The 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.
I 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.
I 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!”
This 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.
We 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.
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.