Let’s Talk about Hijab, Links

**praying for Boston today. As a marathoner (who will likely never be fast enough for Boston) I somehow feel this on a personal level. I can only imagine finishing a marathon and having a bomb explode. Sometimes here in Djibouti at the end of the half-marathon, punks throw plastic bottles filled with urine at finishers. As awful as it is, I would choose that over a bomb any day. The photos and news make me want to run another marathon, hadn’t felt that in a while.**

**also…praying for Mogadishu today. As a person who has lived in Somalia, I somehow feel this on a personal level. I can only imagine being in court and having a bomb explode. Not sure that the photos and news of this story make me want to go there, but I can’t ignore it. Two dozen dead. Oh for mercy and justice to rain down on all sides of this planet.**

This week for the Let’s Talk about Hijab series, I simply want to send you around the web to discover a sliver of what is out there, by Muslim women, about hijab. There is seemingly no limit to the amount of stories, information, and varied perspectives. I think it is safe to say that there is clearly no one-size fits all style or conviction about hijab.

Lovely, stylish women at the school parade

Lovely, stylish women at the school parade

*******************

  • Minnie Detwa, the girl with the elephant in the room. When a Muslim chooses to remove the hijab.
  • Hotchpotch Hijabi in Italy, Ummah Beware, its the ‘H’ Word, changing the emphasis from outer to inner hijab.
  • Love, InshAllah, Hijab: A Love Story, a woman’s on-again, off-again relationship with hijab. (I read this book Love, InshAllah, last year. Good insights. Here’s a blurb from the website: “Love Inshallah [goes] to a place where few, if any, books have gone before. Lesbians, co-wives, converts to Islam, Shia, Sunni, black, brown and white: every voice is unique. Collectively, they sing of strength, passion and love. One can’t help but to sit back and listen, captivated. – Samina Ali, award winning author of Madras on Rainy Days”
  • Amal Awad at Aquila-Style, Perspectives on Muslim Feminism, on striving for the empowerment of women.

 

The hijab series will wrap up in a few weeks with a couple of fantastic bloggers. Are there topics or questions you would still like to see addressed?

********************

Other Posts in the series:

Let’s Talk about Hijab

Why Doesn’t Your Wife Wear Hijab? by Anita Dualeh

Hijab: Definitions

Hijab: the Universal Struggle by Pari Ali

Asking the Right Questions by Afia R. Fitriati

Through the Eyes of Children by J.R. Goodeau

Rethinking the Veil by Marilyn Gardner

The Thousand Stories of Hijab, by Chaltu Berentu, a video via The Poet Nation

By |April 16th, 2013|Categories: Faith, Islam|Tags: , , |1 Comment

Let’s Talk about HIjab: The Thousand Stories of Hijab

This week’s Let’s Talk about Hijab post is a video from The Poet Nation, a Somali art and poetry hub. The Poet Nation is an on-line community that brings together Somalis from across the world to share and promote their art. This is an incredibly talented and unique group of people and I have had the privilege of working with the founder and contributing occasionally to the site. This particular video is performed by a young Minneapolis-based woman named Chaltu Berentu.

[jwplayer mediaid=”1513″]

Remember this post that talks about how hijab is deeper and more than merely clothing? How it is a matter of the heart? Whether you wear hijab or not, what’s one of your hijab stories?

*********************

Other Posts in the series:

Let’s Talk about Hijab

Why Doesn’t Your Wife Wear Hijab? by Anita Dualeh

Hijab: Definitions

Hijab: the Universal Struggle by Pari Ali

Asking the Right Questions by Afia R. Fitriati

Through the Eyes of Children by J.R. Goodeau

Rethinking the Veil by Marilyn Gardner

Let’s Talk about Hijab: Rethinking the Veil

Today’s post in the Let’s Talk about Hijab series is by Marilyn Gardner. While I’m thrilled about the fantastic posts in this series, the best part of it personally has been connecting with and meeting such unbelievably incredible women from all over the planet. I have only known Marilyn via email, Twitter, and blogs, and only for short time but she has challenged me to write better, think deeper, and love wider. Enjoy her post, Rethinking the Veil.

********************

In May of last year Dr. Leila Ahmed, a well-known professor at the Harvard Divinity School published a book A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence from the Middle East to America. The idea for the book was born one evening in the late 1990’s when Dr. Ahmed was walking with a friend in her Cambridge neighborhood. As they passed by a park, they noticed a group of women, all in hijab.

