Why the Hijab Scares
IT is not pleasant shedding light on the unattractive mindset of others, but if this mindset is widespread and shamelessly overt, then it leaves us with no choice but to expose and tackle the root of the problem. Maybe some of you have noticed this, but there is a growing trend amongst many educated and successful Muslim men who openly refuse to consider a hijabi or a ‘remotely’ practicing woman for marriage.
They instead prefer to settle down with non-hijabis as they ‘appear’ more open minded, tolerant, fun and of course more educated and intelligent. These are the women they want to proudly introduce to mom and dad because it’s a symbol of the success they have attained. With a non-hijabi wife on his arm, he can show the world his ‘good’ and ‘sophisticated’ taste in women that compliment the lifestyle and success he has worked so hard to accomplish; a befitting reward so to speak.
Before I go on any further, I want to emphasize that this is not criticising or in any way judging women who don’t wear the hijab; this is a matter between them and Allah. What we want to discuss is the Muslim men who have divided Muslim women into two categories; a hijabi i.e. ignorant and backwards, and a non-hijabi i.e. open-minded and progressive. This is what the focus is on; this primitive outlook that really shouldn’t go unchallenged.
I was recently appalled when this distasteful trend reached a friend of mine who had once told me she wanted the kind of man who was knowledgeable about Sheikh X as he was knowledgeable about for example, Shakespeare. In other words, she welcomed a man who was religiously aware and committed, but who didn’t invalidate the importance of being culturally, historically, socially or globally in tune. So when not long ago an eligible and successful bachelor wanted to come and meet her family with the intention of proposing marriage, it was a sign of hope that there are good and decent men out there who could meet the criteria.
But by a sudden twist of fate, the man pulled out from the meeting when he found out that my friend wears the hijab. His decision to not see or meet her before he reached any conclusion was unfounded, but what truly added insult to injury was that he was no longer interested in how compatible they could otherwise be because she wears the hijab. Deservedly, he will never have the pleasure of knowing the remarkable and accomplished woman he has turned down simply because he didn’t anticipate to find those very qualities in a hijabi.
Unfortunately, this man isn’t alone for many Muslim men, especially those who have gained a credential or two, or have attained success in their careers convince themselves that a woman that covers up doesn’t measure up to them. She represents backwardness and he certainly doesn’t want his ‘progressive’ mind or image to be tainted by or jeopardised with a hijabi by his side. What would his friends say? What would his colleagues, Mike and Chris think? He has so much to live up to, and he can’t do that with a woman who has (as a hijabi recently put it) a ‘tea towel’ on her head which ‘evidently’ blocks her mind.
Regrettably, I can’t quote any of the men who fall into this category, but I will share with you what some of the women say. One sister mentioned how some see the hijab as something that could harm one’s likelihood of getting married; ‘I told my mom I was thinking of beginning to wear the hijab and she said she's afraid it might hurt my marriage prospects.’
A hijabi blogger mentioned this deep rooted issue within the Muslim community. ‘I wanted to let you know that as a hijabi since 1994, I had my share of naysayers. Lots of people tried to tell me that as a hijabi I wouldn’t find a guy interested to marry me. In my early 20s I was indignant. How dare they tell me I can’t get married? But as my late 20s rolled in, I panicked. I started to notice my non hijabi friends get snapped up and married. I was starting to notice looks of sympathy amongst the auntie set.’ This blogger’s experience, although now married, is by no means uncommon or exaggerated.
It is a sad reality that Muslim women who cover up experience discrimination and collective pressure by some societies, but it’s tragic when the discrimination and pressure come from their fellow Muslims. There is absolutely no reason for the God-fearing, educated, accomplished, delightful and notable women out there to lower their standards because their Muslim men (who by the way claim they want a woman that can ‘help’ them in their religion) are the ones running away from these very qualities.
A non-hijabi is expected to bring home an accomplished, handsome and modern man, while a hijabi is expected to accept and settle for any guy who shows interest. The message that’s being sent here is ‘If you are a hijabi, you should be ‘grateful’ that you are even noticed’. But I would like to know who makes these rules. Who says that our standards, goals and visions ought to be any different because of the layers we wear? Are we expected to adorn our hijabs with bling bling and dye them in twenty different shades and hues to attract eligible partners? Or do we have to completely remove our hijabs in order to find someone compatible? The answer to these questions is certainly no and no.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe it’s essential for a man to choose a potential wife based on how attracted he is to her physically, (just as a woman should not overlook physical attraction in the man she will eventually marry), but there is a difference between being attracted to someone for how they look and who they are, and being attracted to them for the dress code they observe. A man of substance appreciates a woman who is pleasing Allah in the way she dresses because that demonstrates where her priorities lie.
During my research I tried to understand this frame of mind, but I only come across men who specified their preference in matrimonial sites without stating their reasons. There are no popular blogs or books that preach these truly unrefined views, but I would be very interested (for the sake of all the hijabis out there) to have a debate on this issue.
