Muslim Peace Fellowship
The World after 9/11


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Muslim Womens League

Muslim Dress in Dangerous Times
Statement of the Muslim Womens League

 In the current climate of escalated religiously-motivated violence since the

 terrible attacks of September 11, Muslim women in hijab (headscarf) are

 particularly vulnerable because, for many years, western media and

 literature have consistently portrayed covered women as the predominant

 image of Islam.  As a result, Muslim women in headscarves and other

 Muslim-style clothing are often the first and easiest targets of hate

 violence.  American Muslim women should keep all this in mind as they decide

 how to dress in the next weeks and months.


 If a Muslim woman senses a possible danger to herself, adjusting

 her attire to minimize the chances of physical attack is a logical and

 Islamically permissible precaution that falls squarely within the fiqh

 principles of necessity and hardship.  Whatever whatever one ultimately

 feels is the best attire for a Muslim woman, the Quran is also clear that

 Islamic dress is something to help us avoid harassment.  (Quran 33:59)

 Moreover, older women who are less able to defend themselves are perhaps the

 most vulnerable population.  With regard to these women, it must be

 remembered that the Quran specifically states that they are under no

 obligation to wear hijab at all.  (Quran 24:60).  Many of these women have

 grown so accustomed to hijab, and feel it an added reward to continue to

 wear it, that it would be nearly impossible to not do so.  Nevertheless, the

 danger still remains and there is no harm on those altering their appearance

 for their own safety.


 While Muslim women in the United States wear Islamic dress in many different

 ways, all are proud to be identified as Muslims, and equally proud as

 Americans that this is a place where everyone has the right to free and open

 expression of their identity.  Islamic law protects this same free exercise

 of religion, enabling people of all faiths to have lived peacefully in

 Muslim lands for centuries.  But Islamic law also recognizes what life is

 like for people living in dangerous or oppressive circumstances, where they

 or their beliefs are threatened.  In such situations, individual life and

 personal safety take precedence over normal Islamic rules.


 As established in a primary principle of Islamic jurisprudence, "necessity

 renders the forbidden permissible."  (Said Ramadan, Islamic Law: Its Scope

 and Equity 71 (1970)).The sad reality is that, in the aftermath of the

 heinous attacks on New York and Washington, DC on September 11, 2001, Muslim

 Americans and others have become the targets of violence and harassment by

 some Americans misguidedly expressing their anger and hate.  The types of

 hate crimes documented thus far include verbal abuse, threats, vandalism,

 physical assault, murder and possibly rape.  The situation may worsen as the

 war on terrorism escalates.  The villains have been presented as "radical

 Islamic fundamentalist militants."  Unfortunately, most Americans have no

 idea what the difference is between a "militant" and someone who is

 outwardly observant of her or his faith.  This, coupled with a basic

 ignorance about Islam, means we could all become victims of hate crimes,

 especially those who dress in a way that is popularly identifiable as



 Islam has tools to help us protect ourselves in dangerous times such as

 these.  In its acknowledgment of the role of necessity, our law has built in

 a flexibility of which many American Muslims would do well to remind

 themselves now.  Islamic jurisprudence is built around the promotion and

 protection of five essential values: religion, life, intellect, lineage, and

 property.  (Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence

 271-73 (1991))  It also emphasizes the avoidance of hardship in the

 application of the law and applies flexibility when danger or hardship is

 presented.  Thus, for example, the prayer of the traveler is shortened, and

 fasting is temporarily waived for the sick or the pregnant.  When the

 possibility of physical danger threatening life is present, this flexibility

 is expanded, lifting serious prohibitions such as the consumption of

 alcohol, pork, and even the outward denunciation of one's faith, all in

 order to preserve life.  (Ramadan 71, Kamali 331)  In the words of the Quran

 itself:- "As for anyone who denies God after having once attained to faith -

 and this, to be sure, does not apply to one who does it under duress, the

 while his heart remains true to his faith, but [only to] him who willingly

 opens up his heart to a denial of the truth - upon all such [falls] God's

 condemnation"  (16:106)


 - "Today I have perfected your religious law for you, and have bestowed upon

 you the full measure of My blessings, and willed that self-surrender unto Me

 shall be your religion.  As for the one who, who is driven [to what is

 forbidden] by dire necessity and not by an inclination to sinning, behold,

 God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace." 5:3)


 - "We do not burden any human being with more than what is well able to

 bear: for with Us is a record that speaks the truth, and none shall be

 wronged." (23:62)


 Thus, it is a basic tenet of Islamic law that necessity renders permissible

 things that might not be allowed in normal circumstances.


 The propriety and legitimacy of a Muslim woman adjusting her dress when

 danger is perceived is attested to by statements of American Muslim leaders

 such as Hamza Yusuf validating Muslim women wearing non-obvious alternate

 attire (such as hats, neckscarves, etc.) when they go out in public at this

 time.  (Personal electronic communication with Hamza Yusuf spokesperson, via  And in the days surrounding the tragedy itself, many

 American Muslim organizations publicly advised Muslim women to downplay

 their visibility as Muslim women in order to protect themselves.  This is as

 it should be, as it is the responsibility of the Muslim leadership and

 community to protect and advise its members.


 What should not happen is pressure on Muslim women to defiantly maintain

 their hijab in the face of fear and danger as some sort of ultimate test of

 faith.  The strength of one's faith is not manifested in one's outward

 appearance, but rather in the courage of one's actions to justice and truth

 in surrendering to God.  In these times, that may mean reaching out to help

 the victims of calamity, teaching others the nature of Islam or

 strengthening one's spiritual connection with God.


 This is a time when Muslims must think actively and act sensibly.  For many,

 this may mean adjusting one's dress only in certain (more unsafe)

 surroundings, but maintaining hijab in places of more security.  For others,

 it may mean changing one's lifestyle to avoid public spaces.  In many

 circles, Muslim women who wear hijab are staying home, allowing their

 husbands to assume responsibilities that involve public interaction.  This

 is an appropriate response for some, but it is not an option for those women

 in hijab who must work, attend school or are single mothers.  Therefore,

 each individual should make a decision according to her own circumstances,

 and this will vary for each person each day.  Our community's responsibility

 is to have sensitivity to the difficult, physically dangerous position

 Muslim women now face and show understanding and awareness that a woman who

 takes precautions to protect herself from harm is engaging in an honorable

 endeavor grounded in Islamic legal principles.


     We sincerely hope that the current dangerous climate is a temporary one

 and that these measures will only be necessary for a short time.  The

 temporary nature of the situation, however, does not detract from its

 seriousness.  The danger is real.  It is our duty to protect against it.

 Above all, we must avoid passing judgment against those women who make

 decisions with which we might disagree.  We know that judgment rests with

 God alone who knows our deeds, intentions and degree of taqwa or

 God-consciousness.  We pray for His mercy and sustenance during this

 difficult time.


 "Piety lies in . . . being firm and patient in pain (and suffering) and

 adversity andthroughout periods of panic.  Such are the people of Truth, God

 fearing." (Quran 2:177)



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Copyright ©2001 Muslim Peace Fellowship. All rights reserved.
Muslim Peace Fellowship
Rabia Harris, Coordinator,
The Muslim Peace Fellowship is part of the Fellowship of Reconciliation network