29 November, 2020

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Why I As A Muslim Woman Don’t Wear A Headscarf

By Lamya Kaddor

Lamya Kaddor

Does the Koran really demand that women wear headscarves? Or is it mainly older men who claim they can decide how women should dress – with no theological foundation whatsoever? For the Islam scholar Lamya Kaddor, there is no question about it: the headscarf is obsolete.

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.

"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

However, if God had required a special head covering, would He not have said so explicitly? Thekhimâr 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.

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.

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.

© 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.

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Latest comments

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    Stupid women.

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      The simple fact of the matter is: why should women cover up, be uncomfortable, hot and stifled, and get headaches because MEN CANNOT CONTROL THEMSELVES?
      After all, it is the men who are the problem and not the women. Asking women to cover because men cannot control their desires is a classic case of “blaming the victim”, or what Sigmund Freud called “displacement” or substitution of the original cause of the problem to shield the (backward) MUSLIM MALE EGO. While I do not mean to be anti-Muslim I do think that the religion is quite backward.. Why should women suffer for men’s lack of self-control and paranoia about their women’s “honour”?
      Covering is also unhealthy as women who do so do not get enough vitamin D from sunlight which is essential for good health.
      While I do not mean to be anti-Muslim I do think that the religion is quite backward and needs to be modernized.

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        So in your view, covering women’s head keeps the manhood at bay? Should it be the head? Do men really get excited by looking at women’s heads or hair? But on the other hand their are others who worship clay statues and trees. Some go to church and sing on Sundays while the others pierce their privates to display their dedication to their chosen God. A religion doesn’t need to be scientific or pragmatic, but believers, as long as they stay harmless to the rest, can, if they wish, and will, as the writer does, self-criticise and adjust. It is not fair non-believers of a particular religion criticise it.

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        And Allah citeth an example for those who believe…And [the example of] Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We blew into [her garment] through Our angel, and she believed in the words of her Lord and His scriptures and was of the devoutly obedient. (Quraan 66:11-12)
        Mary, the mother of Jesus (PBUH) is the perfect role model for every woman to follow and emulate. Sadly, Christian women do not follow her footsteps except the nuns in monasteries. But some of our Muslim sisters try their level best to be modest in their dress like Mary(PBUH). Now, if you want to call that backward, we have no problem. If you want to wear the most indecent, vulgar and provocative clothes and be called progressive, we have no problem in that either. But please leave our mothers, sisters and daughters alone because they find peace and happiness when they try to obey the commands of God Almighty.
        Who is this joker lamya kaddor? Islamic Scholar? And who the hell is Sigmund Freud to decide what is right and wrong for the society?

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    Women who wear the head scarfe and chador in particular miss out a lot in terms of wearing elegant clothing,branded clothes and go shopping for clothes,something other women take for granted.And all because the husband said so or an elder said to cover up.

    Muslim women are beautifull with lovely facial features and complexion and are restricted to only purchasing under garments,perfumes,shoes and some jewellery.
    Previously,in Maldives (Male) and Colombo one would see muslim women dress beautifully not so now as the chador has taken over,whatever embellishments are on the chador it never makes up for a dress,jeans & top etc.

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    The writer makes good points.

    Most of these dress codes stem from cultural and NOT religious rules. The Koran does not firmly state that head scarves and abhaya’s are required. Here in Sri Lanka women are following the rules of certain middle eastern countries, blindly. The hot weather in Sri Lanka is unsuitable for heavy clothing that covers one from head to foot. Covering the head is not practical, and the writer is right, no one is attracted to hair, and it does not make much of a deterrent to admiring looks. There have been disgusting murders of women in Afghanistan, accused of adultery (while most of the men involved get away) and they have all donned the required burkha’s, yet, it seems the men have been attracted to them. The bottom line is, women should dress modestly, and depending on which part of the world they live, and the climate, dress appropriately. It will not serve any woman to dress in a way that is required in another country, that interprets the Koran according to their beliefs. The Muslim women in Sri Lanka luckily have a choice.

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    I personally feel Sri Lankan Moslem women blindly follow their middle eastern counterparts – imagine being all covered up in this hot climate. Besides, I see women covered from eyes downwards drive which is very unfair for other drivers. How can you recognise her if there is an accident? Although our Moslem women try their best to follow the Arabs, having travelled to Dubai, I have noticed just how the Arabs look down upon fellow Moslems from this part of the world. Covering their hair and face only alienates them from others and they should be banned from doing so when in public for identification purpose.

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    For those who believe that humans were created by God, the truth is he created them nude. It is man that manufactured and designed clothes. Then what right has the Quoran got to decide about clothing for women? What is the big deal in keeping the Victoria Secret hidden? when everyone else knows what the secret is?

