Repurposing The Hijab

h2The university where I work has a large population of Saudi students, both male and female.  Consequently, I have grown used to seeing young women wearing a hijab, the traditional head covering worn by women in Islamic cultures.

Yesterday, the 1st of February, was, in fact World Hijab Day. I received an e-mail on my work account that was sent out by the university.  That got me thinking about the custom.

Now, I do not know the Quran.  I have read an English translation, but I have not studied the texts.  I do know that most Muslim teachers believe that the Quran cannot be comprehended through a translation, that reading the original text is vital.  Since I do not read Arabic, it can be said that I have not really read the text at all.

Nor do I claim to understand Islamic culture. I have never traveled outside of the North American continent.  I have never lived in a region where the majority of the people are Islamic.  To be honest, I am not even entirely sure that I am using any of these words properly.

Pure-Hijab-FashionI have read that the wearing of the hijab is oppressive.  I can understand the arguments advanced to that point of view, it is a restriction on women.  Again, I do not claim to be any sort of expert on sociology.  I am an amateur philosopher and a lay theologian, and an unwilling student of abnormal psychology.  My experience with anthropology is limited to once using a copy of Coming Of Age In Samoa to squash a bug.

I want to make very clear that my observations are those of the guy who changes light bulbs and unclogs toilets at a university where there are a lot of young Saudi women.  So feel free to post the deeper implications of the hijab in the comments.  I can’t guarantee that I’ll understand your reasoning, but I’ll try.

My observations? Hijabs can be cute. 

Utilizing my utterly non-statistically significant sample size and my entirely Western prejudicial viewpoint, I have come to the conclusion that the young women who are under the cultural constraints to wear a covering on their heads are much like any other young women in that they like to be pretty.

turkish-hijab-fashionI do not know if they understand the deeper theological or sociological implications.  Given that I was that age once myself, I’d venture a guess that contemplation of the implications of anything doesn’t rank high on their priority list.  Contemplation is an affliction of the old, the young don’t have time for it.

I suspect that most of the young women that I see wearing head coverings don’t give it much thought.  No doubt they have been told by their mothers that it is the thing to do–good girls don’t let strangers see their hair.

However, even good girls–wherever they grew up–like to look good.  It’s important for a girl to be pretty, not just to catch the eye of the boys, or the envy of the other girls, but to feel good about herself.  And if the teacher at the Mosque says that a girl must drape herself in fabric so as not to excite the attention of the devout, well, the teacher doesn’t know much about human nature.

The point is that the basics of what what makes us human is able to digest nearly anything and remain the same.  The young women that I see wearing the hijab make it look good.  The scarves themselves are fashionable, stylish fabrics in colors coordinated with their outfits.  They tend to wear makeup that accentuates their eyes (and Semitic women usually have very striking eyes).  Their attitude seems to be, “I don’t care what you think this garment means, I am going to rock this look!”

hijab-fashionsThis is what gives me hope for the future.  The learned and the wise may dispute every segol and kamatz of the Law and the Prophets until the sun expands, but still good girls work to be wanted by good boys and good boys work to be worthy of good girls.

Resolutions are passed and accords are made and encylicals are published but none of that means anything unless timid grooms and glowing brides do their sweating work in narrow marriage  beds to build next generation of lawgivers and prophets.

I love human beings.  I am an unapologetic speciesist.  We have taken the worst that this planet can throw at us and we have shrugged it off and kept going. Without fangs, without claws, as naked and as vulnerable as the newborn of any other species we have taken this world and made it ours. We alone have touched the moon. We have the power to face the tiger in her lair and the compassion to let her live.

hijab-fashion-for-teenagers-1We are, alas, our own worst enemy.  Perhaps it is because we understand that none of God’s other children can stand against us, perhaps it is the reverberations of the serpent’s gift across the millenia.  There is a worm in the heart of the rose, a flaw in the jewel of the crown of creation.  We know both good and evil, the blessing and the curse.

And yet.

