May 28th, 2008 by Sarah Ansari
What does “hijab” mean to you? Thought provoking article from Slate magazine. Though wearing hijab is not quite the easy equivalent of getting a haircut or buying a Prius…
Would love to hear readers’ comments and insights…
Loving and Leaving the Head Scarf
For most teenage girls, rebellion involves a tongue piercing or sneaking out to a beer-soaked party. But Suraya Ali, the daughter of unobservant Muslim immigrants from India, shocked her parents and her classmates by donning a Muslim head scarf. “It was my way of flipping the world off, saying, ‘I can be what I want,’ ” says Ali, now 31, who grew up in a Chicago suburb.
But a decade and a half later, Ali had a “strange feeling” of no longer fitting in with her Muslim community; she was constantly set up with potential suitors who assumed her scarf symbolized a certain submissive attitude toward marriage; and her elite education had prompted her to question the traditional roles for men and women laid out in classical Islamic law. “I realized [wearing *hijab*] is not who I am anymore.”
Ali’s decision was visible only to those who knew her (and because of her family’s sensitivities, she did not want her real name used). But her experience reveals how very modern American Muslim life can be.* Hijab* in America is not a social norm of ages past, unquestioningly handed down;rather, it has become a tool of self-expression. Just as Americans frequently change jobs, http://www.forbes.com/2007/04/24/employees-turnover-careers-lead-careers-cz_bk_0425turnover.htmlleave marriageshttp://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-07-18-cohabit-divorce_x.htmand switch religious affiliationshttp://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week1126/perspectives.html, American Muslim women choose to love, and sometimes leave, the head scarf.
When Yale anthropologist Carolyn Rouse http://www.princeton.edu/anthropology/faculty/carolyn_rouse studied African-American Muslim women for her 2004 book *Engaged Surrender*, http://www.amazon.com/Engaged-Surrender-African-American-Foundation/dp/0520237951she observed that the *hijab* (and, in some cases, *niqab*, or face-covering) http://www.muhajabah.com/niqab-index.htmwas primarily about group identity. Many female converts, for example, started veiling themselves immediately—the two were
When I first put on the head scarf eight years ago—starting off with a horrible tan-and-white polyester square I purchased before I realized *hijab * could be stylish —I felt that I was daring to follow my beliefs, come what may. What I believed at that moment, as I pinned the polyester beneath my chin, was that God wanted me to cover,
As a journalist and “honorary male,” I had mixed with more Muslim men than women in my travels and therefore gave little thought to *hijab* before converting. It was only when I returned to the United States for graduate school that I begin to notice my fellow *muslimahs*http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Muslimahwearing head scarves. Had I missed something?
A turning point came one day at a cafe (OK, it was Starbucks) in Harvard Square, when a scarf-wearing woman walked in. Some customers gave her uneasy glances, and I felt sharp regret that she had no idea a fellow believer was sitting right there, silently supporting her. After that, I researched classical Islamic law as best I could and concluded that covering everything but your hands, face, and feet was, indeed, “required” for believing Muslim women.
The Quran actually has just two verses dealing specifically with women’s dress. Chapter 33, verse 59 http://quran.al-islam.com/Targama/DispTargam.asp?nType=1&nSeg=0&l=eng&nSora=33&nAya=59&t=eng, tells women to wear outer garments so they’ll be recognized as Muslims and left alone. A longer verse, Chapter 24, verse 31 http://quran.al-islam.com/Targama/DispTargam.asp?nType=1&nSeg=0&l=eng&nSora=24&nAya=31&t=eng, instructs women to guard their modesty, to cover their breasts, and not to display their beauty to males except their brothers, husbands, fathers,
” ‘*Hijab* is beautiful, *hijab* is what God wants, *hijab* is a Muslim woman’s duty’—that’s become a mantra among Muslim communities,” says Fatemeh Fakhraie, a graduate student, bloggerhttp://muslimahmediawatch.blogspot.com/, and co-founder of the Facebook group “Just Because I Don’t Wear *Hijab*Doesn’t Mean I’m Not Muslim.”
These theological arguments, while important in their own ways, sometimes seem little more than a patina atop more primal social urges, however. Wearing *hijab* or not wearing *hijab*—just like owning a gun or driving a Priushttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/07/15/INGHKQVEIM1.DTL—says something fundamental about your beliefs and aspirations. And in America, at least, beliefs have a funny way of changing.
My own fervent attachment to the scarf gradually faded. Two years after first donning it, I was married and no longer needed the scarf to broadcast my unavailability to non-Muslim guys. I had also moved to a Persian Gulf country where *hijab *was not a personal choice but a cultural system of sex segregation: On the beaches there, men in shorts played soccer and swam,
Like spouses who know they are headed for divorce but still go through the marital motions, many *hijabis *continue to wear the scarf in public long after its inner meaning has dissipated. They wait for a natural break in their lives to make the transition. I took it off on my return flight from the Persian Gulf to the United States. Ali removed it after finishing a summer internship. Another woman I know literally moved across the country to make the change, simultaneously leaving the tight-knit Muslim community
But if you start pulling at the thread of doubt, how do you keep the whole sweater from unraveling? When religious scholar Karen Armstrong left her convent http://www.amazon.com/Through-Narrow-Gate-Spiritual-Discovery/dp/0312119038in
While many American Muslims dwell contentedly within the limits of modern Islamic orthodoxy—miniworlds where *hijab* can be taken for granted—others avoid it or pass through en route to more spacious destinations. *Andrea Useem is a freelance religion writer and editor. Her Web site is www.ReligionWriter.com www.religionwriter.com/.*
Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2191103/
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