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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Miss or Diss?

So it's been a year with the scarf. The weather is getting so hot and humid now, it's a big ordeal to get dressed and go out, especially being all covered up. I apologize in advance if this post is offensive, hurtful, confusing, etc. to anyone who loves wearing a headscarf. I started this blog as a way to cope with all the frustrations involved in starting hijab. And having an outlet has helped me to keep it on. Also, since I'm not an "all or nothing" type of person, getting comments from people that tell me that it is understandable to wear it while at the same time still have doubts and struggle and dislike for it also has helped me keep it on. Being able to be open and honest about my mental rumblings helps me feel less "two-faced" when it comes to wearing the headscarf, since the general assumption is that a hijabi has it all figured out in a very solid, committed way. It makes me think, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? In other words, should a Muslim girl wear the headscarf AFTER she's got her beliefs all figured out, or BEFORE as a way to help her solidify her beliefs? Anyhoo...

I miss the relief of cool breezes on my neck.
I miss having a good hair day and/or a great fitting outfit showing off whatever's left of my decreasing physical assets to get that ego boost.
I miss not wondering what other people are thinking when they see me.

If it weren't for 2 main things, I think I would have stopped wearing it by now:
1) My husband's high regard for hijab
2) Being a stay-at-home mom, I have the freedom to choose when and where I go (unlike at work or school).

When I struggle, these are the voices I hear in my head:

God: It's OK. I am Most Merciful, Gracious, Oft Forgiving. Remember Me and I will remember you.

Hijabi Police: She really should figure out who she is. What is her point?

Non-Muslim, Ignorant: 1. I should watch her/stare at her/glance at her to figure her out 2. I've got her figured out and it ain't good.

Non-Muslim, Enlightened: 1. There is a woman with a scarf. Perhaps she is Muslim.
2. It's refreshing to see diversity!

And, what I don't miss about not wearing a scarf: that nagging feeling of inconsistency when I thought about being all covered up to pray but not when out in public.

Sometimes when I'm sitting in traffic at an intersection, watching all the cars buzz by me, looking inside them to see people who dress nothing like me, I wonder, "Why am I here?" Shouldn't I be somewhere where the people, the women, dress like me, with headscarves and covered-up-ness? Why do I live here? Is there anywhere I can go and not feel like odd-man out all the time? Yup, sure, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, India...Dearborn, Michigan? ...places where covered heads are the norm. So why did my family and other families come to America? Hmm... But I know that this kind of attitude is dangerous for America, it leads to the "Love it or Leave it" thing or "Go home!" or "Act like an American!" There is a part of America that says there is no one way to look like an American. But then there's another part that says, yes there is, and it doesn't include a Muslim headscarf, a Sikh turban, or a Hindu dot on the forehead. But it does seem to include a Nun's Habit. Hmm... It's interesting. It reminds me of how in some parts of Paksitani culture, the words, "American" and "Christian" are interchangeable.

I saw this Christian channel program in which they were sponsoring a "return the Jews to Israel" campaign, showing clips of people saying, "as a Christian, I feel very connected to my Jewish brothers." I thought...what about your Muslim brothers? Why is there no brotherly love for us?! I'm not going to get into the political problems/history of this issue here, but my point is that I was insecure for a moment, imagining a world with Jews and Christians against the Muslims, but then I felt this strength inside, a sort of "Well, if it's us against them, then, I will go down with this ship," which is a sort of nice feeling to have, instead of the insecure one I often feel when I think of those people who would rather not have Muslims around...

Anyway, back to my point about being in traffic. I'm just desperate to see some other hijabis when I go out, especially if it was a common thing to always see headscarves wherever I go.

STOP AND STARE by One Republic:

This town is colder now, I think it's sick of us
It's time to make our move, I'm shakin off the rust
I've got my heart set on anywhere but here
I'm staring down myself, counting up the years
Steady hands, just take the wheel...
And every glance is killing me
Time to make one last appeal... for the life I lead

Stop and stare
I think I'm moving but I go nowhere
Yeah I know that everyone gets scared
But I've become what I can't be, oh
Stop and stare
You start to wonder why you're 'here' not there
And you'd give anything to get what's fair
But fair ain't what you really need
Oh, can you see what I see

They're tryin to come back, all my senses push
Un-tie the weight bags, I never thought I could...
Steady feet, don't fail me now
Gonna run till you can't walk
But something pulls my focus out
And I'm standing down...

