The German Islam Scholar Lamya Kaddor

Why I as a Muslim Woman Don't Wear a Headscarf

Does the Koran really demand that women wear headscarves? Or is it mainly older men who claim they can decide how women should dress – with no theological foundation whatsoever? For the Islam scholar Lamya Kaddor, there is no question about it: the headscarf is obsolete

​If I as a Muslim woman living in Germany ask myself whether I should wear a headscarf or not, that gives rise to the question of whether the additional head-covering called for in the Koran (33:59) still fulfils its original purpose of protecting women from male desire. My answer is: no. In contemporary Germany such covering-up no longer serves that purpose. It is even more likely to bring about the opposite of what God intended by exposing wearers of headscarves to discrimination.

Today the intended protection against 'annoyances' is provided by a well-functioning legal system rather than by adherence to social rules from the past. A free state based on the rule of law protects a woman, for example by punishing attacks on her person. This protection may be primarily concerned with bodily integrity, but people in a modern state are more than ever responsible for themselves with regard to the freedoms accorded – including in the realm of moral integrity. Covering my head cannot relieve me of that responsibility. I cannot hide myself behind a little piece of cloth. A free and democratic state grants rights and also imposes responsibilities. In such circumstances I can behave honourably with and without a veil or head-scarf – or not, as the case may be.

A 'fashion accessory' from Koranic times?

If this argument is accepted, one can also abandon the Koranic demand for additional covering, directed towards women in Early Arabic tribal society. What would still initially remain is the khimâr, the head covering that was part of women's clothing at that time. The Koran neither speaks against nor in any way emphasises that form of covering. God uses the word only once in the Koran (24:31). That occurs in passing in connection with a call for moral behaviour. So there is no Koranic emphasis on such head covering. However, if God had required a special head covering, would He not have said so explicitly? The khimâr thus merely constitutes a 'fashion accessory' according to the spirit of that age. Viewed rationally, functions consciously or unconsciously associated with head coverings across the course of history – such as protection against sand or evil influences – are all superannuated today and have lost their validity. People's powers of imagination have changed.

Female students with and without headscarf (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
"Sura 24:30-31 calls on both men and women to behave chastely, but exegesis of the Koran up to the present day only puts the emphasis on chaste behaviour for women," Kaddor writes

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In the Germany of the twenty-first century – at the very latest – women's hairstyles are no longer per se an erotic stimulus. The sight of head-hair no longer provokes sexual fantasies and thus immoral behaviour – except perhaps among fetishists. When you walk along a city's pedestrian precincts no one turns to look at you because of your hair. Only if you dress provocatively or in a particularly original way, and behave accordingly, do you attract some attention. In addition, this isn't a male world that still thinks as it did a thousand or more years ago. Thanks to the achievements of a free and democratic state, and thanks to the prevalent understanding of relations between the sexes, you no longer necessarily need a head covering in order to live morally. The headscarf has become obsolete.

Misogyny by Islamic scholars

Today's orthodox comprehension of the obligation to wear a head covering is primarily based on the interpretations of scholars who lived several generations after the Prophet Mohammed. One can follow their judgements but they are not sacrosanct. As human beings all scholars are fallible. Conservative and fundamentalist circles constantly emphasise that our behaviour should follow the Koran and the Prophet. Their spokesmen maintain that this directly accords with what was laid down during the Prophet's lifetime and the initial period of Islam.

Koran (photo: fotolia/lapas 77)
The depiction of the headscarf as a unifying element within the Muslim community is not well founded, Kaddor argues

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However in reality this view is mainly based on the ideas of scholars who lived some 600 (!) years later – such people as Ibn Qudâma (d. 1223), Ibn Taymîya (d. 1328), or the latter's pupil Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzîya (d. 1350). Bearing in mind the patriarchal social structures of that time, it is unsurprising that interpretations of sources concerning relations between the sexes were usually unfavourable for women – even though that contradicts a striving (to be found throughout the Koran) towards improving women's situation. That tendency is even less surprising if one recalls the misogyny demonstrated by many scholars throughout the history of Islam. Linking shame and a head covering is by no means as self-evident as it seems. Sura 24:30-31 calls on both men and women to behave chastely, but exegesis of the Koran up to the present day only puts the emphasis on chaste behaviour for women.

No political symbol

Nevertheless, the Koranic injunction to dress in a way that is generally demure remains a religious demand, to be fulfilled by wearing 'appropriate' clothing. A woman believer sees this as signifying that all those parts of the female body which nowadays excite the idea of possible sexual contact should continue to be 'properly' concealed beneath the kind of clothing usual today. What is entailed in 'proper', 'appropriate', or 'decent' is left to the reasonableness of every mature woman citizen, since at present there are no specific directives based on Islamic sources. In prevalent practice, it is mostly older men – learned or unlearned – who assume the right to determine how a woman should appear, but there is no theological or sociological foundation for this.

