​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

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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

Dear Saleeha Syed,

Koranic times simply means the era of the Prophet. You cannot discount the claim of the scholar for use of this expression, which for me as a Muslim is crystal clear - she meant the era in which the Qur'an was revealed. The foregoing comment on this page by an anonymous person tables a textual scrutiny or relevant Qur'anic verses. I have verified them and agree with them. If you can refute the scholar on the basis of the Qur'an - that is fine, go ahead. But do not try to refute the Qur'an by hadith for then one can quote all sorts of hadith to explode the religion of Islam and demonize its Prophet. .

Are you aware that the Prophet was told in the Quran not to take any more wives even if someone's beauty inspired him:

“No woman shall henceforth be lawful to you, except those you have already married, nor may you exchange them for other wives no matter how their beauty should appeal to you. (Remember,) God is Watchful over everything” (33:52).

This clearly shows that women did not cover their face in the Prophet's era,

mohammed yunus25.03.2015 | 14:14 Uhr

I started wearing it but I feel as I have second thoughts I'm no longer sure but I know for sure if men didn't seek looks all Muslim women would be "free" but for now I will wear it to please allah

anonymous 01.04.2015 | 04:12 Uhr

Hijab, in the Muslim world, is for women what the three-piece suit is for job interviewers and speakers in the secular world, what the black hat and long coat is for the Hasidic Jewish man, and what "business casual" is for the American working world: a sign of respect and acceptance of custom. In Russia, in my great-great grandparents' time, it was not unusual for non-Muslim women to wear scarves on their heads.

There are still "modesty codes" aimed at women in hareidi Jewish circles, although more liberal Jewish circles have different ideas. Those "modesty codes", which are called "tznius", are more revealing than traditional Islamic hijab, for women. A female observer of tznius would wear a dress that covers the knees and a shirt that covers the collarbones and has sleeves that covers the elbows. If she was married, she might wear a wig over her head in order to hide her hair (or even don a ladies' hat with a brim). Among the hareidi Jewish female headcoverings, perhaps the tichel is closest to the Islamic hijab; however, the snood and mitpachat also serve similar functions. All three are cloths one wears to cover the hair.

Hareidi tznius is probably even stricter on the men than on the women; hence, the stereotypical "Hasidic Jewish" look of a man in dark clothes, covered from the base of the neck on down (except for hands), and donning a dark hat.

In Christianity, the stereotypical look of the nun has much in common with Islamic hijabs.

More liberal religions and religious sects have looser dress/ clothing practices.

Richard Rabinowitz08.04.2015 | 05:57 Uhr

Look ayat 7:26, clarified all - O children of Adam! We have provided you with clothing to cover your bodies, and for luxury. But the clothing of piety-that is best. These are some of God's revelations, so that they may take heed.
About the Hadith and why they are not relevant, again The Holy Quran said best:45:6 These are God's Verses which We recite to you in truth. In which message, after God and His revelations, will they believe?
Again the Headscarf is a personal choice, and is based on the respect, what you have to Allah. So if the West is so free and democratic, why do not leave everyone to express his respect to Allah, wearing Hijab, free and in peace, you said is democracy, so let it be democracy not hypocrisy.

Karen21.07.2015 | 11:23 Uhr

Very humerous that many of the people airing their disagreement are men.

...12.08.2015 | 01:34 Uhr

As a scholarly article she has used Quaranic references to make her points. The people who are rubbishing her have not used any counter references. The religious legality of covering up women in Islam is important because in many Moslem countries the not wearing the coverings leads to state punishments of imprisonment, acid scarring, fines and whipping. As stated with references by a number of people on this blog the argument in favour of head scarves etc is very weak.

Aurang07.09.2015 | 19:58 Uhr

People believe anything and do almost everything

river22.09.2015 | 18:58 Uhr

Dear Karen,

You quote the verse 7:26, which lays no on hijab as it clearly lays emphasis on the moral conduct and piety of a person rather than his/her dressing habit ["O children of Adam! We have provided you with clothing to cover your bodies, and for luxury. But the clothing of piety-that is best." , and then you conclude by connecting wearing of hijab with showing respect to Allah. I am afraid, you are not thinking in a linear or logical manner. In the middle you refer to the verse 45:6 [These are God's Verses which We recite to you in truth. In which message, after God and His revelations, will they believe?] which does not lend any support to your arguments. It is a generic verse not connected to hijaj. Are you randomly quoting the Qur'an to force-fit your views re hijab into it?

mohammed yunus03.10.2015 | 04:26 Uhr

The headscarf is prescribed as a symbol of devotion and obediance to God and His laws and should be worn. However her choosing not to wear it is her choice alone and is representation of her devotion to God. Her choice, whether it she believes if it is right or wrong its between her and God and on the day when will all come to light then all will be clear.

Zed 08.10.2015 | 12:21 Uhr

I loved your article! I am myself German and married to a Lebanese Muslim. Our family is very liberal and are often attacked by hardliners or even ignorant and islamophobic Germans as 'not true/real muslims'. I would love to share your article when once again arguing with such people.
Take care and keep up the good work! Mashallah

Assja16.10.2015 | 11:44 Uhr

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