Posts Tagged ‘reasons’

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).

Quote: as excerpted from “Self-Reliance”

August 6, 2011

“My life is not an apology, but a life.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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.

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.

Hijab and Submission vs. Subversion, part 2

February 19, 2011

The word “Islam,” translated from Arabic, literally means submission or surrender (to the will of God). Accordingly, the name for the submitter/surrenderer is a variation of the same word: “Muslim.”

Both words come from the same root as “salam,” which means peace, so that’s pretty cool (haha) and something to be proud of. It makes sense, too, for a religion to emphasize the importance of yielding [one’s individual self] to a greater good/deity/community.

Despite all that, and as was hinted at in the last post, I’m infinitely more interested in subversion, what we might consider to be a directly opposing idea. Not necessarily subversion of God, but more broadly of structures and society (conceivably, the ones God allows to exist).

It’s because I’m still young, probably.

The act of hijab itself can fall easily under both categories. The ritual veiling that’s been passed along for ages is certainly a form of submission—to cultural tradition, to religious convention, and (arguably) to a global legacy of patriarchy.

At the same time, hijab subverts another entire set of norms, especially where and when I am. Rarely in the United States is a hijab-wearer not in the minority, so if we take for granted that [at least in the U.S.] hijab is a choice (as opposed to skin color, for example, which isn’t), doesn’t that imply subversion?

In this context, the subversion would be directed at a specific set of assumptions in Western culture (dominant ideology, master narrative, whatever). It works against normal American expectations for a few different reasons, including:

  1. Islam isn’t the dominant religion. (Let’s pretend the link between hijab and Islam is obvious.)
  2. Religious expression is also rare, and faith is considered largely a private matter. (Hijab is a visible, near-blinding example of religious expression.)
  3. There is a standard of what basic items make up women’s attire, and hijab isn’t among them. (As far as head-covering is concerned, anyway.)
  4. There is some level of consensus about which female body parts are appropriate when bare in public, and which aren’t. (Hijab overshoots the mark here in designating hair, among other things, as inappropriate.)
    …and the list can go on.

The real point is trickier to articulate. If you believe that the dominant ideology objectifies women’s bodies—not exclusively, and not always, but in general—then you can see how one MIGHT imagine hijab to be an act of subversion (/rejection) of that culture. (By “dominant ideology” here I mostly mean pop culture media, past and present. For examples, refer to: anything. ever.)

Is the subversion effective? I think so, but it’s not enough to just say that. I’ll keep thinking about how to express the ways that it works.

Hijab and Trying to Define Modesty

February 2, 2011

Late last spring—two days before graduation, in fact—my four beloved roommates and I went to brunch to celebrate the end of our era.

This far north, there’s an abundance of charming little breakfast diners, and that day we hit a particularly endearing one. The food tasted great, the atmosphere was pleasant, etc.

As we were leaving, the cheerful older woman settling our checks complimented me on my headscarf, as sometimes happens. I thanked her and took my change as she whammed me unassumingly with The Question.

“Uh,” I distinctly remember saying, being caught off guard; unprepared, I mumbled off something about modesty.

“Modesty?” she said, surprisingly sassily. “Hon, that’s great and all, but believe me, you don’t have ANYTHING to be modest about.”

I grinned—she’d clearly meant for it to be a compliment—and thanked her again. She didn’t quite phrase it right, but I think she was trying to say I shouldn’t be hiding my looks (though the harder I think about even that, the funnier a remark it seems). She was very nice. We all walked out snickering.

Clearly, I’m having trouble finding an adequate answer to the question, even beyond the repertoire of stock responses to keep ready for more casual exchanges.

“Modesty” is such an interesting concept. In this case, the idea is that a woman’s hair contributes directly to her beauty, and so veiling it represents a deliberate concealment of that allure. There are several problematic implications of the fact that, though hijab as a concept still exists for Muslim men, it is carried out differently and (obviously) less conspicuously for the other gender. But those subjects (the blatant, heteronormative distinction between men and women; and the respective value placements in that system) are a discussion for another day.

What’s so funny about modesty is that by choosing to cover something up—to not be extravagant about your income, or to be humble about your achievements—you are at the same time admitting that you’re kind of awesome. I mean, the hijab can be straight-up presumptuous, in a sense, because wearing it for reasons of modesty implies the idea that the world can’t handle your stunning loveliness unfiltered.

It’s hardly the main reason, of course, that I or anybody else truly takes up hijab—nobody is that narcissistic. So I think it’s worth exploring other ways to define modesty that don’t assume that a woman’s beauty is simply a treasure so worth guarding.

The definition of modesty that I like better has more to do with discreetness. Most women don’t sail around topless, for example, not because their chests are so innately gorgeous, but because we’ve all decided that the female breast is more sexual than the male one. So, gem sweaters and other tops for women exist in part to avoid indecency and distraction. (The notion that sexual = indecent and distracting is also maybe for another day.)

Following that logic: woven into the practice of hijab is the assumption that female hair is inherently sexual. While the headscarf itself may be distracting for people forming first impressions—it definitely is sometimes—the point is that the distraction isn’t sexual by nature.

Up for debate: whether body parts, male or female, can be “inherently” sexual, or if it’s all a process of cultural socialization.

Why I’m Blogging About Hijab.

January 25, 2011

Why do I wear hijab? It’s high time I started asking myself the question, from its superficial levels—why do I cover my head every morning?—to the deeper ones: how is this shaping my life, and why do I allow it to do so?

Am I having a change of heart, questioning the decision I made just over a decade ago?

Yes and no. Almost constant in my mind is the notion—reassurance, maybe—that I would be prettier, more attractive, maybe even more successful here in the U.S. without it. It goes without saying that I’m sometimes tempted to take it off.

Ultimately, however, the answer is no, if perhaps partly with the “wrong” motive. I remain convinced, for reasons long and complicated, that my hijab is linked directly to my self-esteem (which happens to run high these days). Without that, grooming and parading my hair is hardly worth the trouble.

So while it’s not the most altruistic reason, it’s the most compelling one for me at the moment.

As far as the blog is concerned, the idea that hijab is correlated to self-confidence is true exclusively in my case. I can’t speak for others, and have only my own experience to conclude from.

This blog is a self-conscious attempt to put words to that point—the choice to stick with it for now. I’ve always struggled in articulating the answer, whether for lack of vocabulary or conviction, so this is my trying to hash it out.

I get asked the question by plenty of people, but if I can’t first explain it to myself, however will I do it for others?

Reason #1: To please God.

January 25, 2011

I don’t know if I believe that or if I’m just saying it, hoping a) that God exists and b) that this particular act is worth it.

At this point, though, I imagine it doesn’t make too much of a difference.