Dr. Ahmed was raised in Egypt during the fifties and sixties. At this time in Egypt, the veil was rarely seen – not only in Egypt, but also in other Muslim-majority countries. That particular evening, she was shocked and disturbed to see the hijab, symbolic to her of patriarchy and oppression, fully alive; revived and walking in her neighborhood. More shocking was to see the hijab worn in a country that allowed freedom of expression in both speech and dress.

As a Muslim feminist she set out to study this phenomenon and the result is a thick volume published by Yale University Press.

Her findings should be a lesson for all of us, particularly those with little understanding of the hijab– those who tend to box and stereotype the Muslim world in general and Muslim women in particular.

The interviews showed a variety of reasons why women choose to wear hijab. From “raising consciousness about sexist messages in our (American) society” to national pride to rejecting negative stereotypes, the reasons were well thought out and articulated.

The hijab was worn with both knowledge and pride.

photo by Pari Ali

photo by Pari Ali

Along with that, her research revealed some of the characteristics of a “living” religion like Islam – namely that they are ever-changing, never static, not easily put into a box. The hijab is just one example of this dynamic.

In Pakistan I grew up with Muslim women surrounding me and friendships were formed at early ages, some that continue to this day. I well remember when my childhood friends entered puberty and with that rite of passage, put on the burqa. Because of this history, I’ve often been put in a posture of defending those who wear hijab, or burqa, or other head coverings. And my defense rightly comes from knowing so many women who have chosen to wear the veil – not because they are forced or coerced, but for many of the reasons that Dr. Ahmed cites.

I am also humbly aware that my words and thoughts are inadequate to the complexity of the role these women play on the local and world stage.

But there is one thing I can say with surety: Muslim women are not monolithic. Just looking at the vocabulary that surrounds the veil is proof of the diversity present in the Muslim world. The image often conjured up of a fully veiled woman walking behind her husband is only occasionally correct.

As a non-Muslim, I hesitate to speak with too much authority. It seems arrogant to speak for women who have chosen to wear (or not wear) hijab. But too often those in the west criticize the veil without having met a Muslim, without ever interacting on a personal level and that I can speak to.

In the course of her research, Dr. Ahmed confronts her own assumptions and beliefs as a “progressive” Muslim. She says in an article from the Financial Times published in 2011 “My own assumptions and the very ground they stood on have been fundamentally challenged” This serves as a lesson for me, and I hope for those reading. Being willing to have our assumptions challenged is not easy, but it is critical, particularly in a world too often driven by stereotypes promoted by those with the loudest and most insistent voices.

*********************

Marilyn Gardner grew up in Pakistan and as an adult lived in Pakistan and Egypt for 10 years. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, fifteen minutes from the International Terminal at Logan Airport.  She loves God, her family, and her passport in that order. She met Dr. Ahmed while she was awaiting the release of her book. Find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries and on Twitter @marilyngard

Other posts in this series:

Let’s Talk about  Hijab

Why Doesn’t Your Wife Wear Hijab? by Anita Dualeh

Hijab: Definitions

Hijab: the Universal Struggle by Pari Ali

Asking the Right Questions by Afia R. Fitriati

Through the Eyes of Children by J.R. Goodeau

Let’s Talk About Hijab: Through the Eyes of Children

Today’s post in the Let’s Talk about Hijab series comes from J.R. Goudeau, yet another internet friend, introduced through an internet friend…Someday I will have to leave this small country and meet these fabulous women in person. J.R. blogs at Love is What You Do and doesn’t shy away from deep, think-ful topics. Every time I read a post I feel challenged and changed, including this one. The journey she shares is one adults are often unable to articulate or too proud to confess, and it is beautiful.

photo by Pari Ali, thankful for her willingness to share her pictures

photo by Pari Ali, thankful for her willingness to share her pictures

I understood in theory that it might be difficult for a woman who wears hijab to live out her daily life in a culture that doesn’t understand her choices, but it was not until I became friends with a group of Iraqi refugee women in Austin a few years ago that I began to see how hard it truly is. I cannot say that I understand the difficulties and I want to be clear that, unlike many of the fantastic writers in this series, I am not writing from first-hand experience.

I am writing as an outsider and as a friend. And I am not addressing women who wear the hijab, but other people who are around them, other outsiders, other potential friends. My story is simple: my children were changed by women who patiently helped them see past their differences.

But we didn’t start off that way.

