Originally published in March 2010
I understand that hijab is required, and I’ve been wearing it for some time now but I feel like putting it on might have been a mistake. I don’t feel like it’s made me become a better Muslim, and I feel almost like I’m deceiving people because they look at me as an example even though I’m still struggling with a lot of things. Also, if I take it off, is it really something Allah will punish me for? It seems like such a petty thing. Isn’t the most important thing having a clean heart?
Assalaamu `alaykum dear questioner,
Thank you for asking this question which opens up a number of important issues, and for entrusting us enough to share with us some of what you’re struggling with. I ask Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) that He makes the words that I write beneficial to you and others who are reading, and that He leads you to the best decisions.
I’d like to start by addressing what I believe is the least important factor in this equation, and that is ‘what other people might think.’ It should never be the case that we alter our practice of Islam or our worship for the sake of other people, or what they might think or assume. People may be quick to judge or jump to conclusions, but whatever thoughts or opinions they have are strictly their responsibility, and not something we should be overly concerned with.
You said that you’re worried that wearing hijab may be deceiving, because people see you as better than you really are. But in truth all of us are sinners, and it is only from Allah’s mercy upon us that He is as-Siteer – the One who veils our faults and our flaws, and makes us seem better than we really are in others’ eyes. One famous scholar said, “If sins had a smell no one would come near me because of the stench!” Every single one of us has deficiencies and weaknesses, has made mistakes, has taken missteps or is presently taking them. We only do the best that we can, and any good deed that Allah grants us the opportunity to perform should be considered a blessing that we take advantage of. Instead of worrying about not being good enough, we can instead consider this as an opportunity to be thankful to Allah for concealing our negatives, and pray, “O Allah, forgive me for what they do not know about me, and make me even better than what they think.”
You will be hard-pressed to find anyone on this earth who can be considered ‘worthy’ of being a representative of Islam, because everyone has one dimension or another in their faith or practice in which they are lacking. However that doesn’t mean we should stop encouraging each other by whatever means are available to us. There is a very beautiful hadith related to this issue:
Anas relates that, “We asked the Prophet ﷺ, ‘O Messenger of Allah ﷺ, shouldn’t we refrain from calling others to goodness if we don’t practice all good things ourselves, and shouldn’t we refrain from forbidding wrong things until we ourselves have abstained from all the bad?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘You should call others to goodness even if you don’t do all good, and you should forbid bad things even if you don’t abstain from all of them yourselves.'” (Al-Tabarani)
Remember that by wearing hijab you are not saying to others ‘I am Islam’, but simply that ‘I am a Muslim’, meaning – I am someone who is trying to follow this religion, who accepts it as truth, sees beauty in it and hopes to beautify myself with it. I remember a quote attributed to Yusuf Islam: “Islam is not a state of being but it is a process of becoming,” – becoming more, become better, striving to reach that state of perfect submission and connection with Allah Most High, and May He help all of us achieve that, ameen.
You also said that you feel hijab has not really made you a better Muslim. A lot of times when a person first starts performing a good deed they feel an iman ‘rush’, a feeling of happiness at doing something good for the sake of Allah and energy to do more, improve themselves, etc. However, after some time, when that action starts to become just another part of a daily routine, it loses that power, and that increase in iman and excitement dissipates.
What a person needs, instead of focusing on those ‘rushes’, is a steady and constant diet of good deeds and spiritual nourishment. We cannot rely on one particular deed to ‘make’ us better Muslims. Instead, we have to take the reigns and make sure we are doing things regularly that increase us in iman, like recitation of the Qur’an, performing salah with consciousness and focus, dhikr, and so on. Wearing hijab can definitely be one of those things, but it is only one part of a whole that needs to be constructed. Just like exercise is important for good health, yet it has to be combined with eating right and many other things in order for the person to see the desired results in the end.
Also know that there is a direct relationship between a person’s actions and their inner state. We know that when someone is in a high state of iman it’s natural for him or her to start performing more good deeds. However, we may overlook the fact that the opposite is true as well – that just performing good deeds, even if one may not be ‘feeling it’, can affect us and change us. The limbs are inroads, and performing good deeds with them can soften a hardened heart, bring enlightenment to a closed mind, and give a person a feeling of rejuvenation and desire to come closer to Allah and do more positive things. I heard a scholar say that if one is feeling troubled, confused or in a low state of iman, “go quickly to action”; because good deeds can bring about that inner reawakening one may need. If we don’t see a change happening in us when we do a good deed, that doesn’t mean we should stop it but that perhaps we need to supplement it with others in order to gather the momentum needed to see results.
Thirdly, you are absolutely correct when you say that the most important thing is for us to have purified hearts. Allah (swt) emphasizes this in the Qur’an when He states that on the Day of Judgment nothing will be of benefit to the servant except “one who brings to Allah a clean, sound heart” (26:89). The question is, how does one achieve that? What purifies us and cleanses our hearts?
In our times we find that some people feel that we’ve reached a more ‘enlightened era’ in which spirituality can be derived solely from philosophy and ideas, and need not be bound by rituals and details of religion. However those who propound this notion forget that Allah did not create us as minds and souls alone – but coupled them with our physical bodies. We cannot deny the fact that we are body and soul, content and form, together, and each has its own needs and specifications for refinement. This is a sunnah of Allah in the way that we were created, and why prayer, fasting, and all our spiritual endeavors have very specific physical components. These forms house within them dimensions of meaning, but it is only from enacting them precisely that a profound spirituality can be achieved.
Purifying our hearts is the goal, but the means to reaching that goal is through the very real and specific physical prescriptions and commandments that Allah (swt) has given us. It is through His obedience and through following the teachings of our deen that we clean and polish our hearts. It is for this reason that I have to say that hijab is not something trivial. Anything that leads us to spiritual awareness, elevation, and purification – that helps us come closer to Allah – cannot be considered trivial or petty. Perhaps it is more likely that there are hidden depths within it that we do not perceive, or that we are not putting it in the proper context of its deeper purpose and meaning.
About punishment from Allah: a better way of looking at this issue is not considering the smallness or pettiness of the sin, but the greatness of the One whom we are sinning against. From His infinite wisdom, all-encompassing knowledge and vast mercy, in accordance to His Law – which is at its core about attaining benefit and warding off harm – He has instructed us to perform this action. In the Qur’an Allah says, ‘It may be that you dislike something and in it is goodness for you’ (2:216); ‘It may be that you dislike a thing but Allah brings about from it a great deal of good.’ (4:19) If someone chooses to step away from a prescribed action knowingly, we cannot deny that this is a sin, and that Allah holds us to account for our sins. However we always have hope in and pray for Allah’s mercy and kindness, as we know He can forgive all sins if He chooses.
In closing, I want to leave you with a beautiful quote from a Hadith Qudsi. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said:
“My servant draws not near to Me with anything more beloved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him.” (Bukhari)
Know, dear questioner, that if you feel far from Allah, the solution is not to stop what you are doing and find a different way, but to persevere and continue on the path you are on, even though it is hard. This will make you beloved to Allah, and one who feels the happiness of being close to Him and being shaded by His Loving Mercy and care.
May Allah enliven and enlighten our hearts and grant us closeness to Him. May He make us people who love to worship Him, and through our worship become close to Him and gain His love. May He make our hearts firm and steadfast on our deen, and grant us strength and bravery in our spiritual struggles. May He guide us to the best decisions and make easy for us the path of khayr [goodness]. Ameen ya Rabb.
WAllahu a`lam – and He alone knows best.