A similar situation prevails regarding evaluation of the headscarf as a token of Islamic faith. Such a function cannot be demonstrated in the history of Islam. The depiction of the headscarf as a unifying element within the Muslim community is not well founded either. In addition, its function as a political symbol, so frequently evoked in public discussions today, also constitutes a historically unfounded inflation of the significance of this item of clothing. This has occurred only in recent decades, as an element in the opposition to Western influences within the Islamic world.

Lamya Kaddor © Goethe-Institut 2011

Lamya Kaddor was born in 1978 in Ahlen, Westphalia, as the daughter of Syrian immigrants. As a student she specialised in Islamic Studies, and went on to train Islamic teachers of religion at Münster University. Since the 2003-04 school year she has been involved as a teacher in the 'Islamic Studies in the German Language' project. Her most recent book is "Muslimisch – weiblich – deutsch! Mein Leben für einen zeitgemäßen Islam" (Muslim – Female – German! My Life for an Islam in Keeping with the Times), C.H. Beck Verlag, Munich 2010. This text is an abbreviated version of a study published in Thorsten Gerald Schneider's Islamverherrlichung [Glorification of Islam], VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2010, pp. 131–158.

Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de

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Comments for this article: Why I as a Muslim Woman Don't Wear a Headscarf

We all like to make excuses regarding things we don't want to do. Please make du'a for this sister, and all of us, that Allah shows us the right way. The Qur'aan is directly from Allah, but in order to understand the wisdom behind it, we need saheeh hadith. I'm guessing this sister doesn't pray like us, the other Muslims do, because the Qur'aan does not mention how to pray in detail.!

Anonymous06.03.2014 | 13:50 Uhr

Praise upon Allah swt the Almighty, and praise be upon Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). I have seen readers quoting the Quranic text calling for the modesty of women! Indeed it is true, but fellow Muslims, please understand; we must not only judge a woman based on her appearance. We must not forget the Five Pillars of Islam that every Muslim should do. How does one wearing the veil or not wearing the veil shows that she is fufilling the Five Pillars of Islam or even devoted to Allah swt?
Appearance of one woman does not show their devotion, but rather their hearts and their deeds towards the Five Pillars of Islam are truly the proof that one is devote to Allah swt and the Almighty's wishes upon humanity. I see females not wearing headscarfs and yet they contribute to the society, doing good deeds, observing five pillars of Islam but she is condemn for not wearing the veil. Whereas females wearing headscarfs or sometimes Niqab being praised by Men but their hearts are swollen and their bad deeds went unnoticed by all.
REMEMBER FELLOW MUSLIM:
Thereupon the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) remarked: A person performs the deeds which to the people appear to be the deeds befitting the dweller of Paradise, but he is in fact one of the denizens of Hell. And verily a person does an act which in the eyes of public is one which is done by the denizens of Hell, but the person is one among the dwellers of Paradise.

We must not let the hypocrisy to continue.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) champions for the equality of men and women in the society. Let us practice what Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) preaches and stop forcing women what to do!!!

Muhammad Sadiq13.05.2014 | 17:11 Uhr

Yes. It is clear in the HOLY QURAN to wear hijab, it is Fardh.

I don't accept this. You are not Muslim in my eyes.

Amira21.05.2014 | 00:31 Uhr

Thank you so much for this explanation. I am not a Muslim but your explanation is realistic and very simple to understand. I can only hope that you do not become persecuted for views. God bless.

Hadassah Duaibe10.06.2014 | 02:09 Uhr

There is the explicit command in the Quran of lowering the "veil" over the "bosom". That is indisuptable. Hence maybe we see some Muslim women especially in Pakistan give more emphasis on covering the breasts than the hair.

esme10.06.2014 | 09:19 Uhr

Same goes to " As a christian, must I wear a cross" to show the world that I am holier than other Christians?......while my heart is full of Sins and Unrighteousness?

Mike Yip10.06.2014 | 20:35 Uhr

this article is absolutely denied what god commanded us to do. read the Quran, it was clear that god wants woman to cover their aurat from their non-mahram. this is clearly rejection to what god has ordered us to do. how dare she even think like this.

abdullah10.06.2014 | 20:50 Uhr

MasyaAllah.. Quran is acceptable for any time of period. There is NO Quran time what so ever. As muslim Quran is our guide. Allah never had said that Quran can't longer be used by Lamya Kaddor's year of life.. Tak takut le masuk neraka kena bakar rambut tuuuu?? Oppss!

linda11.06.2014 | 03:20 Uhr

Lamya is rationale and logical in her analysis, which is true. No one would like to against the old taught, but it need to be rationale since some teaching was practiced in the past hundreds years ago society, not 21st century. It give better understanding of the religion, not to be extremist.

NoName11.06.2014 | 03:34 Uhr

You said: Today the intended protection against 'annoyances' is provided by a well-functioning legal system rather than by adherence to social rules from the past. A free state based on the rule of law protects a woman, for example by punishing attacks on her person. This protection may be primarily concerned with bodily integrity, but people in a modern state are more than ever responsible for themselves with regard to the freedoms accorded – including in the realm of moral integrity.

Do you mean that since there is a law to protect and punishment to a men who attack woman, muslimah now can even wear bikini in public or even naked?

Fariq Abdullah11.06.2014 | 03:53 Uhr

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