​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

I agree with her! She studies history past present and other factors. You guys are in a box. Of course women needed to cover up then and Mary did, she also had donkeys. A man could walk up hit a woman on the head , drag her behind a tree and rape her. So she should look frumpy. How on earth can you speak on the behalf of people who don't wear headscarfs and say you will feel better about yourself by wearing one? Women all over the world with confidence class and respectful husbands and families don't wear them. I say the girls that do wear them hide behind them because they are insecure about their hair and looks. Take it off for a few months and see how you feel: amaZing!!! It's a personal choice: Allah won't send someone to hell who's brought countless followers to him over a head scarf, the same way he won't send a married Muslim man to hell over a few messages he sends to women on social media outside his marriage, which happens a lot

Meg18.12.2014 | 02:59 Uhr

I agree with you but a lot of the third world countries do not have law to protect women's rights and did fenital mutalations to the young girls. All these babaric and unsanitary practices to young women are imposed by ignorant men. The men and imams and parents have to change as the laws there are neither democratic nor protective of women's rights.

Kris Aldemir25.01.2015 | 14:18 Uhr

I do not practice Islam. What I have gathered from these comments and this article is the headscarf is worn because men are creatures that have no control of their hormones. Which in the end women have to cover their hair to be less desirable?
In the developed world and a society where one has rights and laws protecting them, and women do not have to live in fear of men acting solely on desire, correct me if I'm wrong but how does wearing a headscarf bring one closer to God (Allah)?
On another note women are also sexual beings with sexual desires and are free to look at, and sexualize men that are not covered in the same way as women would be in Islam. It seems like there is little to no logic behind wearing a headscarf. Although one may have been introduced to wearing one as a small child without choosing and it has become a comfort wearing a headscarf. Is the headscarf religious, if so why do men not wear one? If it's cultural than why enforce wearing it when in countries that are of different faith.

Curious27.02.2015 | 05:40 Uhr

frankly your god doesnot exist. just take a look at the crises on earth, your religion is the cause on this criteria i decided that the so called allah does not exist. get that into your head

fff27.02.2015 | 14:53 Uhr

I just don't understand how a Muslim "scholar", who is supposed to believe in the Qur'an as the word of God can come up with such ridiculous arguments. She doesn't want to wear it, it's her choice, but to advocate that the Qur'an does not mention its obligation amounts to dishonesty. Since I can't question the fact that she is a Muslim as long as she identifies herself as such, I question if she deserves the title of "scholar of Islam".

Christina11.03.2015 | 05:15 Uhr

Dear Christian,

Lamya Kaddor is not mistaken.

Here is an in-depth review of the Qur'an's take on modesty for both men and women extracted from a duly authenticated exegetic publication, Essential Message of Islam, jointly authored by ths commentator :

Th Qur'an spells out the role of clothing for humans as follows:
“Children of Adam! We have sent you clothing to cover your nakedness, and for (your) beautification (like the plumage of birds), but the cloak of heedfulness (taqwa) is the best. This is among the signs of God, that they may be mindful”(7:26).
The verse assigns only a secondary or fringe role to dressing mode and stresses the significance of taqwa – an umbrella notion that embraces man’s social moral and ethical responsibilities and his control of lower instincts.

Since man’s lower instincts are provoked by open or seductive display of private (sexual) parts, the Qur’an lays down general guidelines on sexual morality including dressing in the verses 24:30/31, addressed separately to men and women, but leaves the details for humans to evolve with the progress of civilization.

The verse 24:30 commands men not to cast any lustful glances (towards the opposite sex) and to guard their private part:.

“Tell (O Muhammad) the believing men to avert their glances and guard their private parts (furujah). This is (conducive) to their purity. Indeed God is Informed of whatever they contrive (in their minds) (24:30).

24:31 repeats the above instruction for womenfolk. However, as their private parts (personal charms) may be revealed during breastfeeding and community life and readily arouse male sexuality, it prescribes some concessions and limitations for them:

“And tell the believing women to avert their glances and guard their private parts (furujah), and not to expose their (personal) charms (zinat) except what is (normally) apparent of it, and to draw their shawls (khimar) over their bosoms, and not to expose their charms (zinat) except (in the presence of) their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands’ fathers, or their sons, or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or those under their lawful trust, or the male attendants not having any (sexual) desire, or children not yet conscious of women’s sexuality; nor let them strike their feet so as to make known what they hide of their charms (zinat). And turn to God together, you believers, that you may succeed” (24:31).

