Is it offensive for non-Muslim women to wear a hijab?

NiqabOver the last few months I’ve received an overwhelming number of comments and emails about the hijab and wearing of a hijab. In particular, many of you want to know if it’s offensive for non-Muslim women to wear a hijab.

The simple answer? Nope! Not even a tiny bit. If anyone tells you otherwise, tell them to Contact Me so that I can tell them how ridiculous they’re being.

Before going on, you might be interested in reading about why Muslim women wear a hijab, or weird things I do with my hijab that you haven’t thought about. You’ll see on my post Questions About Wearing Hijab That You’re Too Embarrassed to Ask, many women are interested in wearing hijabs for lots of different reasons.

I think it’s incredibly sweet that so many women are concerned about offending others with their actions. It’s lovely to be so thoughtful and we should all be mindful of how our actions will impact on others.

There are really two concerns that have been raised and it might just be easier if I address them one at a time.

I’m not Muslim and a non-Muslim doing something that is part of the Islamic laws might be disrespectful

Some women ask about wearing a hijab for modesty purposes. Although in the modern world, covering your hair is seen as an Islamic act, women have been doing it long before Muslim women came along. It shouldn’t be a thing that only Muslim women have a right to do. It really should just be an open act and no one has the right to attribute it to one group.

Different people have different levels of modesty. That’s not to say that any one way of dressing is the ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ way. I think it’s so important that women feel comfortable, no matter how they’re dressed. If you’re more comfortable with a scarf wrapped around your head – then wrap that scarf up! Don’t let anyone try and define the rest of your identity with that.

Plus, most things we do day-to-day that are ‘Islamic’! Eating. Resting. General hygiene. All the things… almost.

By wearing a hijab, I am minimising the ‘Muslim woman’s experience’
This seems to be a big one. A lot of women who want to try on a hijab want to do so in their own personal social experiment. They want to know what it feels like to have such a huge part of your identity – your Islamness – being identified instantly. They want to know if people will stare at them or treat them differently. They want to know how wearing a hijab will influence their life.

Some people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, think that this is an incredibly shallow way of looking at the world. Their idea is that spending a day or a week or a year ‘experiencing’ what a Muslim woman deals with day to day does not actually reflect the true experience. In being able to disconnect from any negative experiences by simply removing the hijab, it is believed that this experience does nothing to help Muslim women, going so far as to say that it is de-legitimising the concerns of the Islamic community.

I think that’s a load of rubbish.

see how you look in hijab
You can watch some women trying on a hijab here.

Sure – in wearing a hijab for a day or two, you’re not going to understand what it feels like to have grown up in a world that tells you that you’re a no-good and you’ll probably never quite get how much effort it takes to convince yourself that you’re a good person. You don’t have to. That’s not on you to figure out.

While wearing a hijab and experiencing what it feels like, even for a moment – many things may cross your mind. You might realise that you make look very different, but you’ll still feel like you. You’ll realise how much your looks play into your identity. If you walk out and about, you’ll realise that Muslim women are probably really aware of all the double-takes that people may make during the day. If you spend enough time in a hijab, you’ll realise that most women forget that they’re even wearing it, and it’s probably not a huge deal.

Those experiences and feelings are excellent. They completely legitimise our experience and demonstrate to someone, who isn’t emotionally invested, what it feels like to be judged for a decision one makes about whether or not to cover their body.

Now that is incredibly powerful.

So whether you want to wear a hijab for reasons of modesty or because you want to empathise with your hijabi sisters – go for it. There is nothing offensive about it.

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177 comments

  1. Hello there. I’m wondering about wearing a hijab, turban-style or scarf while undergoing chemotherapy. As a non-Muslim would this be ok? Thank you so much!! With great respect, -M

    • Absolutely 🙂 A headcovering really only becomes a hijab when that meaning is attached to it. Women should feel free to wear whatever makes them most comfortable!

      Best wishes to you!

