I need some help with Hijab Etiquette!!

Growing up in Pakistan in the 70s and early 80s, I only knew one woman who wore a Hijab. It was Apaa, my Quran and Urdu teacher. I would have tuition with her two times a week and I always thought it weird that she would come up to our home wearing a black burqa (something like this). She would then take out the head piece and the rest of the outfit and then proceed with torturing me with Alif – Bey – Pay etc. Head covering for women was sort of the national/cultural dress in Pakistan – with women wearing shalwar kameez, covering their heads with dupata. Even when I visited India – I noticed both Muslim and Hindu women covering their hair as part of the national dress. I have never made much of women covering or not covering their hair – untill very recently.

Over the past six years – since I moved to the People’s Republic of Cambridge, I have noticed more and more Muslim women wearing the Hijab. And I am always confused as to what to do. As a Muslim male – hijab was never part of my upbringing – all the women in my extended family went outdoors without it – both in Pakistan and in the West – so I have no clue on the proper etiqutte when crossing paths with a hijab wearing woman. Here are some of my quandries – perhaps someone who wears a hijab would be so kind to answer them for me:

1) Usually I am a friendly guy and like to say hi! Given that you have identified yourself so obviously as a Muslim – is it appropriate to lock eyes and say Salaam?

2) If I don’t say anything – but simply smile or acknowledge you with a nod – will that be considered offensive?

3)If I meet a hijab wearing woman at a social occasion – is it halal to shake hands?

Unfortunately these days – since I have no clue on how to be around hijabs – I simply and rudely ignore my Muslim sisters wearing it. Maybe someone can help. Please!

Btw – this is a nice dossier on hijab.

One thought on “I need some help with Hijab Etiquette!!

  1. salaam u asked a number of questions on hijab, I’ll try to answer by what I know of the hijab as my wife wears one.
    When a muslim woman wears a hijab it is either due to culture or religion. If it is due to culture and she is covering her head with a dupatta without knowing why then many of the questions you have asked are not applicable.
    However if a muslim woman wears a hijab due to religious reasons then a number of rules apply. The hijab symbolises that the muslim woman is covering herself for Allah’s sake. In doing so she is dressing humbly and modestly so she does not attract any attention from the opposite sex. In such situations it is not appropriate to shake hands (islamically men and women should not shake hands as it is haraam to do so.) When saying salaam it is best not to lock eyes as this also is not islamically correct for members of the opposite sex.
    And finally free-mixing is not recommended in Islam so muslim women who ordain the hijab for religious reasons generally tend to avoid such gatherings.
    However this can be very subjective as some muslim sisters may don the hijab but not see anything wrong with free mixing or talking to the opposite sex in such cases it’s an individual decision and you will have to judge yourself what is appropriate.
    I hope I have helped somewhat and not confused you any more.

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