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  • Writer's pictureElectric Bazaar

Modesty: an entirely personal and invisible process

“To my brothers and sisters,

A couple of days ago, on #WorldHijabDay, I read some beautifully written articles addressing women’s choices, modesty, reasoning, sacrifice and belief.

#WorldHijabDay, marked annually on February 1st by people around the world, was established in recognition of the millions of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab. Its aim is to open new avenues to communication and advocate religious tolerance and understanding.

As I read and reflected on the thoughts of Muslim women, I was somewhat disappointed to note the failure, by many, to address one of the most important factors, in direct relation to hijab, that affects many Muslim women: the misplaced and judgemental attitudes of many Muslims themselves

A mere two months ago, I heard the following analogy at a khutbah (sermon) addressing women’s role in society:

“Women are like lollipops: if the lollipop falls on the floor without a wrapper it becomes dirty”.

You may have heard this analogy too. It exists in many different forms. Sometimes we’re jewels. Other times we’re sweets. Occasionally, we’re expensive iPhones that are being flashed around.

The crux of the simile is, that a woman without hijab is vulnerable. The hijab is there to protect her – an impenetrable veil (pun not intended) that is synonymous with her piety and virtuousness.

First, let’s clarify that the issue here is not with hijab. Dressing modestly and covering up is a command of the Almighty, which, through His infinite wisdom, is there for the benefit of the people. There are millions of women who wear the hijab out of choice and with the right intention.

What I take issue with, is the way that many people instil, or reinforce, perhaps, the idea that the external actions of a person define their value and their piety.

Just because someone may be called Mohammad does not necessarily mean they will be granted Jannah (paradise) in the hereafter – rather, they will have to be a good Muslim and obey Allah’s (God’s) commands to achieve this. Likewise, a physically religious appearance does not indicate that one is religious. It is an individual’s intentions – an entirely personal and invisible process – that determines the veracity of their actions.

Modesty encompasses far more than the clothes one chooses to wear. To me, this is the most beautiful part of our faith. As human beings, we will never possess the knowledge of another Muslim’s level of relationship with Allah. Even the person themselves might not. We can only assume and strive.

Allah is the All-Knowing (Al-Alim)

So for me, #WorldHijabDay was a reminder that as much as Islamophobia can make the life of a Muslim woman difficult, even Muslim communities themselves, driven by cultural rather than religious values, can equally act as perpetrators towards a woman’s suffering.

Surely, it is the un-entitled ownership of this knowledge that a person concludes that women are only worthy when they are covered a certain way.

Consider the implications.

It only takes…

One remark and she may walk away from Islam.

One act of degradation could lead to self-harming behind closed doors.

One Ayah (verse) taken out of context could be her misinterpreting and thus neglecting the words of Allah.

I’m tired.

Tired of listening to my sister cry over her father forcing the cloth over her head.

Tired of seeing a non-‘hijabi’ receive more sexual attention and harassment.

Tired of being labelled a feminist who is voicing controversial views.

And I’m tired of shielding others to save the ummah (Muslim community) from dividing, bribed with guilt to protect a tribal mentality and not His Truth.

Let us remind ourselves, verily Allah alone is the Judge, the Giver of Justice (Al-Hakam). To the eyes, someone might appear as the ideal Muslimah, but she may be far away in her journey to submission.

When you want to explain hijab, or encourage hijab, start with an explanation of modesty. Of clean intentions. Of honesty. Of submission to the Almighty. Question people’s attitudes and biases and their conflation of religion and culture. Challenge them to truly understand hijab. Question what modesty entails – that modesty of the thoughts begins with refraining from judging others’ external appearance.

What favours us in the sight of Allah is the state of our hearts.

And it is our hearts first that we should work on’’.

- Shamima

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