Makeup and the Hijab: A Study with Seven Muslim Women Explores Possible Contradictions

| August 9, 2010 | 11 Comments

 

Makeup and the Hijab:

A Study with Seven Muslim Women Explores Possible Contradictions

by Ruhi Al-Ahmed

For the majority of women across the globe, makeup has almost become a necessity for them. Samina Akhter, a Muslim businesswoman has launched UK’s first “halal makeup” meaning that it is 100% free of alcohol and animal products. After reading this article on Muslim Debates I was left with questions.

I noticed that the women who were modeling the makeup were Muslimah hijabis which puzzled me. Doesn’t makeup defeat the purpose of the hijab or the traditional Islamic headscarf?

Makeup is used to emphasize the eyes, lips, cheek bones, and so on which ultimately cause more attention to be drawn towards the subject – in this case, it’s the hijabi. Frankly, makeup even when use to its lowest minimum can make a huge difference in a person’s appearance. I have witnessed women who are covered from head to toe with eyes darkened by kohl or eyeliner, lashes thickened and lengthened, lips darkened to a sweet rouge tint, a shy blush whisked across the cheeks and so on and the majority of Muslims agree with that not being the proper form of the hijab.

When stating the points above, I was told by Muslims that no-makeup or minimal makeup with hijab is “a too strict interpretation of the hijab.” I have been misunderstood as a female misogynist! A controlling, misogynistic dictator of a woman’s life. It surprised me to be called all of these names. I am a person who stands strong for human rights.

I recognize women rights and speak in favor of it every chance I get and when I explained that makeup can do the reverse action of the hijab, I became an evil tyrant. Furthermore, I’ve been told to “butt out” of this whole debate because I don’t believe in all of this.

I have once covered my hair and my body as I felt it was a commandment from Allah. I am not against a woman who chooses to wear the headscarf. It is her choice and if she strongly feels that it is for her and what she stands for, then I too will stand by her side as I want to be respected for not wearing the hijab any longer.

 

WHY THE HIJAB?

I interviewed seven Muslim females of different backgrounds on the hijab to see why Muslimahs felt compelled to wear it.

NIDA: Nida, a college student of the United States started wearing her hijab in 6th grade when she was first transferred to an Islamic school her father enrolled her in. She later transferred back to public school within the next year because she felt the Islamic school in the US wasn’t any different than a public school; it didn’t meet up to Islamic standards however, Nida still strived to wear her hijab. In her very words, Nida felt the hijab was “cool and interesting” at that time. She stated “The hijab is who I am, it is my dignity. It is stated in the quran. I feel secure when I please Allah.” Furthermore, she went on with the saying that most Muslim females have came across – “Women are jewels. The hijab shines and polishes them.” She believes in the Islamic faith a women who dresses modestly and wear the obligatory head cover will be a million times more beautiful and elegant than the hoor (untouched women) in heaven which was another reason as to why she covered.

RIMA: Rima is a Masters graduate who lives in Lebanon. “I started wearing the hijab in the year of 2001, so basically nine to ten years so far… I was in a Christian school where they didn’t allow anything religious like beards, hijab, etc.” It was something forbidden at her school which just made it more desirable and stirred curiosity in her. Rima believed that the hijab was obligatory and she had no problems with that.

“Once you see a sister wearing the hijab you would know she is a Muslim. It covers a lot of things. In other words, hijab makes me feel peaceful, beautiful, comfortable, modest, and proud. Allah has a great reward for hijabis so why not wear it now and get the reward later on?”

MERYEM: Meryem is a college graduate who is currently in Turkey. She’s been wearing the hijab for approximately thirteen years. “I’ve been wearing it since my period – I take it off only around the permitted people.”