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    Lamya Kaddor preach what she is preaching in this article. but, she has to go to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan or many other islamic countries.

    Some extremist – muslims sects or extremist islamic ideology is spreading all over the world, it looks very scary. They are not different from the Christian Ideology. Only difference is Islamic ideology too conservative or too controlling. I see here women covering from top of the head to the toe only the face is not covered. Now, I see another group who have covered whole body,simply, I don’t differentiate whether the person inside is a woman or a man unless I watch the way the person walks.

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    In SL rapes and child abuse are on the increase..I would say one reason to this is because women nowadays think that the best dress to wear is ‘not to wear’ which is provoking the men. as srilanka’s per capita income is increasing so does standard of living.accessibility to internet and media has made people to follow western lifestyles. so this new found flavour is being further provoked by revealing females wearing sometimes two piece clothing specially in urban areas.

    panda mentioned an isolated case of rape in afghanistan..i dont deny that in doesnt happen in muslim countries, it does happen but not at the same scale or rate at which it happens in non-muslim nations..panda, i guess you should brush up and check the annual average rape cases in SL compared to muslim countries like in the middleast or elsewhere where they have issued dress codes in compliance with Islamic teachings.

    If im not mistaken, islam wants the female to cover her hair.. and then from her shoulder upto her wrist and wants females to dress with dignity without allowing the man to mentally ‘take her body measurment’

    it does not compel a woman to cover her face..its a women’s choice, if they think that too can provoke men.. this is solely to unprovoke a male..btw..every non-muslim somehow seem to imagine that every muslim woman wearing a burkah is not feeling happy inside..lol…and for those who are jealous of islam’s growing influence they act as sympathisers to these women and suddenly raise their voice in favour of a very minority of women who have less faith in Islam..in every society there is black sheep whether its buddhists, muslims, hindus, christians or jews..based on one or two ppl’s action its bad to blame a religion..every religion teaches the right thing..but out of all of them Islam is the one and the true faith the world is yet to realise!

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      Unmath,
      You are either confused or just not thinking clearly. What has child abuse got to do with women wearing revealing clothes? Are you saying the idiots abuse kids to take revenge from liberal women? Or are you suggesting the children should walk like bin-bags wearing burqas? In some cases, it is boys who are being abused. What do you want them to do? Wear barrels?
      Panda was spot on, there are so many Muslim women being raped on daily basis. Sometimes in Afghanistan, during the process, the rapists keep the women’s hijabs and niqabs still intact. The conclusion perhaps is, that rape has nothing to do with head-scarves.
      If women provoke you with their clothes, the best for you to do is to pursue a short course in civilisation or use cardboard underpants.

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    Ummath, to quote you,’..every religion teaches the right thing..but out of all of them Islam is the one and the true faith the world is yet to realise!
    Could you kindly clarify how all Religions can be right? When there can be only one right and the rest has to be wrong. You further state, out of all Religions, Islam is the one and the true faith the world is yet to realise. If Islam is to go by the Quoran, where Prophet Mohamed is supposed to have met this formless shapeless God, could you please clarify how one can meet someone unseen?

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    mr.gamini..teaching right thing i meant in laymen terms is doing good and avoiding bad–in any religion it is preached u should not tell lies,u should do no harm to any1 so on and so forth..this is what i meant.re ur other question, how can prophet (pbuh) meet someone ‘unseen’..well i dont know whether u learnt the religion correctly..prophet (pbuh) never met god or seen god but his messages were sent to him through angel Gabriel (jibreel) carrying with him the heavenly message. anyway bro, for non-believers it will be a laughing matter..just as we feel suspicious about the birth of lord buddha where it was miraculous without conceiving ..”Legend has it that, on the night Siddhartha was conceived, Queen Maya dreamt that a white elephant with six white tusks entered her right side,[30] and ten months later Siddhartha was born.” according to wikipedia..so gamini, i dont want to argue further unless you do a thorough reading of the Holy Quran and come back..

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      Ummath, there is nothing miraculous about Buddha’s birth. No immaculate conception. I think you are mixing up with the birth of Jesus. Buddha was conceived as any other mortal and the period of gestation the same. There are some Dumb Buddhists who believe he took seven steps as he was born on seven lotus flowers.There is no such thing. I think you better read the quoran proper as another Muslim brother mentioned that Prophet Mohamed met shapeless formless God Allah according to the Quoran. Your stand that God Allah handed the heavenly message to Angel Gabriel is more ludicrous. Why, is it that God Allah did not trust Prophet Mohamed? Genrally Angels means females and males are refered to as Saints. All Saints and Angels are characters in folk lore and are non existant. Besides why is it that even when Islam was born there were many Arabs who did not believe in Islam? Why did not the creator give man a Language and a Religion as he created man? What happened to the souls who departed before Religion was born? There is no cure or any medicine for man’s naivette.

