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 For the Islam scholar Lamya Kaddor, there is no question about it: the headscarf is obsolete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

​​

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

​​

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

More on this topic
Print article
Send via mail
Add Comment
In submitting this comment, the reader accepts the following terms and conditions: Qantara.de reserves the right to edit or delete comments or not to publish them. This applies in particular to defamatory, racist, personal, or irrelevant comments or comments written in dialects or languages other than English. Comments submitted by readers using fantasy names or intentionally false names will not be published. Qantara.de will not provide information on the telephone. Readers' comments can be found by Google and other search engines.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.

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

i just have one question for u... can u offer salah without wearing a hijab or in other words, without covering ur head ??? why cant u ???
dont be so ignorant... u know the truth but u just dont wanna believe it ...

ghuraba11.06.2014 | 12:27 Uhr

I was a bit disappointed in most of the responses, but ... it is what it is. Some people actually questioned this woman because she used only the Qu'ran for proof. How could you.. they wailed. Although Islam expressly forbids idolatry, that is exactly what your reverence of Hadith is. If what you believe to be God's Word does not address an issue, then that issue is left to the devices of man, and no man's or woman's opinion is more holy than another.

Shareef Ali Rashada11.06.2014 | 13:30 Uhr

Fashion accesssory from Quranic Times? Please dont make Christian Nuns ashamed my dear...

Nun11.06.2014 | 15:21 Uhr

This article is really weak. I think it's better to just state the obvious- you've decided to not wear it so own that fact and try not to minimize the importance of the headscarf. I disagree that men today do not look at women as objects if their hair is not covered. Women obsess over their hair, it completes the package. You cover your hair and yup, you don't look as pretty as if your hair was super styled and falling oh so glamorously. I commend the woman that do cover up because hey, why not? If they want to take the extra step to be modest, they should go for it. Who are you, or anyone else, to tell them not to? It's between them, their faith and their lord.

Shazia11.06.2014 | 21:33 Uhr

The world has evolved since the time of The Prophet, we now have computers, internet and new means of entertainment and communication. Now me being a Muslim I don't have an issue weather women want to wear the hijab or not. But there are so many people who believe that the hijab is a must. But where in the Quran does it state word for word that we as women have to wear the hijab? The Quran has passages that are vague and left for us to interpret, but it doesn't force anything on us, does it? No it does not.

Other than the fact that the Quran does not anywhere legitimately state that women should wear the hijab, the world has revolutionized. We are influenced by many aspects of media and leisurely travels. Certainly with the evolution of human kind and the world men are able to restrain themselves and not be tempted by the mere sight of a woman.

Women are everywhere. they are political leaders, they're movie stars, they walk among the rest of society, and some women are the most powerful beings on the planet. Men are able to restrain themselves and with what we have today, why is it so wrong to show yourself a bit?

Logically speaking with the evolution in today's world there should be no one demanding that women should not be able or able to do something they want. Women all around the world fought for their freedom- to be equals. Why is it that people who interpret the Quran think that men have more justified power than women?

The Quran is about freedom- equality and correct morals. Women are demeaned and are forced to do things by men in the name of Allah.

How is making a man wear anything he wants while making a woman cover herself completely equal? What if a woman doesn't want to wear the hijab, and you force her. How is that justified?

And why is thought to believe that the hijab is meant to obscure women's beauty? My mother wears the hijab and she is always complimented on her natural beauty even though she wears the hijab.

Everybody should think. The Quran is centuries years old. Times have changed, some of the things in the Quran don't relate to our world anymore. Evolution and globalization have changed the world. The Quran doesn't state anything for the future of the world and its evolution in every aspect. Where does it state that in the future implications of evolution where the world is used to seeing women wear whatever they want, used to seeing women everywhere to roam freely that they should be restrained by an interpretation centuries before their births?

People need to interpret the Quran to our time today, that includes globalization and Evolution.To also remember that the Quran said that women should be modest and cover themselves to shield themselves from men's sexual desire. Women should cover up to be conservative and leave themselves to their husbands.

Since when was a person's head sexual. How does showing your hair make you sexually more appealing. Women should cover themselves up in normal conservative clothing which could be a baggy long sleeve shirt and jeans. It covers everything up. How will a man see through your clothes.

Men are used to seeing women bare themselves. Go watch a movie, a music video anything that modernly implies with women. Look out our teenage generation. We have girls twerking in nothing but bra's and panties, we have Rhianna in a sheer nipple bearing dress. The world has evolved to the point that when we see people like this, we wave them off and don't care. We might think they're sluts, but it is somewhat a cultural norm in our world.

Honestly wearing the hijab today, just brings unwanted attention to people. People are so used to seeing a woman in normal clothing a t-shrit and jeans, that wearing the hijab brings attention to them. People will look and stare, because it's not something people are use to seeing. So think about it. The tables have turned.

I'm a Muslim,(a teenager) but even I can see that with the world's evolution things change. People should be logical and rational. The cultural norm changes and we have to adapt to changes, we can't firmly hold onto the past and not let go.This is just my logical and rational opinion.

I may not be a scholar and I may be young, but I have the rationality that appeals our societal world today and people need to understand that the world has changed.

Nada 11.06.2014 | 22:47 Uhr

I am not a scholar of Islam, but I have taken a number of courses and read a number of books of Usool-al fiqh. What the author expresses, even though many people seem to disagree, is actually a very sound argument based on the established rules of fiqh.
Let me summarize: There is a thing known as an "illa" which means the cause for a certain ruling. If this illa exists in the text of the Qur'an, then the ruling will change depending on whether the cause is present or not. The most common example of this is when Allah allowed the eating of pork if the person is in danger of starving.

