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 For the Islam scholar Lamya Kaddor, there is no question about it: the headscarf is obsolete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

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

can i make a simple request can i ask the german islamic scholar to wear the head dress for a year as an social experiment let us then annylise the difference it has made in her life the difference it makes in her behaviour & the behavoiour of her fellow beings who r around her in their nomal cource of life
the statements she has madeabout head scarf becoming an obscelete acessory i want her to prove it she cant just make a commit like that & forget it
she being an islamic schjolar ( which i am not) i cant argue with her on the islamic dictate about purdah she knows it better then me
if she has spend all her life till date with our head scarf why not give it a try & c the difference t makes in her life her self
but at the end of it she has to be honest not to us but to herself

Abdul Rauf Trumboo15.04.2011 | 08:54 Uhr

As 14 centuries past the Koranic revelation Muslim scholarship continues to debate the issue of hijab – whether or not a Muslim woman should cover the head or the face, it is time that it takes cognizance of the fact that he Koran has no specific instruction for women to wearing any external head to toe veil (burqa), face veil (niqab), covering of head, or for gender-based segregation. The writer had stated this in a summary report sent earlier [1] drawn on the textual analysis of relevant Koranic verses appearing in a recent publication [2]. This briefing explores the historical background to the issue, as reported in the referenced publication.

Until the advent of Islam, practically all the major civilizations subjected women to various forms of restrictions. The Zoroastrians (Persians) kept their women in confinement, guarded by eunuchs. The Greek followed their example and kept their women in gynaecium, often under lock and key. The Hindus burnt their widows alive on funeral pyres of their husband’s bodies - a practice continued until recent centuries. The Chinese bound their women’s feet in iron shoes as a cultural norm, obviously, to restrict their movement. The Christian Church placed women under total domination of men. (The Bible, Genesis 3.16). Roman male citizens could kill their women by law, if they found them committing adultery (Thanks to the Justinian Code).

Therefore all the Christians (including the Romans and Greeks), Zoroastrians, pagans and Hindus who embraced Islam brought misogynist notions into Islam from their previous religions. This inevitably influenced their interpretation of Koranic exhortations on modesty. With time, this gave rise to imposition of varying restrictions upon women, including their full veiling and segregation when outside the house – a custom borrowed understandably from “the Greek Christians of Byzentium, who had long veiled and segregated their women in this manner.”[3]

The truth is the Koran features altogether five verses relating to sartorial modesty and sexual morality: 7:26 declares that clothing is meant for concealing nakedness as well as for personal beauty but reminds that the cloak of conscience is the best. 24:30 calls upon men to ‘restrain their glances and cover their sexual parts. 24:31 has identical instruction for women (as in 24:30), but allows them some latitude to enable suckling of their babies in the presence of close male relatives and restrains them from wearing or bearing themselves provocatively. 24:60 relents towards the elderly and senile women, because of the lack of their sexual appeal. Finally, 33:59 restates sartorial modesty, but forbids women from hiding their identity under the veil. This is another matter that the traditional gendered reading obscures the identity and enhances the sexuality of women by insisting on veil, head gear, segregation etc. In a word, in today’s context/debate, veil and head-covers are fake symbols of ‘Islamic’ as the true identity of a Muslim lies in his/her inner beauty: conduct, behaviour and performance and not in veil and head-cover.

Mohammed Yunus

2. “Essential Message of Islam,” by Muhammad Yunus and Ashfaque Ullah Syed, Amana Publications, Maryland 2009.
3. Karen Armstrong, Islam, A short history, New York 2002, p. 16

mohammed yunus16.04.2011 | 23:38 Uhr
This is the reply to the above piece

Self proclaimed scholars like Lamya do no service but create confusions. Islam is the religion that liberates women. In fact, Islam was the first religion that talked and put into practice the equality of women. But unlike the Orientalists, we don't sell our mothers and sisters. Rape cases and prostitution centers are not our giving to the world. Hijab liberates women.

Hakim iqbal Abdulla17.04.2011 | 19:05 Uhr

It's not as if you can't reject the clearly false opinion of a person because the call themselves "A scholar". The Quran commands us to obey the Prophet(PBUH). You, therefore, have no right to obey anyone when it involved disobedience to Allah.

Sahih International
Say, "Obey Allah and the Messenger." But if they turn away - then indeed, Allah does not like the disbelievers.

No need to say ...05.07.2011 | 18:23 Uhr

I am sorry, but this woman doesn't know what she is talking about. If she said she doesn't want to wear headscarf or it shouldn't be forced on the woman or society shouldn't judge a women for putting it on I will agree with her. But to say since it is not mentioned in Quran then it is simply an older men misogyny for women or a 'fashion accessory' from Koranic times, this is a nonsense talk and I don't know how she called herself a Muslim scholar.

