Thoughts on Manhood from the Hijab

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The original version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog, where he writes about Biblical views on relationships and manhood.

Have you ever studied the practice of veiling among Muslim women?

In the United States, many believe that the hijab, most commonly known form of veiling, functions to oppress women; that the veil is a symbol of the subordination and backwardness of women in Muslim cultures.

Scholar Rachel Anderson Droogsma, however, asked a group of Muslim women living in the United States to articulate the meanings that they ascribe to the veil. Her findings overturn much of the popular perceptions regarding the hijab and other head coverings worn by Muslim women.

Based on her conversations with these women, Droogsma argues that the veil is an “object” that becomes a “sign” of Muslim identity.  In other words, an ordinary object like a piece of cloth transforms into a sign laden with social, cultural, and religious meaning.  Moreover, how that sign is interpreted will vary according to the standpoint of the one doing the interpreting.

Droogsma found, for example, that among Muslim women in the United States, the veil functioned or was interpreted as a visible marker of Muslim identity, a behavior check, a means to resist sexual objectification, and a source of freedom. The meanings that these women give the veil are highly empowering and complex in contrast to the constraining and oppressive readings that are typical of many non-Muslims.

In many ways, the modern concept of manhood and masculinity is about objects that become signs of manhood—about things and practices that come to signify what it means to be a man.

Think about it.  How many men associate masculinity with the colors worn in clothing, the amount you can bench press, ability to fight, the make and model of your car, interest in sports, number of sexual partners, the level of emotion displayed, and how dominant he is over his wife and children?  Do these tangible and intangible objects really reveal what it means to man up?

I am not suggesting that a man can’t or shouldn’t be able to bench press two times his body weight, drive a Porsche 918 Spider, remain calm in tragedies, protect and lead his family, enjoy watching Stephen Curry break his own records, or wear finely tailored Armani suits with a fuchsia shirt.

But I would argue that manning up is much more about responsibility, integrity, and character.  In my opinion, many of the “objects” we seek to obtain as a sign of our manhood can often serve to veil our insecurities as men.  These objects are sometimes our escape from the tenacity, discipline, humility, and inner qualities that truly make us men.  Great men.

When the servant of the Lord wants define the kind of man needed in the world, notice the modern measurements missing:

“The greatest want of the world is the want of men—men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall” (Education 57).

In fact, in her counsel to young men, she makes it even more plain by stating…

“It is manly to do right, and Jesus will help you to do right, if you seek to do it because it is right” (Messages to Young People 175).

From the very creation of man, the Divine intention was not to define man by what existed around him, for in the creation of man the Creator looked at Himself and said, “Let Us…” (Genesis 1:26). The standard for man’s creation and purpose were to be found in God Himself.  Godliness, God-like-ness, was the very essence of manhood—and everything else was peripheral.

Think for a moment on a pursuit of our own hijab as men.  An authentic, trans-cultural sign of manhood.  Something that functions as a behavior check, a means to resisting sexual objectifying, and a source of freedom.  A sign that would be highly empowering and contrast society’s oppressive readings that are typical of boys who have not yet become men.


Sebastien Braxton is a speaker for this year’s GYC conference in Louisville, Kentucky, to be held December 30 – January 3.  He is the former program director for CAMPUS and the founder of STRIDE, a public campus ministry training program in Boston, and, more recently, R3.  R3 is a non-profit think tank that seeks to mobilize youth into meaningful service around the world.