Stop Asking If I’m Hot in This



There are many different ways of styling the hijab. Personally, I change my style based on what looks best with the outfit I’m wearing and comfort level. (photos by Zoe MacDiarmid)

In my seven years as a hijabi, I’ve been the target of a lot of questions. Although I try my best to answer politely, they are often ignorant and upsetting to hear. Many of them stem from damaging assumptions, but most of all, being asked these questions makes me feel like an outsider in the places where I should be at my most comfortable. One example is when I am asked if I’m hot in my clothing. Although this usually seems to come from legitimate curiosity, singling me out because of my clothing is alienating. If you’re feeling hot, I probably am too.

It is especially ignorant of the purpose of my clothing. That “thing” on my head –as some refer to it– is a headscarf, which is also called a “hijab,” Arabic for partition. It is a religious garment that symbolizes modesty. In Islam, modesty is not only required in dress, but also in behavior, a standard which applies to male and female Muslims.

But it’s more than just fabric covering my hair. To me, wearing the hijab means the removal of physical appearance as part of interactions. People’s value is so often linked to how beautiful they are in society’s eyes. I believe that eliminating beauty as an element of communication is a step towards a world where people are treated as humans, not bodies. 

I am not going to take it off or leave Islam when I move out, because my choice was not forced on me. There are absolutely women for whom that isn’t the case–and I find it ironic that the response to that is to attack others for their decisions over their bodies. 

I am not oppressed by my religion. The idea that all Muslim women are oppressed is a racist, Orientalist trope that objectifies us, erases our individual stories, and denies us even the illusion of choice. 

The Western obsession with the hijab has long been connected to the idea of a clash between the “West” and the “East,” or rather European colonizers and colonized Muslims. 

Attacking the headscarf has been a method of maintaining power over Muslims in colonies. For example, during the Algerian war of independence, the French staged ceremonies where they unveiled Muslim Algerian women. These ceremonies were aimed at “demonstrating how Muslim women had been won over to European values and away from the independence struggle,” according to The Independent. 

Today, the insistence that the hijab is oppressive and that Muslim women should take it off remains a tool of imperialism — the act of one country using its power to control another. When people express this way of thinking to me, even if they have good intentions, it reflects all of the marginalization that Muslim women continue to experience at the hands of imperialism. It makes me feel that neither my choices nor my personhood are valued. 

Some people seem to be under the impression that as a Muslim woman, I am unable to have a personality or a life. I’ve had people be shocked when I make jokes or they see me having fun. But, there is a human under the scarf. I promise you that despite reports to the contrary, misery is not the 6th pillar of Islam. In fact, we consider smiling to be an act of charity. 

I realize that for some people, I’m the first visibly Muslim person they’ve ever met. I’m different. Because of that, I’m willing to provide some education about myself and my faith. 

But the questions I am so often asked –and the assumptions inherent in them– are deeply harmful. Going up to someone you don’t know well and questioning their clothing choices is rude. This is just a basic social concept. It’s othering. It’s hurtful.

So don’t ask me if I’m hot in this. Of course I am.