Modesty—A Challenge for Teenage Muslim Girls
It seems like yesterday my husband and I began our lives as parents. In reality, it has been nearly fourteen years since our daughter, Amira, was born. Today, Amira is a maturing teenager, exemplifying much of what it means to be a typical American teen. This is true, with the exception of her being a Muslim girl who recently began wearing her hijab. Muslim teens in America not only have to deal with the everyday adolescent issues surrounding them, especially in junior high and high schools, they also have the responsibility of practicing humility in clothing and behavior. Although this distinction often causes them to stand out from among their peers, nonetheless, it is the halal choice leading to contentment now and in the future, inshaAllah. In the Quran, Allah (SWT) says, “O children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment upon you to cover yourselves (screen your private parts, etc.) and as an adornment. But the raiment of righteousness, that is better” (Quran 7:26).
Based upon this verse, Muslims, not only in America but also around the world, are required to observe modesty in their daily lives. For teens, this can be an exceptional challenge. Ugo Uche, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in adolescents and young adults, points out that children today are “considerably more egotistical than past generations. Most people may look at social media and come to the decision that more youths than generations past present larger than life egos, particularly when sites like Facebook and Twitter are looked at. Another source for a rough measurement of ego among today’s youth would be popular music. While on the subject of media and entertainment, let’s not forget reality shows.” Indeed, the emergence and heavy influence of these factors play an enormous part in the daily lives of our teens, persuading them to push the boundaries of clothing and behavior to lower levels. Whether they are Muslims or not, it is an incredible challenge to live a life of humility when faced with the popular demand of keeping up with fashion trends that encourage skimpy clothing and smug demeanors.
Although Amira has taken the decision to wear her hijab in public for the rest of her life, it was not a decision taken lightly. Over the past couple of years, as adolescence crept upon her, like many of her peers, she experienced changes not only in her physical appearance, but also changes in the way she thinks and processes the world around her. It is true that we live in a society that prides itself on acceptance of the other as well as of the individual; however, it can be a difficult task, especially for an adolescent in middle school, to act upon a decision that will change her life forever. Unlike early childhood, the pressure of fitting in with the crowd is immense in adolescence, when kids are beginning to discover who they are and starting to form plans for a future. Teenagers do not want to feel that they do not belong or are different. One of the keys for a successful transition from childhood to adulthood, is for families to provide continued love and support even if it takes some of our children a longer time to mature and act upon the commandments of Allah (SWT) and the teachings of the Prophet (PBUH).
The Oxford American Dictionary defines humility as “a modest or low view of one’s own importance.” However, in the context of religion, humility is about promoting an honest, precise, and independent view of human importance in the overall expansive universe. In the adolescent state of mind, acting in humility is akin to living beneath the cool group, which must keep in step with the fashion of the week no matter the cost. However, instead of viewing humility as synonymous with low self-esteem, one might consider that, through humility, we are developing an understanding of Allah’s (SWT) view of us as individuals. Based on this, our self is separate from our physical appearance, wealth, shortcomings, assets, and our past. Instead, it complements the design of Allah (SWT) who created us with a purpose and who gives us the power to fulfill that purpose. With humility, we view ourselves as equals with other human beings. A person who practices humbleness should not feel insecure or self-conscious. They acknowledge and act upon what they are responsible for and give credit for that which they are not. All the while, their self-esteem is stable, feeling no need to keep up with the ever-changing trends.
When it comes to hijab, Allah (SWT) instructs women specifically to “display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands’ fathers. Or their sons or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or sisters’ sons, or other women, or male attendants who lack vigor, or children who know naught of women’s nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment.” The verse ends with the instruction for women and men: “And turn unto Allah together, O’ believers, in order that ye may succeed” (Quran 24:31). Indeed, the purpose of hijab beginning in adolescence is to instill, from an early age, a sense of core values revolving around what is more important rather than showing off one’s beauty and physical attractiveness in public. Instead, the focus is on developing intelligence, good manners, and strong moral principles.
Although the Quran may appear to designate a series of strict prohibitions, one should take the outlook and understanding of the teachings as a form of defense from the ugly side of society. We must begin with the premise that Allah (SWT) does not seek blind followers. For this reason, He clarifies His words in the Quran with analysis that is applicable to our daily lives. Unfortunately, parents sometimes take one of two extremes. Some parents are afraid that their children will lose their cultural and religious identity; therefore, they drill a series of dos and don’ts into their children’s heads without explaining why the behavior is allowed or unacceptable. Indeed, in America, we live among people from various backgrounds united by the common bond of citizenship. The second extreme belongs to parents who let the reigns completely loose and encourage their children to melt into society without retaining any heritage. It can be a challenge to maintain our historical, ethnic, and religious identity in this overwhelming melting pot. With the explosion of social media, our American melting pot has essentially become a global melting pot.
Halima, a seventeen-year-old high school senior, says that, “I always knew I’d wear the hijab. When I did, I was a naïve twelve-year-old who knew little about the rules of hijab, but what I did know then and now is that haram is all around me. It is easy to be in the moment. Wearing my hijab every day before I walk out, reminds me that this choice is meant as a physical and mental protection that gives me the priority to have my mind judged, not my body.”
Although physical covering is an essential part of hijab and of living a life of humility in Islam, we must understand that it is not only about the fabric we use to cover our bodies. Remember, veiling women is a historic custom among aristocrats, as well as pious people from other faiths. Look at any picture of Mary, mother of Jesus (PBUH), for example. This custom of veiling was practiced for thousands of years before the arrival of Islam. In addition, pious members of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism continue to practice veiling.
Should Muslim parents compel their daughters to wear the hijab? Additionally, should they impose a modest dress code upon their sons? For many Muslims, following in the path of the Prophet (PBUH), or the Sunnah, is the best option. As we know, the female relatives of the Prophet (PBUH) were instructed by Allah (SWT) to modify their clothing: “O Prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and the wives of the believers that they shall lengthen their garments. Thus, they will be recognized and avoid being insulted. God is Forgiver, Most Merciful” (Quran 33:59). Also in the Quran, Allah (SWT) turns his attention to men: “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them. And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do” (Quran 24:30).
For the new school year, Amira has decided to fulfill the teaching of the Prophet (PBUH), as narrated by his wife, Aysha: “Asma, the daughter of Abu Bakr, entered upon the Apostle (PBUH) of Allah (SWT) wearing thin clothes. The Apostle (PBUH) of Allah (SWT) turned his attention away from her. He said, ‘O Asma, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this,’ and he pointed to his face and hands.”
In the end, our intentions are just as important as our actions, if not more. As Dania, an Islamic studies teacher points out, “We do not have the right or responsibility to judge our fellow Muslims because it is ultimately Allah (SWT) who will judge each of us based on what is apparent as well as what is concealed in our intentions and in our hearts.” Indeed, Allah (SWT) is the creator and the final Judge of all.
May He (SWT) guide us and forgive our shortcomings.