02 August 2011

Unveiling the Veil: Hijab Fact and Fiction

I'm excited to announce an awesome guest this morning here on Culture Connoisseur. She's the beautiful blogger behind Miss Anthropist's Kitchen and she knows how to bake up some tasty treats. But that's not the only thing she knows about...today she is here to tell us everything she knows about the hijab! Take it away, girlie!

Hi there! My name is Nourhan (it's a Turkish name, but I'm Egyptian). I'm a 19-year-old food blogger and...I'm also a Muslim. Before you call the police, you won't believe this: I'm a Muslim...and I don't want to blow anyone up! I want to educate you about the hijab :)

The wonderful Hannah asked me if I would like to guest post here about the hijab. I'll tell you why I wear it, and some other facts you may not know about the hijab (Islamic headscarf) and Islam. 

The hijab (or headscarf) is something that women (girls who have passed puberty) should wear as Muslims (and actually it's not only for Muslims--I know that in other religions women are meant to wear it as well (Judaism, Christianity...but that's another story for another day). Many people seem to be under a lot of misconceptions…that we Muslim girls are forced to wear it, or that we have to wear it everywhere (shower included). This is totally not the case.

I've been wearing the hijab for about 7 years, since I was 12 years old. I know that sounds really young, but for me, it was at a perfect time. Since I skipped two grades in school, I was actually 12 when I went to the 9th grade (first year of high school), so I actually felt older than I really was. Nobody forced me to wear the hijab. Not my parents (they advised me of course, but never forced me), not anyone. It was my decision 100%.

 (Virgin Mary, Mother Teresa, Amish women, Orthodox Jews, nuns, all wear the hijab as well.)

I wear the hijab because, like praying 5 times a day and giving charity every year, fasting during the month of Ramadan from dawn until sunset (it is actually Ramadan this month! You should read into it, it's very interesting), wearing the hijab is required of me as a Muslim. Yes, there are days when I want to look pretty outside and wear whatever I want...but then I think, "wait a second, why do I need the attention of strangers?" 

The hijab doesn't want Muslim women to look bad--on the contrary, it is required for a Muslim to look clean, decent, and nice. The hijab is a form of modesty. Girls should be modest...and once upon a time, the majority of the girls were modest. Times have clearly changed, but that doesn't mean everyone should conform blindly. Modesty is something that should be the standard all the time, no matter where you live--it is a beautiful and pure thing.

Here are some common questions you might be wondering:

1. What is the difference between the hijab, niqab, burqa...?
They are all a means to cover one's body, but in different ways. The physical differences are this:

·         The hijab: Supposed to cover the entire body excluding the hands and face. (It's also how Virgin Mary wore the scarf). The majority of Muslim women who are covered wear the hijab.

·         The niqab: Covers everything except for a slit revealing the eyes, and it's usually black though sometimes found in different colors.

·         The burqa covers EVERYTHING from head to toe. There is a screen-like thing over the eyes, but the eyes aren't revealed.

The majority of Muslim women wear the hijab, though in some countries like Saudi Arabia, the niqab is more prevalent. Muslim women differ in covers depending on their situation and how much they believe a girl should cover up. 

2. Why do you wear the hijab in America when you don't have to?
Another common misconception is that all Arab countries "force" women to wear the hijab. This is completely untrue. Walk around the streets of countries like Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Dubai, Turkey, and you will find that there are many women who are not veiled (some of them quite the opposite, ahem). So in Egypt, like America, I have the option not to wear it...

Of course, there is a sharp difference between not wearing it in Egypt and not wearing it in America. In America, there is always the feeling of "belonging" I would probably get if I didn't wear the hijab. It's weird how a single article of clothing can make you stick out like a sore thumb. I mean, I probably wouldn't get lingering glances from people while I'm shopping for groceries, or have an employee treat me rudely when he was just fine talking to the other customer before me.

I'm not saying that I'm suffering by wearing the hijab in America--some people are extremely kind, and many times people have told me how much they respect me for wearing the clothes I wear (it always makes my day!).

Like all human beings, Muslim girls who wear the hijab enjoy it when people smile at us, crack jokes, or treat us like we don't have a second head. :)

But no matter where I live, I choose to wear the hijab regardless. Simply because I'm not doing it for people, I'm doing it for God. 

3. Do you have to wear the hijab at home?
No is the general answer...but it also depends. Allow me to explain. If a normal day at home is spent with only family (that is, your mother, sister, husband, son, brother, or father), you never have to wear the hijab at home. Muslim women are only required to be veiled in front of men who are not their mahram. They do not have to wear it in front of their mahram. A mahram is someone who is considered close family and unmarryable (excluding your husband, of course). 

