Are you hot in this? Chances are if you’re a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf anywhere in the world, someone has asked you if you are feeling hot while wearing it. Maybe you’ve even thought these questions when you’ve seen a Muslim woman – even if you didn’t ask it.
Many Muslim women around the world and here in South Africa wear headscarves as partial fulfillment of the hijab. The hijab is an Arabic word that refers to a code of modesty that Muslim people are expected to adhere to. Contrary to popular belief, it does not only refer to the dressing of Muslim women (and men) – but that’s a whole other piece that needs to be written.
Anyway, for Muslim women like myself, wearing the headscarf makes us visible to the public eye and this usually comes with a whole bunch of unwanted questions.
1. The most obvious one is, ‘Why do you wear that thing on your head?’
Well, Muslim women are not a single body who all think the same thoughts. I know you might be imagining a central body controlling the minds of all Muslim women, but stop… Muslim women come from different backgrounds, including race and class. This means we all have our own reasons for wearing it. Some women wear it for modesty, and some as part of fulfilling their religious duty. While others wear it as a political decision to express their agency and choice. There are many reasons, but the main thing is it’s the decision of the Muslim woman.
If Muslim women don’t go around questioning your life choices, then they would expect the same level of respect.
Thank you, next.
2. Back to, ‘Are you not hot in that?’
Another great (read not) question that is common is ‘Are you not hot in that?’ During the warmer weather, it seems like people think Muslim women who wear a headscarf experience a completely different temperature from the rest of them. Yes, we might be feeling the heat while wearing it, but that doesn’t mean we are going to take off our headscarves just because of the change in weather. That would be kind of silly, don’t you think?
American cartoonist Huda Fahmy has even created an entire series called ‘Yes, I’m hot in this’ in response to the questions regarding her headscarf. And all of her cartoons are so relatable. Go check them out.
3. *Gasp*: ‘Were you forced to wear it?’
This one is another fan favourite. The question ‘Were you forced to wear it?’ is often followed by ‘Are you married?’ There is literally no connection between wearing the headscarf and being married. Many Muslim women who are married don’t wear headscarves, while unmarried Muslim women wear it. And if someone accidentally sees a Muslim woman’s hair, it doesn’t mean they have to get married. It’s not a ready-made proposal or marriage bind. So calm down, I don’t want to marry you either.
There are some Muslim women who are forced to wear it by their families, and their experiences can’t be denied. On the other hand, most women wear it out of a personal choice without any pressure.
4. ‘Do you have hair under there?’
The next question has probably been influenced by those weird shampoo adverts from some countries which have a Muslim woman wearing the headscarf. So before you ask it: yes, Muslim women have hair under their headscarves and they do wash their hair. Islam actually places a lot of importance on cleanliness. Now that we’ve established Muslim women do have hair under their scarfs, please don’t ask to see it.
5. ‘Where do you buy it from?’
Another fascinating question is, ‘Where do you buy them from?’ Actually, they come from the scarf section at any clothing store. Sorry, they don’t come from some special factory where people are plotting how to spread Sharia law (Islamic law) around the world. If it’s pretty and sits right on their heads, Muslim women get their scarfs from anywhere and everywhere.
Wearing a headscarf for Muslim women is just a small part of what defines them. It might be the only thing you see when you come across a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf. But that’s on you. It is not very polite to assume that’s all there is to her. So please don’t.
So the next time you see a headscarf-wearing woman, speak to her like you would any other person. Chances are she’ll answer you, as long as it’s not about any of the above.
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