People think hijab sexualises young girls because of the Muslim community

Aisha Hasan

Last week UK education watchdog Ofsted announced that it would be questioning Muslim girls in primary schools who wear the hijab, prompting outrage amongst the Muslim community.

The reason for this unwarranted, invasive, intrusive questioning: the decision to wear hijab may have been forced on young girls, causing them to be sexualised at an early age.

In recent days, the Muslim community in the UK has banded together, expressing unified condemnation of the proposal, with videos and official statements being produced by numerous Muslim organisations. The notion that young girls would be examined separate from their schoolmates is something continually seen as a result of the Prevent strategy in the UK, with children being referred to counter terrorism programmes for behavior as mundane as saying Alhamdulilah after they sneeze.

The idea that Muslim children are to be held to yet another imposed standard of “normal” is rightly slammed.

But beyond the blatant gendered islamophobic implications of the policy itself, this discussion is also present within the Muslim community: should young girls be wearing hijab, even when not needed? For many Muslims, the answer is no and some have also supported the recent proposal, stating that the Islamic dress does sexualise young girls earlier then necessary.

islamic-school

Whilst this sounds laughable to many Muslims, when considering the way in which the hijab has been presented, it is not so surprising.

For years, especially in the post 9/11 era, the word “hijab” has been associated with the term “modesty” more than anything else. Today, with modest fashion hitting the catwalks, being advertised as clothing for Muslim and non-Muslim women, and securing its place as a multimillion-dollar industry, the two have almost become interchangeable in the mainstream.

For most people this understanding has been a consequence of reading one of the Quranic verses that prescribes hijab and also mentions modesty:

“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 must ordinarily appear therof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms…” (24:31)

But it would be naïve to not also recognise that many Muslim women have used the idea of modesty alone to dictate how they should dress, arguing that it is the spirit, not the specifics of the Islamic dress-code, that is important.

Now for the myth buster: Muslim women do not wear hijab to be modest.

Whilst the hijab is intrinsically a concealing dress code, modesty is a relative term, different for everyone dependent on his or her social and cultural experience. Islam, on the other hand, has defined with precision how and which areas of a woman’s body should be covered.

Modesty is mentioned in one of the verses prescribing the hijab; however, scholars of the Qur’anic sciences (including Ibn Kathir, Al Qurtubi and At-Tabari) have not identified it as a reason (‘ilah) for the garment; rather it is a wisdom (hikmah) and a benefit.

In fact, several areas of Islamic law do not have reasoning behind their obligations. Food is another such area (contrary to the reasoning some give, Muslims are not forbidden to eat pork because pigs are dirty).

This broader understanding of the hijab eradicates the notion that those who wear it are always protected from sexual abuse and harassment. It also further reinforces the notion that modesty is in one’s behaviour as well as our dress, and explains the broader necessity for other Islamic practices, such as segregation in social settings.

So, if not for the sake of modesty, why do women wear hijab?

The answer: as an act of worship alone. It is a deed done solely for the sake of Allah ﷻ, a mark of devotion and a sacrifice of our desires. Everything else we may or may not observe from it are simply benefits, be that good character, protection from harassment, or the prevention of valuing yourself based on your appearance.

But today, the permanent connection that has been established between the hijab and modesty has led many non-Muslims, and some Muslims, to misunderstand its core objective.

So is it really any wonder that, after years of telling people the hijab is simply about modesty, when people see little girls who have no need to cover themselves wear the hijab, it is assumed that we are perceiving them as immodest or sexually attractive?

With many Muslim girls now also expressly terming the hijab a fashion, a political statement, or an expression of their identity, is it any surprise that people think children should not be beholden to such ideas that they cannot truly understand?

The only way to combat these arguments is to reorient our narrative on hijab as an act of 5aab8b67e91c787ba43cdd0c6c414886--hijab-islam-fashion-muslimah.jpgworship above all else. It then makes sense that like prayer, which Muslim children are encouraged to observe from the age of seven in order to make it habitual, young girls wearing hijab at a young age is simply a way of teaching them to love it.