  2. Hi, I’m interested in wearing a Hijab-like headscarf for my religion (Kemetic (worship of Ancient Egyptians Gods/Goddesses) is this okay? At the college I go to, there is a large wonderful population of Muslims and I dont want to just start (school has started for about three weeks) and offend them. (like…they know me as the hat wearing person (I do this to cover as much hair as possible because I’ve yet to buy the things needs to wear a Hijab/headscarf) and so if I suddenly starting going wearing a Hijab/headscarf I’m worried of the repercussions (also with my family))

    • Hi there

      Thanks for your message. I think it’s totally fine for you to cover your hair and whatever part of your body for absolutely any reason. As you know, women have covered their hair for centuries for many different reasons. If it’s something that aligns with your religious beliefs, then feel free to own it!

      I don’t think you will cause any offence. Feel free to have conversations with people about why you’re choosing to cover you hair, or feel free to say nothing at all. At the end of the day it’s your body and you’re free to do what you want with it!

      In terms of your family, I hear from many women who aren’t Muslim but want to cover their hair. The advice I give is always the same – people will always have the potential to feel uncomfortable about your choices. However; at the end of the day, you have to do what makes you feel happiest. I think a conversation before you start doing it might be a good way to ease their concerns. You don’t even have to pin it down to a religious belief. You can explain that covering your hair just makes you more comfortable. Hopefully it goes smoothly for you, but please feel free to touch base again if you have any other questions!

  3. hey, i’m thinking about doing a social experiment on how would others at school would react to me wearing a hijab, i would be wearing it for 2 weeks i think, would that be a problem?

    • I am so sorry for the delay in this response. I have just found over 50 comments that have been marked as spam going as far back as 2015. It’s possible that I have responded to this already – but I’ll answer again in case I haven’t!

      I feel very uncomfortable with social experiments like this. I feel like they set people up to fail in a sensitive scenario. I also don’t think it achieves anything or shows us anything, so I’m not sure why you would want to do that. I’d recommend that you don’t.

  4. I’m considering wearing a niqab. I have a problem with my teeth and have to have almost the entire top teeth extracted. It will take up to 3 months for them to heal and the idea of walking around toothless terrifies me. I like to try new things and always changing my look every couple months, so I don’t think anyone I know would think anything of me wearing it. But until they can cover myself when out in public. I guess this falls under modesty??

    • Hi there!

      I guess it does! I know that I have no idea what it would feel like to be in your position, but I want to give you the courage and encouragement to do absolutely whatever it is that makes you feel more comfortable. If we were hanging out and you were worried about your teeth not being there for a couple of months, you bet that I’d be giving you the encouragement not to worry about it at all!

      Good luck with whichever path you choose to take 🙂

  5. Hello! First, I’d like to thank you for your post. It has been a source of encouragement in the fast few weeks. I normally am not one to ever comment on posts, but I was encouraged to continue to seek advice and gather different perspectives. I found myself frequently returning to your site and decided to go for it. 🙂

    In the past week, I have begun to cover my hair. Mostly just a neutral scarf wrapped around my head in a turban style. In the past, I have always been extremely uncomfortable with the flirty advances from males. In response, as I grew up I began wearing baggier clothing; slowly cutting out shorts, skirts, and tank tops from my closet. Most recently, I was sexually harassed at work. I was so devastated, I had to quit. A few weeks later, I was hit on by a man in the grocery store. Part of it was he asked me what my shirt said. I was so embarrassed by the idea that he may have looked at my breast that I left in hot tears.

    I understand if you believe my reactions extreme, I have been told I can be a little dramatic. When it comes to by body I have always been that way. I only dreamed about being with one man, when I recently got married I became firm in keeping my body for me, my husband, and God. This idea of modest has only developed as I recently graduated from college. I want to be taken seriously in the work place, and seen for my hard work and passion then for what my body looks like (especially as I try to get in the entertainment industry). I know that even taking this next step in covering myself does not mean that comments will not continue to be made, however, I see it as a reminder to myself that I am a child of God and I am at least controlling what they can see.