People who are considered mahram to a woman: Father, grandfather, brother, half-brother, husband, son, a boy who hasn't passed puberty yet (a male child), a male who has been breast-fed by her mother (but not necessarily blood-related), mother's brother, father's brother (Note: I did not say "uncle" because a mother's sister's husband is considered an uncle in the English language, but he is not considered a mehram since he is not related by blood), and daughter's husband.

All of these people can see a woman without her scarf since they are considered close family.

In Islam, a non-mahram would be any other male, so you would have to wear the scarf when seeing them. This category consists of basically every other male on the planet who wasn't mentioned in the previous list. It includes male cousins (yes, it's permitted for cousins to marry, but it's not very common), stepbrothers, adopted brothers, brother-in-laws, and "uncles" (who are not your parents' siblings, but your parents' sister's husband). 

Are you scratching your heads yet? I made a little table to make things easier for you :)

So in a sense, girls don't wear the scarf according to location...but rather, the people present at the location.

Put simply, if you're at home and the pizza delivery guy, neighbor next door, brother's best buds, or husband's brother decides to stop by your house, you would be required to wear the scarf. On the other hand, if you were at the pool outside in your backyard with all your girl friends and no neighbors can see you, you wouldn't have to wear it.

But to make things less complicated, we say that we don't wear the hijab at home (since the majority of the time we don't).

4. Do you like wearing the hijab?

Yes! I really really do.

I would just like to quote someone for a second here...she is an actress, (Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, anyone?), Emma Watson:

"I find the whole concept of being ‘sexy’ embarrassing and confusing. If I do an interview with photographs people desperately want to change me - dye my hair blonder, pluck my eyebrows, give me a fringe. Then there’s the choice of clothes. I know everyone wants a picture of me in a mini-skirt. But that’s not me. I feel uncomfortable. I’d never go out in a mini-skirt. It’s nothing to do with protecting the Hermione image. I wouldn’t do that. Personally, I don’t actually think it’s even that sexy. What’s sexy about saying, ‘I’m here with my boobs out and a short skirt, have a look at everything I’ve got?’ My idea of sexy is that less is more. The less you reveal the more people can wonder."  

A non-Muslim girl with a lot of Islamic sense. So much respect for her, because this is exactly why I'm so proud to be wearing the scarf! You go, girl!

5. Do you ever get to look pretty and dress up? Obviously you're not going to wear party dresses at home.
Yes, yes I do! My Muslim friends ALWAYS throw girl parties, whether it's for a special occasion like a wedding or baby shower, or just for fun. You would be absolutely stunned to see how glamorous girls look once they take their scarves off. (Hannah's previous post on the Iranian baby shower showed this beautifully!).

There's always that "wow" factor that comes along with looking great after being covered, kind of like how in chick flicks the girl next door reveals herself at the end of the movie to be a babe (yes...I watch a lot of movies).

Even without dressing up, though...I remember the first time I went to a girl friend's house and took off my hijab for the first time in front of her. My friend stared at me for about 10 minutes straight. I'm not even exaggerating. I wasn't wearing a fancy dress, or put on extra makeup...I simply took my scarf off.

Personally, I can't wait to share that experience on my wedding day with whoever is my future husband. :)

6. What do you look like?
Like this, on a really good day:

 I hope this post was informative and that it cleared up some common misconceptions about the hijab.

And fun fact: The media makes it seem like all Muslims are Middle Eastern, yet out of 1.2+ billion Muslims, fewer than 15% of Muslims are actually Arab/Middle Eastern! The majority of Muslims are actually in Asia, in countries like Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Bangladesh, etc. (Yes...there is a whole world out there!)

Thanks for letting me guest post here, Hannah! :)

Still have questions or comments? 
Don't be shy...ask them here and I'm sure Nourhan will be willing to share!



  1. Wonderful post, thank you for all the wonderful information. I think it is important to educate each other on cultural differences.

  2. Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  3. My neighbor wears a hijab so this was a really interesting post to read!

  4. Thank you girls for an amazing post!
    I learned a ton and you made it easy to follow a subject i really had no knowledge of before
    Nice to meet you :o)

  5. Nourhan, thank you so much for sharing with us. We have a new family that just moved into the apartment next door and they are Muslim. It's one of my first real, personal interactions with a Muslim woman and I am very glad to know a little bit more about her culture because I would really like to be friends.

  6. Great and informative post. I didn't even think about the fact that you can take your scarf off at home, with family or your girlfriends. That is awesome. You are very inspiring!