The fact that a plethora of young girls beg their parents to let them wear it when going to the mosque, even before it is necessary, is often simply because they want to look like their mothers and sisters, and is more easily explained when our dress is understood as an act of worship, not revolving around the necessity of being covered.

The fact that Ofsted is choosing to investigate Muslim girls is undoubtedly first and foremost an islamophobic policy, once again used to alienate our community. In an age where children as young as three are studying sex education and choosing to change genders at four, the allegation that the hijab causes sexualisation is ironic, to say the least.

But we as Muslims must take responsibility for the way in which we have presented Islam to the masses, and even to those within our community. This should be a call-to-action and a lesson to not continually seek reasons for our acts of worship that make them more palatable for a society that claims to be based on logic, but rather stand true to our values and principles alone.


Aisha Hasan is the founder of the Qarawiyyin Project. A Middle East researcher in London, she is also an aalima student and a Quran teacher. She has been active in the community for several years, appearing on television, radio shows and delivering talks at universities around the country.

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10 thoughts on “People think hijab sexualises young girls because of the Muslim community

  1. It is disgusting that offsted see wearing hijab as sexualising kids when they teach them about sex from very young ages. This society has become corrupt because of how prominent sex is, be it in education or mainstream media. There are sexually revealing clothes like bikinis available for little kids and they dare to say that hijab, a symbol of modesty is sexual. Asthaghfirullah. That is first and foremost islamophoblic.

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    1. LOOK CAREFULLY AT WHAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN … how revealing! Your comment captures perfectly what Ofsted thinks (and with whom I totally agree.) This is what you wrote – “There are sexually revealing clothes like bikinis available for little kids.”

      Huh? I’m sorry – “sexually revealing clothes like bikinis available for little kids” ??? Since when, BUSHRAA, are little kids viewed in a sexual light? Little kids? Sexually revealing??? Are you SERIOUS??? This is PRECISELY the issue Ofsted and Westerners are concerned about. And you unintentionally let the cat out of the bag.

      We think that it is disgusting to force the hijab on young girls! Why would a little girl be required to dress modestly (and not show her hair?) A little girl’s body is not sexual, BUSHRAA; it does not need to be covered/protected from the male gaze. The same applies for grown women. We are in 2018, not back in the 7th century!

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    1. AND WHY DO YOU THINK THIS IS????? There’s a reason for everything. Open your ears and eyes. Here in the West, WE DO NOT LIKE YOUR MEDIEVAL ISLAMIC GARB. How can I say this in a clearer, simpler way so you’ll understand? We do not like to see the veil, the niqab, the hijab, the abaya, the burka, the jilbab, etc. Do you understand? It’s not part of our culture!

      Here are some other things we do not like because they are not part of our culture or customs. We do not like or agree with segregated swimming, for example. Why are we Westerners perfectly happy to swim together in the same pool – boys and girls, women and men – BUT YOU HAVE TO SEGREGATE LIKE WE’RE BACK IN THE 7th century! Why is this? WHAT’S WRONG WITH SWIMMING TOGETHER IN A PUBLIC MUNICIPAL COMMUNITY SWIMMING POOL designed for all citizens??? What is your problem with this????

      And all you can say is this: “just another evidence of their bigotry.” That’s a bit lazy, don’t you think? I can give you a dozen other reasons, but frankly, I’m just fed up.

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      1. You should have a problem with whatever we wear when we force you to wear it. You don’t like what we wear, turn your freakin neck around and look the other way lady. By the way nuns wear modest clothing since the medieval ages, do you have a problem with that too ? Indians have worn saris that is also modest and worn since forever, you gotta problem with that ? When you go travelling to see the true European culture and you see women in small cities wear a head scarf and long dresses, do you hate them too ? Or how about Orthodox Jews? Amish or Mennonites ? Darling, how many people are you going to hate? That’s a lot of hate that will consume you one day, only because people decide to follow their own culture or religion. Maybe the problem is not how people dress in their respective cultures, maybe it’s you and your closed mind ! 😱 revelation ! Think about it.

