FATWA: On addressing hijab causing depression or serious emotional disturbance

Walakum salam,


May Allah accept your fasts and good deeds this Ramadan and eternally. I appreciate your response to my email and I cannot wait to read your new book next year insha Allah. May Allah give you health and happiness. I pray to Allah that we continue to have such learned people such as yourself to assist Muslims in their journey to knowing Allah and serving Him as best as we can.


If you have the time to answer this one last question I would truly appreciate it. But if you cannot I completely understand and ask Allah to continue rewarding you. If the headscarf causes depression, anxiety, and feelings of insecurities in one's own physical appearance, how would jurists consider this person's circumstance? The headscarf comes with a lifestyle of restriction which prevents one from simple things such as enjoying a cool breeze on a nice spring day.


Thank you so much, 


May Allah allow for your book to become more successful than you have ever imagined and be pleased with it ameen.


[Name Withheld for Privacy]




Al salamu 'alaykum and Ramadan Mubarak,


I pray that Allah is making Ramadan a blessed time for you and your family and that your fast is bringing you closer to God and empowering you to ascend to higher degrees of the realization of beauty. You raised a significant question regarding the practice of what we commonly refer to as the wearing of the hijab, especially in non-Muslim majority countries. Your question, if you will allow me to rephrase it, is how does one approach feelings of depression or serious emotional disturbance because of having to wear the hijab in public? When it comes to inquiries about how each individual Muslim goes about negotiating legal obligations in balance with the sum total of their own subjectivities, once again, there are guiding principles that would help each individual Muslim steer the path of Shari'ah. 


1) It is important to recall that the proper discharge of legal obligations is contingent on intentionality (or niyya). Niyya is the basis for the validity of any act in compliance with God's commands or laws. So, if one prays with the niyya to appease anyone but God, the prayer is invalid. If one fasts with the niyya, let's say of becoming more healthy or losing weight rather than discharging one's obligations toward God, then to say the least, the fast is problematic. But in the same vein, we are reminded time and again in the Qur'an that only Allah knows our true niyya and only Allah can hold us accountable for our true intentions. As importantly, our intentions are not a zero-sum game. Our intentions are often multi-layered and complex and they waver from one moment to another, and yet, we trust that Allah, the All-Knowing, the All Just and All Merciful will know what is true and real in our hearts, and we pray to Allah to purify and strengthen our intentions and allow them to grow and become more clear to our own consciousness.


2) There are many women that wear the hijab because it is a social habit or practice. In the same vein, there are many women who wear the hijab but do not represent the virtues of modesty in the way they behave or act. There are many men who wear the garbs of piety, but their hearts are far from pious. It is only Allah that can hold each person to account for what their true and real intentions are and what their record during their life on earth exemplified. 


3) When it comes to the hijab and challenges to the subjective intentionally of the practitioner, the first issue is, does the practitioner believe the hijab to be an obligation or not? Now, assuming they do believe it is an obligation, but they struggle with their ability to faithfully execute or carry out this obligation, the natural question becomes, do these struggles sacrifice a higher purpose for a lower purpose? In other words, do these struggles transform the practitioner into a virtual hypocrite or not? So for instance, one might believe that the hijab is an obligation and so they wear the hijab. Yet, because of internal struggles brought about by complying with the purported law of hijab, they over-compensate by acting and speaking rather immodestly. This naturally could result into a situation of systemic hypocrisy, and my advice to such a person is to go back and reflect upon their entire system of intentions, and either carry out what they believe to be God's law faithfully or admit that they are unable to comply with God's law and pray to Allah for forgiveness and strength.


