What to do about other people’s head coverings

Have you ever seen someone wearing a head covering of some sort and been confused how to respond?  Fear not!  This handy guide will help you navigate proper etiquette.

Q:  Should I make loud comments about how weird the person wearing a head cover is so that everyone around can hear?  Can I tell them to go back to their own country and leave mine?

A:  No, that would be in poor taste and would reflect poorly on your judgment instead of theirs.  Additionally, the person may be a citizen of your own country who has chosen to cover the head; even if the person is from elsewhere, it doesn’t give you a right to be a jerk.

Q:  What if I just say it quietly to the person next to me so that only that person and the person with the head cover can hear?  Or what if I only say it so that the person who is next to me can hear and not the person in the head cover?

A:  No,that is still being rude, just to a smaller audience.

Q:  But I really want to express how bizarre they look!  How can I do this without being rude?

A:  Write a note that expresses how you feel, and then immediately destroy it without showing anyone.  In this way, you get your feelings off your chest but haven’t crossed over into inappropriate behavior.

Q:  What if I think they need to not be wearing that head covering and/or that they must be oppressed to be wearing it?  Should I make a big stink and/or try to forcibly remove their head covering?  Why are they wearing that thing on their head, anyway?

A:  Absolutely not.  You should never attempt to remove the clothing of another person without their consent, and to do so constitutes assault.  Additionally, it is none of your business if they choose to keep their head covered, and to assume you know the reason is presumptuous and often incorrect.  Please refer to the following chart to find out what you may reasonably assume based on a woman having cloth on her head (and it is equally true for men):

Any of these things MIGHT be true of a given person, but there is no guarantee that the man in a cloth cap or woman in a head scarf belongs to a particular religion or is ultraconservative just because you’re only used to certain stereotypes.  Additionally, head coverings don’t make a terrorist; willingness to act broadly on narrow-minded hate does. What you may also reasonably assume is that the vast majority of people, with or without head coverings, dress in the manner they personally see fit, while a small minority of people are pressured into more or less clothing by others.  Don’t be the person trying to pressure someone into less clothing just because that’s what you’re comfortable seeing.  The reasons people wear head coverings are many, such as:

  • religious teachings
  • cold head
  • lack of hair due to any number of conditions
  • fashion
  • culture
  • tradition
  • energetic conservation
  • modesty
  • keeping hair tidy for doing chores

While any of the above could be true, it could be another reason altogether; and regardless of the reason, it boils down to the personal preference of the person whose head is covered.

Q:  That person must be stupid to agree to wear a head covering when they don’t have to, right?

A:  Wrong.  The head (and sometimes hair) is covered, not the brain.  You absolutely can’t make accurate assumptions about someone’s intelligence based on whether they wear a head covering.

Q:  What if people of my faith group are supposed to wear head coverings, but that person of my faith group isn’t doing it?  Shouldn’t I help them by berating them about how badly they are following their faith until they comply?

A:  Most faith groups that require all or some of their adherents to wear head coverings also have teachings about not attempting to interfere between others and their relationship with Deity.  If your religion says you should do something, use your own conscience about whether to follow that teaching, but don’t harass others about doing the same.  Raising a big stink about others not covering or not covering to the degree you deem appropriate just feeds the stereotypes outsiders often have about adherents of religion being “forced” into covering.  It’s not much of a free choice when the community makes a gigantic fuss when a person doesn’t conform to the approved choice.  Often pushing too hard on someone to fit your standard can generate backlash or drive them in the opposite direction altogether.  Offering a quiet example of how you believe your faith should be lived is often much more compelling than griping at the non-compliant.

Q:  I know my friend/family member/co-worker/etc. has a right to wear something on the head if desired, but I miss seeing the hair!  I think they looked so much more attractive without the cover!  Certainly I can say something about it since I care, right?  