In the case of hijab, an illa is mentioned, and the author referenced this directly. The purpose of hijab was to protect women from being "annoyed" or "molested.". As she rightly pointed out, wearing hijab in western countries can often lead her to be discriminated against. In this situation, it is entirely feasible that the strict use of hijab should be lifted as long as the spirit of modesty is maintained and the woman's intent is not to provoke undue sexual attention.

I think it is really important to understand how our scholars actually derive rulings from the texts. Before we judge a persons faith, as many of the commentators have done, we should really seek to understand his/her reasoning. Allah and his Prophet know best

Mike12.06.2014 | 02:31 Uhr

Assalamualaikum,
I am a hijabi living in the US (specifically the South), but I started almost 2 years ago without force or peer pressure from my family or Muslim community. The hijab is not a sign of oppression or minimizing my humanity, rather it helps me discern those who want me for 'me' or for my looks. Hijab is not just a covering over the head, but is a physical embodiment of being a Muslimah. We have even more reasons to strive to be a better Muslim in our daily life and to dress modestly as we are taught. In high school I was close to my male friends (in fact I used to hug them all the time), but now as a hijabi, we still talk, but they respect what my hijab implies-- I am practicing all parts of my faith including the tenant that states men and women who are non-mahram cannot be close. Islam also tells us to lower our gaze and that our physical beauty is for our mahram (most importantly our husbands). Why should we encourage non-mahram to keep their eyes glued to our faces and figure? They are no longer interested in knowing you as an intellectual, rather a piece of eye candy.
My hijab stops people from looking at me in lust (if they continue to look because of hate or curiosity that is not my fault). I have not enticed a person of theopposite sex to keep staring because of how 'hot' my body is and how soft or silky my hair looks.
As a proclaimed 'Muslim scholar' you should know a few things:
1. The Prophet (saw) was sent to all mankind until the Day of Judgement.
2. This means the Quran is complete and is applicable for ALL times. Once you claim the concept of hijab us insolete or outdated, you are opening doors for others to label other parts of Islam as optional or unnecessary abd unapplicable.
3. You proudly state that you are a scholar of Islam, but you are obviously lacking in the details of the Quran and Sunnah. Take a full Tafseer class and Seerah class to truly understand what Islam is about.
4. It is true that women at the time of revelation covered their head, but they didn't cover their chest. The Quran states that women should cover their bosoms so as to complete their cover. You need to understand the history of that time to realize why the Quran doesn't mention the head.....because that part was already covered.
5. Hijab is a perfect way to initiate Dawah. The educated people who see me will ask questions about my religion and how I choose to practice it. The narrow-minded, uneducated, gullible individual will harass me, but that is a test. Are you firm in your faith to stand up for what you believe in and will you stop people from disrespecting your Prophet (saw) and our religion? This struggle is a Jihad which is better than resorting to the commonly known physical definition of Jihad. I feel that if I am murdered for wearing my hijab, then I have died as a martyr for the sake of Allah.
I live in a first world country with freedoms and police officers. They cannot stop the perverted thoughts men have of women because of their clothes. It is up to the Muslimah to stop the opposite sex from thinking about her all day and talking to his friends about the 'fine and sexy lasy' they saw at the market. It stops men from thinking they can ask me out on a date or inappropriately flirt with me.
My hijab stops people from crossing the line so I don't need the police and justice system to step in once I have been sexually harassed or assaulted. Allah (swt) keeps me safe. Why do I need anyone else to step in for my defense.
I am sorry that you don't fully understand the beauty, simplicity, and freedom that Islam offers, even with your specialized degree. I am sorry that you need the justice system to feel safe and confident to walk outside among the rest of mankind.
I am also afraid of what you may have taught to other Muslims about Islam and what you have told non-Muslims who ask questions about our religion.

I disagree with...12.06.2014 | 07:43 Uhr

I guess to each their own, GOD will be the ultimate judge here. So interpret, analyse, examine, contemplate, speculate all you want. On the day of Kiyaama, you are welcome to put that argument forward. Just one question, what if you are wrong? And the risk you run that everyone that has been mislead by you, their transgressions lie on your shoulders.

muaath12.06.2014 | 10:45 Uhr

It's just a piece of towel u wear on ur head without any decors....as a religious obligation......if u're a muslim, one's defined to follow the qur'an that was written by illiterate muhammed, thus gotta do what muhammed said so. It's funny one would follow d qur'an but not the author itself. So to speak, u believe in a person's book, but not in himself.....well, that's like saying u believe in the bible, but not jesus.

Religion aside, books don't exist out of thin air.

P.s. do simplify this, i'm grammatically retarded.

rofl8512.06.2014 | 11:36 Uhr

Interesting that most of the comments made about Muslim women and requirement to wear hijab comes from Muslim men. Don't forget that Mohammed's words and Koran was and is interpreted by men. Therefore, the authors voice is one of the females. Her freedom does not come from a clothing, her freedom comes from within (whether that would be religion, or the secular government granting freedom through the law).

Why men are not required to wear hijab if women are? This is ridiculous. It is a woman's choice to wear it and her interpretation of God's word and no one else's.

Liberate yourselves, men, by wearing hijab. Women will choose their own way of liberation.

Ruta Vilkaite12.06.2014 | 15:34 Uhr

Pages