A Talk on Hijab by Yasmin Mogahed


A recent talk by Sr. Yasmin Mogahed at a campus where a hundred women tried on the headscarf for a day to understand how a woman that wears hijab feels. Sr. Yasmin speaks about the role of hijab and modesty in contemporary American society.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Also check out the reflections on hijab by both non-Muslims and Muslims after Sr. Yasmin’s talk.

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15 Comments

  1. Zubair Khan says:

    That was very touching subhanallah.

  2. Ahmed says:

    This was a great speech by Sr. Yasmin. Both her talk and the Q&A / reflection session that followed was so uplifting and touching. When I heard the brothers and sisters talk at the end, as well as the non-Muslim girls who participated in the Hijab Day, this made me want to be a better Muslim, as several of the brothers alluded to in their comments to the crowd.
    Also, I have the blessing and honor to have 3 non-mahram sisters in my home city that my family and I have been close to for many years. The reason I feel honored is that their parents have trusted me to be around their daughters in the home, as well as outside (at restaurants, or at the movie theater)l indeed, they treat me like their own brother, though we keep to the limits of being non-mahrams. The two eldest are married and we had the blessing of having the Nikaah of the eldest daughter within the confines of our home. So, just when I thought I couldn’t cherish/respect/love them any more than I already do, this speech and the comments/experiences that followed only increased these feelings within me. Jazak’Allahu Khairan for sharing. It really made my day yesterday, as I sat, watched and listened.

  3. asma' says:

    Thank you for sharing- the reflection parts actually really opened up my eyes about American. Sometimes there is this perception that I hear about them hating Muslims and such (that makes me scared to go to US :)) But seeing them so willing to learn & understand about hijab really touch me. The talk doesn’t just change their perception, it changed mine as well :).

  4. Hasan says:

    Jazak Allah khair for doing this sister..The ummah needs more sisters like yourself to take the lead in these issues that are misunderstood by the West.

  5. sister says:

    I liked this lecture, but I think it’s incorrect to say that hijab “hides” a woman’s beauty. It hides her “ornaments” that cause sexual attraction but in reality the hijab actually beautifies the women even more. Imagine this sister with and without her hijab? Does she not have a great noor around her? Is she not more beautiful and distinguished with hijab? Below is a reflection on modesty that I have not read anywhere else discussing the Quranic verse on hijab.

    (Qur’an: Chapter 24 an-Nur (the Light),, Verses 30-31) says “And tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to [those relatives who fall within bounds of close relationship explained in theQur’an]…”

    First the idea of modesty is highlighted in the chapter called “Light”, where Allah describes His nature as Light upon Light. So modesty is a form of behavior that brings us “Noor”. To be honest, none of the rhetoric about hijab convinced me to put on the hijab. The only convincing thing that helped me make the decision to put it on was the noor that I saw the hijabi sisters have on their faces. I desired to have that noor for myself, and to be beautified by that noor. Counter to conventional thinking, the “hijab” does not cover the woman’s beauty, it actually brings out her spiritual beauty. If we think about it, hijab is something very beautiful and can enhance the woman’s status, honor, and beauty more so than any makeup or fashion item.

    Surah Al-Ahzab (33:59) states: “O Prophet [PBUH] Tell thy wives and daughters and the believing women that they should put on their outer garments; that is most convenient in order that THEY MAY BE RECOGNIZED (as Muslims) and not be molested.” Therefore, I think the notion is misleading when we say that hijab is ordained so that we do not bring attention to ourselves. The hijab, especially in this society, does bring a lot of attention, even if we are clad in all black and showing only the “slits of our eyes”. The difference is that instead of the unwanted sexual attention, we are bringing attention to something higher that make people hopefully think a little about religion, God, modesty, the inner beauty, etc. We are recognized through our hijab as women of faith and not like “ordinary” women to be played around with. It’s something to be proud of and a great opportunity to show the beauty of Islam through our good behavior, now that we are recognized as Muslims.

    Furthermore, the verses about modesty in Surah Nur first start with “tell believing men” that they should lower their gaze and preserve their modesty. The responsibility of preserving modesty is first given to the believing men. The verse does not generalize to all men and women by saying “tell men” or “tell women”. This is because Allah knows that the issue of modesty is appreciated and respected by people after they have gained faith in their hearts about their Creator and that they are convinced that they will return to Him and that they will be accountable to Him. They also have a belief that the guidance that comes from Allah is the best advice. Therefore, they will appreciate and want to observe the etiquettes of hijab and modesty wholeheartedly, rather than because of a trend or social pressure. Without that conviction and faith, I think it is much more difficult to resist those cute but revealing outfits at the store (for the sisters) or checking out the woman in a mini skirt as she passes by (for the brothers). Modesty is our way of appreciating and observing our connection with our Creator. He loves modesty so thus we, as the believers, should also love modesty.