I work with a group of Burmese refugee women in an apartment complex near downtown Austin. Over time, several other refugees moved into the area and we began to hang out with them and their children. There were refugees from Afghanistan, Cuba, Somalia, Nepal, Burundi and Iraq. It was like a small United Nations when the kids played pick-up soccer. For several years, our non-profit and others rented an apartment and offered tutoring and other community service programs in the apartment complex.

We never knew who would walk in next. My co-founder Caren and I are raising kids in what seems to be an unorthodox way (at least in our little corner of the world). Our kids have been exposed to all kinds of people from a variety of backgrounds. We talk about skin color, hair color, eye color, cultural differences. Our oldest kids are the same age and together they’ve eaten spicy noodles, Cuban cookies and Nepali tea. It’s what’s normal for them.

Which makes the cultural faux pas that happened one night when they were three so particularly terrible to us.

A woman walked in to meet us; she had been a translator for the U.S. army and she was coming to the community center to see if we could help her revamp her resume. She was wearing a dark hijab and a dark dress. We were chatting and asking questions about her cute little girl and her new apartment.

My husband heard the little three-year-olds whispering as they pointed at the woman. He managed to catch our daughter but not my friend Caren’s daughter.

With all her three-year-old bounce, she ran up to our new friend and said in a bright little voice, “You’re a witch!”

We could have died.

The woman handled it beautifully. She leaned down and got on the little girl’s level and talked sweetly and calmly about her hijab. Caren knelt as well, gently explaining that we don’t use that word, that our friend was wearing a dark dress, that she was not a witch.

Her daughter, confused, seemed to get it finally. She nodded sagely. “Oh, so you’re a FRIENDLY witch.”

We’ve laughed about that story since then; our friend lived in the apartment complex for a year before moving on to another place. She was gracious and sweet about the whole thing. It was a childish moment, as bad as anything little kids say when they’re first learning about the differences between people. (And to be clear, my husband was having the same talk with our daughter in the other room—they both said it, he just caught her faster than Caren’s daughter.)

Their reaction shows, I think, the way Western kids, at least the ones in my life, are often conditioned to view people who are different from them as bad or evil or Other. In our girls’ lives, the ideas they associated with a long dark dress and dark hijab came from the depictions of “evil” characters in Snow White, The Wizard of Oz and other movies where the witch is dressed in dark colors. At three it was understandable, even if it was horrifying to their parents. And we are working like crazy to overcome those prejudices in the lives of our own children.

It was another woman, whom I’ll call Noori, who truly made a difference for our girls. During our weekly meetings with the Burmese refugee artisans, we hired Noori, who was also an Iraqi refugee, to babysit the kids. Week after week, Noori walked in wearing her hijab and loved on our children. Our daughters had a lot of questions at first, but it soon became Noori’s hijab became normal. They were much more concerned with whether she brought markers or glitter for her to play with.

Once we were shopping at Lowe’s and the woman who checked us out was wearing a hijab. I expected my girls to say something. The oldest got thoughtful, which is usually the sign she’s about to burst out with something inappropriate, but we made it all the way out of the store without her saying anything. Later, in the car, she brought it up.

“Mommy, that woman wore the cloth on her head that Noori wears.”

“You’re right, she did,” I said. “It’s called a hijab.” I was ready to talk about religious differences or cultural practices, but I was waited to hear her response.

She was quiet for a minute more. “I love Noori.”

To me, it was the perfect response. I love how Noori has changed my kids’ perceptions by being herself.

It’s a small example; I have seen much worse things happen to my Iraqi and Somali friends. People regularly assume these gorgeous, intelligent, brave women are repressed or terrorists or ignorant. As their friend, I am indignant. I also admire them immensely. I cannot imagine the gumption it sometimes takes to wear the hijab in Austin.

But I can say, by being themselves, I think they are quietly changing perceptions.

By loving Noori, by playing hopscotch and jumping rope and coloring with Noori’s kids, our children have learned a lot at a young age. And I am deeply grateful for my Iraqi friends’ patience in not dismissing our kids but loving them despite their frank reaction.

I admire and respect any woman or man who chooses to show their devotion to God through their habits and clothing and life choices. And I suspect that our small story demonstrates a universal truth: being friends with people makes it difficult to objectify them. Perhaps the answer for most Westerners, before judging, is to seek out and listen to women who have good stories and compelling reasons for the choices they have made.

At least for me, that worked out pretty well.

