As France votes to ban the hijab for under-18s, these Muslim women reveal why they choose to wear – or not wear – the hijab in today’s society
On 30th March, the French senate voted to ban anyone under the age of 18 from wearing the hijab, as part of the controversial separatism bill.
The French senate voted in favour of ‘prohibition in the public space of any conspicuous religious sign by minors and of any dress or clothing which would signify an interiorization of women over men’. The vote has been met with outrage and criticism.
The news comes just weeks after annual World Hijab Day (WHD) on February 1st, in recognition of millions of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab and live a life of modesty.
The brainchild of this movement is a New York resident, Nazma Khan, who came up with the idea as a means to foster religious tolerance and understanding by inviting women (non-Hijabi Muslims/non-Muslims) to experience the hijab for one day.
For many people, the hijab is a symbol of oppression and segregation. By opening up new pathways to understanding, Nazma hopes to counteract some of the controversies surrounding why Muslim women choose to wear the hijab.
Mariah is a British model and leading authority on “modest fashion” after becoming the first Muslim hijab-wearing model, in H&M’s 2015 “Close the Loop” campaign. Mariah is passionate about learning and embracing a more sustainable lifestyle, and the role the fashion world can play to protect the planet.
“Around the age of 17 I began praying 5 times a day and wearing the hijab full time just made sense seeing as I needed to wear it to pray!”
“The hijab is a part of my identity but does not define who I am entirely. It makes me feel more conscious of my speech and behaviour, it’s a decision I’m happy I made.”
“Instagram is great for connecting with people and the space for Muslim women is huge online. I’ve met great people who also observe the hijab from various cultures and backgrounds.”
Zahrah is the hiker that will fill your feed with stories that are straight-talking and high-inspiration. She explains: “I started wearing the hijab in high school but took it off periodically for class trips and parties. I started wearing it more consciously when I began University”.
“Hijab to me is more than the cloth on my head, it’s making sure my speech, my movements, my thoughts and most importantly what’s in my heart is as pure as possible”.
“I’ve virtually met some amazing hijabis via Instagram. From fellow hillwalkers to yoga teachers to martial arts instructors – all from different parts of the world and different races. It’s reiterated to me how vast we all are and how incredible these women are and how every woman is somehow breaking stereotypes just by doing what she loves and posting about it”!
Throughout her career, Asma has battled stereotypes and in 2014, helped campaign to overturn a ban on hijabs in professional basketball.
She explains: “I started wearing the Hijab because it was the norm once you reach a certain age as a young girl. Then I stepped away from it for 4 years because I didn’t feel like I had my own personal reasons for wearing it.”
“It became one of the ways connected to and maintain my relationship with Allah.
“Social media helped me use my voice to advocate for Inclusivity and diversity in sport and to connect with other Muslim women around the world in the arts and sports. In many ways it has been my safe space to share without being judged for covering my hair.”
Zainab is Vitality’s 2020 Grassroots Sportswoman of the Year, as a trailblazing rugby player and community worker, who is determined to use her talents to show that Muslim women are so much more than cooking, cleaning, and having kids – her aim is to smash down these stereotypes.
She said: “I made the conscious decision to wear the hijab at age of 17. I was brought up in a Muslim household but I went on a journey into learning about Islam for myself , I didn’t want to wear it because my parents thought I should , but because I wanted to. That was important to me.
“Hijab is part of my identity as a Black Muslim woman and I wear it with pride. You look at me and see a Muslim woman and I like that visibility especially when I’m on the pitch playing rugby because I feel like I’m smashing stereotypes.”
“Instagram has helped me connect with other muslim women who play rugby. I have a project called Muslimah Rugby and its about networking with Muslim women within Rugby and giving us an opportunity the connect, inspire and empower eachother and others- Instagram made that possible; I thought I was the only female Muslim rugby player in the world at one point but it turns out I’m not! That makes me happy!”
Khadijah Safari, kickboxing coach and CEO of @safari_mma
Khadijah is a kickboxing coach and CEO of @safari_mma, a community hoping to unite people around the world through Martial Arts, regardless of background and culture. Khadijah wants to help fellow Muslim women defend themselves against the parts of society that are increasingly concerned with hate crime, terrorism and Islamophobia.