  7. This is such a fabulous post. I really can't stand cultural ignorance and wish more people would pause to read posts like this. Keep spreading your message, I completely support this!


  8. Sabrina- I hear ya. Nothing can take me from completely calm to fuming in mere seconds but people who thrive in their ignorance (bigots and racists). We all are ignorant to other cultures...that's inevitable. But it's when people are presented with truth and understanding about other people's experiences and still hold to certain misconceptions that KILLS me. Does that make sense?

  9. hannah, thank you so much for hosting a wonderful guest post. i loved her thoughts on modesty and her dedication to religion. it's nice to know a bit more about a subject i'm not very familiar with (especially growing up in a predominantly caucasian population). again, thank you.

  10. Brissa- You are welcome. I was sooo happy when Nourhan agreed to write this post. She's so lovely and her blog is great...go check it out! :)

  11. This was very interesting to read-I had no idea they were dressed up under. That Emma quote was really interesting to read as well. Thank you for posting this, Hannah.

    It is so wonderful to learn about these types of things, and thanks to Nourhan for sharing!

  12. Hannah, you have the most wonderful reading audience :)
    Thank you so much everyone, and if you have any questions at all, don't hesitate to ask!

  13. Nourhan- I know, right? I love every one of my readers. Every comment and every insight makes me smile!

  14. Really interesting post!
    It's great that you shared it!

  15. I really enjoyed reading this. I did know some of this information, but it was really great to read it from Nourhan's perspective. Even though I agree with less is more, and I would cover up in Muslim cultures to be respectful, I am a little conflicted. I would be afraid the religious requirement for women to be modest would be limiting, especially since men don't have the same requirement (in terms of physical appearance). I guess as long as women aren't punished for not wearing it and have other rights (like working and driving), I am less concerned about the covering-up aspect. Like I said, I mostly agree with everything said here, but I'm just a little conflicted.

  16. Bess-
    I can totally see where you are coming from. I think maybe you're/we're conflicted because of the issue of freedom of choice...something we Americans feel quite strongly about and something many other countries don't really toss and turn over as much as we do.

    I've asked friends point blank about whether or not they find it unfair that men can do things they can't...and most often it isn't really an issue...it's just the way things are for them (in much more conservative Muslim countries.) Although younger generations of Saudis (both male and female) are trying to fight for the freedoms of women and for equal rights.

    Also, many Muslim men do adhere to forms of modesty, you won't find men wearing shorts overseas and usually many even wear long sleeve shirts (although the younger generations may be found wearing tight t-shirts and occasionally some shorts). I suppose some men even cover their heads as part of their traditional clothing (see the dress in Jordan and the gulf states.)

    Anyways, yes, I do agree that more extreme forms of modesty(the niqab and burqa)definitely come along with other implication on their rights and place in society...it's a tough one and I'm not sure we, as Americans, will ever fully understand that part of the culture.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for your honesty!

  17. Hi, Bess.
    Thanks for sharing your opinion :) Like Hannah said, it would seem more conflicting especially to someone living in America and people who believe in the equality of women.

    Here's the thing: fairness does not really mean equality. This is probably a concept that would be difficult to grasp at first, but allow me to explain.

    Someone who is weaker shouldn't be required to do as much as someone who is stronger; someone who works hard should make more money than someone who doesn't; someone who is older should be given both more responsibilities and privileges than someone who is younger;

    Men and women were both created completely differently, both physically and mentally (it's a fact)--they shouldn't be equalized, but rather treated fairly.

    I believe in women's rights, but I also believe that women are much different from men. Men are generally attracted to women's physical appearances much more than women are attracted to men's physical appearances. It's human nature. Something God clearly understands since He created us, which is why it is a requirement for women in Islam.

    In Islam, men have a lot of requirements women do not have.
    Men are required to go to war when war is present, while women are not.
    Every Friday, they are obligated to go pray the Duhr (one of the prayers) at the mosque and listen to a lecture beforehand, while women don't have to.

    There are a lot of other things men cannot do that women can do (and vice versa) in Islam, but I'll just leave it at that for now!

    I hope that helped :)

  18. thanks for sharing and setting people straight, Nourhan! i had to chuckle over the little with and without hijab illustrations. and just to add, not all of us fear that you want to blow someone up. ;o)

  19. Nourhan- That's an interesting perspective on things. Definitely something to chew on for a little while. I once heard someone say that they weren't being excluded as a woman, but rather the men were being excluded from them. Basically to say that the way things are offer a sort of protection for the female community. As an American, this was hard for me to consider at first, but I think about that often and try to consider that when I'm speaking with girls to see if I can find some truth in it.