What this lady missed that Faraeid and feqh al hadeeth for haram and halal based on Quran 'AND" Al Suna from prophet Mohammed SAAW. One of the main pillars in Islam is praying five times in a day. Did Quran say anything about how to pray or how many times we pray? No, but we learned that from prophet's teaching. And since she only based her argument on Quran, did she ignore the Ayah (O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the messenger and those of you who are in authority; and if ye have a dispute concerning any matter, refer it to Allah and the messenger if ye are (in truth) believers in Allah and the Last Day. That is better and more seemly in the end. (59)) Al Nessa. Or the hadeeth ("Ayesha (r) reported that Asma’ the daughter of Abu Bakr (r) came to the Messenger of Allah (s) while wearing thin clothing. He approached her and said: 'O Asma’! When a girl reaches the menstrual age, it is not proper that anything should remain exposed except this and this. He pointed to the face and hands." [Abu Dawud]). Women and men's costume were declared many times in Quran and hadeeth but I guess for some people it is a matter of pick and choose.

This is a deep science and not everybody can simply go in public and make halal or haram and mislead people because he/she read some versos from Quran. And again, I am against forcing any woman to put it on or judging her if she wears it or not, but I refuse making false claims about the religion and mislead people. If a Muslim doesn't want to pray or

Murad Kablan13.04.2012 | 00:42 Uhr

or fast in Ramadan this is his/her choice, be he/she can't say it is ok in the religion to do so or it not mentioned in Quran so we can ignore it.

Self proclaimed scholars like Lamya do no service but create confusions. Islam is the religion that liberates women. In fact, Islam was the first religion that talked and put into practice the equality of women. I recommend any woman or man to read the book ( Liberating the woman in the message's era by Dr. Abdul halim Abou Shoqa) or to watch Dr. Tareq Swydan episod in youtube titeld (Hijab is it 3ebada or3ada ?)

Murad Kablan13.04.2012 | 00:44 Uhr

the word "khimar" is there and since quran was meant for all times and not just for that particular period,it is definetly valid in the 21st century too.i feel she misses the beauty of the exact precision of the words used in quran.

sania mariam25.04.2012 | 23:28 Uhr

I do respect your opinion but it doesn't make you right or wrong. However, I do disagree with the entire article especially the term "Koranic times". I don't really know how you came up with this terms as long as I know that Koran is Koran and Islam is Islam and you can't change it to whatever you desire. With respect to the Church, same-sex marriage was prohibited years ago but then the church found itself being hated by people who do support this case then it allowed it in an organized manner. The church wanted to keep its role and love by allowing that already prohibited act, and that's wrong. After a few years, a new weird thing/case and the church will refuse it then it will be forced to approve it.

I don't want that for Islam.

I respect the freedom of expression but when it's logical and based on facts and well-known knowledge. Therefore, you can do whatever you want but that doesn't give you the right to form your opinion as the correct way. What I know is that Quran asking woman to cover their head, now, could you please bring me a text from the Quran or from Sunnah that doesn't say that?

Muhammad Badi09.07.2012 | 20:16 Uhr

Of course, I can only agree with her that the concept of a universally compulsory headscarf was spun by scholars, who themselves are a product of their time and place. She may have added a note on the definition of the word "khimar", which people now choose to interpret in a way that agrees with their idea of what women should do.
Unfortunately, her argument that for her personally, as a Muslim living in Germany (where the sight of hair does not provoke men's fantasies) the headscarf is obsolete, only forces us to conclude that in places where it does cause such provocation, it remains necessary. It may be a fact, sadly, but does that mean that certain sick fantasies will forever be allowed to determine the fate of certain societies?

Nesrin A.10.07.2012 | 10:54 Uhr

You call youself a scholar...why reject the ahaadeeth and only use quraan??obviously hijaab and niqaab are nessasary articles of clothing for a muslim for a true believing muslim woman..if you disagree that's your choice but do not falsely claim that hijaab is not from islam and quraan...nabi saw was sent as a messenger for ALL all laws in the wisdom of Allaah were made for ALL times..they cannot be changed simply because you feel its for previous times you not know the hadeeth stating that a group of angels praise Allaah in the words "Glory be to the one who has beautifies women with long plaits of hair glory be to the one who has beautified men with beards" this proves that the Hair of a woman is an integeral part of her beauty and should be coverd.Hijaab is liberating..try it and see!!!

amatullah bint ...11.07.2012 | 17:48 Uhr