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There's a New Sheriff in Town

Friday, May 2, 2008 


An American Muslim wears the Islamic headscarf in middle America. Issues: Hijab, Modesty, Religion, Laws, Faith, and Beauty. 

Not many people replied to the scarf survey. Oh well. There's still time. And thank you to those of you who did reply. I will inshaaAllah post the results later with some discussion.

A couple of questions on the survey lead me to this post. One is the best thing about wearing it question. I replied that "being in the hijabi club," is the best part for me. I need to clarify I think. There are several hijabi clubs. The one I like is the one wear Muslim girls want to wear the scarf as a part of their Islamic duty and identity and at the same time, they want to be stylish and "with it." I think this is the best type of support for someone like me because it shows that we can still follow the Islamic rules while at the same time enjoying our lives, having fun with our style, expressing ourselves! And there's usually--but not entirely-- hijabis in this group who are not ALL OR NOTHING hijabis, who are OK with a little arm or neck showing if it happens to. The second survey question which brings me to this post is the one about a hijabi having to REPRESENT Islam...

As I've mentioned a lot, I am not the "cover every inch type," in terms of my hijab preferences. Now, this gives way to an opening to those Muslims who take the Islamic concept of "enjoin the good and forbid the evil," very seriously in terms of hijab. Let's call them the "hijab police." I think that most Muslims are part of the hijab police in some form of another. The father that tells his daughter to cover up her chest or legs, the sister that tells her brother that his t-shirt is too tight and his hair gel is making her gag, the husband that tells his wife she needs to cover her hair, etc.

And then there's the hijabi girl who insists that all hijabi girls must cover completely, meaning no hairline, no ear, no neck, no nothing---NOT EVEN ACCIDENTALLY. And this hijabi girl, let's call her, "hijabi sheriff", comes in both the well-intentioned and the non-well-intentioned type.

The well-intentioned hijabi sheriff is sincere and strong in her belief that Muslim women must ONLY, AT ALL TIMES show only their face and hands, and nothing in between EVER. And so she will tell other hijabi women if their scarf is slipping or if they wear 3/4 style sleeves that they really should get some arm covers, and they will kindly say, "remember that wearing earrings is not part of hijab," and she will smile. And she will usually just correct her hijabi friends.

Then there's the non-well-intentioned hijabi sheriff. There are 3 main kinds of this type. The first is a hijabi girl who is also strong in her belief that every inch must be covered, and she is usually annoyed/irritated, angry, and/or embarassed when she sees a hijabi woman who's hijab style (or behavior) is less than perfect. She'll say, "OH Please do not wear your scarf half-way on--it's confusing to the non-Muslims. Remember you are representing Islam. Do it RIGHT or do not do it at ALL." You may notice her roll her eyes a bit after she says that. And she'll say that to a stranger even, or at least tell someone she knows that the stranger is a no good hijabi. This hijabi sheriff may even insist that only pastel colors, dark colors, abayas, and/or some other restriction applies to correct hijab.

The second hijabi girl sheriff does not even do hijab--but she will correct a hijabi if the hijabi is doing something "un-Islamic" such as eating non-halal meat, or talking to a non-related man, or listening to music, or wearing tight-clothes under her designer scarf. She won't usually correct her to her face, but she'll bring it up to her friends or on a discussion group online. She'll say, "That's why I don't want to wear hijab--because I see hijabi girls who are so two-faced--I don't want to be like them. I would only wear hijab if I was a totally perfectly committed Muslim."

And the third hijabi girl sheriff is not even a girl--she's a man! She's the Muslim guy who goes up to the girl with the scarf and says, "Um, your jeans are too tight. Just FYI."

