’t. And they are most definitely not the standard by which all other Muslim women should be measured. Muslim women who don’t wear hijab are not more or less Muslim. Muslims without hijab exist in the same way that Christians who don’t wear suits do.
5. Are you even Muslim?
So because I don’t dress in a way that you associate with my religion I don’t believe in it? Because you associate Muslim women with the hijab doesn’t mean that it is common in all Muslim cultures. There’s a lot of diversity in Islam, and looking only at Arabs or viewing all Arabs as Muslim has a lot to do with orientalism. (Orientalism is a serious problem in travel blogging, by the way.) Can I be Muslim and not wear hijab? Absolutely!
For a thorough explanation as to why hijab is not mandatory please check out this analysis of Qur’anic verses on the topic:
6. Your prayer is not valid if you don’t dress properly.
Oh, the self-appointed religious police. Under the guise of, “enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is evil” they offer unsolicited advice to other Muslims. Guess what, I didn’t ask for your advice and might know more about Islamic jurisprudence than you do. You know what’s even better, God can do the job of Judge just fine and doesn’t need your help. Feel free to focus on your own religious life. A Muslim without hijab is not asking for your comments.
Also, in this category: the “this is not hijab” crowd who criticize hijabis for how they choose to wear their hijab.
7. You’ll be ready for it soon, insha’allah.
We are now entering the territory of those well-intentioned people who think that we actually want to wear hijab but have some psychological obstacles to overcome. I don’t want to diminish the fact that some Muslim women who don’t wear hijab actually wish to wear it. However, a Muslim girl without hijab often simply chooses not to wear it.
8. You look so beautiful with hijab, masha’allah.
Every once in a while even Muslim women who don’t wear hijab decide to wear it. This could be because they believe they should wear it in certain settings. Or even because they go somewhere they are forced to wear it (like mosques or certain countries). Whenever that happens, there is at least one fellow Muslim sister who makes a comment about how this woman looks so great with hijab that she should always wear it. Clearly, this completely contradicts the purpose that hijab proponents claim the hijab has.
If you use someone’s vanity to lure them into wearing hijab something is seriously wrong with you.
9. Nobody will marry you if you don’t wear hijab!
The assumption that marriage is desirable comes, of course, from the saying that “marriage is half the faith.”
But even if we were to assume that, should this be the reason for wearing hijab? And what exactly is the value of a marriage which is based on somebody’s fashion choices?
10. If you don’t wear hijab then no wonder non-Muslims think it’s a bad thing.
I remember this one very vividly. We were at a Muslim women’s seminar. About 75% of the women there wore hijab, 25% didn’t. Of the 25% who didn’t wear hijab, at least 95% were extremely knowledgeable about Islam and knew why they were not wearing it.
First of all, why don’t you stop caring about what non-Muslims think of your hijab?
Second, don’t make me responsible for how people react to your fashion choices. Thank you.
11. You will distract the brothers.
Let me tell you this, Muslim gatherings are marriage markets. The amount to which both men and women actively seek out partners in these situations is shocking. Both men and women are extremely aware of who is present on the other side of the room, whether they are single or married, etc. This has nothing to do with hijab. In fact, if you go back to point 9, there are men who clearly prefer women who wear hijab, so these women are stared at even more intensely.
And no, I’m not accepting responsibility for someone else’s thoughts or behavior.
12. Any analogy including pearls, diamonds, lollipops, etc.
For those who are not in the know, there was a famous ad comparing women to lollipops. In this ad, women with hijab were symbolized by wrapped lollipops. So women without hijab were lollipops without the wrapper, surrounded by flies.
Much has been said about these comparisons. On the one hand they compare women to objects. On the other hand men are thieves who want to steal jewels or flies who surround lollipops.
All I really want to do after hearing or seeing those comments is throw up as if I had been eating nothing but lollipops all day. Muslim women who don’t wear hijab are not objects.
Thanks for reading! Now you really don’t have an excuse anymore to say things like this to Muslim women who don’t wear hijab.
