September 22, 2006
By Ali Eteraz
I care not for your scarfs, your shawls, or your headwraps. In what you deem an ‘Islamic legal requirement,’ I find too much interpretive ambiguity in the verses. In the obsession with cloaking your hair I find that you create a fetish — one that benefits you. In the posture of presumptive piety you assume, and which is allotted to you by brothers who turn your ‘modesty’ into their insecurity, I find very much that is reprehensible. If I should be a Shaykh I would say that the hijab is not a religious requirement. I would say that one does not need the hijab to be truly Muslim. I would say that a cloth does not create modesty. I would say that what goes in the head is much more important than what goes on it.
Having said that, dear hijabi sisters, I would like to impinge upon your famed defense against a non-mahram’s entreaties and say to you that I find you beautiful. I think you beautiful when you tuck the hijab behind your ears and show off your mother’s Indian earrings. I love the way you wear your hijab in the “j-lo” style and your necks look so langorous. I love the way in which you pin your hijab with diamond clasps or tiny pink butterfly clips because it evokes so much grace and feminine innocence. I love the way in which you hastily wrap your scarfs when I intrude upon your parties: it makes me feel like a conqueror before whom the subjects must take evasive maneuvers. I love the way your hijab matches your eyes, or your purse, or when its just white like purity, or when you get together with your friends at a protest and put on the black hijab of fashionable militancy and lipstick jihadism — those black hijabs evoke an aura of tribalism and severity that slaps away all the vestiges of metrosexuality in me. I love how when you turn shy you chew a corner of your hijab and when you let the corner fall, it is stained by the sweet secretions of your mouth. Or how when you are upset you twist it around your finger or re-wrap it tightly even as you turn away. I love the feeling of when you let me take it off; but I love it more when you do that yourself. I love the assorted outfits that go with your chosen Chanel scarf, the Dior heels whose straps match the secondary color of your hijab, the supple silk monochromatic skirt that contrasts with your hijab (all the while falling on your soft thighs, the seductive silhouette of which I so dastardly observe from the corner of my sinful eyes even in the company of a Shaykh).
Dear sisters of the hijab, your insistence, which is sometimes ill-informed, sometimes ill-advised, sometimes idealistic, and sometimes imitative, evokes the primordial protector in me. In seeing or hearing of you being boo’d at Walmart, or derided at the subway, or harrassed at a Jazz Club, I want nothing more than to be your marauding Mahdi, your scimitar carrying savior, your guardian angel, your avenging Iblis. In witnessing the way in which you non-chalantly thrust yourself into large groups of diametrically different people — and the way in which you fake that non-chalance, too — I often find a tremendous strength of character and seductive stubbornness which I wish I could marshal in my own battles. During the course of my own struggles I find in your resolve to be assuredly attached, not just to a cloth, but to an IDEA, an inspiring affirmation of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and Steinem’s assertions, and Brutus’ conviction. You give me a lesson in intensity and for that I find you laudable.
In times of reflection when one has the ability to doubt and question everything including a woman’s irrational insistence that a piece of cloth that makes her more conspicuous makes her less noticeable, I say, off with her hijab. But in times of chaos I look to her fidelity to her decided principle and find in it a strength that is both spiritual and comforting. It is worthy of emulation.
My dear hijabi sisters, you might succeed in hiding your hair from me (though that only means that I will look more closely at you walking away). You might succeed in proving your purity and chastity to me (which only means that I will only pretend to be more pious in your company). But what you cannot keep from me is your strength — the audacity, the assertion, and the affirmation of principled belief. I should like to make a mirror of your conviction and speak to it when I am stuttering (which is often). If you let me have that much, dear hijabi sisters, I promise to stop imagining you undressed and nubile.
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