4) More concretely, let us assume that there is a woman that does believe that the hijab is an obligation but because she wears the hijab, she is often depressed, embarrassed, anxious or resentful. Let us further assume that this woman has objectively reviewed the evidence and firmly believes that the hijab is a solemn duty, but she cannot help the above-mentioned feelings. The correct approach is then to ask whether those various emotions result in an injustice towards other human beings or oneself. For instance, is such a woman unable to develop her iman (faith) properly because of these feelings of depression, etc.? Are such feelings interfering with the ability of such a woman to perform her salat (prayers)? Are such feelings making this woman a less than successful mother, wife, or member of society? Do those feelings result in a sense of lack of self-worth or an inability to realize one's full potential in life? If the answer to any of these questions is in the affirmative, then I would invite such a woman to understand that the basic obligation when it comes to our bodies is modesty, including covering everything from the chest to the knee, and suggesting that within a system of priorities (awlawiyyat), one has an obligation to mitigate damage or to mitigate injustice (zulm). This means that as long as one is complying with the most basic requirements for modesty, one cannot allow their prayers or the rights of others or any higher priority cause to be sacrificed for a lower priority question of adab (rules of social etiquette as we discussed previously). I would tell such a woman that even if she believes the hijab to be an obligation, giving effect to the rule of mitigation of injustices and to the rule of purity of intentionality (ie. that her intentions in carrying out what she believes to be the obligation of hijab are to say the least troubled), that it is better to focus on complying with obligations of a higher order and to pray to Allah to give her strength and forgiveness as to the lower order of priorities that she has not been able to comply with.


5) In other words, again assuming that this woman believes that hijab is an obligation, given that her intentionality (her niyya) is already in a problematic state, and her state of affairs indicates that an issue of lower priority is wreaking havoc with issues of higher priority, such as mental health, well-being, and justice towards others, then the role of legal methodology mandates that we focus on the most significant and then the next and then the next. This is why even among the companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon them), Islamic legal and moral obligations were not decreed upon them in one fell swoop. Rather, those obligations were decreed to them incrementally, and as they mastered obligations of a higher order, they moved on to the next and then the next. This was to teach us a methodology and a philosophy towards what is virtuous and good, and a way to avoid the types of contradictions and paradoxes that allow hypocrisy to grow and fester in the heart like a lethal disease. It is wise for such a woman to focus on being the best Muslim she can when it comes to the higher order of things, and to pray for forgiveness and strength as to things that she is unable to perform. This is not a methodology to be implemented only by women. It is a method of approaching virtues, morality and obligations in our relationship with our Maker. 


6) As you have noticed, I have assumed in everything I have said above that we are talking about a woman who actually believes the hijab is an obligation and I have outlined a method to deal with how to balance a lack of pure intentions in carrying out this purported obligation in the presence of conflicting higher order obligations. But the situation becomes easier and even clearer if we are talking about a woman who is not sure that the hijab is an obligation, or has serious doubts that it is an obligation, or does not believe it is an obligation at all.  For such a woman, to allow an imbalance in her soul and spirit, tranquility or repose, in order to perform an act, which she is not sure is even mandated by God becomes not just paradoxical but frivolous.


7) What I want to underscore here is honesty and sincerity in what we do, because sincerity and honesty are virtues in and of themselves. Too often, as Muslims, because we do not want to run afoul of prevailing popular opinions or certain social conventions, we sacrifice honesty and sincerity, or at least we allow ourselves to exist in a haze of moral confusion without taking the trouble of thinking about what being a Muslim is quintessentially about. If Islam is not quintessentially about honesty, integrity and sincerity, then I don't know what Islam is. I have complete respect for a woman who wears the hijab with absolute purposefulness and with honesty and integrity, and I will defend her right to do so to my last breath. And I also have complete respect for a woman who does not wear the hijab with absolute purposefulness and with honesty and integrity, and I will defend her right to do so to my last breath. In either case, it is critical to remember that the only judge of intentions, regardless of how they appear to imperfect people such as myself, is the All-Knowing God, the Ever-More Gracious, Merciful, Compassionate and Forgiving, and the very embodiment of the perfect balance and justice. I say all of this ever more conscious that only Allah knows best what is correct and true. May God forgive all of us our misdeeds and misjudgments and accept us in the most majestic divine grace. May the remaining of your Ramadan be truly blessed and please remember to pray for me. May Allah accept.


Wa al-salamu 'alaykum,

Shaykh Abou El Fadl