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  2. Thank GOD I live in France where the niqab is outlawed and the hijab needs to be removed BY LAW before entering a school and any other public place. To see images of girls as young as four wearing hijab is deeply and profoundly disturbing. Medieval Islamic customs HAVE NO PLACE IN OUR WESTERN SOCIETY! France is a SECULAR nation where religion is practiced at home and in places of worship, NOT in schools and public places. I applaud President Sarkozy for having the courage to pass this law way back in 2010. Its purpose is to enforce “religious neutrality” or “a neutral space.”

    Enshrined in a landmark 1905 law that prohibits the state from recognizing, funding or favoring any religion, secularism is taken seriously in France. State schools are strictly non-faith and all public bodies must be free of religious influence.

    Why do you take the verses of the Koran so literally? Why, in 2018, do you adhere to 7th century rules? Why on earth do so-called educated, modern women listen to misogynistic and bearded backward-thinking imams on YouTube?

    You say you are feminists. And yet, you are followers of these misogynistic and bearded backward-thinking men – this is what I cannot understand. Most of them are not even imams, they’re self-appointed

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  3. Western women fought SO HARD to achieve a progressive, egalitarian society. As a child of the 1970s, I witnessed my feminist sisters marching in the streets, protesting hard and demanding equal rights. The women’s rights movement made significant strides in the 1970’s and took a prominent role within society. Among these battles were challenging sexism, fighting for free access to legal abortion, and analyzing and overcoming oppression.

    YOU HAVE SET US BACK 700 YEARS!!!! Today, because of YOU, we are not progressing, but regressing!!! Because you adhere to 7th century customs, traditions, beliefs and practices that have no place in our Western society today. Do you understand this?

    And you wonder WHY Muslims are criticized? You have NO IDEA of the historical context of Western women and what we did to fight for our rights!

    Imposing segregated swimming, to give just one example, takes us straight back to the Deep South of the 1950s. It makes me want to weep.

    You listen to misogynistic, backward zealots on YouTube. And you call yourselves feminists??? Why do you listen to MEN???? It’s like you’re all brainwashed.

    Your culture is backward. THIS IS WHY WE CRITICIZE; listen up and learn. I’m telling you as straight and candid as I possibly can.

    Lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders in the Muslim world? Death by stoning.

    Blasphemy? Death or imprisonment.

    But child marriages, forced marriages, honor killings, rape victims forced to marry their rapist? Practiced.

    FGM (female genital mutiliation). Practiced.

    Please, stash your medieval beliefs and customs back in the Third World; do not export them into our beautiful, open, liberal democratic Western world. Western leaders need to put their foot down and say “This is not permissible in our society.” I wasn’t a big fan of President Sarkozy, but at least he had the courage to ban that hideous burka and niqab – relics of a medieval world which have no place whatsover anywhere in this 21st century.

    How anyone can condone that thing is beyond my comprehension.

    Take off those hideous headscarves – especially those that you force upon little girls (this is totally repugnant.)

    This is not just my opinion – thousands of moderate Muslims are appalled by this Islamic revival. The British government needs to condemn all of it. Why do you think BREXIT was voted in?

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  4. One last thing: in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran and other Islamic countries, women ARE FORCED TO WEAR HEADSCARVES and abayas. You would think that in solidarity with these truly oppressed women – your Muslim sisters – you would remove your medieval garb. But no. You don’t. In fact, you have no solidarity whatsoever with these women. You follow the beliefs and fanatical ideology coming out of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. You PROMOTE and ENCOURAGE it. This is the deeply disturbing doctrine of Wahhabism exported from Saudi Arabia that you are promoting.

    Believe me, Iranian and Saudi Arabian women cannot believe their ears and eyes that Muslim women in the West are FREE from the tyranny of Islamism, and yet you choose to live by Wahhabist rules. Deeply disturbing.

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