by Inayah Zaheen
A few months ago we were invited to someone’s house for dinner where I was asked a question by one of the guests:
“Why don’t you make your mother wear the hijab?”.
I love wearing the headscarf – to externally be dressed in a way that enables me to maximise on worship (stop, drop, sujood almost anywhere!), but also to be able to walk down the street and very visibly be noted to be a Muslim woman. I chose to wear it not only to follow the wisdom and instruction of my Creator, but also because I believe it represents something greater: that I am not defined nor measured by social standards of beauty. I won’t lie and pretend it isn’t difficult at times, but I love to reflect on the story of Ibrahim AS, (a prophet mentioned in the qur’an), and how he was willing to sacrifice his own son in his love for, and faith in Allah. While I can by no means equate covering my hair in public to a sacrifice so great, for me this difficulty was made easier when reminding myself that although I love my hair (not that I’m now bald), my love for Allah has always been, and should always be far greater.
I am 22 years old, and I started to wear the headscarf when I was 19, after many months and years of contemplation, consideration and prayer. It is not wholly unusual in my extended family to choose to wear a headscarf, but it is also not the norm. When faced with the above question however, my answer was prompt: my mother is a million times a better Muslim than I am, when I reach her level, I’ll find myself in any position to give her advice.
My mother, wears hijab in every single aspect of the concept and word – without physically wearing a headscarf. My mother lives and breathes Islam, she has the most beautiful sabr and patience that I have ever seen, after her first child died, she grew in imaan and faith in Allah’s plan and in love for Allah. She is also beautifully humble, modest and loving and of course – Jannah is beneath her feet! She works as a mother with all her passion, and as a doctor with all her dedication. Her determination, strength and beauty are wonderful, and I love her dearly. She is not the only one I know like this – there are many friends of mine who are so humble, modest, kind, wise and genuinely representative of Islam in their every action and word without physically wearing the headscarf, that I find great role models in them, and aspire to have that degree of wonderful character and piety. I am by no means undermining the headscarf and outer hijab, but at the same time I have a request for my Muslim sisters and brothers: please do not undermine the equal importance of inner hijab.
It only takes a few seconds to scroll on instagram and see the array of hateful and judgemental comments against sisters – headscarf-wearing and non-headscarf-wearing. Sometimes it truly makes me want to cry – at which point did we decide we could demean and belittle others, based on our perceptions of their practise of Islam? Headscarf, no headscarf, half-headscarf, or even bikini – nothing legitimises being rude and disrespectful to any human being, let alone a Muslim sister. Of course, giving advice is important – but when we are so obsessed with Islam’s teaching on dress, why do we not extend this to observing Islam’s teachings on etiquettes in giving advice? On top of this, while Allah is the best judge of intentions, ask yourselves this: is my intention by writing this “advice” in a comment to make a point, boost my ego, or truly inspire hearts and minds with the words of Allah and the Prophet Muhammed SAW?
Instead, let us take lessons to always learn from one another – such an approach can only seek to increase our humility. Instead of: what can I point out about this sister that is bad/worse than me, let us ask: what is this sister doing that is better than what I do? How is she practising Islam in a way I can learn to practise Islam? Perhaps she gives more charity than I do, perhaps she listens with more sincerity to others, perhaps she never backbites. When I look at my mother, there is an infinite list of things I can learn from her, and I love that about her.
Ultimately, Allah is the judge of everyone, and He is the most JUST of judges. All I’m asking is, let’s increase in love for one another, seek out to find the good in one another, and always remember that Allah knows us all infinity times better than we know ourselves.
To those who have been faced with similar questions, perhaps your answer will be different to mine – and that’s fine! But to those who have ever felt demeaned because of comments about hijab, know that no one can claim to speak on behalf of Allah, and He knows best what is in the heart. To those of you who genuinely give advice, keep it up. I’m sure you already do, but also take some time to listen to, learn from, and appreciate the story, the struggles and the heart of the sister you are speaking to.
So why don’t I make my mother wear the hijab? Because she already does. If Allah wills it for her, the beaming example of her inner hijab may one day manifest into outer headscarf, but for the moment, she is my mother, and heaven is beneath her feet.
I end with one of my favourite hadiths:
Taqwa is not in the length of your beard, or in the layers of cloth you wear. The prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam said, “Taqwa is here,” and he pointed to his chest. (Reported by Muslim)
And one of my favourite verses of the qur’an:
Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has gone astray from His way, and He is most knowing of the [rightly] guided. (Surah Qalam: Verse 7)