    I think there are definitely cases where men "abuse the system" to exert power over females in the Muslim world. But it's more the exception than the rule depending on what country you're in, whether it's urban or rural,etc. Would you agree or disagree?

  20. Want to amend my statement "I think there are definitely cases where men 'abuse the system' to exert power over females in the Muslim world." to make note that I don't mean to single out the Muslim community. These abuses happen all over the world, but the Muslim world has become a hot topic for female rights so I'm using that for the topic at hand.

  21. What a great post Nourhan and Hannah. It's so encouraging to see such a young lady so clearly explain herself and one that is true to what she believes in. There are so many misconceptions about different religions. Opportunities like this one that Hannah has provided really help. I have a very close friend who is a Catholic priest and he lets me ask him anything and I've grown to understand and respect the Catholic church so much more...Nourhan I know you're doing the exact same thing! A few months ago I wrote about Female Genital Mutilation (http://vanishashaves.blogspot.com/2011/02/female-genital-mutilation-fgm.html) and also managed to have Waris Dirie to answer some questions (http://vanishashaves.blogspot.com/2011/04/two-minutes-with-waris-and-commitment.html) Thank you ladies! What a great start to my morning!

  22. @bon bon, thank you very much! :)

    @Hannah, I definitely agree that the hijab is a protection for women--no doubt about that. I was just saying that it shouldn't be considered "unfair" by people just because women have to wear it and men don't. Islam isn't trying to degrade women by asking them to cover up. Yes, it's not "equal", but it's definitely fair :)

    When you ask "I think there are definitely cases where men 'abuse the system' to exert power over females in the Muslim world" can you give a hypothetical example? I just want to make sure I fully understand the question before answering :)

  23. this is an amazing post! I just got back from Turkey where I saw women wearing full burqas for the first time and at first I couldn't help myself from becoming defensive and thinking these women were in some way being "forced" to wear something so restrictive when their husbands walk beside them in shorts and a tank top. It was great to hear your perspective on the issue, I feel a lot more open minded!

  24. Some examples of things that have happened in some areas-

    Extreme punishments for women for fornication (when they were in fact raped.)
    Unfair punishments for women for pre-marital sex (while men may get off with little more than a slap on the wrist women may be flogged or worse).
    No regulation for the prevention of genital mutilation (in some countries).

    Basically- areas were people add too the codes written out in the Qur'an. We see this in shariah law...inspired by the Qur'an but written by men (to my knowledge...correct me if I'm wrong.)

  25. P.S. And Nourhan, thanks for being Culture Connoisseur's national spokesperson on Islam today...hehe. We're all learning a lot!

  26. So interesting! What a great guest post, and hopefully cleared up some misconceptions. Can't wait to check out your blog :)

  27. Thank you ladies so much! Your comments are all so sweet!

    And Julie...I've met dozens of niqabis in Egypt (I was living there for over 7 years), and they're all extremely pleased with their decisions. None of them were ever forced. :)

    In fact, I've met a bunch of girls who were forced to *NOT* wear the hijab by their fathers/husbands. How's that for shocking? :)

    Hannah (I apologize for the delayed reply--I was away from my computer for a while), everything you just listed is ABSOLUTELY, without a doubt, injustice, and completely against Islamic law.
    Of course in Islam women should NOT get punished if they were raped...that's not even something to discuss. Islam never punishes the innocent.

    Also, the punishment for premarital sex is the exact same for both men AND women.

    This is stated clearly in the Quran in one of the chapters, Surah Al-Nur...that BOTH should be punished equally, not according to people's whims. (In fact, there is a case where a woman may get half the punishment a man gets, but not vice versa...totally the opposite of giving women harsher treatment). Here is the exact verse though: "The woman and the man guilty of illegal sexual intercourse, flog each of them with a hundred stripes." is the English translation.

    I know premarital sex punishment sounds unbelievable and harsh at this time and age, but if you think about all the corruption it causes in the world-- children being given up for adoption, abortions, children living without fathers, children living in broken homes-- I'd think calling Islam "harsh" would be unfair.
    Just because it isn't illegal in America, doesn't make it right.

    The punishment is there to protect the innocent, not to hurt people.
    Islamic law is supposed to be EXTREMELY careful before judging someone with a punishment (there HAVE to be at least 4 eye witnesses who saw the act committed, evidence, etc..)--it isn't just punishment to scare people with. It's to protect people from both themselves and others.