Why do some Muslim men believe that a Muslim woman who covers up and guards the boundaries of Allah is less likely to be educated, open-minded, modern or dynamic? Where does the root of this stereotype stem from? Who said that a religious or even a hijabi who upholds her prayers leads a boring or restrictive (halaal) lifestyle? What is it about a hijabi that scares these men? Do they naively think that her hijab is an obstacle to the quality or success of their married life? Or is it that some Muslim men intentionally seek a non-practicing or even an outright westernized Muslim woman who would make them feel less guilty about their own shortcomings as Muslims? Or is it the egoistic nature of these particular men who want to hide their own unattractiveness and otherwise low self-esteem by decorating their arms with an open-minded, stylish and fun-loving non-hijabi wife that will be the envy of their friends?
Maybe some or all of the above possibilities are valid, but it would really take someone from this strange breed of men to answer them and explain their valid reasons for such mindset. The contributing factors that drive many of them to choose a non-hijabi over a hijabi are often based on negative, ill-founded and distorted theories. I don’t personally know anyone like that, but I will tell you what I know. A (Muslim) man of substance will value a wife that is God-fearing, beautiful, intelligent, dynamic, affectionate, broad- minded, loyal, modest, and versatile. He will look for a woman that will instill in their children these very qualities because that should be his greatest concern; to find someone he can raise beautiful and upright children with and that will accompany him on this journey called life.
Instead, many Muslim men today prefer the exact opposite of these qualities in a wife. They want a non-hijabi because to them, it’s the ultimate symbol of a progressive mind. They don’t care if their wife is all over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram displaying her beauty to anyone who would look. As my friend that I had mentioned earlier said; ‘I understand that Mr. sophisticated wants Mrs. sophisticated, but he is not looking to find a sophisticated hijabi. He wants the loud kids of Instagram that catch his eye.’ I couldn’t agree with her more. I am not suggesting that Muslim men don’t marry non-hijabis, but to understand that a woman is married for many reasons and her lack of hijab shouldn’t be a driving force.
It’s wrong and benighted to put people in boxes, and if a man is determined to marry a non-hijabi exclusively on that ground, he is in many ways saying, ‘I agree with her disobedience to Allah, and in fact, it’s the main reason I married her; the most attractive feature about her’ Just like a guy who seeks a hijabi could say ‘I married her for (amongst other things) her commitment to Allah; her willpower to cover up and her confidence in knowing who she is and proudly displaying it.’
The good news is that the feeling is mutual; women like us don't want a man who isn’t proud of his identity. We don’t want a man who wants to be called 'Mo' instead of Mohamed or ‘AJ’ instead of Abdul Jabar. We don’t want a man who works out at a gym he drives to for three miles seven times a week, but doesn't know what his local mosque looks like, or tells his colleagues I am on a 'diet' instead of saying 'I am Muslim and since it's the holy month of Ramadan, I am fasting like almost two other billion people around the world.'
You see, we also want men that we can proudly introduce to our parents, that we'd be happy to call hubby. They are the men who have strong sense of identity, and are not ashamed to live their lives by the lofty principles of their religion. The type of men we want to marry acknowledge the depth of gratitude they owe hijabis all over the world. They recognise that the visual carriers of the signs of a divine religion, and the warriors that (in many parts of the world) step out of their homes every day with no indication of what criticism, abuse or discrimination they might face for the veil of modesty and submission they are cloaked in, are the ones whose hearts and minds they should aspire to win.
To my beautiful hijabi sisters,
I want to convey my deepest admiration for the decent hijabis and practicing Muslim women out there who are struggling to find the balance between their identity and a man who will accept them for who they are. I am sure you may at times feel torn between attracting an eligible spouse and obeying Allah by upholding the hijab and lifestyle He Has commanded you to observe. But this is not a case of win some, lose some. Islam is too perfect to force you to choose between obeying God and finding the man who will be the coolness of your eyes.
I promise you that your strong sense of awareness, grace, commitment to your religion and genuine efforts to maintain your identity when it’s so much easier to lose it are the very things that make each one of you a rare gem. Do not ever feel that you have to compromise your worth or identity for a self-doubting man who is looking for nothing but a trophy wife to give himself the reassurance that all his other accomplishments failed to provide. A man of substance will want you for the qualities he overlooked, and for the very reasons he rejected you. He will love, respect and appreciate the daily struggles you go through to wear the very hijab that the whole world is at war with; a symbol of submission, modesty, respect, confidence and distinctiveness that so few have the strength to carry and uphold.
Rest assured that a man of substance will love you for your willpower, authenticity, commitment and modesty. But more importantly, he will see through the hijab and understand that the woman behind it is a beautiful, educated, bubbly, confident, engaging and witty person that can dramatically enrich his life. He knows that your beauty (the one the hijab conceals) is reserved for a special person, and that your mind is what everyone else should interact with. You will be a precious gift and a blessing to a likeminded man who will love and value you deservingly. And that my dear sister, is the least you deserve.