    I’m terribly sorry for making this long, I did not mean to over load you with details. This is not an easy transition, and I am unsure of what lines that I may accidentally cross. Or how I should explain myself to people. I have been interested in wearing the full hijab, but as a Christian I wondered if I would be walking down a path that is not mine to walk. Though I know that we are technically ‘sisters’ in our belief. 🙂 I was hoping that you could give my heart a little advice and guidance as I try to find myself in all of this.

    • I am so sorry for the delay in this response. I have just found over 50 comments that have been marked as spam going as far back as 2015. It’s possible that I have responded to this already – but I’ll answer again in case I haven’t!

      Comments like yours have been making me saddest because I hate that I couldn’t respond to you right away! I am so sorry to hear about the harassment you’ve faced from men. Your body is yours and you shouldn’t have to feel obliged to defend it from these disgusting people. I appreciate completely how you feel about your desire to be taken seriously. I’ve had conversations with women at work about how men seem to unconsciously treat me differently to other women – it’s like I’m taken more seriously and treated like one of the guys because they can’t see my hair? We don’t know for sure but it’s something a lot of us have noticed.

      I think it’s important to remember that Jewish, Christian and Muslim women have traditionally dressed modestly and covered their hair. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for you to cover your hair and keep yourself feeling comfortable. It’s a road that’s open to everyone – Muslim, religious or not.

      I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to try and force you to explain yourself for covering up more. You can tell them as much or as little as you want – ‘I feel comfortable dressing this way’ or ‘I find this to be stylish’ or ‘this aligns with my faith’ – the choice is yours.

      I always have the belief that God leads us on paths that we are able to manage, and only burdens us with as much as we can cope with. Know that any resistance you may face will only make you stronger and more resilient 🙂 All the best – and I’m happy to answer any other questions! I’ll keep a closer eye on my silly spambots from now on!

  6. I wear a lot of headscarves and wound a longer than usual scarf around my head the other day to work on some character designs for a story I was writing and noticed how at home and happy I felt being so covered. I was instantly worried that this would offend people so thank you for this. I would like to try wearing it out in public sometime.

  7. Thank You so much. Am going wear a hijab to feel how my bestfriend is treated/feels and as well as to feel how muslims feel when they are being discriminated and i’m gonna see how i can make persons change their negative thinking of muslims

    • I’m so glad someone else has already asked this so I can benefit from the answer. I want to wear a hijab because I think it might give me some clue about how it feels not to be clothed in and protected by my impenetrable white privilege.

  8. I figure if enough of us non-Muslim women wear a hijab and the men wear something traditional to Muslim men then maybe the haters will singing out Muslim women. After all, my grandmother and most of the Slavic women wore their babushkas, nuns used to almost all wear head covering and Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair as well often with a wig. We may even inadvertently help another group of women, those undergoing chemotherapy to feel less conspicuous.

    • I am so sorry for the delay in this response. I have just found over 50 comments that have been marked as spam going as far back as 2015. It’s possible that I have responded to this already – but I’ll answer again in case I haven’t!

      What a brilliant idea! If there are enough of us covered up, surely people would get over it!

  9. Yes thank you so much sister. Last year I wanted to try on a hijab because I adore them and it makes women look so beautiful and modest but I was really nervous so I asked my Syrian friend and she said go for it. She said she chooses to wear it so if I choose to wear it then so be it. When I tell you I felt so good and beautiful wearing that hijab!! But now I’m near close minded people and when they see me wear it, they question me and tell me to take it off. Now I stand up for myself. It’s my head, I can do whatever I please. I still wear it to this day, whether I have a bad hair day so just because I want to!