Stop and stare
I think I'm moving but I go nowhere
Yeah I know that everyone gets scared
But I've become what I can't be, oh
Stop and stare
You start to wonder why you're here not there
And you'd give anything to get what's fair
But fair ain't what you really need
Oh, you don't need
Stop and stare

I think I'm moving but I go nowhere
Yeah I know that everyone gets scared
But I've become what I can't be
Oh, do you see what I see...


I couldn't decide whether to call this post SHAKE YOUR HANDS ALL AROUND or DEAL OR NO DEAL.

Okay, so a couple weeks ago, me and my hubby were leaving his brother and his brother's wife's house. His family (non-Muslim) usually hugs good-bye. So my hubby hugged his brother, and then I also hugged his brother. It was a quick, distant type of hug, but still a hug. After we left, I told my hubby that it felt awkward to hug his brother (mainly because I'm not comfortable with hugging people, especially male people). And then my hubby said that he tries to avoid hugging his sister-in-law. Avoid? Hmm. And then he brought up the Muslim religious practice (behavioral hijab)of not touching anyone of the opposite sex that is not an immediate relation such as in-laws, which means NO HUGGING and NO SHAKING HANDS (unless wearing gloves, which prevent the skin to skin contact). He said that we should tell his family that from now on he won't be hugging his sister-in-law, and I won't be hugging my brother(s)-in-law. I immediately went all rolly-eyed and stated my usual mantra:
Then my hubby said "We'll just tell them it's just part of our religious rules and we're trying to follow the rules more often now." So then I said, "THEY'LL JUST THINK RELIGIOUS PEOPLE ARE STRANGE. IF IT'S NOT ONE THING IT'S ANOTHER!" He said, "'re over-reacting."

Then that same night we went to a friend's wedding. At the goodbyes, a non-Muslim female hugged me and I hugged her, then she went to shake my husband's hand and he shook her hand! Busted! He told me later that he did not expect her to shake his hand so he was unprepared and so automatically went to shake her hand. He said he'd try to remember "to avoid it" next time. I was still like, "what's the big deal?," and I do not understand why shaking hands could be wrong, especially where here it means goodwill and friendship?! And we got into a heated discussion about it, the rules are the rules for a reason, even if I don't completely agree/understand. He said I should not try to pick apart every situation but just try to follow the principles involved. Hmm? Hmm.

So then yesterday we went to my Mormon friend's wedding reception. I was a bit nervous of course knowing that it would be mostly Mormons there, so I would be only one of two Muslim woman hijabis there. Just nervous in the sense that I would be different and draw attention to myself. But I was also a bit nervous about the whole handshake thing. I thought about wearing gloves, but then thought it would be too hot for that. And even though I could wear gloves in a stylish way, my hubby couldn't!

So the bride (my good Mormon friend who is familiar with Islam) went to shake my husband's hand, but she seemed to suddenly remember or understand or know about the "no handshaking rule," and there was a little awkwardness as she withdrew her hand quickly and nodded as if to say, "oh yeah" and muttered something like, "you don't..." Then I said to her, "oh, good. I was worried about an awkward moment," and we all briefly laughed. Then it was her new husband's turn to greet us, so another potential awkward moment presented itself. I had kept my hands behind my back, and my husband swooped in and shook his hand which seemed to nip it in the bud. There was another Muslim couple there who DID shake their hands, so I'm sure that creates some confusion to the non-Muslims, "Okay, that Muslim shook my hand, but that Muslim did not...Um, what? Why?" My hubby thinks the solution is for all Muslims to NOT shake hands. I think there's no solution. It is what it is. religious people are weird!!! You never know what to expect from us. One of us will hug you, shake your hand, the other one will say, "No we can't." You just never know what you're gonna get...I guess I should call this post...MUSLIMS ARE LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATE :-)