OK. So. All of us Muslims have been there. Judging and/or critiquing and/or evaluating how other Muslims dress, especially the women. But the hijab sheriffs are the ones that are currently on my mind, the ones that I truly do not want to be like. Except maybe for the well-intentioned ones, I think they should just really mind their own business and/or CHILL OUT. In my understanding, you have to enjoin the good AND forbid the evil, not enjoin the good OR forbid the evil. To approach some stranger and tell her that she's doing her hijab wrong will likely cause her some harm, mentally and emotionally. She may end up not wanting to be preachy like YOU, she may end up throwing the scarf away forever. Is that good? Do you think it's likely that she does not know how she's dressing, that she does not know the code or the rules? It's not that likely. It's more likely that she's dressing in the best way she can, in the way she is comfortable. Your judgement is your problem, not hers. And don't talk about her to anyone, that's gossip. So shut-it.

And the concept that a hijabi girl is "representing Islam," is taken way out of hand I think. Where in the Quran or in Hadith does it say women must cover up
because they are representing Islam? And by the way, that whole teach as a walking symbol concept is what keeps a lot of non-hijabi women from trying hijab because they feel that they are not perfectly Muslim enough or committed enough--so they don't even try it. Is that good? For some of those non-hijabi who use that reasoning, they are sincere and do not want to mis-represent Islam, they feel that hijab is the LAST THING a Muslim woman arrives at on her journey to God, that it's the "first place ribbon," or the "graduation diploma," that says she's "arrived." For other non-hijabi women it is a welcome relief not to have to wear the scarf using that reasoning because the self-deprecation involved gives way for more compassion, i.e. "oh, she's not ready yet. She honors hijab so much that she's going to wait until the right time, until she can wear it with perfection and total sacrifice because wearing it is so extremely hard. She's just not there yet."

When I was in high school and I wore the headscarf, it wasn't just the non-Muslims who bothered me. I was part of this girl's youth group that had meetings and discussions. I remember one discussion when a hijabi girl told us all, "remember that if a man looks at you and sees you non-covered--then YOU are responsible for HIS sin as well." Hmm. That didn't sound right to me. And I was guilty of being the hijab police back then too. I remember telling one of my friends that I did not want to go the ice-cream store with a big group of Muslim girls because "it would bother me," when the non-hijabis who wore their scarf at the meetings but not in public would take their scarves off at the ice-cream store. Hmm. Why did it bother me? Why couldn't I just live my own life my own way and let them live theres? Why? I think that I felt it was unfair. If I had to endure stares while wearing the scarf--then they should too. And then there was this girl, Huneza. Yup. She was a friend of a friend. She was Muslim. She did not wear a scarf. She had trendy clothes and long thick curly hair that she always wore down. One day, after I had decided to stop wearing the scarf, Huneza approached me and said something like this, "I'm so disappointed in you. You let them (the non-Muslim) win. You should have kept wearing the scarf and been stronger." Hmm. At the time I was so shocked and said something like, "Um..but you don't even wear a scarf yourself...?" She went on to say it didn't matter that SHE didn't wear a scarf--it was because I had started to wear it and then stopped--I was more at fault. That event I will never forget. It still hurts just thinking about it. How dare she be so judgemental? What the? Now I understand that she held some higher standard to those who wear the scarf, a standard that she did not have to live up to herself, since she hadn't "committed" to it yet.

Oh, and then of course there are the imams, the maulanas, the alims that police hijab. They probably have the most honorable intentions when it comes to correcting women's hijab since they have spent a good part of their lives in sincere scholarship of Islam. Still, I think they should also be gentle in their approach.
Another hijab correction I remember is when I was engaged to be married to my husband. My mother and I went to meet with our resident alim, the maulana, at our Islamic center. He liked to have a pre-marital counseling session with couples and their families. My mother and I went together. We wore Pakistani style shalwar kameez and long, wide wraps on our head and bodies. My mothers hairline started to show after awhile as her wrap slipped down. I'm sure my hairline started to show too. Other than that, we were all covered up. Later, the maulana spoke to my mother on the phone regarding another matter about the wedding and he blurted out in a frustrated/angry tone: "And you [and your daughter] do not even wear hijab correctly!" Hmm. My mother almost started crying when he said that and when she told me what he had said, her voice cracked with hurt. I still feel hurt when thinking of that event. It was his tone. And was just our hair-line--did that deserve such harsh correction? Does that kind of attitude really help to foster community? Is that kind of judging attitude the reason that so many non-hijabi women do not want to be active in the Islamic centers? Because they do not want their appearance to be scrutinized? Maybe. Probably. I know I am still like that. I still do not want to be too involved in the Islamic center community here becasue among other reasons, I do not want to be OUTED if someone from there sees me shopping with a scarf wrapped around my head while at the same time showing an inch of hairline or neck or wearing make-up.