    (Also, Shariah law wasn't written by man...it's really complicated to explain without getting in depth but basically it's all in the Quran--man didn't make it up.
    I know that there are PLENTY of misconceptions ESPECIALLY when it comes to Shariah law and punishment in Islam...but I think that should be for another time ;))

    I hope that made sense and wasn't too jumbled up and confusing lol!

  28. Nourhan- It was a great response! I appreciate you getting back to me on that. And nice to have that verse at hand.

    You had an awesome post here today with really great and meaningful responses. Loved it! Thanks so much. xo

  29. I truly enjoyed this post. It;s so important to be educated on other cultures, especially because there are so many misconceptions these days. thank you so much for sharing this with us!

  30. i think it's so great of you to blog about something like this. great job to you and nourhan!


  31. Thanks for letting me post today Hannah, it's been great! :)

    Oh, and I would like to add that Islamic law doesn't punish everything people do that is supposed to be forbidden by Islam-- for example, people are forbidden to gamble but are not punished for it...just so no one don't get the wrong idea, like it's not a "disobey or be killed" kind of thing lol. Only certain things (usually the things that affect society, like drinking, stealing, killing, etc...) are punishable :)

  32. love your blog, it's adorable! thanks for your insight :)

    andrea g.


  33. What a wonderful, informative, smart and witty guest post. Thank you Hannah for having Nourhan over.

    Nourhan - Thank you for taking the time to answer all those questions and explain the background on the hijab. I appreciate your honesty, sincerity and understanding that many of us were wondering the answers to those questions. You are truly a beautiful woman. I smiled when you mentioned you cannot wait to show yourself to your future husband. What a beautiful thought.

  34. this was the most fun surprise post ever. cultural events are my favorite!

    some sydney muslim women wear the niqab, and this topic was actually discussed on a local talk show, the only issue the majority of sydneysiders had with the niqab is the inability to read facial expressions or body language when approaching to talking to someone wearing it

    i have a question! what is the author's opinion on niqabs and burqas relating to security personal. like when a muslim women refuses to show her face to police or airline workers to prove her identity? is this discussed within the muslim community? i completely understand the modesty thing, but when it comes to security that's a whole other thing. (at least at airline security people are also asked to remove coats, hats and sunglasses for identification purposes)

  35. Great post! Thanks both for sharing more on a subject that divides lots of people nowadays.
    Love to read about Hijab and how women experience it in the real Life.
    Always great to know more about cultural differences too.

  36. It was interesting to see the list of who sees you with/without. Very informative perspective!

  37. what a great post! very informative - way to keep a discussion going about things that many people don't know much about.

  38. @a Bug and Bird,
    I personally believe that when it comes to security, a woman should without a doubt take off her niqab. Who knows what is under there? You cannot blame people for wanting to identify you.

    My own sister and mother wore the niqab for a while in Egypt (not anymore), and when it came down to showing their faces at the airport, they did it in a heartbeat because they knew it was important.

    I'm not *against* the niqab, but I'm not *with* it either...I can definitely see why people wouldn't like it. It causes a lot of confusion. I was actually okay when France banned the niqab because I understood that maybe people were scared of what they couldn't see.(But when they banned the hijab, that was nothing but a flat out hatred for Islam).

    The thing is, some Muslim women believe that a woman MUST wear her niqab outside, so usually in the cases of these women, they get a security woman to check under the niqab in a private room. There are usually ways around it, so it's usually not a huge deal, but I personally don't think the niqab is required in Islam.

    I for one would never want to wear the niqab, as it hinders social interaction. I want to be an approachable Muslim woman, not something unknown or that people fear.

    Hope that answers your question :)
    And once again, I thank everyone for your unbelievably kind comments! You guys are great :)

  39. Thank you Nourhan and Hannah for taking the time to write this post. I must admit that I didn't know a whole lot about the Hijab - I now consider myself to be much more informed! It has been fascinating reading about it from a Muslim woman's perspective and also reading the comments on it!

  40. wow. a very unique post to see in the blog world. nourhan did a wonderful job explaining the hijab and the laws/nuances that go into wearing one.

  41. Thank you for the good writeup. It in fact was a amusement
    account it. Look advanced to more added agreeable from you!

    By the way, how could we communicate?

    my web site; coffee flavorings

  42. Terrific work! This is the type of info that should be shared across the
    web. Disgrace on Google for not positioning this put up upper!
    Come on over and visit my web site . Thanks =)

    Have a look at my website ... jinn-tech.com

  43. Pretty! This was an incredibly wonderful article.
    Many thanks for supplying these details.

    Stop by my page; women dress