Runa KanomSeptember 6, 2019 at 12:18 pm
Honestly I don’t wear hijab myself and I can tell you this post is flawed in so many ways. Let’s touch on point 8. Absolutely nonsensical! Some women do look more attractive in Hijab, regardless of whether it was intended as an obligation or for beautification. It frames the face, hell it acts as a contour & can look beautifully feminine! You cannot say it’s wrong to say this to someone wearing a hijab because attractiveness is Subjective! I.e. “Beauty lies in the eyes of the Beholder”. By holding back incase the woman may embrace the Hijab permanently, its literally cunning and propagating against the Hijab. Whoever wrote this article is almost coming off as holding a personal vendetta against the Hijab. Know where to draw the line and this one point, has invalidated the whole article for me which is a shame because I agree on several of these points.
Nina | Lemons and LuggageSeptember 6, 2019 at 6:32 pm
Thanks for the comment, Runa! I think you would know that most people only give that compliment in order to convince women to keep wearing hijab, not because the person actually looks better with hijab. And even if they did look better, that wouldn’t be accepted as a reason to wear hijab by the conservatives.
You’re free to feel that this invalidates the post, but I stand by what I said.
saira ashrafSeptember 18, 2020 at 12:08 pm
I dont know if you will be able to reply to this given that the article was published a year ago. I have come across all these comments and more because that I used to wear Hijab and now I dont anymore but what I dont understand is that when people question your modesty and other things when they talk about Hijab. Personally I dont think a piece of cloth being on my head can make anymore modest than without it but when I say this I hear people telling me are you better than the wives and daughters of Prophets who used to cover from head to toe. I really wish I could answer them back on this but really it makes me wonder what can I answer them that can make them shut up
Nina AhmedowSeptember 18, 2020 at 12:42 pm
Thank you for your comment, Saira! I am sorry you have to go through that. It can be really difficult because people place so much more emphasis on hijab than anything else. In my opinion, it proves that they are more concerned with women’s bodies than other things.
To be very honest, I don’t think there are any arguments that will help you get through to these people, and maybe your energy would be better used elsewhere. You can try explaining to them that the wives and daughters of our Prophet lived in a different time and place, but they will probably just reply that Islam is for all times. And yet they are doing things that the Prophet did not do simply because times have changed. I believe the best thing you can do is try to free yourself from their opinions and strengthen your own views on the matter. Arguing with narrow-minded people doesn’t usually lead to anything positive, but if you feel confident in your decision maybe you can support other women and girls who are going through similar situations.
I am sending lots of love your way, and hope that you can find peace with the fact that other people will never fully understand you. In the end, Allah knows your heart, and the big advantage we have in Islam is that we can communicate directly with Allah, not through scholars, let alone people who criticize us.
LanetadelplanetaMay 17, 2021 at 11:06 pm
10 out of those 12 things were told me when I converted to Islam and guess what . Those are among the reasons why I left Islam.
Nina AhmedowMay 18, 2021 at 6:21 pm
dianaJune 3, 2021 at 5:07 pm
To the point about the prayer not being valid if you don’t dress properly, it is true. You can’t argue with the fact that you need to cover yourself during prayer. I have yet to come across anyone who prays without hijab and/or with their bare legs/arms showing. Secondly, I don’t understand what you have against wearing the hijab? Why do you so strongly protest against not wearing it?? Other than that however the article has been a good read.
Nina AhmedowJune 4, 2021 at 4:49 pm
Thanks for your comment! You may not have met women who don’t wear hijab during prayer, but I have. Did I find it weird at the time? Yes. So it was my obligation to ask myself why it concerns me.
As for the reason that I don’t want to wear hijab, I don’t think it’s right for women to be told that we have to hide our bodies from men as if it’s our responsibility to dress and behave a certain way. It’s patriarchal and not godly.
AminahAugust 3, 2021 at 12:36 am
“Not godly” so I guess you choose to disregard the commandment in the Qur’an (literally the word of God) for believing women to cover their bodies? (33:59)? Genuine question. I am curious as to how this picking and choosing concept works for you!
Nina AhmedowAugust 3, 2021 at 2:05 pm
the verse you referenced states that believing women should wear their outer garments (jilbab) so that they will be recognized. As you are probably aware in Arabia at the time women had to go outside in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Many women were assaulted, so this verse was revealed so that men would not molest free, Muslim women.
