"The Pulpit of Truth and the Battle over Women's Hair"

Reflecting on the du‘a’s of the Prophet allows us to see how profound and remarkably tender, humane, and modest these supplications were. One of the Prophet’s supplications is so straightforward, but it says so much.


God, grant us certitude in iman, certitude in who You are, and in what You want from us. Certitude about our faith in You, our faith in Your faith, and in the message of Islam, the power of Islam, and the instrumentality of Islam in delivering and embodying light unto humanity. God, grant us the type of certitude that helps us bear the burden of the disappointments, challenges, and difficulties of life on earth. The certitude that would enable us not to break or fall apart when we confront the tests of time and the sheer ugliness that we encounter in our life on earth. In all cases, do not allow our faith to be weakened by what we experience and what we perceive.


Another du‘a’ that God communicates on behalf of the faithful is: “God, do not allow us to become the means by which the faith of others are tested, especially the misguided” (Q 60:5). What this means, in effect, is: “God, do not allow Satan to turn us into an instrumentality through which those who do not believe are repulsed by our religion.” It is another amazingly humble and tender du‘a’. It is not only that we want the certitude that allows us to hold onto the path of righteousness and goodness, despite all what we experience on earth that so often leads people astray. But God presents us with the other side of this coin. It is that we ourselves do not become tools in the hands of Satan. It is that we ourselves, whether through misrepresenting God's faith or through our own misdeeds, ignorance, or follies, become such a poor representation of the truth that people are misguided away from Islam.


We are not accustomed to hearing the truth spoken from the podium of the Prophet. Our scholars, imams, and leaders have not followed the Sunna of the Prophet in speaking the truth from the podium of truth. The podium of the Prophet cannot but be the podium of truth. The minute that podium becomes a podium of distraction, dishonesty, and moral cowardice, then that podium – the podium of the Prophet – becomes a fitna. It becomes an instrumentality for leading people astray. This is not because of what it preaches or explicitly says. It is because of what it fails to say, all the things that remain unspoken from the podium of the Prophet, which again, is supposed to be the podium of truth.


I often wonder: if the Prophet stood at this podium, what would he say? How would he comment? What issues would he raise? In the present moment, we cannot avoid the news of a young woman who violated the dress code in Iran and who, as a result, was arrested and later died in police custody. The police say that she died from a heart attack. But there is a problem with the podiums of truth in a country like Iran. The problem is that the podiums of truth rarely speak the truth. The sad truth is that in one Muslim country after another, and for a very long time now, Muslims have grown accustomed to lying to other Muslims. Lying has become a common and accepted ethic in the Muslim public sphere. In so many Muslim countries, including Iran, there is no transparency, no accountability, and the truth has become a rare commodity. So, when the Iranian state says that this woman died from a heart attack, it is reasonable, sadly, for people to doubt what the state says. As a result, people are shocked, demonstrations have spread, and, as always, when unjust power is challenged, it only escalates its injustice.


What is happening in Iran demands a moral pause. Not because it is Iran. Not because it is Shi'a. Not because we like or do not like Iran. But because of the moral premises that animate the type of dynamics that we have witnessed in Iran. A woman fails to cover her hair in a way that the religious police deem acceptable. As a result, she is arrested and mistreated. The mistreatment escalates to the point that she dies in police custody. There is something extremely foul in the consciousness of a people who think – whatever the “infraction” of showing a woman's hair – that it is acceptable for a woman to lose her life this way. This woman, Mahsa Amini, was a Kurd. Did racism play a role? Was it easier for the police to mistreat her because she was Kurdish? In a society that lacks transparency, accountability, and justice, it is impossible to answer these questions. The means for honesty and accountability are lacking. They are simply not there.


We have to be honest about what an incident like this represents. Not just for the supporters of the Islamic revolution in Iran or the supporters of any Islamic revolution, but equally for the opponents of Islamism, “political Islam,” or any type of Islamic activism. For both sides, whether a woman wears the hijab or not has become the battleground.


