Sunday, June 8, 2008

Me without my Hijab

Here is an account of an Iraqi woman removing her head covering and how she saw herself without it. I am certain, most women, particularly those who wore Hijab once may find in tune with this article. I have written a few articles on the subject, whose links are provided below the article.

The way we clothe is cultural and not necessarily religious. Religious requirement is simply modesty; no more than that. That modesty can range between a full shuttle cock Burqa to no Burqa. Modesty is the right thing to follow, it is the middle path, and it is the path of least conflicts. The Qur'aanic wisdom reiterates that path. Today, Hijab is a fashion and an identity statement, loudly announcing that one is a Muslim, it draws more attention defeating the very purpose for which it stands; Modesty and not to draw attention.


Mike Ghouse
# # #
Me without my Hijab,0,1315525.story
From the Los Angeles Times
Removing my head covering changed how I saw myself and the world.
By Zainab Mineeia

June 8, 2008

When I came to this country, I took off my hijab. It wasn't an easy decision. I worried at night that God would punish me for it. That's what I had been taught would happen, and it filled me with fear.

I was 27, coming from my home country of Iraq to study in California. I hoped that by taking off the hijab I had been wearing for eight years, I would be able to maintain a low profile. In Baghdad, you keep a low profile to stay alive. But in the United States, I merely wanted not to be judged.

Still, I was filled with anxiety. As I flew toward the United States, I wondered how I would feel when the moment came to appear with my head uncovered.

I knew, of course, that most women in the United States didn't cover their heads. Despite that, I worried that my appearance would draw attention. I was going to stand bare in front of everyone. My neck, my hair, the top of my chest would all be exposed. This might (or might not) go unnoticed by others, but I would be keenly aware of it. I didn't know if I was ready to handle this feeling.

When I arrived at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, at the end of the first leg of my journey, my head was still covered. I let my hair out briefly, but then I covered it again, unsure of myself. I packed the hijab away for good when I arrived at Denver International Airport.

I had talked with my parents about the fact that I might take off the hijab upon my arrival in the States; fortunately they were supportive of the idea. In fact, just a few days before leaving Iraq, I was sitting in the living room with my father.

"My daughter, when you arrive at the Jordanian airport, take your hijab off and fold it in your bag. There is no need to wear it anymore," he said while smoking his cigarette.

I did not comment, nor did I look him in the eye. I was embarrassed and did not want to talk about the subject with him or my mother. I was not used to talking to them about such sensitive, personal subjects. But his words meant a lot to me. Having his blessing was important.

Coming from Iraq, a conservative society in which Islam is the main religion, the hijab was something I had always known. Muslim women begin wearing the hijab at different ages -- some start as young as 8; others start later. Some never wear it at all. We wear it because we are told that it would be a sin not to cover ourselves -- and because we need to be without sin in order to get close to God. Women, we're told, are a source of enticement to men, and we need to be covered so that men won't desire us.

I made the decision to cover my head willingly and without any pressure from my family. My mother and sisters wore it, which made my choice easier. I was 19, and I was becoming more religious in those days and had begun to pray more frequently. I was convinced that it was the right thing to do.

The night before I first wore it to school, I stayed up most of the night. None of my friends knew what I was going to do. I expected it would surprise a lot of people. I was a girl who loved styling my hair and wearing nice things; my friends (many of whom were already wearing the hijab) would know how much I had to give up to wear it.

On the street, I felt a rush of mixed feelings: happiness and shyness, as well as fear that I would regret my decision in the future. But I never thought that taking it off would be an option. Once women wear the hijab, they are not likely to take it off.

These days, the hijab is a controversial subject. Some Muslims argue that it is a must for women, though others think it is not. My friend Dahlia Lamy, for instance, an Iraqi woman I knew in Baghdad who is now studying at Boston University, argues that no verse in the Koran clearly makes the hijab an obligation for women. Lamy is a practicing Muslim, but she believes that most women who wear the hijab have been forced to do so by their fathers and brothers. "I've never worn the hijab, nor do I intend to," she told me. In Turkey -- and even in France -- culture wars have raged over the wearing of the hijab in schools and other places.

The hijab takes different forms. In Iraq, it can be a chest-length veil that is placed around the head and sometimes can connect to a niqab, a cloth that covers the mouth and nose. The wearing of the niqab is not common in Iraq. In Iran and other Persian Gulf countries, women wear an abaya. An abaya is a long black gown that covers the entire body.