    Thus modesty does not refer only to outer modesty, but modesty in one’s heart. In these verses, Allah clarifies the first steps of maintaining modesty is by lowering the gaze, i.e. “lower the gaze” = “preserving modesty”. It is an easy formula. If we lower our gaze from anything illicit, whether it’s in person or on TV, we prevent most of the immodest thoughts that lead to immodesty in society. Modesty in Islam thus is more of an internal frame of mind than an emphasis of the outer appearance. Hijab is part of hayaa, or bashfulness. This lowering the gaze not only refers to the opposite sex, but also to the same gender. As homosexuality is on the rise, I think people should be careful of immodesty and lowering the gaze towards both men and women.

    The first verses, which is still focused on the men, continues by warning men that Allah is mindful of what they do. Yet this is not repeated for the women. Perhaps this is because men have a much more difficult time lowering their gaze, so even a stealth glance with bad intentions is known by Allah. For those who want to be pure, they should not take even the slight second glance at the non-mahram woman (or man) in a lustful manner.

    Then the verses are directed to the women with the same directives. Many people presume that women are less prone to “checking out the opposite sex”, but these verses show that women also can be moved to immodest thoughts and must guard their inner and outer modesty by lowering their gaze. But instead of the verses telling women that Allah is mindful of what they do, it goes directly to telling women to cover their bodies, particularly their bosoms, and not show their “physical beauty” except to their husbands…etc.

    The emphasis of these verses for women is on the displaying of their beauty and “ornaments” except what must ordinarily appear thereof. The verses clarify what is meant by this by telling women that they should cover their bosoms. Similarly, other verses emphasize wearing an outer layer of clothing to hide the shape of the woman’s body. In all the verses on proper dress for women, the emphasis is the body rather than the head, face or hair. Yes, the khimar refers to the head cover, but the emphasis even in these verses is the body. As we know in this society, not all women can cover their hair due to financial reasons, work reasons, fear of not fitting in, fear of standing out, etc. It takes some strength in emaan to wear the hijab in a non-Muslim society. Allah knows His servants very well, and hence there is less emphasis in both Quran and Hadith about the hair since there may be many reasons a sister just at that point in time cannot cover her hair. Yet there is no valid reason why any woman cannot cover her bosom or shape of her body by wearing loose fitting clothes that are long sleeve and to the ankle. Women choosing to show off their bodies are trying hard to please other people or their own desires, rather than trying to please their Creator. Of course, this leads to the opposite of inner peace and success.

    Now it may seem that there is a double standard between men and women in this regard, but on deeper reflection, it makes perfect sense. If we reflect on the nature of men and women, we can see that the verses deal with a particular weakness of each gender. The covering of the bodies is not mentioned to men because for the most part, men are quite covered. Go to any party or even to the beach. What do you see? At parties, men are covered from the top of their necks to their toes in a nice suit or tuxedo. At the beach, the men are in long baggy comfortable tee-shirts and baggy long shorts to their knees or even pants with a jacket. On the other hand, women wear the most revealing evening clothes that show off their shape, their bosoms, their backs, their legs, etc. At the beach they leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. Women are in swimsuits or tank tops and tight shorts, even in freezing weather.

    So the Quran doesn’t bother so much about men’s immodest dress because on the whole, even non-Muslim men do not dress immodestly, so why tell them to dress modestly when they already do. But their glances towards the opposite sex are their great weakness. They enjoy when women dress immodestly, so they are more sternly warned about lowering the gaze.

    Women care less at looking at men’s bodies and hence the verse about stealth looks is not there for women. On the other hand, women tend to fall victim to the fashions of their day and the attention they do get from the men and also the women from their bodies. Hence they are warned more about how to dress properly. Men are told not to look, and women are told not to show. Thus both are making it easier for each other to safeguard their modesty.

    From what I know, there is no mention about not wearing colorful outfits in the Quran or Hadith. Conversely, Allah has mentioned that beautiful clothing is something provided to us by Him to be an adornment. “O you Children of Adam! We have bestowed on you raiment to cover your shame as well as to be an adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness, that is the best. Such are among the Signs of Allah, that they may receive admonition.” (Quran 7:26) So I think there is nothing wrong with wearing beautiful outfits as long as they follow the rules of hijab.

