Can You Be a Part-Time Hijabi?

words | hana qwfan

With the rise of Muslim influencers in the media - from Instagram to Vogue to CNN - comes the term “part-time hijabi”. “Part-Time Hijabi” is the new label that Muslims on the Internet use to refer to Muslim women who wear the hijab one day and take it off the next, or who completely cover their hair in one instance but switch to a sheer look with bangs in another. Is this term demeaning? Does it act as a backhanded reference, or as a way to distinguish a Muslim woman’s degree of modesty? Could the hijab itself function as a binary symbol, or is there gray matter to interpret regarding the “part-timers” that many Muslim women are referred to as today? Ultimately, what does this part-time status entail, and is it significantly different for those who adorn the normal ‘extremes’ of the hijab,’ of either always wearing it or never wearing it at all?

        At first, I planned to enter this discussion with the simple answer of “yes!” However, as I ruminated on the topic more, I realized that the real answer is no: one cannot be a part-time hijabi.

        The hijab, the Muslim headscarf, is an undoubtedly important - and the majority will regard as an essential - act of worship. The Holy Quran mentions the importance of a woman’s modesty, in Surat Al-Nur, with the verse:

“... and not display their beauty except what is apparent, and they should place their veils over their bosoms...” (24.31)

        Without translation, the term “khumur” can be used to describe some sort of veil or covering. While the word is debated frequently among scholars on if this pertains to the veil around the head (the headscarf), there are clear directions given for women to dress modestly. But with the act of modesty, there is the requirement of intention, compassion, and sacrifice. There have been days, for example, when I have worn the hijab out of routine instead of deliberate intention. I questioned my act of worship. At the same time, I remember my commitment the very first day I began wearing the hijab. I woke my sister up as I was getting ready for school, and told her to help me put it on. I ended up taking it off half-way through the day, but, nevertheless, it was my decision and intention that made it an act of worship.

        We have all heard of the term “part-time hijabi” to signify a woman who wears a headscarf for only a partial amount of time, whether that be whenever she is in public, or within the private sphere of her own home. However, the actual worship behind the wardrobe cannot be something one partially invests in. The hijab is defined as a barrier or shield, referred to in the Holy Quran a total of seven times, which can be taken in the context of not only physical but also metaphorical barriers. It is a guard that every Muslim is required to adorn themselves with in order to keep their duties to Allah (SWT). The obligations of the hijab encompass much more than a mere dress code: they include respect in every glance and gaze as well as grace in every mannerism one adopts and behaves with, for the purpose of testing one’s character to its purest limits. In other words, the hijab represents a manifestation of one’s hayaa (modesty), as it is important for us Muslims to embrace this life with both love and humility.

If an individual is wearing the hijab with the right intentions, he or she is performing a faithful act of committed worship. If that same individual abides by all of the tenets that the hijab comprehends but has external factors that motivate the action, then, in the end, the hijab is not an incarnation of worship. The most common external factor most Muslims know of is the cultural peer pressure that stems from the family and local Muslim community. And although cultural, communal, and familial bonds are important, the reality is that they have no place in swaying one’s religion.

        The hijab is a ritual: it is an ongoing action, an incredibly rewarding journey. For those whose parents immigrated from an Islamic country, most of them would most likely recall seeing photos or hearing stories of their parents in their early years in America (or any other country with a Westernized culture) with sheer fabric, tight clothing from the 70s, or stylish bangs undulating out of their head caps and sequined hijabs. My parents, for example, told me that everything that they have worked so hard for in the U.S. was for the benefit of their own parents, and the reason why they did so was ultimately for the purpose of serving God. No one ridiculed them for their assimilation to the US - not even their families back home - because everyone was aware that my parents were becoming part of a brand new - and uncomfortably foreign - world. In the 70s, not many average Americans had an opinion on Muslims, let alone know the doctrine of Islam.

        Yet today, everyone has an opinion on Muslims - and one that is dogmatically so. In a post 9/11 world, it’s no secret that hijabi women are easily targeted for the increasing rise in Islamophobic hate crimes. To many of us, this is not only a brand new world: it is our only world. Nonetheless, we all somehow form opinions on a particular sister’s clothing, her absence/presence of a hijab on certain days of the week, or her choice to leave her hair exposed for the world to see. Does this make her a “part-time hijabi”?

The term itself reduces the complexity of each particular case and antagonizes Muslims (specifically Muslim women) against each other. A woman may not wear a hijab due to the high anxiety levels it creates, such as from memories of a terrorist attack in the media.  She may also abstain from it due to the entire family’s coercion for her to temporarily ‘put it on pause’ for safety measures. Or perhaps the sister simply wishes for a clear heart and pure intention to be present when she does decide to start wearing one, so that she can rest assured, knowing that she’s fulfilling its true purpose: to satisfy an act of worship to Allah (SWT).

        The hijab is required for all Muslims. However, it’s worthwhile to recognize that all Muslims are still on the journey of bettering their way to worship Allah (SWT). When our fundamental belief and trust in God - when our imaan (our faith) - is constantly being challenged, it remains critical to reflect on our genuine intentions. And, in hard times such as the current political climate we all live in, shaped by the Trump Muslim Ban and increasing Islamophobia, both globally and nationally, it is also crucial to keep in mind that we must all be there for each other. Hence, if I have communicated any message that seems wrong or appears disingenuous, then please sincerely excuse my ignorance. I still have a lot to learn through this journey in this precarious and transient dunya (world).

photos | sania elahi