Archive for the 'Hijab Life' Category

Girls Who Wear Hijab

August 13, 2012

Girls who wear hijab, as opposed to girls who don’t, are more likely to make me feel self-conscious, insecure, and critical of myself. Generally, they are composed, polite, widely accomplished, and (most importantly) articulate, of which I’m particularly jealous.

They are usually (generalizing again here) successful human beings, and the fact that they possess the extra grace and security to express it visibly with hijab fills me with envy. It might be surprising and in some cases totally inaccurate for me to say this, but a lot of hijab-wearers I know exude a “devil-may-care” attitude about society’s demands on their lives and bodies. It’s very attractive.

The running theme here is self-confidence. In my limited experience of friends, family and acquaintances, girls who wear hijab value themselves more highly than their similar-aged counterparts. Sometimes this translates as arrogance, which is an unfortunate byproduct, but usually that’s not the case, because these self-confident hijabis are also—incredibly and unbelievably—good people.

Girls who wear hijab love their parents and their siblings, and they show it in ways I could never imagine. They serve their communities while everyone else is too busy running around; they’re running around, too, meaning they get more done than the rest of us. They can be shortsighted and judgmental, but more often they’re generous, forgiving and kind. They are effortlessly sincere.

Girls who wear hijab are by no means perfect and, like I said, they do sometimes make me feel inadequate. But a few that I know are some of my favorite people in the whole world, and I’m grateful to have every one of them in my life.

Ulterior Motives

March 4, 2012

My friend, a man from work*, told me recently that he has me all figured out. He tells me all the time that I remind him of him when he was younger, which usually wins me over.

He said he didn’t believe that I wore my headscarf for “all the normal reasons,” for religion or anything like that. (Me: what the?) I just like being an outlier, he said, and I delight in outlying in all the different identifiable categories. Surprisingly liberal hijabi, e.g., or surprisingly conservative feminist.

Not too far off, I guess. Rebel Without a Keffiyeh, how does that sound?

*New job and new city since the time I really wrote last. More to come (I hope).

Exploring the Hijab as a Limit

September 7, 2011

I’m very interested in the concept of limits, and the idea of leaning into them rather than working against them.

Most of us don’t realize how much we’re the products of our limits. For example: eating only what’s in your pantry (and cooking only from your personal repertoire of recipes), paying visits only where you’re invited, consuming only media that’s readily available to you, becoming friends with and marrying only people you physically encounter. We resign a lot of ourselves to fate and coincidence.

I can’t decide, however, whether that’s a bad thing. For sure, sticking only to what you know is bad—exploring possibilities into the tenth dimension is crucial! At the same time, merely knowing about the existence of those possibilities can be insidious, because it always leaves you wondering.

Anyway, right now I’m more interested in the potential of embracing limits than expanding them. I tried to explain this to a friend while shopping over the weekend: sure, it’s a little harder to buy clothes while working with the constraints of hijab, but sometimes the limits feel liberating.

“Artists don’t think outside the box, because outside the box there’s a vacuum. Outside of the box there are no rules, there is no reality. You have nothing to interact with, nothing to work against. If you set out to do something way outside the box (designing a time machine, or using liquid nitrogen to freeze Niagara Falls), then you’ll never be able to do the real work of art. […] Artists think along the edges of the box, because that’s where things get done.”     Seth Godin

Video: Dawah Addict’s “I’m Jealous of Hijab”

August 4, 2011

A friend posted this video on Facebook a few days ago. The guy is charming enough to watch:

A pleasant reminder of how my grass is greener, at least some of the time.

His predicament reminded me of a paradox that totally struck me when I came across it in college (before then, I was totally ignorant of the idea):

The context was one of those unsavory “who has it worse” conversations regarding microaggressions of homophobia and racism. While people who identify as gay constantly have to tackle (often painfully) others’ incorrect assumptions that they are straight, people of color find that the assumed stereotypes of their perceived race are often imposed (also incorrectly) upon them. Both ways, it’s a considerable discrepancy between how people think of themselves and how other people think of them (based on their appearance). The former struggle to distinguish themselves; the latter couldn’t “pass” if they tried.

Hijab and Sexism

May 27, 2011

The institution of hijab is undeniably gender-normative and discriminatory. I find this is true for most things, except maybe toothpaste (unquestionably unisex) and Crocs (universally ugly). The question I’ve been pondering, however, is this:

Is the world sexist because of practices like hijab, or are practices like hijab in place because the world is sexist?

(Either way, it’s unfair, and enough to get one fuming.)

Some True Statements

April 25, 2011

Four of them, all genuine:

  1. Once in a while—about every day or so—I consider “taking off my hijab.” (Actually, I already do this every day when I get home from work. It’s not very dramatic. I’m referring to the drama, but there’s no elegant way to talk about the more serious decision without sounding silly.)
  2. Currently, the worst thing about wearing hijab is that I feel self-conscious about standing out when I exercise or, worse, when I go swimming. It is virtually crippling. (This is, by the way, the reason I don’t ever exercise or go swimming. My indolent inclinations and complete lack of athletic ability have nothing to do with it.)
  3. I sincerely believe that, despite its inconveniences, the hijab has made me more confident about both my appearance and intellect than most people I know. It’s hard to explain. I try not to be arrogant about it.
  4. I have a dandruff problem, and I delight in ignoring it completely.

Hijab and Race

April 18, 2011

This past weekend I attended a conference in Boston where I got to spend a lot of time thinking about race and racism in the U.S.

Contemplating the topic alongside this blog, I’m back to questions of public perception. What is the hijab’s power to racialize (i.e. to give a racial character or context to) one’s identity?

Note: I’m using the word “race” in this post as what we think of regarding physical characteristics, NOT biological clusters or national/cultural groups (which would fall more closely to “ethnicity”).

