I’m a US woman of Scandinavian heritage who finds hijab beautiful. I love how they cover the entire head and neck and drape down the front. When I was younger, I often wore head scarves, and now I often wear hats. Head coverings save me from having to fuss with my hair, and I love how they make me feel more removed from the gaze and judgment of strangers. It’s as if head coverings are a privacy screen.
So my question: Is it appropriate for a non-Muslim to wear hijab? I fear it might be offensive to Muslims. Also, would wearing hijab appear to be a political statement? I don’t necessarily want to make a political statement with my clothing. I just want to cover my head! —Seeking Cover
Cultural appropriation is a hot topic these days. Think pieces on sites like Everyday Feminism fretting about the relative offensiveness of Westerners practicing the sun salutation or eating pad thai fuel conservative stereotypes about silly liberal political correctness. But unless the appropriation is deliberately racist or pointless—as when white college students dress up in a feathered headdress—most people aren’t inclined to get angry about what others are wearing, eating, or logically greeting.
Since Muslims are a minority in the United States, some might be a little disappointed to discover that despite your hijab, you aren’t a fellow Muslim. That might be awkward, as it is when a gay man finds that a new acquaintance is straight despite his cutting-edge shoes and flawless grooming habits.
But since non-Muslim women are expected to cover when visiting religiously strict Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, there’s clearly no prohibition on nonbelievers donning the veil. And head coverings of various kinds have long been enjoyed by women all over the world. The Virgin Mary appears in nearly all paintings to be wearing hijab, as Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, laughingly pointed out to me in an interview. If you choose to wear hijab, he said, speaking as a religious Muslim, “there’s no offense on our end.”
So if you choose to go ahead and wear hijab despite such risks, this climate of religious bigotry still affects the context of your question. You say you don’t want to make a political statement, Seeking, but why not? Some non-Muslim women and girls—including some evangelical Christians—have been wearing it in solidarity with a group under attack. February 1 is World Hijab Day, when women who don’t normally wear hijab are invited to try it out. Excellent timing for the launch of your new look.