Most Muslims are familiar with the various reasons that Allah has required women to wear hijab: The hijab reflects modesty, purity and respect; it lessens temptation so that more serious sins will be avoided; it protects women from the harm and molestation of evil men; a woman who wears hijab will be evaluated for her intelligence and skills rather than her appearance.
One important aspect that is often overlooked, however, is that the hijab is a symbol of Muslim identity. A woman who covers her head is making a statement that she is a member of the Muslim community and that she follows a particular code of moral conduct.
Allah says: "O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them. That is more suitable that they will be known (as Muslims and chaste believing women) and not be abused." [Qur'an, 33:59]
"...that they will be known..." In America, where Islam is the fastest growing religion (alhumdullilah), many people are coming to know what this head covering really signifies and to understand the religion that mandates it. The hijab, in effect, is an amazingly powerful tool for dawah; one that Muslims themselves are probably not even aware of. As with any tool, the key for effectiveness is appropriate and knowledgeable use.
The most obvious first step would be for Muslim women to actually wear the hijab. It is a tragic and upsetting phenomenon to see so many Muslims dressing in the manner of the disbelievers (blue jeans, T-shirts, short skirts, even shorts). The Prophet, sallalahu allahe wa salam, said; "Whoever resembles a people is one of them." (Abu Dawood). This is not only happening in America and other Western countries as people attempt to assimilate and adopt the practices of the prevailing culture, but it is also occurring in Muslim countries at an alarming rate.
A woman who refuses to wear the hijab is disobeying Allah and committing a serious sin, putting worldly pleasures above spiritual attainment, and neglecting her duty to the religion of Islam. Many scholars agree that the only reason a Muslim may live in a non-Muslim country is to conduct dawah and bring people to the true religion. How can a woman perform dawah for Islam when she is not even practicing it herself? To do this would be a form of hypocrisy and it will not be successful.
Once a woman begins to wear hijab she completes a large portion of her responsibility for dawah with very little effort. Each time that she goes to the grocery store, the library, to work, to school, or to any other public place, she is spreading the magnificent message of Islam. This is not only because of the outer hijab that she wears, but more importantly, the modesty of her behavior that accompanies it. When a woman refrains from flirting with men, limits physical contact, and is reserved and respectful, people may become curious and want to learn more about this intriguing faith. It may just sow the seeds of something wonderful.
At the University where I teach (which happens to be a private, Catholic school), women are often interested in my manner of dress and demeanor. Each semester I have at least one student who requests my involvement in a project for another class, usually comparative religions. They are surprised when they learn the rationale for this injunction and the fact that it was part of their religious heritage as well. If I chose not to wear hijab, I would miss these wonderful opportunities to share the beauty, peace and universality of my faith.
When there is the possibility for further discussion with those who are interested, knowledge and understanding of the topic are imperative. A very effective technique is to relate the concept to something that is familiar to the other person. Some examples of questions that could be posed include: