​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

These comments sound so brainwashed. The veil and headscarf were worn to protect people against sand. Similar to this is the Christians of the north covering themselves from the cold. Showing an ankle was exotic. Having hair down and flowing was considered improper in Southern America until the late 1930s.
Please remember that these are social constructs put in place by a world that is run by men. Given the patriarchy, men are less likely to be punished for sexual assaults or adultry. A woman found guilty of adultry is to be stoned, but what about the man who slept with her? Is he not as guilty?
Whenever I read the bible, I do not abide by all the laws of Deuteronomy or Leveiticus that state "divorce, homosexuality, adultery, and wearing two different kinds of material is an abomination." Why would I follow the word of a man who says such terrible things? Adultery and divorce hurts the family, but they are no excuse for stoning. Homosexuality is proven natural through science. These Jewish laws were put in place by Jewish men, and they are not messengers of God. Please take everything you read, despite claiming to be "holy" with a grain of salt. Do your research and find out where these traditions and "forbidden" ideas come from. The Bible contains laws that are definitely not for all times, such as requiring long hair for women and short hair for men. Those are social constructs, not holy lifestyles. Women are not to speak in church, over a man, nor should they song in presence of a man according to the "gospel of Christ." Think to yourselves why this is such. God never mentions this, yet biblical writers say so. These are ridiculous rules and luckily they have become obsolete with men and women becoming more progressive with their thinking.
Don't let these "holy scriptures" trick you. Learn their origin before you blindly follow them. Wear a hijab if you wish. I don't care.
But recognize that I don't shed my clothes for men, nor do men care if they see my shoulders or legs. Boys and girls shed their clothes because it's hot outside.

And if a man or women is aroused, what is the harm? Seduction, sensuality, and attraction is a part of nature. The only problem is if you act on your desires. Remember that you are responsible for your actions. Thankfully those who have committed sexual assault are now demanded to answer for their crimes.

Anonymous23.10.2015 | 00:45 Uhr

I am not surprised you are facing so much of opposition to your correct views. The Quran does not anywhere state that women should cover their head - yes, it implicitly states that they must draw their outer coverings over their chest. This makes complete sense. The hair does not evoke any sexual arousal. I do not understand why this hijab has become such a big issue - it is nothing but ignorance of the real understanding of the Quran. The Quran emphasises continually on belief and good deeds for success. Why can't Muslims practice what has been emphasised so much and why dwell upon the obscure?

Syeda04.11.2015 | 13:17 Uhr

Excellent comment - explains the background to the custom of veiling and dress code with clarity except for one historical fact: It is the Christians of the regions adjacent to Islam's birthplace that later became Muslim and brought their customs and traditions into Islam.

All that the Koran commands women is not to wear revealing outfit allowing her to reveal that much of body as other women reveal with the proviso of covering the private parts (zinah). It refers to zinah as the natural beauty that has no appeal for children not yet conscious of a woman's sexuality or for the male attendants having no desire for women (24:31). It does not put any such restriction on elderly woman - 'who sit around and do not look forward to marriage' (24:60). The rest including veiling came from Christianity. This writer has made a number of comments earlier that may also be read to have deeper insight into the Koran's mind.

mohammed yunus06.11.2015 | 06:36 Uhr


I am not a scholar,but based upon your argument,then a women can go nearly nude,because these things quite acceptable in certain places in Europe.

Abbas23.12.2015 | 12:26 Uhr

From what the woman is saying I can deduct something from it
First and foremost those of you who saw what she is saying as arrant nonsense is of the opinion that Quran is a verbal word of God. You forget that every verse and chapter in the Quran has its historical causes and the only way you could understand Quran is by diging deep to its historical background apart from hadiths.
Secondly Muhammad was dictating to the command base upon what he feel is right and the best. Khimar happened to be the part of the then women dress. Mohammed was advocating for modesty among Muslims women and that was the best he could come up. To dress in a modesty manner does not necessarily involved covering from head to toe . Dress Dressed in unprovoked manner is the best. moreover some countries has put in place to check and protect women either u veil or not. I don't mean to rubbish Quran and Muhammed but to say the truth.

intellectual 26.02.2016 | 23:57 Uhr

Is it okay for a woman to have a head scarf and wear revealing clothes ?
Is it better to have modest clothes without a head scarf ?
Is it best for her to have a head scarf and not revealing attire ?
My take on this is... take the moderate way. Opt for a dress which covers a woman's bosom and her legs.. not too tight to show off her figure in an enticing way.
Much ado about nothing

Ash13.03.2016 | 15:07 Uhr

Thank you for your artlicle. Very interesting. Melissa A Christian.

Melissa Blanchard21.03.2016 | 02:25 Uhr

when Salman Farsi meets Fatima daughter of prophet in her house she covers herself with just a piece of fabric that salman describes it was short that if she wanted to cover her legs (below knee) her head would be uncovered and if she wanted to cover her legs so her head would be uncovered so she put on her head.

farhad08.04.2016 | 09:23 Uhr

Salaam Aleykum. I am an American convert to Islam.There are no different human interpretations of the Quran: it says what it says in plain language. The Book was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who was an illiterate. Since the Quran was from Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala, and since any person can understand it, what need do we have of exegesis? Furthermore, if the exegesis, which is a human activity,has emphasized the admonition for men to be chaste, how does that cancel out anything that the Quran has to say, seeing as how that book is the revealed word of the Creator? It's heartbreaking to see Muslims in the West trying to make their religion fit into Western culture, which is inherently evil (by the universal human standards of morality). They're trying to appear modern (in other words, Western) in order to be able to fit into Western society, and not be discriminated against. Why should any Muslim woman not wear the hijab, because of discrimination? That's just a convenient excuse. Why not fight the discrimination instead? The hijab is recommended in the Quran to prevent women from being sexually objectified--and Western feminists themselves fight against the sexual objectification of women. At any rate, most Muslim women wear the hijab not out of compulsion, but because they choose to do so. The reason why Muslims face discrimination in the West is, Islam is indeed a religion of peace, it is against Western immorality, and it is against capitalism (and the destruction of the environment that capitalism engenders.) Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala said in the Quran that we are to be tested, and He expects us to fight against oppression. Consider, brothers and sisters, that perhaps Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala has caused many Muslims to emigrate to the West, and that He has called non-Muslim Westerners to the Righteous Path of Islam, so that we may be His tool for reforming the West, and for saving the West from its evil self. Ramadhan Mubarak.

Yusuf Nazar12.06.2016 | 07:05 Uhr

I don't understand how a woman showing her face or hair or head is considered wrong or immodest by Muslims or even Catholics of yesterday. Why is thus considered wrong or immodest? Why are women singled out this way? Why do they allow it other than as an act of submission and repression?

Em17.08.2016 | 06:10 Uhr