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      Ummath, So you learn from Wikipedia? Don’t hesitate, make an appointment with your psychologist. Please try not to compare your religion with Buddhism, for it is an innocent religion where no killing is encouraged.

      Quran (3:56) – “As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help.”
      Quran(5:33) The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom.

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    you create an idol and worship it thinking its god..hehe..so are you trying to say that god should be visible and the stone you create is god!anyway i’ve better things to do than arguing with you gamini and rubert..yes Allah’s punishment is harsh for the non-believer and he has every right to so..Allahu Akbar!!

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      Ummath, what if I insult your God Allah in the most disparaging manner in public? Can he do anything to me? If he cannot, what is this great fear? either he has to be impotent or non exisitng. Does it not prove your belief is wrong?

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      Nobody creates idols from stones to represent Gods, only Taleban, destroy statues because they are Muslim fanatics. Statues only represent people not Gods, you are not only uninformed but a religious idiot. If God punishes those who don’t believe in him (is God masculine?Is he married?), he can’t be a God. I don’t bloody believe in an unseen God and if he is going to punish me, he will learn his lesson.

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    Man, Rubert, what’s happening? Are you having a temperature? Get a hold of yourself. You are making conflicting and contradicting statements. Maybe too much monkey business! You see, what that Psycho Darwin has done to you. We warned you. We don’t want to see you end up like that the real Psycho guy Eddie Gein! Anyway, it’s never too late to fix an appointment with a psychiatrist and get your head examined!

    Rubert says; ‘ I don’t bloody believe in an unseen God and if he is going to punish me, he will learn his lesson.’ You have contradicted the first part(‘I don’t.. believe in…God’)with the following; ‘if he is going to punish me’.Now that sounds like God exist. Great!If you don’t believe in the existence of God why worry about His punishment? And Mr.Rubert has been kind enough to inform us in advance that he will definitely take some time out of his very busy schedule to teach God a lesson (‘he will learn his lesson’), maybe, in the theory of evolution, I would like to imagine. No problem, you can introduce that Darwin guy of yours and give a whole lecture on his teachings. I am sure it will be a great one to one discussion!

    ‘I don’t bloody believe in an unseen God and if he is going to punish me, he will learn his lesson.’ Man, you sound like Gota! This is serious, you got to see a doctor soon!!!

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      Asif, Now I believe Darwin more than ever. I think it is not your grandfather who had a tail it is you. You have to console your kids that there is a chance they will not have it. Read a book and learn than trying to educate the rest with your Quran. Don’t disgrace other good muslims.

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    All Religions are hoaxes without substance. Only the dim witted believe in them.

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    To Kalapana, Please stay naked… You can get whole lot of Vitamin D….Ha.. Ha… Man/women were born naked…So why wear cloths….. B enaked and save money…

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    The description of woman’s clothing is not detailed in Quran. We have to learn it from the teachings of the Prophet. The God or nature has created women as a weaker animal compared to the men. They have only about 80% RBC in blood compared to that of men. Even in Olympics athletic games, the records set by men are better than that of women. Weaker creations should be protected. The Prophet has shown an excellent way to protect them. They are treated as prestigious gold and protected from intruders in Islam. Unfortunately, the women, the weaker creation, are treated like pepsi cans in the so called civilized societies and squeezed (by many!)& thrown into the dust bin after use for recycling. In fact, those so called civilized men are the people who are abusing the womenfolks under the disguise of gender equality.

    Hope, Lamya would learn Islam by heart and not for economic advantages in the West.

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    I am an american muslim convert of almost 3 years. I have been wearing the hijab every since I converted. As of recently I am questioning the necessity in wearing it. Can’t I practice Islam without covering? Can’t I be a good Muslim woman, chaste and with morals without the hijab? I believe it is the way you live your life that matters. I am leaning towards not wearing the hijab, however I feel ashamed of taking it off. I am worried about what others will think, especially at my job, where I am a minority. I know I shouldn’t worry about what others think, but it is only human to do so. I am going to take sometime to think it over before I react.

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    what a lot of trash. who belives in liberalism? here its Says the lord:i do not worship that you worship(man god) nor you worship that i worship,for you to be your way of life to us be our own way of live.just cus all u have lost your faith and religion that doesnt mean muslim have. and pimp ur familky u sick and sick cuz you enjoy women so does men enjoy your women sick careful

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