Since the bride was my friend who is familiar with Islam, I wasn't worried that she would think it was weird for us not to shake hands, but I did feel concerned that she would have felt embarrassed. It is sort of a rejection to put out your hand and then have the person decline to shake it. Maybe she felt the same sort of embarrassment as I did when I asked her if I could see the videotape of the marriage ceremony, "There isn't one," she said. "Video cameras aren't allowed in the temple because it is very sacred." And then I asked, "What about pictures?" "Nope." I felt dumb because I should have known that about the Mormon temple, since she has been my friend for years. And then I felt dumb for asking the second question because why would they allow pictures if they didn't allow video? Duh. I think I asked the second question just to cover up the awkwardness from the first question but just ended up making myself more embarrassed by trying to "keep talking." Haha... It's hard to be comfortable with other people's religious rules even when you want to be as much as still gets confusing at times for everyone involved! So, to my non-Muslim friends I say, "Thanks for staying so kind and respectful, even when the things we do, do not always make sense to you!" (And the same attitude would be nice for Muslims to have towards other Muslims)!


Oh brother I can't, I can't get through
I've been trying hard to reach you, cause I don't know what to do
Oh brother I can't believe it's true
I'm so scared about the future and I wanna talk to you
Oh I wanna talk to you
You can take a picture of something you see
In the future where will I be?
You can climb a ladder up to the sun
Or write a song nobody has sung
Or do something that's never been done

Are you lost or incomplete?
Do you feel like a puzzle, you can't find your missing piece?
Tell me how do you feel?
Well I feel like they're talking in a language I don't speak
And they're talking it to me

So you take a picture of something you see
In the future where will I be?
You can climb a ladder up to the sun
Or a write a song nobody has sung
Or do something that's never been done
Do something that's never been done

So you don't know were you're going, and you wanna talk
And you feel like you're going where you've been before
You tell anyone who'll listen but you feel ignored
Nothing's really making any sense at all
Let's talk, let's talk
Let's talk, let's talk

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hijabi Watch

I really want to thank everyone who has left comments lately, especially those hijabis who took the time to fill out the scarf survey. I've enjoyed reading all of them. InshaaAllah, in the near future I will organize and add some thoughts to the survey replies and then post them here on the blog.

In the meantime, I'm going to start a "hijabi watch," which is a post whenever I see another hijabi out in public. I think it will give me and you an interesting perspective on how many are out there (in my life, at least).

Last week, I saw a hijabi in an Half-Price Books bookstore. I think she was with her husband and her two daughters (as I was too!). She was wearing an Pakistani/Indian style shalwar kameez, a headscarf, and another shawl wrapped around her. I think she was East Asian, perhaps Indonesian, which made me glad because since my hubby is half Korean, and therefore my kids are part Korean, I like seeing other East Asian Muslims around! I started imagining that her family and ours were friends, and how good that would be. But I was also very shy at first and avoided her. But then I thought, I should go up to her, so as my young daughter walked near her, I looked at her and she said, "As-salam-a-alaykum," and I said, "Wa-alaykumm-as-salam," and then I softly added, "How are you?" hoping to start a conversation, but it didn't happen. Then I wished there was some way I could say, "hey, if you ever wanna talk, call me," so I thought I should carry a "business card," around with me that says, "Hey Hijabi. There's not many of us around this town, let's be friends. Call or Email me!" Hahaha. I guess that would be too weird though...

Friday, May 2, 2008

There's a New Sheriff in Town

Not many people replied to the scarf survey. Oh well. There's still time. And thank you to those of you who did reply. I will inshaaAllah post the results later with some discussion.

A couple of questions on the survey lead me to this post. One is the best thing about wearing it question. I replied that "being in the hijabi club," is the best part for me. I need to clarify I think. There are several hijabi clubs. The one I like is the one wear Muslim girls want to wear the scarf as a part of their Islamic duty and identity and at the same time, they want to be stylish and "with it." I think this is the best type of support for someone like me because it shows that we can still follow the Islamic rules while at the same time enjoying our lives, having fun with our style, expressing ourselves! And there's usually--but not entirely-- hijabis in this group who are not ALL OR NOTHING hijabis, who are OK with a little arm or neck showing if it happens to. The second survey question which brings me to this post is the one about a hijabi having to REPRESENT Islam...

