Five Myths About Hijab

Myth No. 1

'Hijab' means 'headscarf.'

“Hijab” means “curtain” or “partition,” not “headscarf.”

“Hijab” has become a common way of describing a Muslim woman’s head covering, but Muslim rules on modesty are about more than covering one’s hair — they deal with a range of attire and conduct, applicable to both men and women, intended to protect interactions between men and women from sexual innuendo. It’s not necessarily offensive to use “hijab” as a synonym for “headscarf.” But either way, fixating on one piece of cloth misses the point of the holistic rules for modest behavior.

 

Myth No. 2

Wearing hijab goes against American values.

First Amendment’s establishment clause says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” which means the government cannot favor, or disfavor, one faith over another. In other words, Islam isn’t any more antithetical to the Constitution than Christianity. The First Amendment also bars any law prohibiting the “free exercise” of religion.

 

Myth No. 3

Wearing hijab oppresses women.

The notion that wearing a headscarf is inherently oppressive ignores the agency of the person who dons it. Third-wave feminism holds that women should get to choose which practices are best for them without having to contend with anybody else’s expectations. That, not an uncovered head, is what liberation looks like. What’s more, compulsory uncovering has been, in different times and places, a tool of oppression. Against that history, voluntarily covering oneself can be an act of empowerment, not subjugation.

  

Myth No. 4

Practicing Muslims wear hijab. Non-practicing Muslims don't.

Whether a woman’s hair is covered is a bad barometer for how religious she is. Some women wear hijab but don’t pray regularly or fast during Ramadan. Many Muslim women do not cover their hair but regularly pray and fast. Some Muslim women cover their hair because they say the faith requires it. Others say it’s not required.  As Laila Alawa wrote for Mic in 2014, “The belief that one can pinpoint the degree of religiosity a Muslim woman possesses by looking at what is upon her head is degrading, invasive and pretentious.”

 

Myth No. 5

Hijab is only for women.

“Hijab” refers to a set of practices for a modest lifestyle. Some of these rules apply to women and some to men. Men are encouraged to wear clothing that is appropriate, and those that do not show off his body.

 

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