In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a Muslim. I’m a Unitarian Universalist. But I have worn a hijab on two occasions. Since I am not a Hijabi (which is a woman who wears a hijab), and have not experienced what it is like to wear a head scarf day in and day out, I cannot speak to that part of the issue. I’ve never experienced the heightened respect nor the prejudice that this simple piece of fabric can evoke. But I am a woman, so I will speak in that capacity.
Women wear the hijab for many reasons. The purest of which, in my opinion, is the voluntary wearing of the hijab due to one’s religious belief. I have complete and utter respect for this choice. If a Catholic woman can hold a rosary, then a Muslim woman has the very same right to wear a hijab.
Other women simply wear it as a fashion statement. And I have to agree that there is something quite beautiful and even ethereal about a woman in a hijab. I imagine that it makes people look at you differently. Those without prejudice have to see you for you, and not be distracted by your exterior. That appeals to me greatly. I get so tired of constantly being compared to other women. In that scenario, someone is bound to be found wanting, and just as often as not, it is me. This can be quite draining. Unfortunately, prejudiced people will not see you for you at all. They ONLY see the scarf and make assumptions, quite often political ones, from there. This is not a reflection on the Hijabi. This is evidence of the ugliness in the prejudiced person’s soul. I firmly believe that a woman should have a right to wear whatever she chooses.
The two occasions when I wore a hijab were both during visits to mosques in Istanbul, Turkey. I did so happily, and out of respect. I was well aware that I was a visitor in a place of worship, and as such I had absolutely no problem complying with their rules of proper etiquette. I must say I was surprised at the instant difference I felt within myself. I was calmer, and I felt more reflective. I also felt more formally beautiful, which was a nice feeling indeed.
Me at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.
Regrettably, there are also negative reasons for wearing a hijab. I was listening to a radio show called BBC’s World Have Your Say today, and the topic was World Hijab Day. Many women called in to discuss the positive reasons for wearing the head scarf, but a lady called in from Egypt who said that many women there wear the hijab in public simply to avoid sexual harassment. Some people do believe that men cannot control themselves and therefore the women must cover up. I find this to be tragic. I think it underestimates men and causes women to live in fear. In countries where the hijab is not common, you don’t regularly see women being attacked in the streets, so men can be civilized, especially in an atmosphere where respect is expected of them. In places where laws are not enforced, sadly, mob rule often takes over. That is the nature of humanity, and it’s heartbreaking to contemplate.
On the most extreme end of the spectrum you have women in fundamentalist areas, such as Iran, who are forced to wear the hijab. You can actually be jailed in Iran for not doing so. I think the Iranian government is making a very drastic mistake by doing this. Forcing something upon any person, man or woman, will simply encourage rebellion in their hearts. It will not make someone want to be a devout Muslim. It will simply engender depression, resentment, suicide and every other thing besides spirituality. In my opinion, in situations like these the beautiful and religious and modest hijab has been warped into a tool of control and imprisonment. It is the very opposite of faith and therefore the worst type of violation.
So, if I see you on the street and you are wearing a hijab, I must apologize in advance for staring at you. I’m not doing it for negative reasons. I’m not looking at you as a freak. In fact, I most likely think you’re beautiful. Chances are I’m just wondering about you and your motivations, and hoping, for your sake, that they are pure and positive and liberating, not dark and negative and repressing. I want only good things for you, and wish you well.
So should I care that it’s World Hijab Day? Yes, indeed, and for more reasons than one might imagine on the surface. This is a deep and complex issue that needs more exposure, if you’ll excuse the pun.