​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

Women in islam holds most powerful place than men.
Ms. Lamya, i really appreciate if you could really understand and learn the ways of how the Sahabas have lived there life.
My only question to you is how do you pray? do you cover your head? and if you do, why do you do so?

May Allah guide you.

Jazhkh Allah Khair

Nahas22.09.2016 | 10:19 Uhr

I love this. I left religion a long time ago. I never believed I'd run into a religious woman who I can agree with. If only more religious people could be like this!!

Nadine 24.10.2016 | 01:21 Uhr

I was satisfied with the words of Nicole queen who got converted to.islam....her views on covering hair realy made me to think......

Anonymous05.05.2017 | 19:06 Uhr

Muhammad Asad’s explanation of the Quran Ayah 24: 31(on women's dress)

My interpolation of the word "decently" reflects the interpretation of the phrase illa ma zahara minha by several of the earliest Islamic scholars, and particularly by Al-Qiffal (quoted by Razi), as "that which a human being may openly show in accordance with prevailing custom (al-'adah al-jariyah)".

Although the traditional exponents of Islamic Law have for centuries been inclined to restrict the definition of "what may [decently] be apparent" to a woman's face, hands and feet- and sometimes even less than that - we may safely assume that the meaning of illa ma zahara minha is much wider, and that

the deliberate vagueness of this phrase is meant to allow for all the time-bound changes that are necessary for man's moral and social growth.

The pivotal clause in the above injunction is the demand, addressed in identical terms to men as well as to women, to "lower their gaze and be mindful of their chastity": and

this determines the extent of what, at any given time, may legitimately - i.e.,

in consonance with the Qur'anic principles of social morality - be considered "decent" or "indecent" in a person's outward appearance.

The noun khimar (of which khumur is the plural) denotes the head-covering customarily used by Arabian women before and after the advent of Islam.

According to most of the classical commentators, it was worn in pre-Islamic times more or less as an ornament and was let down loosely over the wearer's back; and since, in accordance with the fashion prevalent at the time, the upper part of a woman's tunic( loose garment) had a wide opening in the front, her breasts were left bare.

Hence, the injunction to cover the bosom by means of a khimar (a term so familiar to the contemporaries of the Prophet) does not necessarily relate to the use of khimar as such but is, rather, meant to make it clear that a woman's breasts are not included in the concept of "what may decently be apparent" of her body and should not, therefore, be displayed.

pamohamedameen 08.06.2017 | 13:27 Uhr

'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.'

Do people still have eunuchs? Does that mean if you have people working for you around your family that they should be castrated as well? Good on her for forward thinking and being rational in her argument.

I am not religious, nor do I have any problem with religion except when it causes conflict and treats other human beings as less than equal. It is interesting to read about Islam as it emerges into the 21st century after being hidden largely from the Western worlds minds.

I am from Australia and like to form my opinion on such matters by reading the well thought out views of persons involved rather than rely on media to form my opinions. Be good to thy neighbour, my main view on social behaviour. Call me what you will I like to think I will leave this world in a better place than when I found it. If I will be judged afterwards than so be it.

Keep up on the discussions, good reading.

Leigh Robinson10.06.2017 | 07:38 Uhr

I only ever wear hijab when I'm praying or reading Quran, because I don't think I have to cover my hair to be modest. If other people want to then I don't care, go ahead, but I wish people would stop telling me to cover my head if I want to be a good Muslim.

Abeer K.01.04.2018 | 21:02 Uhr

What a typical arrogant and stupid Zio Western-oriented feminist biased SEX-OBSESSED article! It's not just about wearing a headscarf and about controlling one's sexual desire, but it's encompassing the woman's whole life, who wishes to dress and live modestly, and morally accordingly to the Holy Koran and Islamic faith of the Muslims! And this is also about FREEDOM of EXPRESSION and RELIGION.

If godless NAKED/IMMODEST women, especially Western ones, can go around, freely strutting their private parts in the public, without any concern for normal and respectable societal values, due to their obsession with extreme individualism, why can't the Muslim women be free as well on how to dress in private or public, for goodness sake!

The racist German/Western regimes are so pathetic and hypocritical - look at the discrimination towards Muslims, where they cannot even have one National Holiday for their Muslim Festival (Eid) or Ramadan bazaar, in Germany or most of the West, and yet they want to discriminate further, what Muslim women can and should wear. That's why, you never see and veil-wearing Muslim women in the German and most Western entertainment industry. Such pure hatred and racism towards Islam and its conservative female worshippers, is simply pure evil and irrational! GROW UP, Germany/West and the Zio-oriented Western based Feminists!

Noor Brenner23.05.2019 | 19:27 Uhr