  10. one thing you did not consider are Iranian and other women being forced to wear hijab, google Stealthy freedom. Also there was an article written in Washington Post by an Asra Q. Nomani (a former Wall Street Journal reporter and the author of “Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam). and Hala Arafa (retired journalist and news editor at the Arabic branch of the Voice of America). on why they as Muslim women ask that you not wear hijab in name of solidarity. I believe we as women do need to support each other and like everything there are always two sides to every story just because we do not agree does not mean that either are wrong its just difference of opinion but I do believe that as much as we still need to support those who chose to wear hijab we need to also remember and speak up for those facing physical abuse, and jail because they fight for a right not to wear it.

  11. I need to wear a burka, because I am unable to attain an appointment with my unreasonable ob/gynecology and in addition to diagnosed, fibroid tumors being left unchecked for at least 2 years, menopause has ravaged my femininity lowering the tone of my voice, acute hirsutism, and body parts that seemed to go bad overnight. I’m 55 years old and consider my life over. I try to stay in my house as much as possible, and I have plenty of work to keep me busy around the house. It is becoming necessary for me to have to interact more with people, still a minimal amount, but when I have to leave home, I want my head and face covered. I also suffer from bipolar depression but it doesn’t keep me from being an integral part of the non profit my daughter and I run. I would just as soon not go out in public, but the workload has made important for me to take up some of the slack for my daughter, who is, by the way, an angel; you can ask anyone.

    • Hi Sandra

      I am so sorry to hear about your experiences and hope that you are able to get the medical attention that you need. I understand where you are coming from and hope that you are able to find a way to remain connected with wider society. That’s great if it’s through a niqab. Having grown up hairy because of my PCOS, I understand how hirsutism can effect ones life. However, talking it through with people who had experience in helping such women, I was able to see that it doesn’t define who I am and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with it. Thank God for laser hair removal! I’m so glad that you and your daughter have a great relationship. Best wishes to the both of you.

  12. I am only 12 and I want to wear a hijab but I am scared that I will be hurt because my friends are telling me that I could get hurt. I want to know what it is like to wear a hijab and I want to know what Muslim women have to go through. I am just a bit scared because there are a few Trump supporters at my school. What would you do?

    • Hi Mirani

      Thank you for your message. I started wearing the hijab at about 11. 9/11 had just happened a few years before that and I was pretty scared. However, I can’t recall ever being bullied at my school in those first few years for wearing the hijab. I, luckily, was at a very multicultural school where there were other girls in hijab.

      I can’t imagine being in your position at the moment. I am watching what Trump is doing, and I am worried – and I am in Australia!

      I think the best thing that you should do to make your decision is talk to teachers that you trust and see what they think. Please make sure you feel safe and, if you can, keep your parents informed about how you feel.

      Good luck!

  13. I am so happy that I came across this page. For years I have been attracted to the hijab and always wanted to wear one but never did in fear of being disrespectful. Once learning the symbolism behind the hijab I felt even more inclined to wear one of my own. I did a quick Google search before committing to the idea because, again, the absolute last thing I want to do is offend someone’s religious beliefs, and I came across your page. You have given me the courage I needed to make the decision to wear a hijab. Thank you!

  14. I’ve been wanting to elegantly cover thinning hair (due to long term immunosuppressant medications) and have quick simple way to protect face and throat from sun exposure to which causes autoimmune flares. I’ve been buying pashminas and scarves and wearing with hair tucked up in a turban. The hijab’s loose flowing style is really appealing, but I was afraid it would look as though I was misappropriating a culture.

    Thanks to this article, this older, white, atheist woman will start experimenting. Will certainly be good to quickly pull end of scarf over my face to block the sun.

      • Perfect q&a for my particular concern! I have trigeminal neuralgia and need to shield my head, neck and as much of my face from drafts and air conditioning and among all available options for head coverings, it seems hijab would fit my medical needs too.

