Good and Bad Questions to Ask the Hijabi You Know

February 8, 2011

I could get into big trouble for this. What right do I have to call some questions stupid? None. What follows is my opinion only.

1. “Why do you wear the hijab?”

A complicated one, to be sure. On one hand, I’m inclined to say that the construction of the question is less than ideal. Clearly, the answer to that is more complex than it would seem; the hijabi in question could probably write a whole blog about it!

If you’re here, you’re likely familiar with the stock answers that many women are likely to give, if only because they know going into more detail would take forever. (To be honest, they are probably also skeptical of your ability to fully understand, as somebody who doesn’t live the identity 24/7.)

ON THE OTHER HAND, this question has been the single mode of entry into a topic of conversation that I wish I had more with non-Muslims. Most people, I think, are too nervous to even broach the subject. If you’re interested, and you know the woman even a little bit, do ask! To deal with the issues above, do some research, so you’re equipped to understand and respond with a little more sophistication.

Even without the research, though. Ask anyway. Most Muslim women will be glad you did.

2. “Do you shower with it on?”

This is a SILLY QUESTION, so please don’t bother asking. Do you shower with your clothes on? What’s the curtain for, anyway?

3. “Did your family (/father/husband) make you wear that?”

Also not so great. For me, the answer is absolutely not, and I’m slightly offended that you suspect MY family to be capable of such tyranny. Unfortunately, for some women around the world, it is true, but unless you know the woman well, she probably won’t want to talk about it with you.

I would rate this question as around the same level of rudeness as “how much money do you make?” or “what’s your sex life like?”

4. “Where do you get those things?”

Pretty harmless. If she answers really nicely, you could go buy her one.

5. “Will you show me your hair?”

If you’re male, forget about it. If you’re female, it’s still not a good idea to ask. People’s preferences on this vary, so unless you know the hijabi really well, just refrain, because let’s face it: you’re just curious.

6. “Doesn’t it get hot in the summer?”

This is a funny one, because the two available answers are both obvious. Yes, it gets hot, because it’s the SUMMER. The sentiment you’ll receive, though, is usually no, no more than usual, because we get used to it (just as with clothing). Everyone is different, however, so if you’re truly interested in your friend’s natural ability to cool off effectively in August, ask away.

7. “CAN YOU HEAR ME OKAY?”

YES I CAN.

… I feel a little silly now, well into writing this post, because I certainly didn’t intend to come up with a bunch of do-nots to discourage the inquisitive. You’d do better to follow this general rule, then:

If you want to get to know the woman better as a person, you’ll have much more freedom asking questions than if you view her as some foreign creature. Know that one person’s experience is far from representative. Be genuine, and it’ll come through that way.

To reiterate what I said on #1, it’s better just to ask, even if you’re afraid of sounding stupid. Being candid in your interest is better than taking great pains to pretend you don’t see difference, any day.

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2 Responses to “Good and Bad Questions to Ask the Hijabi You Know”

  1. Farah Says:

    I’ve gotten a few of those in the past. I always mean to be patient with questions I deem offensive because usually the person asking is well-meaning…but I can’t help it. I get irritated. “Yes, I CAN work out dressed like this. In fact, I am fitter than you and could probably kick your ass.” Ok, I’ve never said that to anyone, but I always want to. One day I totally will.

    This reminds me of when I go to the occasional Bikram yoga class — 1.5 hours in a room heated to 105 degrees. Everyone’s stripped down to practically their underwear, and there I am with pants, long sleeves and a hijab. I love walking into that studio because I always get a few looks of disbelief. “How is she going to do this class dressed like THAT?” they wonder. I’m not sure how I manage, but I do. In fact — and this is totally anti-yoga to have competitive feelings — but I’m usually the only person in the room who can go the entire class without needing to take a break. And it feels awesome. 😛


    • Haha, that’s awesome. I’m still insecure about running/working out in full costume, but I think it’s because I’m unathletic (aka a big baby) in the first place, so I’d be self-conscious regardless. Yuck!


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