Islamophobia, Women

Oftsed is now suggesting that the hijab sexualises young girls

Last week UK education watchdog Ofsted announced that it would be questioning Muslim girls in primary schools who wear the hijab, prompting outrage amongst the Muslim community. The reason for this unwarranted, invasive, intrusive questioning: the decision to wear hijab may have been forced on young girls, causing them to be sexualised at an early age.

In recent days, the Muslim community in the UK has banded together, expressing unified condemnation of the proposal, with videos and official statements being produced by numerous Muslim organisations. The notion that young girls would be examined separately from their schoolmates is something continually seen as a result of the Prevent strategy in the UK, with children being referred to counterterrorism programmes for as little as saying Alhamdulillah after they sneeze.

The idea that Muslim children are to be held to yet another imposed standard to be considered normal is rightly slammed.

But beyond the blatant gendered islamophobic implications of the policy itself, this discussion is also present in the Muslim community: should young girls be wearing hijab, even when not needed? For many Muslims, the answer is no and some have also supported the recent proposal, stating that the Islamic dress does sexualise young girls earlier than necessary. Whilst this sounds laughable to many Muslims when considering the way in which the hijab has been presented, it is not so surprising.

For years, especially in the post 9/11 era, the word “hijab” has been associated with the term ‘modesty’ more than anything else. Today, with modest fashion hitting the catwalks, being advertised as clothing for Muslim and non-Muslim women, and securing its place as a multimillion-dollar industry, the two have almost become interchangeable in the mainstream.

For most people this understanding has been a consequence of reading one of the Quranic verses that prescribes hijab and also mentions modesty:

“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear therof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms…” (24:31)

But it would be naïve not to also recognise that many Muslim women have used the idea of “modesty” alone to dictate how they should dress, arguing that it is the spirit, not the specifics of the Islamic dress-code that is important.

Now for the myth buster: Muslim women do NOT wear hijab to be modest.

Whilst the hijab is intrinsically a concealing dress code, modesty is a relative term, different for everyone dependent on his or her social and cultural experience. Islam, on the other hand, has defined with precision how and which areas of a woman’s body should be covered. Modesty is mentioned in one of the verses prescribing the hijab; however scholars of the Quranic sciences (including Ibn Kathir, Al Qurtubu and At-Tabari) have not identified it as a reason (ilah) for the garment, rather it is a wisdom and a benefit.

In fact, several areas of Islamic laws do not have reasoning behind their obligations. Food is another such an area (contrary to the reasoning some give, Muslims are not forbidden to eat pork because pigs are dirty).

This broader understanding of the hijab eradicates the notion that those who wear it are always protected from sexual abuse and harassment. It also further reinforces the notion that modesty is in one’s behaviour as well as our dress, and explains the broader necessity for other Islamic practices, such as segregation in social settings.

So, if not for the sake of modesty, why do women wear hijab?

The answer: as an act of worship alone. It is a deed done solely for the sake of Allah (swt), a mark of devotion and a sacrifice of our desires. Everything else we may or may not observe from it are simply benefits; be that good character, protection from harassment, or the prevention of valuing yourself based on your appearance. But today, the permanent connection that has been established between the hijab and modesty has led most non-Muslims, and some Muslims, to forget its core objective.

So, is it really any wonder, that after years of telling people the hijab is simply about modesty when people see little girls who have no need to cover themselves wear the hijab, it is assumed that we are perceiving them as immodest or sexually attractive? With many Muslim girls now also expressly terming the hijab a fashion, a political statement or an expression of their identity, is it any surprise that people think children should not be beholden to such ideas that they cannot truly understand?

The only way to combat these arguments is to reorient our narrative on hijab as an act of 5aab8b67e91c787ba43cdd0c6c414886--hijab-islam-fashion-muslimah.jpgworship above all else. It then makes sense that like prayer, which Muslim children are encouraged to observe from the age of seven in order to make it habitual, young girls wearing hijab at a young age is simply a way of making them love it.

The fact that a plethora of young girls beg their parents to let them wear it when going to the mosque even before necessary, is often simply because they want to look like their mothers and sisters, is more easily explained when our dress is understood as an act of worship, not revolving around the necessity of being covered.

The fact that Ofsted is choosing to investigate Muslim girls is undoubtedly first and foremost an Islamophobic policy, once again used to alienate our community. In an age where children as young as three are studying sex education and choosing to change genders at four, the allegation that the hijab causes sexualisation is ironic, to say the least.

But we as Muslims must take responsibility for the way in which we have presented Islam to the masses, and even to those within our community. This should be a call-to-action and a lesson, to not continually seek reasons for our acts of worship to make them more palatable for a society that claims to be based on logic, but rather stand true to our values and principles alone.

by Aisha Hasan

dpAisha Hasan is Editor-in-Chief of The Muslimah Diaries. An Economics graduate from London, by day she works as a writer specialising in the Middle East. She is also an aalima student and a Quran teacher. She has been active in the community for the past ten years, appearing on television and delivering talks on issues important to Muslim youth. When not writing, Aisha can usually be found reading fiction, taking photos of her cat, or googling holiday destinations.



What Muslim women are really thinking.


