In my opinion, although the hijab is an obligation to all Muslim women, it is a personally made choice and a very significant one. Ask any number of hijab-ed Muslims and the stories of how they decided to cover up are varied and all equally of personal decisions. For me, it was a sudden feeling of nakedness when I went out without the hijab after wearing it to school for a couple of weeks. It just so happens that of all the religious obligations, to don the hijab is the most obvious act of Islamic practice. Perhaps, since the hijab is only worn in public or when with men whom we can marry, Muslim men somehow feel like it’s their right to have expectations or make judgements on us.

Pious vs Sinful

The first impression that a woman wearing a hijab makes is that she is a properly practising Muslim who observes all her obligations. That somehow leads people to decide that she is “wife material”. Many men hesitate to approach a hijab wearer unless they feel like they are ready to get into a serious relationship. I, myself, have been rejected a few times because I am deemed “too nice” to be “just” a girlfriend. But when there are men who are interested, they usually start the courting process by trying to prove how they are ready to settle down and will make great husbands. There are men who would say, “I want a wife who wears the hijab”, as if that is equivalent to saying they want a good Muslim wife.

This, unfortunately, means that most “free hair” women aren’t seen as potential wives at first glance. Men tend to impose an image of a wild and outgoing lifestyle upon “free hair” women, which is not true for most of the women I know. They also seem to think that women who don’t wear the hijab are easy. One girl I know, Lisa, complained of how some men are bold enough to insinuate sexual acts with her when, in fact, she is really steadfast in religious abstinence. A male friend of mine who was interested in Lisa denied my assurance of how good a Muslim she is by saying, “Oh please. A good person will not claim that she is a good person.” Does this mean the hijab is the only valid sign of a good Muslim woman?

Innocent vs Liberated

Another lasting impression that men seem to have of Muslim women who wear the hijab is that we are innocent to the point of ignorance. I once heard a Muslim friend explain that he is attracted to a certain hijab wearing girl because she seemed to not know much about sex and it would be romantic to teach an innocent wife. Suffice to say, he wasn’t so happy when he realised the girl could crack a dirty joke or two. This label of innocence upon hijab wearers perplexes me. Muslim women in an urban culture are well-informed and educated about sex. Knowledge of the subject does not mean that they are doing the deed.

“Free hair” Muslims are expected to be outgoing and more liberated. One friend once lamented on how she was forced to follow a group of friends out clubbing just because she doesn’t wear the hijab but favours shorts and skirts. However uncomfortable she was surrounded by such decadence among her non-practising Muslim friends, they pegged her awkwardness for being anti-social and unfriendly. The way she dresses and looks immediately draw a certain kind of crowd and men who she in fact wants badly to avoid. “I keep ending up with men who don’t seem to want to seriously commit to me.”

Them vs Us

Funnily most of these discriminating treatments come from my fellow Muslim brothers. And in some cases, even Muslim sisters can be heard passing judgements based on similar expectations. Perhaps it is the Malay culture of following “adat” and treating the interest of the community as a personal responsibility that makes some Malay-Muslims feel like they have the right to pass judgement on to others.

For Muslims who are from an urban environment, we learn very early in life that people who seem to be outwardly different may share many similarities and vice versa. I find that it’s always easier to hang out with my non-Muslim male friends or the more urban Muslims and not feel so conscious of this piece of cloth that I have on my head. They treat me the same as they would their “free hair” Muslim friends. Sure, there was once a Chinese friend who asked if I was actually bald under my hijab but that was entirely out of curiosity.

In the end, people will always talk. So long as we stay true to ourselves and our faith, what they say about or expect from us should not matter.

Cek Mek Molek enjoys making observations on love and relationships via her Muslim eyes and heart. She believes that life is like her namesake; crusty and hard on the surface but overflowing with sweetness once you bite the bullet-shaped kuih.

Please note views expressed here are the personal opinions of the columnist and not of