As a Muslim woman who chooses to wear khimar (kee-mar) or a head-covering, I have often encountered some of the most ridiculous notions about what it signifies: that some man forced me to wear it, or that I have no hair at all.
The questions surrounding this practice in Islam have been:
“Do you wear that in the shower?”
“Do you ever take it off?”
“Do you even have to take care of your hair under there?”
Here’s a quick lesson on the modesty practice of Muslim women. The hijab (hee-jab), which is the term people often misuse to refer to the head covering, is much more than just a head covering. It is a full embodiment of modesty. It is a code of both behavioural and dressing ethics, applying to men and women alike. It is a combination of how you speak, behave and treat others in addition to how you present yourself to the world through what you wear.
Women who choose to cover their hair do so for their own spiritual connection, but what’s underneath their khimar is also treated with the same spiritual practice, love and care.
We spoke with eight Muslim women who shared their experiences wearing khimar, the misconceptions they’ve endured, and how they feel about their hair.
Bibi Watts, Philadelphia
“When I think about my hijab, I see it as my crown. Not only is it a personal stamp of identity, but it gives me a sense of class and uniqueness. I find it funny when people ask if I style my hair because ‘no one sees it.’ As if to infer, since the public can’t see, it shouldn’t matter how it looks. It’s actually quite the opposite. I love unveiling for my husband at home and see myself as the gift he gets to unwrap each time I take my hair down. I love the feeling of having my beauty be a secret and not getting caught up worrying about the demands of society.”
Aisha Abdul-Aleem, Baltimore
“I have always had a full head of long, thick hair, and caring for it is a lot. Covering my hair daily is a double-edged sword. Although it is protected and I am pleasing my Lord while wearing the khimar, on the other hand, my hair yearns for moisture and daily attention. This leads me to ensure that it is taken care of and in doing that I make frequent salon trips. Since covering my hair, it has increased in length and it takes more time to care for it. I welcome questions about it because it allows me to introduce Islam to others and allows them to get an understanding of Islam and who I am.”
Sadiyah Powell, Washington, D.C.
“For me, a lot of emphasis was put on my hair when I was younger. Because my mother was preparing me for wearing hijab — a life where my hair would really only be seen by my family ― a lot of it was framed as if it was community hair in a sense. The day after I got married, I cut all of my hair off. It allowed me to learn and fall in love with my hair in a brand new way. Really experiencing its growth, texture, and body in its smallest capacity and seeing its journey to becoming what it is now has made me truly appreciate my hair.”
Hayyat Watts, Rock Hill, South Carolina
“An appreciation and respect for hijab was instilled in me from a formative age. My mother told her daughters we were flowers in Allah’s Garden. Elevated ladies. And we were made to feel special, unique and treasured. As a girl, I was taught that though my hair shouldn’t be uncovered, nor beautified for the public, neither should it be unkempt underneath my veil. Natural or permed, cornrows or curls, we took pride in staying fly. And it’s so much easier as a married woman to have only my man’s taste to consider, outside mine, when I’m styling these hidden locks.”
Aliyah Hakim-El, New York City
“While hijabs have become normalised in the mainstream media and the fashion world, many stereotypes continue to exist. Many are still convinced that our choice to cover somehow means we neglect our hair. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Wearing hijab has actually made daily hair care a priority for me as opposed to causing damage to achieve a particular style. While my hijab might temporarily flatten my curly fro, I’m glad to know it’s protecting my hair against dust and direct sunlight. Covering my hair has also made me more comfortable with experimenting with styles and colours which I probably would deem too risky if I didn’t cover. What I love most is that hijab allows me to look fly even on a bad hair day. I also like that I can represent pride in my religious identity publicly and also get cute for my husband when I’m home. To the world, our hair is covered all day, but in reality, the moment we enter our house, we’re in a Pantene commercial.”
Iman Khalid, United Arab Emirates
“I really used to struggle with the thought of wearing a scarf full-time because so much of my beauty was wrapped up in my hair. I questioned who would still find me beautiful if it were concealed. I knew I was supposed to wear it but wondered what would spark the fire that would lead me to wear it for the pleasure of God. An auntie was sick and dying in the hospital and against my mother’s advice, I went to visit without my hair covered. Walking into her room I could feel the presence of the angels and realised my hair was never going to save my life. When I got home I prayed hard, ‘Allow me to love you more than I love myself. Allow me to love what you love and to be who you want me to be.’”
Aisha Almuid, Baltimore
“As a Muslim woman, it is a part of my religious duty to wear the headscarf, but as a feminine woman, it is a part of my self-care routine to care for my hair just as I would if it was on display for the public to see. For me, hair care is not just for people to see, but it is a part of my self-esteem. When my hair is properly taken care of, I feel beautiful regardless. Just as we wax and do other hygienic care that no one sees, the same applies for me and my hair care.”
Ashley Marshall-Seward, Atlanta
“I was raised in the beauty salon. My aunt owned one and getting my hair done was lovely. I’ve been wearing hijab for 18 years, and just because I cover my hair does not mean I’ve stopped caring for my hair. I picked up a valuable skill from my aunt, and I enjoy styling mine and my daughter’s hair in many different ways. I don’t think twice about not being able to show my hair off to others in public; I reserve my beautiful styles for my family to see in our home. But trust and believe, this hair is laid under my hijab!”
Read more about the complicated relationships we have with our hair at My Hair, My Story.