A:  Sorry, unless they ask or you are married to the person, it’s not your business.  I may think your hair would look better in a different style, but it would still be very rude of me to offer my unsolicited opinion that you should change it – even if you’re someone I love.  Many people aren’t particularly fussed about whether they look “pretty” or not and are more interested in being tidy and hygenic.  Even if someone does want to be attractive, standards of what makes a person attractive are highly subjective and vary wildly depending on whom you ask.  There are SO many ways to be attractive, and their version of attractiveness doesn’t have to match your ideals of beauty. Erin McKean hit the nail on the head when she said,

You don’t owe prettiness to anyone.  Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general.  Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

Q:  Is it okay to ask a lot of personal questions about why they wear the head cover?  

A:  This one is situationally dependent.  Do you know the person socially?  If so, you might test the waters by asking something like, “Is it okay if I ask you about your head covering?”  If they say yes, proceed in a manner that attempts not to make assumptions; if they say no, be prepared to drop it right away and not bring it back up.  If you don’t know the person, ask yourself if there’s any real need for you to know or if it’s just to satisfy your curiosity.  If you are asking so as to accommodate their religious preferences or health needs, then go ahead and politely ask as outlined above; if you are just curious, it may be best to just leave it alone.  There’s really not a tremendously good reason to try to make someone you don’t know have a protracted conversation about an item of their clothing just because you don’t understand it.

Q:  What are some other ways in which I can be sensitive to people wearing head coverings?

A:  Until you are explicitly given a green light to do otherwise, do not touch a person of the opposite gender who is wearing a head covering.  While it is true that the person may or may not be covered for religious reasons, those who are covered for such reasons often follow codes that very precisely limit the physical interaction that men and women may have, including very casual touch.  Don’t assume that such a person will want to shake hands, be patted on the back, or hug you.  Feel free to ask if you are uncertain.

Educate yourself about the wide variety of head coverings that people around the world have historically worn, some of which are still worn now. Some of these coverings may be outside the realm of your personal cultural experience; but the world consists of a fantastic diversity of people, not all of which will be like you.  Being different than you doesn’t make someone else wrong or bad if what they are doing (like wearing a head cover) isn’t hurting others.

If you see someone being harassed because of the head covering they wear, step up and say something!  It isn’t okay to bully people just because they look, dress, or worship differently than you, and we can all be a voice for understanding and acceptance if we are willing to see others as our equals, worthy of human decency.

Final thoughts:

Treat people with kindness and realize that a piece of cloth on the head is neither scary nor cause for mistreating/interrogating the person wearing it.  Freaking out over a piece of cloth on the head is just silly.

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12 Responses to What to do about other people’s head coverings

  1. klsargent91 says:

    As a non-muslim who wants to wear hijab, this is EXCELLENT 🙂 Love your humor!

    • Thanks! I know quite a few non-Muslims who sometimes or always wear head coverings (including myself), and this piece was intended to be inclusive of everyone who covers. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  2. klsargent91 says:

    Reblogged this on Hope Prevails.

  3. Zahra says:

    Reblogged this on Emboldened Hearts.

  4. piyush004 says:

    It’s my first time that I visit here. Batik Dupatta

  5. Shanzi says:

    Thank you! I cover, and work retail. The endless questions are so exhausting. Thankfully, no one has threatened my life over it in the past few years. (No, really…)

    • People get so ridiculous about cloth on the head. I’m glad the past few years have been better for you in that regard!

    • Eliana says:

      I feel for you. I also cover and work retail. I am Jewish and I work with a young Muslim lady, we both cover and we are both treated very differently. It amazes me how rude people are to her, and yet so often the same people will compliment me on my scarf. I think it’s horrifying! That said, before I worked retail, I worked for a credit union. People wonder why I left there, but I had a coworker try to run me over, because I didn’t share his beliefs. So trust me when I say I understand. I do. And I hate the fact either of us has experienced hate for simply being ourselves.

  6. Well-written and enlightening. As a Catholic woman (and writer) who covers, I appreciate your words tremendously and I’m sure they’ll come in handy for me!

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