“My hijab is an important part of my Muslimah identity. It is the signature I put under the contract that I signed with God, proof of my love for Him. If He wants me to be that way, I do that just because I love Him. I know whatever He orders me to do is for my own good…  It helps me to shape my behaviors. It says to person across to me that ‘I respect your right to not be bombarded about me, me, me. I give you space to ask me the things you want to know…’ Having a piece of cloth on hair doesn’t make a person modest, but immodest people definitely do not wear headscarves. “

AYAH: Ayah is a high school student in the US and has been wearing the hijab for two years.

“No, my wearing of the hijab wasn’t mandatory at all. I woke up one morning and decided that I wanted to wear it. I wanted to become more ‘Muslim’ and felt that this was the way to show to people that I am a Muslim. After I wore it, I realized that the hijab truly doesn’t represent me being a Muslim, and that it was the way I acted and such.”

FERESHTEH: Fereshteh is a current college student in the US and has never worn the hijab. She still considers herself a Muslimah.

“If you look at the quran it says nothing about the hijab. It just says that you have to cover you bosoms and privates. The word ‘hijab’ is not even mentioned in the quran! I dress appropriately and my hair shows. I don’t feel a scarf over my hair is necessary. I have yet to be disrespected by men.”

RANIA: Rania is an American Muslim and a mother of two.  She says, “Hijab is not a fashion statement. It is my duty. Allah has commanded me to wear it and I love Him so much. It is my way of letting Him know that I appreciate all that He has given to me, aside from making salat (prayers). Modesty makes a woman a true woman.”

JAMEELAH: Jameelah is a high school student of the US and wears her hijab proudly. She enjoys applying makeup not only on herself but for other women as well. She would like to major in biology but has serious talent in makeup.Jameelah has been wearing her hijab since she was about 13 years old – it was her family’s choice but she embraced it later on.

“The hijab is a commandment and is my right. It is what I am and what I stand for. I will never remove my hijab. Allah is first and foremost. At first my family told me to wear the hijab and I didn’t like it because my parents didn’t explain the hijab to me. They told me that it is compulsory and no questions to be asked. I wore for about a year because I had to but I began to ask other  girls why they wear their hijab. It surprised me how beautiful the hijab is and I feel ashamed for never being able to see it in the first place. I thank my family for enforcing the hijab on me now. No regrets, just lessons!”

 

MAKEUP AND ISLAM

When asked if makeup is permissible for Muslimahs to wear, four of the young ladies said it was fine but under certain conditions.

MERYEM: Makeup for me is “highlighting the feminine beauty” not womanhood. And I relate my femininity with my privacy. Because of that reason, it conflicts with my understanding of hijab and I don’t have it on outside… I do not wear it, and I am not the one decide on the other people’s appearance, it is a choice…

RIMA: I believe scholars would advice a sister to wear heavy makeup to her mahraam (uncles, husband) or some sisters gathering. They are right because heavy makeup is catchy and might attract some men. I am not against make up. I do wear light makeup during events like weddings or graduation. Usually, I would wear it because I don’t like to pay much on such beautification on myself.

AYAH: Personally, I don’t like when I see anyone wearing tons of makeup. I think they are lowering themselves to society’s view of beauty, and I hate it. I think everyone can be beautiful without makeup. So when I see a Muslimah wearing makeup, I wonder how she can stand up to the society’s way of dissing hijab, but she can’t stand up to the society’s way of dissing a woman when she’s not wearing makeup. If it’s a little bit, like some eyeliner, eye shadow, and that stuff, ok. But if she’s got a whole bunch of that stuff on, nope!

RANIA: I don’t wear any makeup and I don’t plan on to. If I do wear makeup, it is only for my husband and at a private setting where it is just him and I. He is my husband and is the only one other than my family who deserves to see my beauty at its best. And I’m happy for not wearing makeup outside. Makeup does defeat the purpose of the hijab, even if it’s a little eyeliner or lip gloss. Sisters have to remember than men are so quick to be tempted. Hijab is more than just a cover on the head but it is your personality, your behavior, your style, and how you carry yourself. I hate saying “true Muslimah” but one who strictly follows the quran and hadith will know makeup in front of non-mahram men, no matter how low is an absolute no-no.