  15. Hi. ☺ I was wondering would Muslim women get offended if i wear a Niqab? I saw a women wear it today and loved the idea of being covered head to toe. It was beautiful you know? All the patterns and what not. I dunno i feel like i would offend some people. :/ im really interested in committing to wearing one. I should point out that im not religious at all. Hope ot doesnt sway your opinion…

    • Hi Elena

      I apologise for the delay in responding. You should feel comfortable in covering or uncovering whatever works for you. Whether or not you’re religious doesn’t effect my opinion at all. I think people should be free to dress how they want.

  16. I absolutely loved it! I have been asking around people if it is offensive. I have a lot of Muslim friends and many of them are hijabi. I love the way they tie it! When I go out with them, I notice people staring and so, I decided to put on the hijab first asking my friends’ help to tie it and later learning it from internet, to experience it by standing in their shoe. Now I am all set to try out different hijab patterns. What I felt when I am in hijab at a public place is that, people tend to notice stuff that are different. And, I feel beauty is always in the things that are different and one should flaunt it instead of feeling insecure. I wear it to religious places too. My experience with hijab has been really nice so far.

  17. Our school is having a World Hijab Day celebration where many of us will try the Hijab for the first time. Reading this makes me feel less nervous about offending the Muslim community (even though the event was created by a Muslim student organization). Thanks so much!!

  18. Thank you. I have seen with my own eyes how women wearing hijab are treated. I work in large diverse, inclusive companies so the professional work place has helped tremendously with ‘demystifying ‘ Muslim practices. Outside the professional workplace is another story about the weird and disappointing reactions I have witnessed. Hajib wearing “how-to” videos made by women make me want to try. The same way I want to try eyeliner, eyebrows trimming, stylish jackets, etc. Do you think a pink Hajib/scarfing with cat ears would be going too far?

    • Hi Dena

      I think you’re absolutely right – in the work place, things seem to be fine for me (mostly) but once I’m out in the ‘real world’ people can be awfully condescending. I suppose it’s because, at work, they’re judging me on my performance where elsewhere, I am an anonymous nobody.

      I think deciding what’s going ‘too far’ is up to the situation you’re in and you’re discretion. I personally wouldn’t wear a hijab with cat ears around my elders, for example, because they would find it disrespectful. The pink is fine for sure but the cat ears will depend on who you’re hanging out with.

      Good luck!

  19. I posted a picture on my instagram with a headscarf and I got so much hate for t because I’m not Muslim. I was showing respect for their culture and they tell me it’s racist…I think headscarves are beautiful and now i feel I can never wear one or post a picture of me in one because I’ll be marked as racist:(

    • Oh dear. That’s the first I’ve heard of people lashing out because someone is wearing a headscarf. In my experience, the response is usually very kind and respectful. It’s strange for people to think it’s racist. Muslim women are known for wearing headscarves in the modern era, but women from all religions and cultural backgrounds have worn headcoverings for so many different reasons. Please don’t let the responses of these misguided people influence your decision about what you will wear. It’s none of their business.

  20. I’m a non-Muslim woman who wears a hijab and I always felt confident until today when someone told me what I was doing was the same as black-face. I’m so glad that I found this post and I can’t thank you enough for writing it.

    • That’s a ridiculous comparison. I think it’s very rare that the hijab can be culturally appropriated – and I’ve been asked this question so many times that I think that I should specifically write an article about it. Good on you for sticking to your guns, and I’m glad I could assist you.

  21. as much as I support the idea of freedom in wearing what you want but having been forced to wear hijab since 5th grade and being nonmuslim i always hated it

    • Hi Cynthia

      I am sorry to hear about your experience. As you would have read, I don’t support the idea of something being forced either. I hope you are able to live your life freely now.

  22. I just wanted to thank you so much for writing this, I’m very shy and wearing a head scarf or a hood makes me feel a lot less exposed and more secure when I’m out. Hijabs are beautiful but I’ve been so afraid of offending any muslim woman, it’s the last thing in the world I want. Thank you!

  23. I’m a hijab wearing non Muslim and I love it! So much that it has changed me for the better and has increased my self esteem. I have a lot of respect for your culture and religion.