Islamophobic France goes to great lengths to harass women who wear the hijab, making their lives ever more difficult by taking away their civil rights to effectively shame or coerce them to uncover their hair. A psychotic murderer like Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia seeks to ingratiate himself to the West so that the West ignores his crimes against his own people, including his execution of a great scholar who happened to be Shi'a, Nimr al-Nimr, an execution that was hardly noticed by non-Muslims and even by Muslims themselves. To ingratiate himself with the West, MBS told his religious police to ignore any violations of the dress code. “Look the other way when women show their hair.” The West, just because of this, is willing to call MBS a “reformer” and overlook his abysmal human rights record.


In Iran, there are those who are anxious about the defeat of the Islamic revolution. They fear that Iran would revert to something like what it was during the time of the Shah, that is, a thoroughly secular state in which religion had no public role. Because of this anxiety; because Iran has been under siege since the revolution by its neighbors; because Saudi Arabia and the UAE have worked diligently to overthrow the government in Iran; because the United States does not try to hide its hostility and antipathy to anything Islamic in Iran – the U.S. has been explicit as to what type of Iran it wants; because of all this, what is the chosen battlefield? It is the covering of women. I saw a video of Iranian police arresting a woman, supposedly for a hijab violation. It is a shocking video. What caught my attention, however, was that many women were among those brutalizing the woman being arrested. These women were fully covered in dark clothes. Ideologically, they were on that side of the spectrum. I am sure that in the psychology of these women, they were not simply arresting someone for showing her hair. Rather, they were defending the Islamic revolution and the faith of Islam in Iran.


But why should the battlefield be the hair, covered or uncovered, of women? From the very beginning, colonialism targeted the social position and practices of Muslim women. In the same way, many so-called “Islamists” treat women’s hair, covered or uncovered, as the ultimate symbol or litmus test of Islamicity.


But here is the thing. Let us properly evaluate the place of the podium of the Prophet in our lives. Show me one single incident from the lives of the Prophet, the ahl al-Bayt, or the Companions in which a woman was brutalized, mistreated, or even humiliated because she failed to properly cover her hair. Do you think, in ten years in Medina, that all women perfectly covered their hair? If you do, then you know nothing about history. The historical record in that part of the world, Medina, tells us that there were many complex social practices relating to the covering and uncovering of women. We know, for example, that one of the ways by which Muslim women lamented and grieved martyrs, including those from the ahl al-Bayt who waged a rebellion against the Umayyads, was to walk around with their heads uncovered, sometimes, according to reports, heaping dust on their heads. I challenge those who think that they are defending the truth of Islam to give me one single incident in which the Prophet, the ahl al-Bayt, or the Companions degraded, mistreated or beat a woman for a dress code violation. You will not find it.


There could have been a civilized way for a state to insist that modesty requires or demands that women cover their hair. There could have been a civilized way to deal with a case of public disorder. A police officer could write a citation that would be received by the alleged offender, and the alleged offender could then go to court to either pay the financial penalty or to challenge it. There could be an objective arbitrator, in the form of a judge, who grants due process and allows the alleged offender to defend themselves. If they lose, they pay the fine. If they win, they win. When Satan wants to make you a fitna, however, repulsing people away from Islam, earning people's disgust and wrath, then you do precisely what was done in that video. Brutalization. Indignity. Humiliation. Sheer ugliness.


Islamically, I see no justifiable basis for the state to enforce a dress code that includes covering the hair. Other than the narrow issue of the laws of obscenity, I think it is very dangerous to give any state the power to dominate and control a gender. For we know what patriarchal societies do. A reasonable human being would look at the realities of the world in which we live. They would see how the enemies of Islam have made the hijab a point of fitna with which to scare people from Islam. But they would see, too, that Muslims themselves have turned the issue of the hijab into a fitna, scaring people away from Islam.