My hijab helped me during the rough days after the war began in 2003. It was like a shield, an invisible suit that I always had on when I went out, the suit that kept away the evil eye. It enabled me to keep that all-important low profile.

But even as the hijab kept me safe, it became a burden for many others. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, there was a dramatic increase in the number of women wearing the hijab. Since then, as religious groups have gained more power, it has become dangerous to be spotted without one -- so much so that even Christian women now wear the hijab when they go out. To me, that signified that something was wrong with my country.

The reason I came to the United States was to spend a semester at UC Davis before starting a master's degree program in journalism. I arrived on the flight from Denver in September 2006. It was late at night, and I went immediately to sleep. The next day was my first to go out without the hijab. That morning, I stood in front of the mirror and instead of straightening my hijab, I straightened my hair. It worried me, but I also felt happy.

At first, I looked behind me a lot as I walked down the street, wondering who was looking at me and what they were thinking. But over time, I got used to it. My conscience stopped bothering me, and I became accustomed to being without the hijab in the middle of the day. I remember early on when a woman sipping coffee on her porch said "Good morning" and smiled at me, as if I looked completely normal. That was a peaceful feeling.

For a while, I lived in Davis with another Iraqi woman, who had been wearing the hijab since 2002. When I told her that I had taken off my hijab when I came to the U.S., she was surprised and gave me the look. The look telling me that I had done something wrong. We discussed the issue many times; I felt guilty again and had second thoughts.

After some months, though, she moved to Massachusetts. One day, she called me, and we talked again about her hijab. This time she talked about the discomfort and sometimes even hostility that people seemed to feel when they met her and saw how she was dressed. "They try to hide it, but it's obvious," she said. She said that although real estate agents were positive over the phone, no one would rent her an apartment once they saw her in person. She explained that a woman from the student housing office had had the audacity to explain to her the way toilets are flushed, "As if my hijab was an anti-intelligence sign," she said. "I spent two days crying."

She called me again at the end of December and told me that she too had taken off the hijab. After the conversation ended, I felt a bit relieved; I had apparently made a wise decision and spared myself pain from the start.

At the same time, I was disappointed. We shouldn't have to hide the fact that we're Muslims in order to be treated like everyone else. In some ways, it's as bad to feel pressure to take off the hijab in the United States as it is to be pressured to keep it on in Baghdad. It's sad that people here do not always accept you for who you are.

For myself, I'm comfortable with my decision. But even today, I sometimes take my hijab out of the closet and place it over my head. It feels strange, not unlike the feeling I had when I was preparing to stop wearing it.

At the same time, when I put it on, I feel at home, as if I wasn't far away. It makes me miss the days when I used to match the color of my hijab with my clothes. The hijab was a part of my identity, a part of who I was, and those memories can't be erased.

Zainab Mineeia worked as a translator and reporter for The Times in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. She is now a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism.


  1. sister, Assalamalaikum. just beacuse people treat us indifferently we cannot give up something which Allah has ordered us to do. Allah says clearly in the quran in surah noor, to the believing women to draw cloaks over our selves and not show our adornment when we go outside. out of the complete covering of oneself head cover is the minimum u can do. Our mind can never be at peace if we do things which we arent supposed to. Maybe people wont like it and will not treat u normally. But u'll b most honoured in the sight of Allah! After all thats what he wants, to struggle no matter the hardship and we ll thn be successful. and that is y he says in a place in quran Do u think u'll just get Jannah like that? we need to face hardships and struggle for it.

  2. Modesty is all that is required in the faith, Qur'aan does say similar to what you have written, but does not say the form it is worn today. Hijab in its current forms is cultural and not a religious item.

    It is a woman's choice how she choses to be modest.

    1. I agree Mike.. Good point. Also the Hijab has become for SOME Muslim an Identity Issue... Its not part of Western Civilization... Being of Immigrant roots myself I am a firm believer if you go to a country make sure you blend in and assimilate. Thanks

  3. i found the article ridculus the woman describes it so simply without any feeling or symapthy i find it very hard to believe that she felt she had made the rite decision....

  4. Hijab has become a gang symbol now just like baggy pants.

    1. Excellent article with real calmness and poignancy.

  5. I can identify with so much of what is said. Thank you for sharing x



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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.