Hijaab isn’t a cloth covering the head, it’s a light in the heart.

This past week in Istanbul, I wore a scarf for a lot of the time and I noticed a difference in how I was treated. I was given more respect and space, still plenty of kindness and approach from people in a good way but for the most part I was treated like a sister. I felt like I was treated better, as though the scarf was a reminder that the person beneath it is a Muslim. There was no mixed signal or confusion about my identity. There was respect.

Allah said he perfected religion with Islam (5:3) and that believers are the best of people (3:110) and so should be distinguished from others. But if I’m honest, I never felt inclined to wear a scarf because many people I saw wearing it didn’t seem to have the depth of understanding that should come with it. Many were judgemental of me and others who didn’t wear a scarf. And where there was not judgement, there was a behaviour that was at odds with the internal behaviour that I thought a person wearing such a badge of honour should possess. Now who’s being judgemental, eh? But in all seriousness, I don’t think hair being covered equates to hijaab unless the woman’s thoughts are clean and her physical demeanour is modest, otherwise all you are doing is covering what is little more attractive than the ponytail that comes out of a horse’s rear end. I think hijaab and what Allah meant with it had a little more depth than that.

The scarf to mummify the head and hair was never defined as part of hijaab in my household and I’m glad for that because it gave me a chance to explore this concept myself. Hijaab means modesty not simply a hair covering so for me I’ve always felt that I’ve observed it by being watchful of my own gaze, internally conscious.

When I put on the scarf this past week, I felt different within myself. For the most part, good different. I don’t advocate it as a necessity of being a good Muslim but I also do not advocate that it is a symbol of oppression when I felt more protected with it than without. I don’t think you can ever judge a thing without trying it.

All this being said, I come to the conclusion that I always had about hijaab – it’s one of the smallest topics relating to women in Islam and given far too much importance (particularly by men) in lieu of other far greater attributes that you should possess to make you a good person.

My biggest gripe with hijaab remains the undue concern that men have with this garb when the Quran & the Prophet both remind them that it is incumbent upon them to lower their gaze rather than demand the woman to cover herself up. If you decide to cover yourself up, it should never be to placate the insecurities of a man.

There is a famous narration of the Prophet: one day he was walking with his cousin and a beautiful woman crossed their path. His cousin couldn’t take his eyes off her. Instead of telling the woman to cover herself or go into hiding, the Prophet physically turned his cousin’s cheek the other way. [Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 74, Number 247]

Islam does not teach us to oppress women but gives them guidance to protect themselves in the same way men are given guidance to guard against their wandering gaze.

Now wouldn’t it be a novel idea if we each monitored ourselves rather than each other. If we focussed more on the bigger picture of what it entails to be a good person, we’d find that a beard or a headscarf would be incredibly weak barometers for piety.

“Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean.

And when the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling of the mind?

And forget not that the Earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” – Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet