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Should Muslim girls observe hijab from a young age?

Posted by: Brigitte Rozario, 2-Mar-2011

We approached this topic with much trepidation and caution. Obviously all Muslims know what the Quran and Hadith say about this – girls who reach puberty should dress modestly and observe hijab (cover the entire body except for the face and hands).
However, we have also seen toddlers who observe hijab and mature women with adult children who don't.
How do Malaysian Muslim mothers feel about this?
Here are two opinions on the matter by two mothers:
Putri (not her real name), mother of a 14-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son:

“I have indeed delved into the various schools of thought on the matter. I am aware of the various definitions of being so-called 'moderate', as well as the position that is informed by Quranic verses and Hadith advocating modesty via the hijab and loose clothing.
On one hand, it is a case of concealing one's sexual attractiveness/appeal without hiding one's femininity (another subjective area especially from Western perspectives), particularly when interacting with men.
On the other hand are the issues of protection, dignity and self-esteem and to be respected and taken seriously for your thoughts rather than your physical shape.
Personally, I've never experienced the pressure to don the hijab from my family, friends or from other external sources. I have always been comfortable with myself and in myself. But recently, and especially since I have an adolescent daughter, I am struggling with my own personal conscience, as well as my maternal one.
If my daughter were to decide to wear the 'tudung' (head scarf), I believe I wouldn't stop her and I would consider it a wonderful achievement. Regardless of this, I still try my very best to help my children practise and exhibit all the positive values that Islam teaches for everyday life. And I pray to Allah for guidance.”

Assoc Prof Dr Tuti

Associate Professor Dr Tuti Ningseh Mohd Dom, mother of six:
“I agree that Muslim girls should start to observe hijab from a young age. In Islam, one becomes accountable for one’s own actions upon reaching puberty and for a girl that is when she starts menstruating. More importantly, she is already able to differentiate between good and bad or right and wrong. Hence, it would be preferable if she gets used to it way before she gets her first menses, so that the transformation is easier.
Observing the hijab is part of the Islamic dress code for Muslim women. I have three daughters, and they started to observe this dress code at about six or seven when they began primary school. Prior to that, they would put it on occasionally when we went out but not all the time.
Like any other forms of desirable behaviour, the earlier one starts the better. For example - brushing teeth, we get our kids to start brushing when they first get their baby teeth. When they get used to the feeling of having a clean mouth and clean teeth, they will feel uncomfortable when they do not brush their teeth.
Children need parental guidance in most things in life. For example, they should be guided to have a healthy lifestyle such as what food to choose, how to strike a balance between work and play, what kinds of friends are good examples and which ones are not. Parents are the best people to provide this sort of guidance for their children, and this includes what is considered as acceptable attire according to one’s religion.
To be holistic, observing one’s modesty is not restricted to just what a woman wears but how she behaves that is in accordance to Islamic guidelines at all times.
A Muslim is someone who willingly submits to Allah and obeys all His commandments. However, some of us are still in the process of seeking understanding of Islam and are not yet able to obey Allah completely.
So a girl should only do it for the sake of Allah. This is not possible if she has not learnt of His love and how to love Him. Again, I must say that this is not restricted to just putting on the head scarf. All our actions must be done for the right reasons, and learning being a process – we expect that different people will have different learning curves.
When one does something without true understanding, there is a tendency to be inconsistent in behaviour. In addition, one’s surroundings also plays a huge role in forming norms and justifying what is acceptable behaviour. A girl may want to observe hijab but faces resistance from her peers. This will be challenging for her and cause her to be inconsistent in observing the dress code. Is that okay?
Sometimes kids behave and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes our kids study hard and sometimes they don’t. Is that okay? I think everyone has his/her own weaknesses. What is important is that every day we strive to be a better person by improving on our knowledge and work on strengthening our faith (iman). There will be days that we will stumble and fall, but we pick ourselves up and try again.

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