  1. They won’t stop harrassing us till they force us to abandon our faith. Where were our Muslims when they brought in the FGM law and lumped our Islamic duty of female circumcision with it? We let it happen once and they got the taste for it. No, it won’t stop. They won’t rest till they wipe out our faith. Let’s get that to our head!

  2. Of all the problems that lie in the British education system: poverty, socio- economic inequality, a system that feeds the preferences of certain classes, overworked and underpaid teachers, tick box exercises that schools implement just to impress Ofsted, the disparity that widens between resources available in the North and South, Amanda Spielman is worried about the Hijab! I’m speechless! I’m extremely disappointed that she’s used the term sexualisation in the wrong context. However, I’m not surprised at that; a few years ago I had to send Ofsted an email about the number of spelling and punctuation errors on an Ofsted report that had been published. That’s what Spielman should be worried about; Ofsted’s credibility. Not hijabs! What sort of message are we giving to young people? We teach and embrace unity in the classroom, break down barriers that the media has corrupted young minds with, and now we have Ofsted making things worse. On a positive note, this will bring young Muslim women together and together we will see lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, Headteachers, engineers all of whom wear a headscarf!

    I have a friend who has been teaching in a majority Muslim school for a couple of years now, and we discussed this issue. One thing that stood out for me was an observation that she made. She said that she realised girls wearing the hijab were doing better academically than girls that weren’t, and they were also better disciplined. Statistically girls were doing much better than the boys at the school, but it was the girls that wore the hijab that were getting the highest marks. It’s something interesting that we all have to try and understand.

    Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted and chief inspector of schools, said the move was to tackle situations in which wearing a hijab “could be interpreted as sexualisation” of girls as young as four or five. Oh and sexualising young girls by advertising and selling padded and laced underwear for 6yrs old is acceptable. How ridiculous!!!! Wearing a hijab has nothing to do with sexualisation, just another excuse for racism!!! Will she be questioning pupils wearing crosses or turbans? No cos that’s not sexualisation. Neither is the hijab. It’s a bit of cloth. Are they going to be questioning agnostic girls who wear skirts or do stuff with their hair? No? Then it’s obviously nothing to do with sexualisation.

    The announcement followed a meeting between Spielman and campaigners against the hijab in schools, including Amina Lone, co-director of the Social Action and Research Foundation.

    “While respecting parents’ choice to bring up their children according to their cultural norms, creating an environment where primary school children are expected to wear the hijab could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls,” Spielman said.

    This is the most absurd thing I have heard. Has the chief inspector gone crazy. For goodness’ sake…! Leave the kids alone! This is not about teaching and learning in schools and therefore how is it the job of Ofsted to question children on choices made by parents? Had scarf have been worn since ages. Even before the 1800 before Ofsted ever came about. Hijabs are similar to what the Nuns wear in the religion of Christianity. Even today you still get Christian Nuns.

    Being British is about giving all the freedom and not just the few who conform to some out of date and out off touch policy. I as a Muslim do not question why some women choose to wear revealing clothes because I know that is their RIGHT within the country that they live… Now please extend the same courtesy to Muslim women who choose to cover their bodies and head. If you oppress or stigmatise one group for being different where are you going to stop… Rise above the hate… It’s 2017 going on to 2018. It’s quite unbelievable how targeting Muslims for their beliefs is being ‘normalised’. If this was any other group there would be an outrage!

    Ofsted should now question Sikhs wearing turbans, Jews with their dangling hair. This is just ridiculous, people should have freedom of expression and not intimidated by questioning on what they wear. Why target one particular theme, clearly there is an agenda. Your creating barriers rather than bringing people together. This is as racist as the French Burkina ban.

    Charles Manson indoctrinated the young and vulnerable not the confident and aware. Equating the wearing of a hijab with fundamentalism and then attempting to disguise it as a concern for the sexualisation of girls is ridiculous and worrying (that it’s coming from Ofsted) in the extreme. If I am to be generous then I would say it’s based on a lack of knowledge, but I am not so naive. How British Muslims practise Islam is something for British Muslims to think about. I don’t hear anyone dictating to people of other faiths. Freedom of expression anyone? Ofsted policy 😊 I have worn a hijab from a very young age. I cannot fathom how this could “sexualise young girls.” Like every parent, whatever their beliefs, they will pass on their values to their children. As along as that does not include bigotry, bullying or any sort of hate, there should not be an issue!

    Think it’s time Ofsted dealt with the fact that more and more children are missing out on an education that we pay for because parents can’t afford to pay the extortionate prices of school trips and uniforms, Six pupils were kicked out of school last week and told not to return till they had bought the correct uniform (£18 per skirt) how does buying a skirt from Asda disrupt a class??? Ofsted stand up and fight for our pupils education now please !!!

    It’s Islamophobia. Why target this group of people. How is a hijab indicative of fundamentalism? And what had sexualisation got to do with fundamentalism. Also how dare Ofsted or anyone claim segregation of girls and boys in an Islamic school is unlawful while single sex schools still exist. (I think all schools should be mixed and that gender segregation should not be allowed, but given the tiny number of Islamic schools and the huge number of single sex schools , targeting an Islamic school over sexism can only be Islamophobia)

    This is all so crude and disappointing.

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