    The hadith that mentions women with humps like camels and being naked though they are dressed amazingly refers to the first generation of the women’s liberation movement in the 1960’s with the beehives and mini skirts who started this trend of immodesty. Prior to that generation, even non-muslim women wore very modest clothing. We can see evidence of that from the older movies and TV shows. Any show on “pioneer” women have them covered from neck to toe. Some even have hats on or a small head scarf. Unlike the Jewish law that says a woman should shave her head rather than shows her hair, Islam has not taken such extreme views. Yes, she should cover her hair, but most importantly she should cover her body starting from her neck down (except the hands and feet).

    The verses on hijab end by saying “and O ye Believers! Turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may Attain Bliss”. There are so many self help books out there on the topic of finding happiness and peace within ourselves and the world. Here, Allah shows that Hijab is a key to happiness and self respect. It is addressed again to the believers, who seek to be closer to Allah and who will appreciate the guidance given in these verses.

    But none of the verses I have read about hijab threaten a believer with hellfire if they cannot properly fulfill this commandment of hijab. Rather Allah’s mercy and forgiveness is always mentioned. Even if we keep reading after these verses in surah Nur, it goes into who one should marry, how to keep chaste if one doesn’t have the means of marriage, and it even discusses about those poor women who are forced into prostitution, that Allah is oft-forgiving and merciful to them, and then it goes to the glorious verses that “Allah is the Light of the heavens and earth…”. Rather than threatening punishment for those who lack proper hijab, the Quranic verses instead emphasize how hijab leads to success and bliss, and a special closeness to Allah and yet Allah is oft-forgiving if one falls short of the ideal.

    Allah has thus made Hijab and modesty a means of purity for us, but He knows that we are all on different levels of spirituality and that following hijab etiquettes is not very easy for everyone, depending on their circumstances. Yet most discussions make a woman feel she is committing a huge sin for not wearing the head cover. On the other hand, Allah has given a very stern warning to anyone who deals with Riba (interest), equating it to declaring war against Allah and the Prophet. However, very few discussions or khutbahs clearly warn the believers not to take out interest based mortgages, open credit cards, or invest in riba-based companies. Thus, unfortunately we as a Muslim community in the West tend to take “riba” very lightly and hijab very strictly. Whereas in the Quran, it is the opposite.

    • Sarah says:

      I really love your detailed answer. It is very balanced and reflects the spirit of Islam and the intent behind some of the more difficult rulings.

    • Heba says:

      Jazzaki Allahu khairan sister for your beautiful and touching response. Like Sarah said, it truly is balanced and highlights the beauty of Islam.

    • Amina says:

      This comment is truly spectacular mashaAllah! Jazakallahukhair sister!!

    • Muslimah says:

      Jazakallahukhair for this (both sr. Yasmin’s talk and your in-depth reply) really sheds beautiful light on the sometimes overly generalized details of this topic of modesty through dress in Islam. It really helped me understand more : ) Im really considering wearing the jilbab/skirts with draped hijabs and this helped me alot.

  6. Rania says:

    Thanks for this great post…

  7. Masri says:

    Assalamualaikum wbt.

    I am so impressed by a comment written by sister. It shows something which I never realised in al-Quran. In al-Quran, when Allah asks us to cover aurah, He brought so many glad tidings, less warning. Do we do the same method when asking our sister to wear hijab

    2. About covering beauty, I think it will depend how do we understand and interprate the meaning of beauty.

  8. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to mention that I’ve truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I am hoping you write once more very soon!

  9. Hassina Ali says:

    Slmz! Really very interesting reply by the sister,
    I wear the full hijaab
    But my 3 other sisters don’t
    N I left my job in order to use my Hijaab
    Full time, n my sister on the other hand
    All work in the same place were the hijaab
    won’t be excepted. But they definitely can
    start covering they body appropriately even
    if they can no wear the hijaab.So thanks to
    the sister as ur advise is what I am going to
    Advise them on.Jazakhala waslm

  10. Sarah says:

    Beautiful mashallah! I loved it – we’re soon going to be doing a similar day at my school, and this is very inspiring!

  11. Uzma says:

    Salam, i saw video of sr.yasmeen , its great and i read the detailed
    Reply as well but i want to know that this reply is also from
    Sister yasmeen or anyother sister. Please confirm this.
    Must appretiate, thanks

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