Alhamdulillah, it is not the case today that women get sexually assaulted for being outside if they don’t dress a certain way. Nowadays, it is understood that such behavior is not acceptable. Sadly some people choose not to see the wisdom and positive changes that Islam has brought. Islam is not a conservative religion, it did NOT want to conserve the horrible, misogynistic practices of the pre-Islamic era. It’s a religion that moves forward towards the liberation of all people and that’s why these feminist tendencies we see in the Qur’an are merely a starting point. We are not meant to stand still and wear something today for a reason that alhamdulillah doesn’t exist anymore.
Because as Allah tells us multiple times throughout the Qur’an, the Qur’an is a book for people who think (or as you call it “pick and choose”).
NOVITA AULIYAJune 20, 2021 at 2:56 am
Hi, there! Thanks for sharing this things. People really need to read this. I am so sick of hearing their good comment on what should and what should not I wear. I have been wearing hijab for three years now. And I am very comfortable with it. My fellow Muslim who decided to not wear hijab after Three years always be judged as a bitch by people. Of course, I am so sick of it. Even if I am not the one being objectified here. I wish to give slap answers to them by showing this to my fellow. She is a strong woman, but sometimes she is just too softhearted to those who mock her. I believe she could come out in good answers. And drove those people away from our life, for good. Thank you
Nina AhmedowJune 20, 2021 at 12:47 pm
Salaam and thanks for your comment! I’m sorry your friend has to go through that, but I’m glad you’re there to support her. Solidarity between women who wear and don’t wear hijab is so important.
ICSJune 25, 2021 at 3:47 pm
Hi there! Non-muslim here so I hope I ask these questions in the right way without sounding ignorant or offensive! Firstly, is hijab the scarf that covers everything except the eyes? Secondly, this is going to sound even more foolish, but I saw a woman at the doctors office with her son and her husband. My first instinct was to smile, which I did, but I couldn’t tell if she smiled back. I wanted to make small talk with her because I like getting to know strangers and different cultures. I didn’t talk to her because I was was wondering, again so sorry if this is crazy, but her husband was there and I was wondering if I was allowed to talk to her? I don’t know anything about that kind of culture so I didn’t know if it was worse to try to talk to her, not talk to her. They were speaking in a language that wasn’t english so then I was like, maybe if I talk to her she won’t understand me anyway. Anyway, this happened a few years ago and I stumbled on your post so I though you might be open to talking about it! Thanks for your insight! This article helps a lot for someone on the outside too!
Nina AhmedowJune 28, 2021 at 12:51 pm
Hi, thanks for your comment!
No, if only the eyes can be seen then that is the niqab which is worn by very few women.
Unfortunately, I can’t fully answer your other question about whether or not you should have spoken to that woman because every individual is different. Some people like meeting strangers, others don’t. It would probably depend on your gender. So if you were male I’d wonder why you were more interested in talking to the woman than the family as a whole. It wouldn’t be a problem talking to the man in that case. If you were female you could have certainly tried to start a conversation with the woman, but again, it would depend on her personality how she would respond to it. Language barriers could of course also been an issue, but perhaps you could start by asking if the person understands English and then see how it goes.
Ria MihirDecember 11, 2021 at 5:30 pm
Hi, I have a question. I have been wearing the hijab for almost 5 years now but I don’t think I want to wear it anymore. I am afraid of what others will think of me but I’m more afraid of what Allah will think. Do you think Allah be ashamed of my decision?
Nina AhmedowDecember 12, 2021 at 2:35 pm
Salaam and thank you for your comment! It’s very sad that whether we want to wear something or not we have to think about what others will think. This happens in so many situations, and I wish we could just ignore it, but sadly it’s not the world we live in (people who want to wear hijab have to worry that they might be attacked, people who want to stop wearing it worry they’ll be ostracized, and many women are shamed for how they dress). As for Allah, Allah is complete perfection and our decisions don’t make Allah any more or less, so Allah would not be ashamed because a feeling of shame is a human feeling. But what is important is your personal dialogue with Allah. If you ask Allah to guide you to what is best for you then you will receive guidance, and when you know that your final decision was made with Allah’s guidance you will be okay with it. Because no matter what other people say or do Allah is always there to guide us if we sincerely ask for it. And this guidance will make you strong enough to handle everything else that might come your way.