Jessica Scarf Headshot

J.R. Goudeau is the Executive Director and co-founder of Hill Country Hill Tribers, as well as a grad student in English literature. When she’s supposed to be working on her dissertation, she can usually be found writing about books, babies and Burmese refugees atloveiswhatyoudo.com or on twitter

 

Other Posts in the Series:

Let’s Talk about  Hijab

Why Doesn’t Your Wife Wear Hijab? by Anita Dualeh

Hijab: Definitions

Hijab: the Universal Struggle by Pari Ali

Asking the Right Questions by Afia R. Fitriati

Let’s Talk About Hijab: Asking the Right Questions

Today’s Let’s Talk About Hijab post is fun and thoughtful and beautifully written and I feel honored to be able to share it with you. Before beginning this series I read an article by Afia R. Fitriati called Strange Questions About My Hijab which I loved. When I started the series, I dreamed of having a writer like Afia contribute but was a little nervous about a cold-turkey email. But…I summoned my courage and hit the ‘send’ button. Her response was gracious and quick and I clapped (in the privacy of my house) when she said yes. And right there is one of the incredibly rich things about both the internet and about vulnerability and community. But, that could be another entire post let’s get to her essay!

Afia R Fitriati is a staff writer and columnist for Aquila Style, a digital publication for cosmopolitan Muslim women. She also writes for the Muslimah Media Watch blog and a number of other publications. Occasionally, she also tweets her everyday musings on her Twitter: @AfiaRF

harley2

Photo by Pari Ali

Asking the Right Questions of a Hijabi, by Afia R. Fitriati

Of all clothing items in the world, I don’t think anything stirs more arguments, controversies and misperceptions than a Muslim woman’s modest dressing, or also called the hijab.

I mean, I wonder if anyone ever come up to a bikini-wearing woman and ask her with a pitiful tone, “Does your parents/husband make you wear that?”

Slim chance.

But if the same woman were to put on a long dress and a head cover, suddenly the chance of her being asked the same question above increases multiple times.

I know, because I’ve been there. Not wearing the bikini part, but being-asked-all-sorts-of- funny-questions-while-wearing-the-hijab part. And while in general I’m pretty open to a brain-picking discussion, I admit that being asked this type of question is pretty annoying. Why do so many people assume that the only reason a woman wears the hijab is due to the repressive order of someone else?

A groundbreaking book by Leila Ahmed explores her discoveries that in fact for many hijab-wearing women, their covered attire is a symbol of personal liberty, activism and love of The Creator.

I consider myself to fall into that group, although a significant number of people whom I encountered in my travels would still rather think of me as the clueless, oppressed picture of woman they have in their heads.

Fortunately, I’ve also met some genuine souls who channelled their curiousity in my attire and faith in much less intrusive or biased questions:

“In your country, what do you do when you hang out?” Asked Peter –a tall guy from my psychology class– while we were waiting for our bus to arrive.

“The usual stuff,” I shrugged. “Go to the mall, watch movies, watch basketball games…”

If he weren’t that nice (and handsome to boot), I would have added, “No, I don’t make bombs in my spare time.”

And there was also Hae Jyun, a Korean girl in my statistics class who only asked me one important question, “What can’t you eat?” She then took me to a Thai food joint where I could order spring rolls and soup without worries, and we sat and talked for one hour about deep, life-changing stuff: how to keep your skin pimple-free and why Clinique is the best cosmetic brand in the world.

It was such a normal conversation, and yet very rare and precious for a hijabi girl living in a Western world among non-Muslims. So rare that now, fourteen years later, I still vividly remember the details of that hour: what I ordered (or what Hae Jyun ordered for me), what she was wearing, the rain trickling outside.

Because after all, that’s what millions of other hijabis –including myself– are all about: regular, living, breathing human beings. We worry about our children just like any mother, we get cranky during our PMS days (and maybe after) and we love a good dose of ice cream. Some of us are more religious than others and some of us even memorize the whole book of the Quran. Still some of us abhor lipsticks while some others are fans of Louboutin’s shoes. In short, we hijabis don’t come in a one-size-fits-all box.

In the same vein, I don’t deny that some hijabis in certain parts of the world are illiterate and don’t have access to their basic rights-just like some people may think. But to think that all hijab-wearing women are oppressed and extremists are just as faulty as thinking that all tie-wearing men are smart and honest.

The old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” goes for hijab-wearing women too. To learn more about us, our faith and why we don the hijab, it is better to leave your assumptions at home and let us begin our discussion with genuine, honest and clever questions.

Thai food, anyone?

 

Other Posts in the Series:

Let’s Talk about  Hijab

Why Doesn’t Your Wife Wear Hijab? by Anita Dualeh

Hijab: Definitions

Hijab: the Universal Struggle by Pari Ali

Go to Top