Towels for Your Head, Anyone?

Okay, I can ‘get’ (or as we say locally, ‘gitch’) many things that I don’t agree with or approve of, but this wholesale hatred-cum-fear of hijab is one that baffles me.  Why do people feel the need to call hijabis names? (Towel head, ninja, fundamentalist, oppressed chick, nutcase etc. etc.) I mean what purpose does it serve?

I could go on and on about it, but I don’t have the answer and I don’t think ranting will suddenly inspire me to find it, so maybe it’s better to look somewhere closer to home and seek out understanding of issues I actually have a chance of comprehending on some level.

See, a few days ago I had a conversation with another woman about hijab (there were other women watching us but they didn’t do much more than smile nervously and perhaps feverishly pray things wouldn’t get ugly since we both have what you might call slightly aggressive characters).

Now, usually I back down when the other person gets too hostile and in-your-face, but this time it was about hijab!  And there are a few topics in the world on which I will always state my opinion – wilayat (successorship of Imam Ali (a)), azadaari (mourning the Tragedy of Kerbala) and hijab.

So we were discussing a children’s event and the question came up about whether it would be okay to have boys above the age of buloogh attend together with the girls.  Personally, when given a choice, I avoid this – especially for events that are for purely social/entertainment purposes.

Call me an old fuddy-duddy or a narrow-minded traditionalist if you want, but I’ve struggled with the concept of hijab for over a decade and I know I stand where I do based on what I’ve read, learnt and understood. (Remember, I did mention this was my opinion).

This sister didn’t seem to believe it when I said I’d rather we didn’t facilitate a mixed-gender crowd and what threw me totally was that she simply looked stunned and asked “Why?”  I was sitting there in silence while the eternal seconds ticked past and thinking ‘Huh? Isn’t it obvious? Why do you even have to ask such an obvious question?’

Then I realised that perhaps she just didn’t know where I was coming from and explaining was only a natural thing.  So I tried.  She didn’t ‘gitch’ it.  For some reason, she (and I’ve spoken to others like her before) seems to think that if you uphold the fact that Islam asks you to refrain from doing certain things in front of na-mahrams then that is synonymous with promoting that fact that Islam is oppressive against women and forbids them to do those things altogether.

I don’t know why it’s so difficult to understand that yes, you can jump out of a plane and go parachuting, yes, you can go scuba-diving and jet-sking and yes, you can go bungy-jumping if you want to as long as you’re not doing it in front of na-mahrams.

Of course, all the problems begin with that last statement, because the general response is: “But I am in my hijab!”   My response: “Depends on how you define hijab.”

It doesn’t make sense to me that hijab should be this small strip of cloth that you tie around your head as a license to do what you want, when you want and how you want.  Hijab is a concept.  It starts from action – like most Islamic concepts do – and with time and practice it’s supposed to mature into something higher, spiritual and more pure.

To me, hijab covers the tone of your voice when you speak and the choice of your words when you convey a message. It defines the manner of your carriage and the expression in your eyes when you look at someone. It curbs the freedom with which you smile and pout, the suggestion in your silence. It comes from within you and encompasses every aspect of your manner. The scarf is only the outward embodiment of your inner purity.

So when I want to do something, I ask myself: “The one person who observed hijab as it should be, the one woman who knew and understood this beautiful protection – Fatimah al- Zahra bint Muhammad (a) – what would she do in this situation?”

And honestly I can’t see her shouting across the street at a friend, giggling at silly jokes, picking up her cloak and running down a lane… even the suggestion of these is preposterous!

You may say that we’re not and can never be like Fatima al-Zahra (a). Or you may make that dismissive noise (like the sister did) which says “Hello, sis, be real.  We’re in the 21st Century and you’re bringing 1400 year old history up?”

I know we can never be like her, but wasn’t the essential purpose of her existence on this earth to set an example for us to emulate?  So, regardless of what others say, you’ll be so kind as to excuse me if the next time you meet me across the street, I don’t yell back as enthusiastically or dash across to give you a huge hug and then bounce around and express my enthusiasm in breathless shrieks.

Unless we’re in an only female-zone 🙂

Bint Ali

Current Saying:  
Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without denying his roots. 
– Frank A. Clark (1911-)


One thought on “Towels for Your Head, Anyone?

  1. Re: hijab

    I guess because hijab is such an obvious, visible statement it speaks volumes even at first glance. A woman wearing hijab is declaring her loyalty to Islam in the face of all discrimination without fear (well, at least she should be!)

    Just as you said non-Muslims tend to find hijab a little difficult to talk about, I think perhaps hijabi women tend to feel a little alienated too in a sort of opposite way.

    At the program we had for example, we were all Muslims and while there were variations of hijab (no, we didn’t kick anyone out 🙂 ), you could see the slight aloofness between those who wear hijab and those who don’t. It’s like they’re from two different worlds and despite the fact that they talk and laugh together, there is a line beyond which they cannot understand the other’s perspective.

    I guess that’s what I was trying to say. That hijab permeates and colours one’s perspective. It’s not an independent part of a Muslim woman’s life, it influences all her decisions in some way.

    The Muslim women who turn against it because of ignorance are usually open to accepting it if we’d only explain it like their parents/teachers never did. It’s the ones who deliberately misinterpret it, or who know and are still indifferent that sadden me the most.

    Bint Ali

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