The hijab is the most visible declaration of our religion as Muslim women. Depending whether we live in a Muslim or a non-Muslim country, wearing Islamic dress is a loud proclamation of faith and sometimes an act of courage, or it is a simple decision to follow the local customs. In any case, it is important to wear hijab with the right intention – only for Allah’s sake.
Wearing the hijab needs commitment and understanding as to why we wear it, otherwise it would remain meaningless or acquire another, non-religious meaning. Each Muslimah has to make the decision to adopt hijab by herself, but to do that she needs the right knowledge and guidance. A mother is the first and best teacher, as well as a role model for her daughters, and it is usually largely up to her to instil the correct Islamic values in her children. I have asked some mothers about their approach to their daughters wearing hijab; I was interested to find out whether they instruct them to do it, encourage them or just let them make their own choice.
Humeira Saleemi is living with her husband, son and two daughters in the north of England. Her elder daughter, Sara, is in her early teens, and she’s been wearing hijab for a few years now. Humeira says that she’d been preparing her daughter for putting on a headscarf, keeping in mind that hijab is obligatory. “I’ve been talking to Sara for a long time about why she should wear hijab. How will she wear it? How it’s going to look in school and other places but most importantly, I tried to make her understand that this is something Allah commands us to do, and we’ll get loads of reward for that. I explained to her properly that wearing hijab is not something we should be ashamed of or think that this is a burden – it’s actually to protect her and give her the sense of boundaries.”
Masha Allah, Sara looks beautiful in her headscarf and long skirts. She’s very confident and always smiling and, as her mother says, she has never complained of hijab, not even when she has had to put up with hot weather while visiting her relatives in Pakistan. “I think she accepted it because it never came in her way; she never felt that she can’t do stuff because she wears hijab.”
Putting on a hijab may seem like a big step for a girl living in a non-Muslim country. It is much easier if she lives in a community where hijab is the social norm – but even then it is important to learn the reasons behind covering oneself, so that a young Muslimah may feel confident wearing her headscarf wherever she goes, regardless of local customs.
Ann Marie Lambert Stock, originally from the US, but now living in Saudi Arabia, agrees about the impact of local customs: “The environment reinforces your efforts. I have four hijab-wearing daughters ranging from 12 to 32, and all of them begged me to let them wear the hijab from 4th grade onwards. I made them wait and think about it because I told them it was a commitment and once we start an ‘ibadah, we must have steadfastness come hell or high water – even if we take a trip to the US. All of them told me they were committed each in her own time. We went out and bought proper clothes and new scarves, a bit pinky and cute, and they began. I never pushed hijab, but all little girls want to be like their mommy and that is where that came from.”
It is a blessing for a mother if her daughter chooses to follow the Islamic path and assumes hijab on her own accord. But sometimes it’s not that easy. Saleema Dawood has a step-daughter who has just reached puberty, and both herself and her husband, the girl’s father, would wish for her to put on hijab. “However, the situation is a complicated one as her mom does not cover so she was not encouraging it and my step-daughter had no inclination to do so herself.” Saleema and her husband consulted an Islamic psychologist who advised them not to force the decision on their daughter because there are so many Muslim kids living with double identities, covering only for their parents’ sake, and thus there is no sincerity in their actions. The psychologist went on to say that covering up correctly is a personal journey that must be initiated by one’s own self.
What parents can do in such a situation is to try to encourage their child think over the meaning of hijab, the reasons why Allah (SWT) has enjoined this obligation on women and the consequences of not covering oneself properly.
Reaching puberty is a benchmark of becoming responsible for one’s own actions to Allah (SWT), but it might be a difficult time, what with all the physical changes. Suddenly changing dress code could just add to the pressures and tensions of evolving into an adult. That’s why many mothers say it is important for girls to dress modestly from the early years and have the right values instilled in them since childhood so once they reach puberty, wearing hijab would just seem normal and natural to them. ‘Modest’ when it comes to children’s clothes could mean that the little girls dress casually, but decently, putting no shorts or ‘spaghetti straps’ on, or it could mean that girls are actually wearing headscarves from an early age – it all depends on the family and external environment.
All the mothers I’ve spoken to agree that training their girls to put on hijab should not be the sole focus. Rather, it should be a part of their education in Islam. Assuming hijab usually comes together with other practices becoming fardh for young people, such as prayer and fasting; it is important for children to get the bigger picture of their rights and obligations in Islam. They should develop a sense of responsibility and confidence in their identity as Muslims. As Humeira Saleemi says, “If the basics are right then doing hijab is easier.”
Nalini Naidoo, a mother to a six-year-old girl living in East London, UK also agrees on the importance of instilling the right values. Regarding hijab-training she says, “I wouldn’t force my daughter to wear it – I want her to wear it because she loves it, and she understands why she is wearing it, not because it becomes part of our family’s culture. She needs to do it to please Allah, not to please me. This way there is much less chance that she will go round the corner and take it off! If I know my daughters are secure in their Islam then I would worry less about peer pressure.”
Putting on hijab is a process that starts a long time before we first wrap a scarf around our heads. Yet this very moment, when the internal convictions turn into an external manifestation, could be celebrated. A shopping expedition to buy some scarves, a mother’s-and-daughter’s day or a family outing with a daughter dressed in her new-look attire could reinforce the girl’s confidence and strengthen the relationship between her and her mum. In a way, she will have now reached the stage when more responsibility means that she could be treated more as her mother’s companion, and less as a minor. One could even look at the act of starting to wear the hijab as a rite of passage, marking the moment when a young Muslimah becomes accountable for her own deeds and a moment of acquiring awareness of the obligation of hijab. This joyous occasion deserves some celebration, so why not make a hijab-party to mark the special time in our daughter’s life? It’s an upcoming trend with great potential, Insha Allah!
Klaudia Khan is a Muslim mother, who strives to be a good example for her daughters insha Allah.