I have met so many women who convert to Islam but end up leaving the religion because of the number of Muslims who say that before they learn to pray, before they have a relationship with God, and before they perfect their morals and ethics, "You must wear the hijab." The hijab is the be-all-and-end-all. It is everything. On what basis? The Qur'an teaches us that God does not love liars, God does not accept those who backbite, and God demands the type of ethics by which the orphan and refugee are cared for. Yet so many Muslims hardly lose any sleep over perfecting their sense of morality and ethics on these issues. They only care about whether women cover their hair. They reduce a grand, beautiful, merciful, and compassionate God to a God that gives women hair but then obsesses over whether they cover that hair or not.


This obsession for or against the hijab has reached a level of obscenity and deep offense. When you read that a woman lost her life over this issue; when a psychotic tyrant like MBS is tolerated by the West because he allows women to show their hair; when you see that France has chosen to persecute Muslims by targeting the hijab; when you find that converts to Islam are scared from the religion because of the hijab; when you think of all of this, you cannot help but wonder what the Prophet would say if he was standing here. Would the Prophet say, "Yes, women are humiliated, mistreated, insulted, and degraded. I approve. That is the way it should be"? Would the Prophet say, "Yes. MBS has turned Mecca into Las Vegas. He murders and kills. He imprisons scholars. But I love him because he allows more women to show their hair"? Would the Prophet have this type of psychological imbalance and pathology that turns the hair of women into the battlefield of identity and dignity?


A woman wants to cover her hair. Who cares? It does not make you a better Muslim. It does not even make you a good Muslim. It is between you and God. Does it mean that you have good ethics? Does it mean that you have virtue? Does it mean that you are a good representation of Islam? Does it mean that you have Islamic knowledge? Does it mean that you have piety? No. None of the above. A woman does not want to cover her hair. Does it mean she is obscene? Does it mean she is a sinner? Does it mean that she does not have virtue? Does it mean that she lacks ethics? Does it mean that she does not have piety? Only if your understanding of God is demented and twisted. “God, do not allow us to become a fitna that scares people from the faith and sets a bad example of what Islam and Muslims are” (Q 60:5). Social pathologies are created because of multi-layered and complex reasons.


For MBS to build his obscene haram city, Neom—which, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, will serve alcohol—he has evicted members of the al-Huwaiti tribe from their ancestral land. Many members of the tribe refused to leave. In an infamous incident, as a punishment, one of the tribe’s leaders now faces 50 years in prison.


This, in the land of the Prophet. Yet the podiums of the Prophet are silent about the obscenity that the land of the Prophet will be serving alcohol, that the land of the Prophet jails people for 50 years for refusing to sell their home, and that, in the land of the Prophet, a prominent Shi'a scholar has been put to death. There is utter silence. No one cares. Shaykh al-Nimr, a beautiful, moral, and ethical jurisprudential mind, was murdered by the Saudi government, and no one cares.


Sunnis who malign and slander Shi'a Muslims, speaking about them as if they are not Muslim, have contributed to the social pathology displayed in Iran today. Madness begets madness. Ugliness begets ugliness. When you make Iran feel isolated, then you contribute to that social pathology. When you support despots, injustice, and dictators; when you choose to remain silent about the crimes of MBS and gleefully visit Saudi Arabia; when you remain silent about the crimes of Mohammed bin Zayed and travel to the UAE to do your shopping; when you choose to remain silent about the crimes of Sisi in Egypt, someone who is actively fighting the hijab and attacking Islam; when you look around and find that the podiums of the Prophet everywhere are silent, quiet, and disinterested; then you contribute to the social pathology that resulted in the death of this poor Kurdish woman in Iran.


We live in an interlinked world. We live in a world in which you cannot breathe without affecting the breath of everyone else in the world. This is the world in which we live. Ugliness and dishonesty from the podiums of the Prophet create an ugly and dishonest people. Hypocrisy from the podiums of the Prophet embeds the disease of hypocrisy in society. So much depends on what is spoken from the inheritors of the podium of the Prophet.