JAMEELAH: I am a hijabi and I wear makeup. You can say that I put a lot of makeup on but not on a daily basis. I enjoy makeup and every kind of it. I know natural beauty is important but makeup is nice too… Eye shadow, eyeliner, lipstick, and all of that is more of an art (to me) than a tool of attraction. Most men prefer natural beauty anyways! I do my makeup for myself. It is my art and it is my face and I can do anything I want to it. Men can look at hair and the body and feel sexual attraction but makeup is a turnoff for the majority of men and also it’s a different kind of beauty they don’t appreciate as much. Makeup doesn’t make a man horny and that’s the bottom line.

NIDA: It is not our right to be loud, not our right to make it harder for the man; it is his nature to fall weakly over a woman’s looks. And we women have to do our part. A little makeup is OK but heavy makeup is for the husband and only at home. It’s not meant for some random dude.

FERESHTEH: I feel I shouldn’t be answering this since I don’t even wear the hijab but of course a woman who is wearing the hijab shouldn’t wear the hijab! Hello! Makeup can look very sexy if it is done the right way! And men dig light makeup.

 

CONCLUSION | A CONTRADICTION IN VALUES?

makeup and the hijabSo I am left in the utmost confusion. Hijab has different meanings to each individual. The question that we are all left is what is the true “ruling” behind makeup when wearing the hijab? I personally feel that if a woman wants to wear makeup that is her choice just as Meryem said. However, remember what you’re standing for. You are here saying that you’re proud and dignified/modest but you are contradicting yourself in the end whether you want to accept it or not…

Why is it when Muslim men and women speak in favor of the hijab they always seem to refer back to images of Virgin Mary or nuns? What use is that? I have yet to see a nun wearing even a speck of blush and as for Virgin Mary I think we can all agree with her not looking like glamour queen. Nuns and Virgin Mary don’t look like they just stepped out of MAC. They are “modest” by covering their hair and I feel that they wear the headscarf (hijab if you will) better than some Muslimahs simply because they stick to their words.

Jameelah is only one of the hijabis I managed to interview who is a proud hijabi and a makeup lover. Most refused to be interviewed and I feel it is because they are aware that they are breaking their rules. And after all, Islam has derived from both Judaism and Christianity. Does the word “hijab” have a new meaning to it? Perhaps it has a different definition to each individual.

I want to make it very clear that I have no objections with the hijab. In fact, I think the hijab can look very cute and can cause some serious thinking to men. The hijab is mysteriously beautiful and leaves men to wonder “what is under the veil?” As Rima has mentioned, the forbidden is desirable. Once upon a time I wore the hijab too and I always felt I contradicted myself and now I am strong enough to admit that. When I would brush mascara on my lashes, I would notice my hijab on and feel as if I am defeating the purpose. I wore it anyways. My intentions were good meaning that I only wore the makeup for myself. But now as a non-hijabi, I show my hair for myself as well. What does this all mean? Intentions play a significant role but the level of hypocrisy between wearing the headscarf and makeup challenges me and many others.

I agree with both Fereshteh and Rania. If the hijab is to be worn, it is to be worn with no makeup, no earrings, etc. The hijab represents “modesty, purity, dignity – so men don’t look at you.” I always heard this saying as I was going up – “A Muslim woman is a pearl and the hijab is her shell.” I guess makeup in front of non-mahram men opens the shell just a little!

 

Ruhi is a researcher at the Global Institute for Health & Human Rights as well as at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy.

 

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The Qudosi Chronicles, welcomed by both sides of political and religious divide, offers analysis and opinion on Islam in the 21st century and welcomes a broad range of views. Founder Shireen Qudosi has been labeled one of the leading moderate Muslim reformers in the United States.