If we are damned by our parents, we are saved by our children.  They remind us what is important.  It isn’t how wise we are or how virtuous we appear, it is how much we love, not in some abstract poetic sense but in the real, in the flesh, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the lost, and honor the boys who grow to men not for some abstract cause but to protect their immortality, growing in the belly of the most beautiful woman in the world.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
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10 Responses to Repurposing The Hijab

  1. kingmidget says:

    The oppression of the hijab exists because the powerless give the power of the symbol to the powerful. In small ways and large, women could remove the oppressive power of the hijab. But, then, there are a lot of places in Islamic countries where that would be very difficult. It’s a really complex situation. Here in America, Muslim women have a lot more freedom than they do in places like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia and a lot of other areas in the Middle East. Ah, I don’t know what I’m saying … it’s just a ramble.

  2. sknicholls says:

    I can’t wax philosophical on the oppression aspect of the hijab, but I can relate to the “cuteness” of it. When I was a young lass, probably when you were a wee lad, men wore hats. All men wore hats, and they took them off when they entered a building. It was expected. It was the norm, not just for fashion, but for respect to God some way (at least that’s what my grandfather told me about the respect factor to wearing a hat). To this day, I find a man in a nice hat most attractive.

    Women would put scarves on their heads at the slightest hint of a breeze. There is something mysterious and alluring about the head half covered. They might have the opposite intent for wearing hijabs, and maybe I will burn in some beings hell for saying this, but I think hijabs are sexy on women.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      And that’s what I was trying to get at–that some women are able to take something that was meant to oppress them and turn it into something to make them more attractive. I’m not saying that the headscarves themselves are a good thing (nor do I think that you are) but how women are able to use them can be.

  3. Sue says:

    I’m not sure how many Muslim women would agree that the Hijab is also a fashion statement as well as a cultural one. Here we see many women wearing the hijab as well as the niqab. However Quebec has its own ideas (rather like France)

    Not everyone in Canada is tolerant obviously

    We were in Egypt last year but as tourists I couldn’t say what percentage of the women wore th hijab and what percentage didn’t.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      My sample is probably even more skewed, because I only see those young women who are from families that are wealthy enough and progressive enough to send their daughters to school. Furthermore I see them in an environment where the cultural pressure is much less than at home.

  4. Margaux says:

    First of all, let me say that I loved the concluding part of this post (about how a vulnerable yet powerful species we are) — that was beautiful. Second, let me say that I was raised in a strict Muslim culture, so I know what you mean when you say that hijab is oppressive — it is.

    Most girls start wearing hijab at the early ages of 9 to 12. No matter how involved a girl is in her decision, at this age, parents don’t let their children decide what school to go to, or what color to paint the living room; so, saying that hijab was a decision they made is a bit of an overstatement.

    This is a decision that will effect the course of the entire life of a woman: her marriage, her lifestyle, her friends, her career path, even were she goes out on a Saturday night, are all predetermined the moment she puts on the hijab. A girl at such a young age has no idea of the farsighted implications of the simple act.

    Some girls rebel against this, in later years. Some remove the hijab, if only outside the territories of their culture; others just act in a way that demeans the religion all together. However, there is another group of women who seem to understand what they represent, and they act upon it.

    Personally, I don’t see hijab as practical and I don’t think a woman should wear it before she’s thirty. But, hey, that’s just an opinion of a rebel against an oppressive society.

  5. Just muttering here, feel free to disregard – that’s directed to anyone, by the way… Sometimes it seems to me as though the ones who are most vocal in using the word “oppression” are the ones who are not directly involved. Comparable, perhaps, to those who complain that women are “oppressed” by following Biblical teachings whereby the man is the head of the household. Women who ascribe to this tenet rarely consider themselves “oppressed,” whereas those who do not are screaming the loudest.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I think that what is significant is whether it is a result of a woman’s own convictions or something imposed upon her against her will. As Margaux commented above, the choice to wear the hijab isn’t an entirely free one.

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