​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

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

Islam needs more people like Lamya Kaddor who are willing to use rationale and logic to gain a better understanding of the religion.

Ajmal Sarwar20.09.2012 | 13:32 Uhr

Go through these Quraanic verses and you will know the truth..

“And tell the believing women to subdue their eyes, and maintain their chastity. They shall not reveal any parts of their bodies, except that which is necessary. They shall cover their chests, and shall not relax this code in the presence of other than their husbands, their fathers, the fathers of their husbands, their sons, the sons of their husbands, their brothers, the sons of their brothers, the sons of their sisters, other women, the male servants or employees whose sexual drive has been nullified, or the children who have not reached puberty. They shall not strike their feet when they walk in order to shake and reveal certain details of their bodies. All of you shall repent to God, O you believers, that you may succeed.” 24:31

Mohammad Maqboo...29.11.2012 | 17:02 Uhr

By this logic there are many things in the Koran that defy western logic, should we leave them too. Koran's message is the same for all times, it doesn't change with time but people change to adapt to it unlike many pseudo religions. Yes, there can be a discussion on whether everyone needs to follow the same type of head covering or different but not on whether it is needed or not.

Samar Ahmad30.11.2012 | 08:20 Uhr

The very fact that it is still a subject of debate proves that it is not an Islamic requirement.

Anna07.01.2014 | 17:19 Uhr

Honestly not even a single person on earth can be able to change your opinion...you being a scholar and saying these things will not only affect you as a person but you have responsibility of people especially young girls who would be following you so you being like my mother please open your heart to Allah and ask for guidance if you are not sure where to stand and i promise allah will show you the right way if you are sincere..make sure before you come up with something cause not anyone can analyse the quran..

Maliha Omar 03.03.2014 | 16:08 Uhr

same old story. blah blah. blah. these so called scholars need to take heed from this hadith ..

The Prophet (saw) said:

“The first who will be consumed by the Fire on the Day of Judgement will be three: a scholar, a Mujahid, and a generous donator. As for the scholar, Allah will bring him and ask him: ‘What did you do in the dunya?’ So, he will say: ‘I acquired knowledge for Your Sake, and I spread it seeking Your Pleasure.’ So, it will be said to him: ‘You lied. You learned so that you would be referred to as a scholar, and it was done, and you have obtained your reward in the dunya.’ Then, he will be ordered thrown into Hell. Then, the donator will be brought, and Allāh will ask him: ‘What did you do in the dunya?’ He will say: ‘I acquired wealth from permissible means, and I donated it for Your Sake.’ It will be said to him: ‘You lied. You donated your money so that it would be said that you are generous, and it was done, and you have had your reward in the dunya.’ Then, he will be ordered thrown into Hell. And the third…’What did you do?’ ‘I fought in Your Cause until I was killed.’ ‘You lied. You fought so that you would be referred to as a brave man, and it was done, and you took your reward in the dunya.’ Then, he will be ordered thrown into Hell.”
Muslim and Bukhari

abdulrahman03.03.2014 | 20:45 Uhr

I find it odd that the women who advocate no hijab are ones that are not very attractive. most of the women struggle with hijab which is true, however it looks like to me that mostly women who are not considered pretty and have very low self esteem like to promote the idea that hijab is not compulsory. i am yet to find a gorgeous muslimah that promotes hijab is unnecessary in regards to being modest and being protected from men who lack self control. its very unsettling to notice a man checking out your butt or staring at your chest. in a world where so few men lower their gaze i don't see how some women are comfortable going out everyday, meeting men that look at them in a sexual manner unless they dont experience it very often or feel like thats all they have to offer

farah03.03.2014 | 23:54 Uhr

Every text, every word, every action or concept that is in the Quran is for every time.. that is the miracle awesomeness of this religion Islam, If you truly have studied and understood what the Quran says then you must know that the information in the Quran will always be the latest and up-to-date, it will always be info towards modern times and towards previous as well. It is not a history book, yes The Quran tells us about the messengers of Allah and what happened with them, but the things that happened to them are not only from history - all those things happen in present day life and will continue to happen in the future such as abusive profane language, immoral acts, accusations, lying, cheating, killings....all these "concepts" from the Quran are and forever-will be a modern guide for us to be true muslims. It will never be an old book for old prehistoric times.

Understand Islam? Go the the Quran and Hadith > to understand them? > focus on the concepts > you will know Islam is for all generations and for all times

Aicha04.03.2014 | 00:13 Uhr

Muslim women's choose to wear a hijab because they LOVE their religion and their religion ask them to do so and do you know why their religion ask them to do? Because of "humility" to not show the the world how beautiful she is and rather save herself for her husband , they think to gain respect for themselves is basically based on how much skin she shows or how her hair looks. For her true beauty to be evoked is through her actions rather than her physical features. Every women with hijab is beautiful inside and out.

Ayaas04.03.2014 | 09:01 Uhr

To all the idiots talking about Islam being the "first" religion that liberates women, first of lol @ even saying that Islam liberals women. Secondly, what are you on about? Ever taken a look at goddess religion? We were at an equal and amazing stance eons ago before man came with his patriarchal religion.
To all the women trying to shut this woman up, I am sorry for your internalized misogyny and oppression. I hope you find freedom and liberation.

Fatin04.03.2014 | 10:20 Uhr