Comments (11)

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  1. Maggie says:

    Asalaamu alaikum Shireen!

    I came across your article through a Google search on makeup with respect to Muslim women. I am a muslimah who observes hijab (a term I use to not only refer to wearing a headscarf, but modest dress as prescribed in the Quran and sunnah). I do not wear makeup because I believe it to be an adornment as ayah 31 of surah An Nur reveals we should not display to non-mahram. I’m no scholar by any means, but I have spoken to and heard many shuyookh that agree that makeup should not be worn in front of non-mahram.

    The reason why I did this Google search is because I was curious to know the reasoning behind a comment on a Youtube video in regards to opinions on make up. I don’t know basis for the opinion that makeup “in public” is halaal. I thank you for your article, and I am now curious to know if you no longer believe that covering your hair and body is a commandment from Allah? If not, what is your opinion? Sorry if this is a topic you’ve already covered. I’m just interested in learning bout the opinions I’m unfamiliar with.

    Maggie

  2. Aysha Adrees says:

    Great article!

  3. Comment says:

    Please be fair and give credit to the author the article as due, QC.

  4. cw says:

    To you your religion and to me mine.
    If you want to wear makeup, go ahead.
    If you want to wear a thong, go ahead.
    If you want to wear a burka, go ahead.

    I don’t judge, I just care.
    If you need some help, here’s a book (Qu’ran).

    We shouldn’t care what other people thing and do.
    There should be no religious police or self righteousness.

    Peace and blessings, Salam.

    • Me says:

      It sounds to me like the woman who wrote this article cares too much about the fact that some girls who wear modest clothes do makeup. I mean why care so much? I´m with you on that one. And honestly, there is a whole bunch of Hijabi bloggers and Youtubers who do makeuptutorials all over the net. It would not have been hard to find seven of that “Hijabi with loads of makeup” kind for an intervju if THEIR reasoning was what she wanted to focus on. Kind of lazy to only get ONE of them for an intervju for a study that was supposed to FOCUSE on the contradicting makeup and Hijab- combination.

      But onestly I don´t know if this would have been interesting even as a well-researched study, though. From my experience most of those girls says it´s hard enough for them to sacrifise the beauty of their hair, so they don´t want others to tell them they have to sacrifise the beauty/glamour of makeup aswell. This goes for Hijabis who have been forced to veil aswell as Hijabis who have choosen to veil. Some will say they take it step by step to be able to become more and more modest and they can´t quit everything at once. Remember many hijabis are grown up in the West and they are just as influenced by beautyideals as most girls. Others will say there is so much discrimination against plain veiled women already and they might be a little less discriminated against if they have a fashionable makeup and fashionable western clothes to go with the veil. (That means not so modest clothes as you might expect.) All those reasons I can understand, I have heard them before and they are all quite predictable.

      Many muslims, (including this author in her previous Islamic beliefs), states that Islam teaches the Hijab/veil is a “commandment for the women to wear”. At the same time many muslims states that Islam teaches there can be no forcing in religion, for example forcing a girl to wear the Hijab/veil “because then she would not be doing it for Allah, but for people”. So I´ve heard all these muslims, men and women, Hijabis and non-hijabis say that it MUST be a girls own choise and “it´s between her and Allah” if she decides to wear the Hijab/veil or not. “Otherwise she will get no reward for it and it´s good for nothing, so don´t force your daughters” and such arguments. I agree with this reasoning. Then again all muslims belive in destiny in ALL things, so they can´t really belive a girl has free will, but that she´s bound to make the choises she makes since before her birth. (As for myself I don´t belive in destiny in all things, but I´m not muslim.)

  5. Me says:

    I want to start off by saying your study started in a good way. But I´m sorry to say it became less and less objective the longer I read. I read it to the end and it shined through that you wanted to make your conclusions based on your own subjective feelings from when you wore the Hijab/veil. Actually it was obvious.

