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It never ceases to amaze me how controversial the subject of women’s clothing can be. Especially when the issue lies with women choosing to conceal their bodies rather than reveal. For someone like me (who chooses to cover her body from public view, by the way), it feels that the act of dressing modestly should be lauded, and not attacked.

I’ve heard it all through the years:

  • “Hijab is a symbol of oppression.”
  • “Muslim women are forced to cover by overbearing fathers, husbands, etc.”
  • “Hijab is nothing more than a cultural interpretation of Islam, and women who cover are radical fundamentalists/extremists.”
  • “Muslim women who wear hijab are refusing to integrate, and are trying to force ‘Shariah law’ on non-Muslims.”

The list goes on and on, with each statement more absurd than the last. Sadly, some of the claims actually come from other Muslim women, which makes them all the more ridiculous. Some of these women saying such things are doing it because they are trying to rationalize why they have chosen not to cover, while others are simply showing an ignorance of Islam (not all Muslims are scholars!). It is unfortunate that there are those who jump on what these women say, and take it as evidence that hijab (and modesty in general) is not something that is required of all Muslim women.

I have heard both Muslim and non-Muslim women claim that one can be “modest on the inside” without being dressed modestly. This is, quite frankly, absurd. To start, if a woman has a “modest heart,” then she will naturally feel inclined to cover up, rather than expose. Such a woman would feel shy and embarrassed to “let it all hang out,” so to say. This woman would not be okay with plunging necklines, and short hems. She would feel as though her clothing were at odds with her personality, because, well, it is!

Long before I became Muslim, I was already dressing in a manner that was not revealing. It was a matter of contention growing up, in fact, since I was surrounded by girls who wanted to expose more skin, in an attempt to impress and dazzle the opposite gender. I fell to the peer pressures a couple of times in high school, and I recall feeling naked and exposed, although by some terms, I was still “modest.” To my own thinking, I was not modest, and it felt wrong. Very wrong.

There are several reasons why Muslim women are told to practice modesty, and to cover their hair (along with their ears, neck, chest, arms up to the wrists, and legs down to the ankles, wearing loose-fitting clothes). One, is simply for modesty. That reason alone should be easily understood, but we appear to be living in an age where less is more, and therefor, people cannot understand a need for modest apparel.

Another reason that is given, is that the act of covering can serve as a protection for women. Now, that’s not to say that our scarves are made of Kevlar or something. Nor, is it to insinuate that every man walking around is some raging maniac, just waiting to leap on any woman they see. However, it should be understood that when a woman chooses to expose herself, she is tempting men around her. It is only natural for men to feel aroused by naked, female skin. It is something that is instinctual.

Some women (quite a lot, actually), would say that men should just control themselves, and know that it is not an invitation to be assaulted (I want it to be known now that I have not ever suggested that a woman is asking to be molested. When a woman is violated, the perpetrator is the one to blame. The victim is not at fault).The issue here lies in temptation, which should be avoided in the first place. What good is being accomplished by making someone feel uncomfortable?

That’s right, uncomfortable. Do women honestly think that men enjoy spending the day trying to look away, ignore, and suppress feelings that are being conjured up by scantily clad women? Sensible men do not appreciate it at all, and find that it is an unnecessary struggle that should be avoided. Sensible, caring, responsible women would not be dressing in ways that cause discomfort to others. It is cruel to do so.

Islam has a strict moral code regarding the “mixing” of genders. Men and women who are not closely related, are to adhere to rules of modesty and decency when interacting with one another (and there must be cause for interaction, and not just for the purpose of entertainment and fun). Not only should Muslim women (and men, for that matter!) dress appropriately, but they should behave appropriately as well.

Modesty is both internal and external. External modesty (dress) serves as an easy reminder to be modest internally as well (thoughts, feelings, etc). My scarf can even help non-Muslim men quickly figure out how best to interact with me. Because they cannot see anything really more than my face, hands, and feet, they must interact with me in a manner that is more intellectual. In short, they are forced to talk to me, and not my appearances.

Perhaps the immodest world will never understand why there are those of us who choose to conceal rather than reveal. And perhaps I will never understand why it is such a controversial issue.