Posts Tagged ‘protocol’

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).

A Matter of Language

March 6, 2011

This blog is hard to write in part because I find myself worried so much about tone. Language is inevitably political, so how can I choose just one vocabulary on every related point?

1. I can have lunch with a wonderful Muslim friend and feel a warm sense of pride in what we share, ready to come back and relay that enthusiasm for faith. 2. I might have a fantastic, effervescent conversation about sexism and make a mental list of all the fascinating gender-and-sexuality-related things that it occurs to me to consider. 3. The class I’m in reminds me of the importance of careful research and even more careful articulation, but I can’t stand the idea of sounding unapproachable or lofty. 4. I’m also worried about sounding too sure of myself because I am rarely all that certain about anything. (And so on.)

I think about how some people (myself included) tend to write off experiences that are too one-sided or fanatical, immediately off-put by any of a number of buzzwords. So I try to tone down the zeal a little bit, even just for myself, leaving traces of betrayal.

It’s not about balance: there’s no “right” formula, because they all apply at once.

Good and Bad Questions to Ask the Hijabi You Know

February 8, 2011

I could get into big trouble for this. What right do I have to call some questions stupid? None. What follows is my opinion only.

1. “Why do you wear the hijab?”

A complicated one, to be sure. On one hand, I’m inclined to say that the construction of the question is less than ideal. Clearly, the answer to that is more complex than it would seem; the hijabi in question could probably write a whole blog about it!

If you’re here, you’re likely familiar with the stock answers that many women are likely to give, if only because they know going into more detail would take forever. (To be honest, they are probably also skeptical of your ability to fully understand, as somebody who doesn’t live the identity 24/7.)

ON THE OTHER HAND, this question has been the single mode of entry into a topic of conversation that I wish I had more with non-Muslims. Most people, I think, are too nervous to even broach the subject. If you’re interested, and you know the woman even a little bit, do ask! To deal with the issues above, do some research, so you’re equipped to understand and respond with a little more sophistication.

Even without the research, though. Ask anyway. Most Muslim women will be glad you did.

2. “Do you shower with it on?”

This is a SILLY QUESTION, so please don’t bother asking. Do you shower with your clothes on? What’s the curtain for, anyway?

3. “Did your family (/father/husband) make you wear that?”

Also not so great. For me, the answer is absolutely not, and I’m slightly offended that you suspect MY family to be capable of such tyranny. Unfortunately, for some women around the world, it is true, but unless you know the woman well, she probably won’t want to talk about it with you.

I would rate this question as around the same level of rudeness as “how much money do you make?” or “what’s your sex life like?”

4. “Where do you get those things?”

Pretty harmless. If she answers really nicely, you could go buy her one.

5. “Will you show me your hair?”

If you’re male, forget about it. If you’re female, it’s still not a good idea to ask. People’s preferences on this vary, so unless you know the hijabi really well, just refrain, because let’s face it: you’re just curious.

6. “Doesn’t it get hot in the summer?”

This is a funny one, because the two available answers are both obvious. Yes, it gets hot, because it’s the SUMMER. The sentiment you’ll receive, though, is usually no, no more than usual, because we get used to it (just as with clothing). Everyone is different, however, so if you’re truly interested in your friend’s natural ability to cool off effectively in August, ask away.



… I feel a little silly now, well into writing this post, because I certainly didn’t intend to come up with a bunch of do-nots to discourage the inquisitive. You’d do better to follow this general rule, then:

If you want to get to know the woman better as a person, you’ll have much more freedom asking questions than if you view her as some foreign creature. Know that one person’s experience is far from representative. Be genuine, and it’ll come through that way.

To reiterate what I said on #1, it’s better just to ask, even if you’re afraid of sounding stupid. Being candid in your interest is better than taking great pains to pretend you don’t see difference, any day.