    Also I think you should have asked the Hijabis what they belive the quran says about the Hijab and not let the non-Hijabi be the ONLY one who got to interpret the muslims religious book. That just looks like you choose her because you don´t wear Hijab any longer yourself and that´s REALLY far from objective.

    “If you look at the quran it says nothing about the hijab. It just says that you have to cover you bosoms and privates. The word ‘hijab’ is not even mentioned in the quran! I dress appropriately and my hair shows. I don’t feel a scarf over my hair is necessary. I have yet to be disrespected by men.”

    It´s good if she has not been disrespected by men! Too many women have been disrespected by men already. But everyone who has a basic knowledge of the arabic in the quran knows it mentions the Hijab -as a word for curtain or veil- just in ANOTHER verse. In that verse about covering the bossoms the word khemar, which means headwrap, is used. More litterally it says to “extend their khemars to cover their bossoms in order to be recognised as beliving women.” The beliving women of the quran are from the three abrahamitic religions and in that time and area it was jewish women who dressed in long veils that covered their bossoms long before Islam came. Muhammed told the first muslim women to change their style of headcovering to be recognised as monotheistic women. (We can see from old paintings the arabian pagan women wore smaller headwraps and showed off some of their bossoms ad it was arabian pagan women who first converted to Islam.)

    Now there is a contradiction in your conclusions, that you might not have noticed. First you write: “The hijab is mysteriously beautiful and leaves men to wonder “what is under the veil?” As Rima has mentioned, the forbidden is desirable.” And then you write: “The hijab represents “modesty, purity, dignity – so men don’t look at you.” See the error?

    I also want to say that we do nothing in this life merely for ourselves, weather it is wearing Hijab/veil, makeup or showing off our hair. It all has to do with interacting with others! I don´t think anyone of us would have come up with the idéa to do anything like this if we had lived our whole lives isolated. Even if we don´t do things to get sexual attention from the opposite gender we can do them to get compliments from friends of the same gender, family, relatives and communities. Also to get by in societies more easily, for example to get a job. Weather you want to admit THAT to yourself or not you also do these things for others to like you -like wearing makeup and wearing your hair out, donning your hair etc. and not just for yourself.

    I´ll have to give it to you when it comes to your last phrase though.. “A Muslim woman is a pearl and the hijab is her shell.” I guess makeup in front of non-mahram men opens the shell just a little!” This sounds like a logical, bright insight. Although I don´t think that only muslim women are pearls and the veil is just one form of a shield a woman can have. But the makeup do open up the shield a little! If it´s not some really cool-looking makeup, like goths and others do, but just some some qute mascara, and lipgloss. Indeed you did nail it in the last sentence! I´m not ironic here, I doo agree with you on your last conclusion.

    Sincerely/
    A critical thinker.

  6. Karolus says:

    At my university there as numerous young women who wear hijabs together with sensuous makeup. But what I find even more puzzling than makeup is some of the other clothing worn with the hijab, e.g. skintight jeans or tights that seem to be pneumatically sucked right into the ass-crack (sorry, but I can’t think of how else to convey this). On any woman, never mind a hijab-wearing one, this is immodest for it blatantly draws attention to sexual characteristics. How can this possibly be reconciled with the apparent rationale for the hijab?

  7. I do believe all of the ideas you have introduced to your post.
    They are really convincing and will certainly work.
    Still, the posts are very brief for beginners.
    Could you please prolong them a bit from subsequent time?
    Thank you for the post.

  8. Steff says:

    Where I went to school many girls wore a hijab, but I didn’t (just modest clothing and no makeup). Some girls would wear theirs with glitter and sequins, over the top eye make-up, and would talk back to the teachers and pose to the boys.

    I respect people who wear the hijab for god and modesty, but in my opinion it shouldn’t be a fashion accessory – I don’t have a problem with make-up if it’s for the purpose of looking neat and presentable…

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