This is a highly cryptic verse that can be broken down into the following elements:

i. It forbids any exposure of the ‘charms’ (private parts) but permits the display of ‘what is (normally) apparent,’ (underlined above) allowing a woman dress herself in accordance with the dressing norm of her place. This highly condensed statement needs elaboration:

Climatic condition of human habitat ranges from hot and dry to rainy, windy, stormy; and its terrain could be hilly, muddy swampy, bushy or woody – apart from normal plain land. People also live in house boats in lakes and in the coastal regions and marooned lands where they must know swimming to commute and survive. The availability of clothes is yet another variable. The dressing pattern of any place at any historical point is, thus, informed by all these factors. Accordingly, the Qur’an does not bind women across space, time, climatic, geographical belts and terrains to a rigid dressing code and allows them to dress up and reveal of their body ‘what is (normally) apparent’ in their given situation.

ii. To ‘draw their shawls (khimar) over their bosoms:’ This re-emphasizes the need to ‘guard their private parts’ (24:30).

iii. It forbids any exposure of the personal ‘charms’ (zinat)’ to any outsider (such as during breast feeding or community washing/ bathing) except in the presence of the immediate members of their household, that are expressly identified to avoid any ambiguity on who all can be accepted as part of the inner family.

iv. It forbids them from walking about in a sexually and provocative manner (as per second underlined above).
Hence this cardinal passage on modesty does not impose any condition of covering the hair, ear or chin, or any other part of the body except their natural charms (private parts). This allows a Muslim women to dress up like others in a pluralistic society and also to take part in all kind of outdoor activities and sports side by side with men – as long as they do not compromise on the fundamental requirement of covering of their private parts.

There are two more verses on women’s dressing (24:60 and 33:59) but none prescribe any veiling or wearing of the traditional hijab for Muslims women.

Anonymous12.03.2015 | 13:28 Uhr

The Koranic injunction for women to cover their chests before strangers indicates that in those days Arab women used to go topless just as Malayali (Kerala, India) women till some decades back generally went topless and even today in rural areas topless women are not uncommon. So it was alright for a woman to go topless before those specified males and children but not others so limited Koran. Striking their feet indicates showing their bottom organs in a vulgar manner which is considered obscene or better to be avoided in all civilizations worth the name. I think such practical, historical and liberal interpretation would strike at the burqa, niqab and hijab wallahs' arguments.

MALLIKARJUNA SHARMA17.03.2015 | 15:52 Uhr

I wore the headscarf for around five years but eventually took it off because I felt like a fake, a poser, a liar. Truthfully, I never believed the arguments for the scarf. They just aren't very strong. I just did it so that people would think I was a good Muslim. I could hang out with all the cool kids. But one day, during Ramadan fajr, it became clear to me - in the depths of my being - that such was just a construct of my ego. To get close to Allah, I needed to abandon the facade and walk only in truth. Now I strive to be honest with myself and not allow the pressures of others to dictate my actions. I'm an evolving woman and a better Muslim in many ways. (May Allah alone purify our hearts and guide our hands in this world. For peace and community. Ameen.)

Rachael21.03.2015 | 02:00 Uhr

Asak, I feel the headscarf is basically to protect u from the sun, because if u see now even nonmuslims r wearing it when they go out in the sun. Islam is a very scientific religion,and everything that Allah has said in the Quran is to protect mankind .even men have to cover their heads as u see it in the English people also,the queen to never comes out without it. Now for the covering which is to be pulled over ur bosom is because during that period there were no inner garments and the nipples wud be visible ,which is definitely not good to be seen (as u see the Hollywood actresses are exposing them to give a sexy effect) now when we were r inners these r not visible,which is wat is required.Allah knows best and Allah's mercy is always for mankind and never to trouble us ,which is why we need to understand the Quran in the way it is to be understood . Pls forgive me if I have written something which anybody who is reading gets angry or hurt .this is wat I have observed and wud like to share it with my Muslim friends .thank you for reading this and may Allah's mercy be always with you Ameen Allah hafiz.

Azra kazi from...22.03.2015 | 06:36 Uhr

It worries me considerably that you claim to be an Islamic scholar and you are throwing around words like 'Koranic times'? What is that supposed to mean? Just those two words show you have very little understanding about Islam..

If you don't want to cover your head for whatever reason , there is no forcing anyone in Islam..to everyone is his own religion..but please dont claim to be an islamic scholar and preach your half baked version of Islam.

Saaliha Syed24.03.2015 | 06:08 Uhr