“I am someone who has always thrived on self development and self challenge, and on my journey learning about Islam I knew one thing was for sure, that I’d NEVER wear the hijab!” she said. “I then questioned myself as to why I wouldn’t, and thinking deeply about my reasons, I had to acknowledge that I was not the strong, confident individual that I’d viewed myself to be, I always said that I didn’t care what people thought, but if that was the case, why was I worried what other people would think? It was time for me to strip down my thoughts about myself and actually work on my real confidence, get rid of fear, and be unapologetically me.
“Would you believe if I told you that my hijab does not represent my culture? It’s a tricky one as people presume that I’m originally from a Muslim country, but I’m not, I’m half British, Half Italian, my mothers maiden name was Smith, do we get any more British than that? So in fact introducing hijab into my culture has been something new for my family, for which I am very lucky as they’ve all been really accepting, but for many this sadly isn’t the case.
“It’s been so exciting for me to be able to unite with so many other amazing Muslim women across the world through my platform, the fact that we can all communicate and display our lifestyles through image is just amazing. It’s been fantastic to see that through social media Muslim women are able to demonstrate that they are not oppressed by their religion or choice to wear hijab, and that really anything is possible, you just have to believe that you can achieve it. My hijab is my choice, and a major part of who I chose to be, and I smile as I write this.”
Asha Hussein, Social media influencer and vlogger
“I was 17 when I made the decision that completely changed my life not just as a Muslim, but as a woman. I decided to wear the hijab.
“Like many women who wear the hijab, it was to become more spiritually connected to my religion, to actively practice Islam and not just to tick the Muslim box on a form.
“The first thing I noticed was that people listened more to what I was saying. I was coming to people as a blank canvas and that, as a woman, is both empowering and liberating. It’s addictive. I am not my hair, I am not my beauty, I am not my body. I am me.
“As a social media influencer, I feel attitudes towards hijab-wearing women can be polarising. You’re either portrayed as an extremist, ISIS sympathiser or an extremely oppressed woman – I’m none of those things. In reality, the only thing extreme about me is how late I leave it to return books to the library.
“My mother, as a British woman, should never have to feel afraid when I leave my home. Hijabis should be admired for holding their heads up high and rocking their hijab every day, without fear.”
Khadija Mahamud, Digital content creator
“To me, the hijab is more than just a piece of cloth; it’s a symbol of my faith that represents a part of me to the world.
“I started wearing the hijab full-time when I was 15. I was fortunate enough that my mum taught me about the reasons for wearing it and she encouraged me to research its importance. It’s never enough of a reason to do something just because someone else tells you to. In short, it’s because of this that I was able to see the beauty of, and essentially the empowerment of, choosing to cover up.
“In a world where women are often sexualised, there’s something extremely powerful about knowing people won’t judge you based on what you’re wearing.
“People often assume there are limitations to wearing the hijab. For me, it does the opposite; it allows me to be unapologetically myself both as a feminist and as a Muslim woman.
“The media fuels the way people perceive Muslim women; good and bad. We’re either breaking news because we’re breaking boundaries or, somehow, we need to be saved. It seems as though it’s time to accept, Muslim women aren’t so different from other women.”
Muna Jama, Former Miss Universe contestant, a model and humanitarian campaigner
“Throughout my career, I have used Islam to guide me but have chosen not to wear the hijab. Instead, I’ve embraced faith through my conversations, my behaviour and the way I dress.
“I showed my own version of modesty when I competed in Miss Universe without wearing a bikini and, instead, was the first woman to wear a kaftan. There were things about Miss Universe that didn’t suit me as a person and I chose to take a stand, so I could make a difference.
“When the media focuses so much on those who wear the hijab, they can forget the diversity of thought among Muslim women. I love wearing a headscarf on certain days and, at other times, practice my modesty entirely differently. That may be wearing a kaftan, owning the catwalk at Modest Fashion Weeks around the world or simply by being a considerate and compassionate person.
“True beauty is defined by our behaviour towards one another and should not be measured by what we wear. The hijab is a wonderful way to practice the Islamic faith but not the only way.