Like I said, I'm guilty of hijab policing too. I wonder out loud why some women cover their hair but then wear an Indian sari that shows cleavage. But I really want to stop doing that. I want to be on the same team, the same side as other Muslims. I don't want to separate myself from them just because they don't follow my style, my ways, even my beliefs the exact same way. I want to support them. Support any effort they make to be sincerely Muslim, to be sincerely human. And I think I will go ahead and become more involved in the Islamic center even if some other members judge me for not being "this or that," because there should be more people like me involved.
Basically, I think all types of Muslims should be involved, diversity fosters understanding and compassion and that's usually good, right?

I remember when I did not wear the scarf and went to an Islamic conference where most of the other girls did wear one. One day, a new girl attended a speech. She had her scarf on kind of loose on her head and she looked at me with my bare head for a few long seconds. The next day she was there without her scarf on. I think she saw me there without a scarf and realized she did not HAVE to wear one either just to be like the other girls. Would that Islamic conference have been better off without me or that other girl there? Wouldn't any benefit that conference have to offer benefit me and the other girl just as much as the girls with the scarves on? How many other Muslims would have attended and could have benefited from the conference if they weren't afraid of being judged by their appearance? Also, some of the girls who DID wear scarves at the conference actually still inspire me to keep being part of the hijabi club now. Because they were cool and understanding and non-judgmental.

There was an Oprah episode about Islam in which Oprah tried to educate America about Islam. On the "After the Show," part, many of the hijabi women said they did not like Queen Rania of Jordan being on the show because she does not represent Islamic dress correctly. How petty is that? Queen Rania had so many wonderful things to say about Islam and about her beliefs in it--yet those hijabi police refused to even let her in the "Muslim club" because she shows her hair and shows her legs. How petty in my opinion. Divisive. Mean. Judgemental.

And then there's a group in the hijabi police who are Muslims themselves, love Islam, and yet still insist that Muslim women SHOULD NOT wear a scarf, saying things like: "The veil was invented by the Turks some 100 years after the Prophet (pbuh & hf)." Others say, "The veil is a form of patriarchal oppression." Once I had a Muslim teacher who taught Islamic history say that the headscarf was used in the Prophet's (pbuh & hf) time to distinguish the prostitutes from the non-prostitutes and is therefore not relevant in our modern times. I could easily be in this group if it were not for the influence of friends and family. You see, there's a huge part of my thinking based on my personal background that insists that the headscarf is not needed in order to dress modestly, that showing the hair, neck and ears is NO BIG DEAL. And along with this thinking, the belief is similar to that of the teacher I mentioned above, that if it was used in the Prophet's (pbuh & hf), then it was used for a purpose that is no longer needed in our day and age. I'm not currently in this group, but there's often a pull I feel from it. Still, as a Shia-Muslim who follows the rulings of a particular Shia scholar, I can not deny the rule of covering all but face and hands.

I know this is all SO COMPLEX when in fact it could be SO SIMPLE. I know. For some, it's simply an Islamic requirement and so I should just shut-up about it. But to me, there are so many cultural and social implications surrounding the headscarf, that it should be looked at carefully. I think there is an entire "hijab culture," that has a lot of negativity in it, a sort of corruption. I really don't mean to cause any more confusion about it. I just want it to make sense to me so that I can keep wearing it without any doubts. So far, there's still doubts, but I hope I'm still in the club. 

Posted by Scarf Ace at 4:33 PM 

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