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 For the Islam scholar Lamya Kaddor, there is no question about it: the headscarf is obsolete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

Why do Muslim ladies wear the veil and also wear high heels, make up, brightly coloured head scarves, belted hijabs etc. I thought the whole point was to maintain modesty and not bring attention to oneself. What hypocrites!!

sue 21.08.2014 | 23:47 Uhr

I totally agree with her on this topic...the quran doesnt say anywhere to cover the hair...muslim women today who do it do it for the wrong reasons. The headscarf was something Cultural that existed way before islam even in other countries along the Mediterranean. If you ask them why do you cover your hair? They will give you a brainwashed explanation thay it pleases god or etc. But they dont realize that their reason is not in the quran .you can thank those women controlling imams who are hadith minded for corrupting and twisting the quran.

husain moore17.10.2014 | 06:19 Uhr

I like the argument you made for debating whether such headscarf is necessary, rational and most importantly social context. By today modern standard, exposing your head and arm portion are not sexual arousing but more or less a mere celebration of human beauty. Since, society of today has more ideas on more human right, equality of gender, unnecessary prejudice against jobs, religions, and other good stuffs; I wonder how much relevant tradition of the old days when we actually could sit down and discuss beneficts for this generation and perhaps better future.

But I suggest due to your article would mostly exposed to heavy Islamic based community, specially internet trolls. I would recommend title like " relevance of cloth pieces", "celebration of women equality", "men are less likely to be excited" . God, I am awful with names and titles. Anyway, bon travail.

strangers06.11.2014 | 05:28 Uhr

She is astray attempting to lead others astray with her shaytan deceptions

Ameer09.11.2014 | 17:04 Uhr

It clearly states in the Qur'aan that the woman is to cover herself from hed to toe and to show only what is obvious; her hands and face. To do otherwise is disobedience to Allaah's command; not man.

Nasihah Adib Faruq11.11.2014 | 19:24 Uhr

" if God had required a special head covering, would He not have said so explicitly?"

God does not either mention the 'date and day' for the judgement-day in the holy Quran. If He wanted to, could not He have the authority to prescribe the date.

It'd be childish and immature to take a Muslim-scholar for serious; the one who is brought up in non-Muslim country (surrounded by mostly non-Muslim neighborhood - taught in a society of non-Muslim majority students and teachers); to give a lecture on Hijab (the one who actually has never put it on).

Sarfaraz Abbasi12.11.2014 | 14:23 Uhr

what has the veil, no more than any other item of clothingot to do with modesty

Anonymous13.11.2014 | 20:52 Uhr

God is in your heart and mind. It is more important how you live and treat people around you and around the world. A ordinary Muslim woman should not be required to wear on something that is wanted or made up by cleric or scholar.

Ali21.11.2014 | 20:57 Uhr

A famous British author predicted the growth of Fashion Police and Thought Police with the growth of authoritarianism. In a democratic free society, people should have the freedom to wear what they want modestly and think what they want. The biggest threat to Muslims the world over are other Muslims. In Iran and Afghanistan women get beaten up by men for not wearing the Burqa. In almost all Muslim countries, women are mere chattels and classed as properties of their husbands and treated as they would their furniture. Where in the Koran does it specify dress codes or female circumcision, but these are carried on ad infinitum because Muslim men are in control and will pretend all these are from Allah himself.

Sylvia Haik29.11.2014 | 12:26 Uhr

there is nothing in that Ayath saying the word Hair.
So your first sentence might not be correct "head-covering called for in the Koran (33:59)" .Becuase we can not be sure that it says so.

But your main point is true.Maybe it is not compulsary to wear Hijab.It is only the Saudi interpretation that women must wear Hijab.

Salim01.12.2014 | 20:12 Uhr

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