A recent study shows that, for the past 21 years, Israel has killed a Palestinian child every three days. Yet, the new British Prime Minister is talking about transferring the British Embassy to Jerusalem. As usual, no one cares.


A new documentary has been released that tells how rich people paid top dollar during the Bosnian conflict for the privilege of joining the Serbian side to snipe Muslims. Rich executives from Europe and the U.S. paid Serbs so that they could go on a weekend hunting trip. But they were not hunting deer. They were hunting Muslims. They sniped Muslims for fun. And no one cares.


150,000 Muslim women were raped in the Bosnian conflict. New studies have shown that the psychological and financial help that was offered to these rape victims in Bosnia was woefully inadequate. No one cares.


The Wall Street Journal reveals that MBS will serve alcohol in Neom in Arabia. He has already imprisoned all the worthwhile scholars in Saudi Arabia. And if you create any type of obstacle to his obscene plans, then you are thrown in jail for half a century.


An important 600-page report was recently published. It is, in fact, an annual report on European Islamophobia. It has been published for the past six years. It documents a sharp increase in Islamophobia for the sixth consecutive year, in every single European country. A study shows that Facebook and Twitter are grossly discriminatory against everything Islamic or pro-Palestinian. Another study of Twitter and Instagram shows that the U.S., UK, and India are responsible for 86% of all anti-Muslim content in the past three years.


In a recent khutbah, I spoke about wealthy Hindu nationalists who make their money doing business with the UAE and Saudi Arabia and then donate to anti-Muslim Hindu nationalist causes. I warned how they are spending a great deal of money to support Hindu nationalist movements in the West. In recent events, we have seen Hindu nationalists in the city of Leicester, England, go on the rampage, physically attacking Muslim men and women. Mobs of Hindu nationalists in Britain are assaulting Muslims, solely because they are Muslim. These mobs stop anyone who they think look Muslim. They ask, "Are you Muslim?" If they say, "Yes," then they are mercilessly beaten.


I pause and think. We live in a world in which those who control the informational lungs of the world—Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Google—are anti-Muslim. They hate Islam. They do everything to silence Palestinians and they do nothing to fight Islamophobia. We live in a world in which Islamophobia has become such a phenomenon that the racist challenge of Europe is no longer anti-Semitism or anti-Black racism. It is against Muslims. We live in an age in which a new racism in the West is directed at Muslims. We live in an age in which it is not only non-Muslims who hear the worst things about the Islamic faith, but so many Muslims themselves are plagued by doubts and haunted by the specter of Islamophobia. In this world, amid all of this, what is the issue that we choose to fight our battles on? Women's hair.




The Prophet was described as a mercy to humankind who brought light unto humanity. Does that light look like a woman covering her hair? Really? Is that what it is all about? Is this your Islam? Before you answer, check what the podium of the Prophet is saying in your community. If the podium of the Prophet is saying, "No, it is not. You cannot humiliate a woman. You cannot degrade a woman. You cannot violate a woman just because she shows her hair. In fact, you cannot force women to cover their hair. You are not even allowed to shame them into covering their hair,” then we are in good shape. If, however, the problem is not even noticed, leave alone addressed, then we are truly in bad shape.

The Movement to Reinvigorate Beautiful and Ethical Islam has begun.  Join us.

Your donation to The Institute for Advanced Usuli Studies will help fund important work to combat extremism and ignorance. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity dedicated to research and education to promote humanistically beautiful and morally elevating interpretations of Islam. We seek to support our brightest minds to advance knowledge and to build a community of individuals founded on dignity, respect and love for all of God's creation. See The Usuli Institute Credo for our statement of values. Please give generously to support a beautiful, reasonable and vibrantly human Islam for future generations to come. All donations are tax-deductible and zakat eligible.


Subscribe to Our E-mail List for Weekly updates and Latest News: