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 For the Islam scholar Lamya Kaddor, there is no question about it: the headscarf is obsolete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

I've read about her statement on her argument defending herself and too, so called defending all other Muslim women around the world for not having the need to wear headscarf.

If The Al Qur'an just stated that there is only one very short sentence requiring Muslim woman to cover their head, than she must know that it was a command. There is no reason or explanation or argument needed or required to disobey.

As Prophet Muhammad Rasurullah SAW has said "womans' aurah was her entire body except her face and both hands". No one, for no matter who he or she is, whether an Islamic Scholar, or a Muslim king or a queen, even a Muslim emperor or an empress can give reason, explanation or argument just to fulfill their desire for a so called better physical appearance, or whatsoever reason by disobeying and rejecting the requirement that came from Prophet Muhammad Rasurullah SAW, a person that sit in the level up high above all humankind, and commandment from Allah SWT, the only and almighty God up highest above the rest.

This woman is not an Islamic scholar, instead she still need to be in school. She is just a self proclaimer.

Karl Azme E11.06.2014 | 04:58 Uhr

If as a Human you practice a life of tolerance, giving, helping and all the good deeds my question is...."Do you need religion or anyone kind of doctrine to be associated with you?".........Every time we talk about religion there is always confusion as who ever wrote all the holy scriptures could only know how to interpret them......Everyone see things differently and as we all agree this is a man's world where woman are trying to find an identity so give them a chance to be what they want to as we all want to.....why must we follow something that does make any sense....As religion is causing so much differences among us I feel we don't need it as we can be good people without it

Kumar raju11.06.2014 | 06:49 Uhr

LOL..you must be joking....If you really "a muslim scholar" as you mentioned, why arent you realised that when a woman perform solat, the aurat is to cover even the head before we started to meet god 5 times of each day....stop manipulating the facts just to fit your own desires and please keep islam remin the same as it was 1400 years ago...

Hasrat murni11.06.2014 | 06:52 Uhr

I agree to the article and thank the author for daring to write on this topic. i also liked the well researched response of Mr. Mohammad Yusuf.
Hijab or viel/scarf is a cultural thing of the Arabs due to the desert and sand storm, but spreading it in the name of Islam is just non sense. why the male head scarf of the arabs are not being followed by the muslim males? For you people women are just tools to use and nothing more than it. I disagree with many statements that women are given a place in Islam...seems we all are ignorant. There is no such practice of equity or equality practiced in any muslim country in the world. It is the civil society, the laws of state which makes an effort in giving the actual place of a woman.

Reshma 11.06.2014 | 06:58 Uhr

I appreciate people like yourself who try their best to understand the Quran
I am a Muslim Canadian and I am proud to be as modest as possible
I did not cover my head from birth it took a lot of thought before I chose to do so
I don't feel it is a fair that anyone should have the right to encourage or discourage one from wearing a scarf, hijab or whatever
If you feel your country is as great as you do- the topic of wearing a headscarf or not should be a personal choice - that should in my opinion not be a topic
No one in my opinion can truly understand any of the Holy books- we can just try our best to do what our spirits feel are the right thing
In my opinion we should be putting our energy in to spreading love and teach humans to just do right by each other
Don't lie, steal, cheat, or hurt anyone emotionality, physically or spiritually
Let others be whom they chose- if it doesn't hurt you- why care if someone wears a scarf or nothing
We have so many other issues in this world that are more important- let's talk about how we should treat each other, so we can all enjoy what time we have in this world
Farhanna Khan

farhanna khan11.06.2014 | 07:32 Uhr

The Author has just played around with the words and misinterpretation! Islam talks about “Hijab” in preventions of misguides, not permissions! What is the point of seeking protection after happening something negatively?
As said in the Quran:
"O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they should cast their outer garments over them (when abroad); this is more proper, that they should be known (recognized as such) and not molested. And Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful." (Holy Qur’an, 33:59).

Mohd.11.06.2014 | 08:57 Uhr

I don't see the women in veil are Islamic to keep away from men's uncontrolled gaze
because they put up heavy makeup to attract attention

Wong11.06.2014 | 08:58 Uhr

wonder how the Münster University is considered a place for islamic studies first of all. i dont know if it is qualified or not.secondly what is in quran is not up for debate for anyone.as it word of god who are we to debate that.scholar can not be one who picks out only what he /she want and leaves other reference out.and islam is a religion fit for all time. and the virtue of the people from the time of quran are far better than any one who live now. but still the scarf of required at that time. Justice at the time of prophet was un questionable.so how can we say in the twentieth century justice system is a well-functioning legal system than of time of prophet .

may Allah show you the right way

teb11.06.2014 | 09:21 Uhr

Have u ever wonder why there are many things are not mention in the quran?? If its the pillars of Islam it surely be mentioned .. hadith are men made,some are good, mostly are bad,some are made by scientist in the olden days,some are made by male chauvinistic.. in the quran it already said that quran is enough n it is perfect,it does not need hadith to explain n to perfect it.. to whom who understand only will know.

sada11.06.2014 | 11:20 Uhr

And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like palms of hands or one eye or both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer dress like veil, gloves, head-cover, apron, etc.), and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms, etc.) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husband's sons, their brothers or their brother's sons, or their sister's sons, or their (Muslim) women (i.e. their sisters in Islam), or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful. [24:31]

ghuraba11.06.2014 | 12:24 Uhr

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