  24. I am Christian and would really like to begin wearing the hijab. I love how modest they are and the idea of a visual reminder of my faith. Wearing the hijab would also allow me to experience wearing a headscarf every day before I commit myself as a nun. However I’m fourteen so I’m not sure my mother would allow it. Do you have any suggestions on how to approach this subject with my mom?

    • Hi Amy

      I’ve had a few girls in your age group ask a similar question. They’ve all had different reasons for wanting to cover up more, but the concern has always been that their parents would not accept their choices.

      Having grown up with strict parents, I know that it can be scary to tell them how you feel about an issue or to do something that you think they wouldn’t like. Sometimes, though, we judge our parents prematurely. It may be that your mother would be very supportive of what you want to do.

      If you feel comfortable doing it, I would recommend that you talk to your mum about how you feel an explain why you feel that way. She might even have some advice for you herself 🙂 If you have any other questions, please let me know!

  25. I imagine peoples’ concerns stem from the ideas of cultural appropriation and the disrespect that accompanies it. Since hair covering is something women have done throughout history and cultures, this one all depends on reasoning.

    In Ghana, I am constantly asked to let hairdressers do my hair for me, many making the offer because they know me and would love to see their work on my hair – and even my fine straight hair could use that protection from the elements! In Canada, by contrast, the majority of people would take offense to seeing a white girl like me walking around with braids.

    I think it is great that some women do ask before doing, showing respect and that they do not want to show any disrespect. Further, it is even better that you respond with the reasons why you do not find it offensive, giving historical context in your response.
    http://obibinibruni.org/

  26. hello! I have recently been wearing my hijab, for the purpose of modesty. I feel so complete as a modest woman. My husband also enjoys seeing me in my hijab. I am very religious so as a woman that is always praying I cover head my head anyway. the thing is a lot of muslim women do approach me as a muslim, I just smile and greet, but I am a non-muslim. Even though the word muslim is one submit and obeys God. I just do not want to be deceitful. I just wanted to take my modesty to the highest level. please help. thanks

    • Hi Barbara

      That’s an interesting dilemma and one that I warn non-Muslims who wear the hijab about. Of course I can understand why people will think that you’re Muslim, but I also think it would be okay if you told people that you’re not Muslim. I think that people would be really understanding if you told them that you wear a headscarf for similar but slightly different reasons.

  27. World Hijab Day is a promotion that brings with it some controversy, and my accidentally running into a promotion of the event pushed me into facing my own limited and conflicting opinions and prejudices on the matter. Why did I feel self-conscious over the idea of dressing modestly? Why did I agree to let the young Muslim woman into my life by letting her give me a hijab makeover? Did she mean it when she said I looked “beautiful” after she had finished? Why was I anxious to look at myself in the mirror even tho part of me had just been hidden? Why didn’t the hijab look out of place or unnatural on me? Why didn’t I take it off as soon as I was out of sight? There wasn’t any chance at all that I would like hijab right?

    You wrote: “While wearing a hijab and experiencing what it feels like, even for a moment – many things may cross your mind. You might realise that you make look very different, but you’ll still feel like you. You’ll realise how much your looks play into your identity.” I did walk out and about. You are right that I did look very different with all my long hair hidden and just my pale white face showing. I did still feel like me… but I did feel different too. It was a chilly February day, so being covered wasn’t as foreign feeling as it could have been. For sure there was a different vibe to my day. Responses from others weren’t what they normally were. I had recently turned 25 and this was the first time in my life that I had ever went in public with an intentionally modest dress.

    • Hi Chantelle

      Thanks for your comments. It’s an interesting thought (and I suppose, emotional) process which one can go through with the hijab. It sounds like trying the hijab on gave you some unique insight into who you are as a person in a way that you haven’t had the chance to before. Given the strength that comes through with your words, I feel as if this must have been a good thing for you. Do you think it gave you some insight into the motivations of women who dress differently to you – or even your own motivations?

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