The Common Good
May-June 2001

To Cover or Not to Cover

by Pat McDonnell Twair | May-June 2001

The hijab head covering is often the first thing that sets a Muslim woman apart.

The hijab head covering is often the first thing that sets a Muslim woman apart. Asking Muslim women why they do or do not wear the scarf can be a beginning point for understanding how they understand themselves in relation to their faith.

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"I don't wear the scarf for many reasons," said Iraqi-born psychologist Ilham al-Sarraf. "The first is that I have not reached the internal level of piety in my faith to declare it on the external level."

Hanaa al-Wardi, founder of the Museum of Contemporary Arab Art in Alhambra, California, said her mother and relatives in Baghdad wear hijab, but she has elected not to. "To me, hijab means modesty," al-Wardi said, "and I always present myself in a modest way: no short skirts, sleeveless or midriff tops, and no bikinis!"

Educator Semeen Issa concurred. "I chose not to wear hijab, other than during daily prayers," she said, "because preconceived notions and stereotypes about Muslim women come to mind at the sight of the scarf—even before you open your mouth."

Dr. Halima Shaikley wears not only a scarf, but also a formless long-sleeved coat in observance of hijab. "If girls are forced to wear hijab, it is bad," she stated. "If one has sufficient faith, you aren't concerned about how you look to strangers."

Necva Ozgur, principal of New Horizon School in Pasadena, said she did not wear hijab while growing up in Istanbul, Turkey. "As a teen-ager, I was very particular that every strand of hair was in place, that I wore the latest coiffure," she said. But when she immigrated to the United States and became active in the Islamic Center of Southern California, she decided she needed to go one more step in her faith. Now, said Ozgur, "I definitely don't spend the time I used to on my hairdos, but I spend a lot of money on scarves."

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