Your out running errands when you run into a few muslim sisters. You greet one another and then watch as they walk away. You are struck by their beauty and how their hijabs only seem to enhance their beauty. A group of guys also nearby watch the two sisters walk by and greet the sisters with smiles as they pass. When it is your turn to walk past the guys they look down and avoid you as you walk past... Your loose abayah flows around you and your niqab flutters in the wind. Why would the brothers look one way for the first 2 sisters and differently for the second sister? Perhaps it was the shiny hijabs they were wearing? Perhaps it was the way the tucked their hijab into their shirt and displaying fashionable sunglasses on top of their hijab. Perhaps it was the jeans and shirt they were wearing with their hijab? Or perhaps it was the makeup they were wearing to enhance their eyes and beauty?
"How many of us think we know the meaning of Hijab so well that we could practice proper Hijab, but only if we wanted to? While the Hijab serves as to preserve one's dignity, honor, and respect alongside the safety of one's beauty and chastity, these are all secondary reasons for observing Hijab. The fundamental purpose is that of obeying Allah's orders and striving to become obedient Muslims, so that we may be blessed with the promised rewards. Whatever the situation, sisters in Islam are trying hard when it comes to practicing the Hijab, but are we trying our best?
How many of you have seen a Hijabi smoking in public and thought, "Great, now people will label all Hijabis as smokers"? Now, let us not delve into the Islamic laws behind whether or not smoking is permissible in Islam or that females have just as many rights to engage in such acts as males. It doesn't have as much to do with smoking as with the fact that the Hijab is visibly the "flag of Islam", and as such, our sisters carry a great responsibility. Just to emphasize the weight of this responsibility which the Muslim women carry, we may relate a female's Hijab as having a similar level of importance as a male standard-bearer's role during war. Furthermore, this Islamic responsibility is a combination of two factors: not just the physical Hijab, but also the social Hijab.
The Qur’an reminds us: "And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that they should not display their beauty and ornaments, except what (ordinarily) appear thereof." (24:31)
We all know that the meaning of Hijab is to be modest. But for some reason, every Hijabi we see seems to have her own interpretation of modesty. Hijab is a fundamental element of the Islamic faith, universal amongst all Muslims irrespective of the differing schools of thought. Despite this, the women in Islam are incapable or choose not to maintain a universal – or at least a similar – context when it comes to the physical Hijab. Sure, Hijab is not a "uniform", and Hijabis need not be marching around in exactly the same garb so that people think the sisters are forming some kind of Hijabi military base at the local community center, but a little uniformity and attention to the "modesty" aspect of Hijab would be nice.
While it is natural for the so-called "Hijab Revolution" to have taken place recently, especially with the number of Muslims increasing in the West, there seems to be no "standard" with the Hijabis. This often leads to the Hijab aspect of Islam coming off as a "cultural" aspect rather than a religious one. Worse yet, due to the excessive differences among Hijab practices both physical and social, unfortunately our entire religion may come across as having no "standard" with an excessive amount of flexibility that lets individuals suit Islam to their own convenience.
An analysis of the Hijabi population will depict the variety of the Hijab methods practiced with the utmost differentiation when it comes to tightness, colors, sizes, and styles of Hijab. On one hand we have the fully-covered yet fully-colored Abaya Hijabis, and on the other hand, we have the Hijabis with clothes so tight (or see-through, for that matter) that if they wore a t-shirt, they would probably be revealing less. We also see those Hijabis who are covered well yet leave their bangs hanging out, or the very decently-dressed sisters with faces which are so immensely covered in make-up that their Hijab defeats the purpose of the abovementioned verse of the Qur'an, which is instructing women to not display their beauty in public except for that which is natural.
With the recent trends of Hijabi Runways, we see models on the catwalk dressed in the latest fashion clothing with a tiny little covering over their hair. Where is the value of Hijab in a catwalk if the purpose is to establish one's character and self-respect on everything but their physical appearance? While it is necessary for the sisters to dress appropriately to their lifestyle contexts and careers, sometimes the mind can't help but wonder if the idea of "blending in" but within the limits of proper Hijab is negated by the idea of "We wear Hijab, but still have a passion for fashion." Having a good sense of fashion doesn't attribute any negative aspects to a person's character, but if this fashion sense equates to beautifying one's self and displaying oneself such that our sisters appear to be physically appealing even while in Hijab, then something is very wrong with that type of Hijab.
The idea is not to point fingers towards the Hijabis and annoyingly peck at those areas where they falter, but rather to highlight to our Muslim sisters that the way we practice Hijab heavily affects the way non-Muslims interpret Islam as a whole. Not only this, but if there is fault in the way Hijab is being practiced, then the reward from God will also be likewise. Proper Hijab does not just consist of a tiny headscarf; rather, it can only be achieved when also combined with the maintenance of Islamic methods of social interaction.
One could argue that Muslim males should be just as cautious as women, and agreeably, they must! But it is a woman's physical Hijab factor which, when intertwined with the social Hijab factor, forms a special combination which makes her responsibility towards portraying Islam much more delicate and unique.
The social Hijab is basically the way a female presents herself, behaves, and interacts with others in public. Looking back at the example of our sisters smoking in public, it is vital for Hijabis to maintain good manners while in the presence of others, because the truth is, Hijabis are judged by society based on their actions too. As women are being constantly judged by society, they deserve every right to demand respect.
A few ways by which sisters can obtain respect from society is by being particularly careful of the way they interact in mixed gatherings with the opposite gender. More than often we see sisters in brilliant Hijab; however, the way some sisters joke and spend time with non-mahrams can only hint that a bit of flirtation (which leads to forbidden actions) is flying in the air. However, we also do have the overly-friendly sisters who do not intentionally act the way they do around non-mahrams, yet they need to realize that intentions aside, there may be room for improvement in their Hijab practice while in the company of men.
Going right down to the bone of what "good behavior" is, all we need to do is that the next time we are in public, we must stop and remember that Allah is watching us. If we remember this reality that our Lord is monitoring us at all times, there will be a guaranteed immediate improvement in our social Hijab. Out the window will go all the gossiping, coarse language, and disrespect towards elders and others, not to mention the flirting and excessive joking.
Admirable are those sisters who manage to establish such respect and dignity for themselves amongst non-Muslims that without having to explain the "rules" of our religion, people who interact with the Hijabi are able to grasp her character through non-verbal vibes and act accordingly while in her presence. For example, when someone uses a bad word around a Hijabi and there is an awkward silence, people stop what they are doing and look at the Hijabi with embarrassment and mumble an apology. Or when there is ill talk about another person behind their back, and people realize that a Hijabi is present, the topic is quickly brushed off. This is the type of dignity and respect that Islam believes women must command and deserve from society.
While the world seeks to establish identity through attractive clothing and glitzy appearances, without giving much importance to behavior, morals, social conduct, and self-respect, it is absolutely imperative for us Muslim women to maintain both the physical and social Hijab in such a way that reflects its true purpose and as a result of which we can proudly stand before our Lady Fatima Zahra and Lady Zainab (peace be upon them) on the Day of Judgment without regrets."