There’s zero question that racial and visible religious identifiers intersect, making it really hard to come to any real conclusions. In my own case, my race is decidedly non-European*; my skin tone is medium-brown and I have fairly South Asian features.

*I chose to identify this way (first as what I’m not, then as what I am) only because it’s a relevant detail in the United States. Hijab or no hijab, my experience would be different if I were white.

So, I’m interested in the ways my hijab might interact with my perceived race. Some possible options:

  • Accentuation of race: This is probably most often the result given my particular racial appearance. Though my other clothes betray me not at all (they come mostly from the Gap and its sartorial cousins), the hijab really adds a “foreign” look to my style. (How exotic!) I’m willing to bet that the headscarf, more than the color of my skin, leads people to believe (as many do initially) that I’m an immigrant.
  • De-emphasis of race: It’s also possible that the headscarf is so distracting that it overpowers any racial signifiers I would set off with my skin color/physiognomy. It’s pointless to try and measure, but it’s worth mentioning because the two don’t totally go hand-in-hand, either. For example, when I meet new people of my own race (a situation where race would be less of a glaring indicator of difference/individual identity), the hijab sends off signals of heightened religiosity (sometimes more than I’d like). So, maybe it shifts people’s attention in general from one kind of categorization (racial) to another (religious).
  • Contradiction/counteraction of race: This doesn’t really happen to me, but it might if I looked Irish or Norwegian.

New question: does it matter? Why is this important?

Maybe it’s not, but I think it’s worth calling attention to the fact that so often, hijab is just incorporated into race (e.g. when hijab-related hate is called “racism”). Neither can operate independently, but they don’t exactly equal the same thing.

Being a Hijabi Feminist

April 13, 2011

…means understanding the fact that 100% of people will assume otherwise. And sucking it up.

Addendum to My Hijab Story

April 4, 2011

Part of the reason I’m uncomfortable posting my “hijab story” narrative from Friday is because of what it implies about my submission [i.e. to forces other than spirituality]. Certain lines (e.g. “I certainly would not have ended up at that particular destination all on my own”), while still being true, can be read as “I was brainwashed by my upbringing” or “I didn’t actually think for myself about the decision.”

I concede the validity of that reading; given my actual story, it isn’t hard to see how someone coming at it from a different perspective would reach those conclusions. I don’t agree with them, however, and what’s frustrating is that it’s not exactly a right/wrong scenario. That is, I can’t prove the other person wrong—I can speak only for my perspective.

Touching on larger philosophical questions, I guess. How are we ever to argue with a claim that we’ve been brainwashed?

My Hijab Story, AKA Game Changer #1

April 1, 2011

I resolved not to be flaky with this blog, so my lengthening absence has been maddening. I was preoccupied (travel and illness) and since I’m traveling next week too, I’m going to lazily seize the opportunity to plagiarize my former self.

This is a slightly redacted excerpt from a personal statement I wrote for an application last fall. I might not put the same words to it now, but the story remains.

People always ask me whether, back when I began wearing my hijab, my parents or some other authority forced me to do it. No, I say; I’ve always been proud of having made the decision myself, and am eager to prove that I didn’t come from that type of culture, from that type of family.

The truth is, though, that while I wasn’t coerced into doing anything, I certainly would not have ended up at that particular destination all on my own. I came from a family and a culture that were, in fact, enormous influences in my upbringing, and to remove them from my continuous process of decision-making would be inconceivable.

[some extraneous details about my upbringing and where my parents came from…]

Most importantly, my parents were – are – both Muslim, and they did their best to raise me accordingly. I learned short surahs (chapters of the Qur’an) at the same time as nursery rhymes; I was trained to thank Allah after I finished consuming the food I’d seen the kids on Barney eat the day before. From the age of three to 13, I attended an Islamic day school, learning all the normal subjects – math, reading, science, social studies – plus taking classes for Arabic, Qur’an memorization, and Islamic Religion. We broke from classes at 1 o’clock every day for mid-day prayer, and fasted, when we were old enough, for the month of Ramadan.

The other kids who attended my school were like me: children of immigrants, the first generation born in the U.S. and all avid subscribers to Sesame Street, then Full House, then Friends. We were children of the ‘90s, which is to say that we were children subjected specifically to the bombardment of American ‘90s-era media, from television shows to fashion magazines to neoliberal foreign policies to presidential extramarital affairs. All along, however, we felt that they were a little on the outside, distant from our real world: we were the Muslims, and they were “the Americans.” We liked to act like them when we were mad at our parents, and gasp in horror at the things we sometimes saw they did. (Muslims absolutely never smoked cigarettes, I believed for a very long time.)

It was important to my parents for me to receive a religious education, and so, through my time at that school, it became important for me to fulfill my responsibilities as a Muslim girl. When I was in the seventh grade, one evening in November, I casually mentioned to my parents that I was going to start wearing a hijab, “for real.” Doing this would entail covering my head, and all parts of my body except my face, hands and feet, in front of men outside my close family. It was something I had been thinking about for a while, undoubtedly because other girls in my class had already begun. Needless to say, my parents and teachers were all pleasantly surprised to hear it.

Wearing a headscarf was already a part of the uniform for middle school; it already felt normal, comfortable on my head and regimented in my morning routine. So, when I started wearing it like a full-time job, nothing felt all too different: I’d go grocery shopping with my mother and get a few more stares than usual, maybe, but it was only in addition to the ones she got for hers.

Admittedly: I feel somewhat detached from this piece now because it doesn’t really say anything about why I continue to wear hijab, and it misrepresents some of my general notions of identity today. It lays out the honest chronicled details, though—stuff I’m now bored of thinking about—and that’s why I posted it here.