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The Many Hijabs

Dervish A Melburnian Muslim convert blogs religion, academia and life in general.  

May 14th, 2008

Andrea Useem has a very interesting article on loving and leaving the headscarf up at Slate. She discusses the use of hijab (covering the head and body with loose, opaque clothing) as a marker of identity, although often justified on the basis of religious obligation by those who wear it.

I remember a few years ago when some friends and I were swimming in the local pool that offered special swimming times for Muslim women (it was after ordinary hours, and some Muslim women had organised it with the pool). A close friend of mine, who was an older convert than me (one of the first Muslim women I knew) told me she didn’t think hijab was necessary and would take off it off, except that she would lose all credibility in the local Muslim community.

Two things struck me at the time a) I had no idea that she or other hijabis thought that way b) it seemed to me that even if I (or others) believed it was a requirement for believing Muslim women to wear hijab, that’s no reason to marginalise a fellow Muslim who holds differently.

Since that time I’ve researched hijab and have my own views on the religious obligatoriness of hijab. What I do know, however, is that the modern hijab is much more than a religious act. It is/can be a political act, a feminist act, a non-feminist act, a psychological act and much more. This is what I think Useem is getting at. Even though the most common justification for wearing hijab is that it is simply a religious requirement, most women who wear it (at least in the Western world) have a plethora of examined and unexamined reasons for wearing it besides.

(Hijab flutter to Talk Islam)

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6 Comments to “The many hijabs”

Umm Zaid | May 14th, 2008 at 4:10 am

Salaam ‘Alaikum

I hereby move that we stop writing about hijab, jilbab, and niqab (unless it’s for style tips) and for it’s obligatoriness / maybeness / totally unnecessaryness unless we’re talking about the much-neglected hijab of men.

I hereby move that you can be an uncovered woman in the Muslim world or a covered woman in the Muslim world and still face inflation, unemployment, unequal rights, violence, poverty, terrorism, yadda yadda… I’m not dogging her for writing this, but I’ve read articles like this before. (Muslim Wake Up, some years ago… only that sister used to be a niqabi too!) Hash, re-hash, re-hashed hash. The end result of these aticles is the implication that as you spiritually mature, you take off the scarf… and if you don’t… Not sure why that’s better than the screeds that imply women who don’t wear it are wanton harlots.

ummyasmin | May 14th, 2008 at 12:35 pm

So moved!

I know that’s where Andrea gets to at the end (not an obvious conclusion) but what she talks about before (in terms of identity politics) I do find interesting.

Actually, it reminds me of a feminist class I took back when I was an undergraduate and we were talking about how we mark our bodies is saying something to the outside world. I incidently remember I was wearing a huge maroon khimar at the time, and I said something along the lines of: ‘but if you veil you are marking yourself, but if you unveil you are still marking yourself as well. Just because other people misinterpret my markings, isn’t solved by taking off those markings, because then you’ll be misinterpreted again anyway.’

A sort of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’.

For me (with all my CBT-ing and reading up on Buddhist and Sufi philosophy) it’s about intention. *Why* do you do X, wear X, not d X, not wear X. I do think that many of us wear hijab without purifying our intentions.

Saha | May 14th, 2008 at 12:50 pm

salams my lovely,
i agree with ummZ, I frequently tell myself that I’m not going to be pulled into this debate again, because it distracts us from other, much more important things. BUT the thing is, we have to make a choice to wear it or not wear it, so we therefore have to think about it critically, we cannot ignore it. In a sense we are pushed into it being a big deal,but because it is a big deal, we can’t pretend that the debate doesn’t affect us.

Saha | May 14th, 2008 at 1:04 pm

What is going to happen if I act on my feelings about it on a day to day basis? I’d like to be able to, but we don’t live in a world that allows us to be flexible in thought without being deemed superficial.Yesterday I wanted to take it off, today i like it, tomorrow i want to wear niqab and so on and so on. My focus now is to learn and purify my heart within the framework we have been given. i have sooooo many questions, doubts about orthodoxy, but when you are serious about truly understanding the faith I think we have to contend with it. But I did find the article interesting because it says exactly what I suspect. When I am open about directing myself towards a more orthodox Islamic model, partly because of scholarship and partly because anything less would cause enormous marital problems, people call me a hypocrite, but surely being a hypocrite is being secretive about it?

ummyasmin | May 14th, 2008 at 1:40 pm

I think I made a comment on the Talk Islam site, that I think there is a third group, which is those who are more flexible in their dress. You see this in many traditional Muslim societies, where dress isn’t a political act, it’s largely cultural. In some places, headcovers are worn at the masjid, but not casually. In other places, women pull their scarves around their lower faces when strange men look at them, at other times it drapes loosely around their head and shoulders.

What I am interested in, is that these women feel perfectly comfortable being more flexible in their dress. In English discourse about hijab, it seems like there is a polar opposite, binaristic choice between “you wear it” and “you don’t wear it”. In reality, hijab is much more complex.

Even I am flexible within what I define as my limits. Whilst I always go out with a headcover, sometimes I don’t wish to project an image of Poster Child for Islam, and so I put on a skivvy and a cap. Other times, I love glorying in trailing veils and niqabs. It’s not that I’m being casual or whimsical, it’s like Western women who wear business suits sometimes, and sloppy-joes at other times. Who says I have to be locked into one style?

Actually, I don’t mind talking about hijab because I find it interesting as a concept, the reasons and motivations behind veiling, the different types of veiling etc. I’m wayyyyyy past the “no hijab = free and emancipated” (a la Muslim Wakeup or MSM) versus “no hijab = wanton harlet” (a la a zillion Salafi sites) debate.

ummyasmin | May 14th, 2008 at 1:41 pm

(RE: last comment, having said that I can totally understand why others are so jacked off about the endless rumination about hijab. Mostly because most of the rumination is exactly that, like cows chewing cud.) 

http://www.maryams.net/dervish/2008/05/14/the-many-hijabs/ 

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