As I've mentioned a lot, I am not the "cover every inch type," in terms of my hijab preferences. Now, this gives way to an opening to those Muslims who take the Islamic concept of "enjoin the good and forbid the evil," very seriously in terms of hijab. Let's call them the "hijab police." I think that most Muslims are part of the hijab police in some form of another. The father that tells his daughter to cover up her chest or legs, the sister that tells her brother that his t-shirt is too tight and his hair gel is making her gag, the husband that tells his wife she needs to cover her hair, etc.

And then there's the hijabi girl who insists that all hijabi girls must cover completely, meaning no hairline, no ear, no neck, no nothing---NOT EVEN ACCIDENTALLY. And this hijabi girl, let's call her, "hijabi sheriff", comes in both the well-intentioned and the non-well-intentioned type.

The well-intentioned hijabi sheriff is sincere and strong in her belief that Muslim women must ONLY, AT ALL TIMES show only their face and hands, and nothing in between EVER. And so she will tell other hijabi women if their scarf is slipping or if they wear 3/4 style sleeves that they really should get some arm covers, and they will kindly say, "remember that wearing earrings is not part of hijab," and she will smile. And she will usually just correct her hijabi friends.

Then there's the non-well-intentioned hijabi sheriff. There are 3 main kinds of this type. The first is a hijabi girl who is also strong in her belief that every inch must be covered, and she is usually annoyed/irritated, angry, and/or embarassed when she sees a hijabi woman who's hijab style (or behavior) is less than perfect. She'll say, "OH Please do not wear your scarf half-way on--it's confusing to the non-Muslims. Remember you are representing Islam. Do it RIGHT or do not do it at ALL." You may notice her roll her eyes a bit after she says that. And she'll say that to a stranger even, or at least tell someone she knows that the stranger is a no good hijabi. This hijabi sheriff may even insist that only pastel colors, dark colors, abayas, and/or some other restriction applies to correct hijab.

The second hijabi girl sheriff does not even do hijab--but she will correct a hijabi if the hijabi is doing something "un-Islamic" such as eating non-halal meat, or talking to a non-related man, or listening to music, or wearing tight-clothes under her designer scarf. She won't usually correct her to her face, but she'll bring it up to her friends or on a discussion group online. She'll say, "That's why I don't want to wear hijab--because I see hijabi girls who are so two-faced--I don't want to be like them. I would only wear hijab if I was a totally perfectly committed Muslim."

And the third hijabi girl sheriff is not even a girl--she's a man! She's the Muslim guy who goes up to the girl with the scarf and says, "Um, your jeans are too tight. Just FYI."

OK. So. All of us Muslims have been there. Judging and/or critiquing and/or evaluating how other Muslims dress, especially the women. But the hijab sheriffs are the ones that are currently on my mind, the ones that I truly do not want to be like. Except maybe for the well-intentioned ones, I think they should just really mind their own business and/or CHILL OUT. In my understanding, you have to enjoin the good AND forbid the evil, not enjoin the good OR forbid the evil. To approach some stranger and tell her that she's doing her hijab wrong will likely cause her some harm, mentally and emotionally. She may end up not wanting to be preachy like YOU, she may end up throwing the scarf away forever. Is that good? Do you think it's likely that she does not know how she's dressing, that she does not know the code or the rules? It's not that likely. It's more likely that she's dressing in the best way she can, in the way she is comfortable. Your judgement is your problem, not hers. And don't talk about her to anyone, that's gossip. So shut-it.

And the concept that a hijabi girl is "representing Islam," is taken way out of hand I think. Where in the Quran or in Hadith does it say women must cover up because they are representing Islam? And by the way, that whole teach as a walking symbol concept is what keeps a lot of non-hijabi women from trying hijab because they feel that they are not perfectly Muslim enough or committed enough--so they don't even try it. Is that good? For some of those non-hijabi who use that reasoning, they are sincere and do not want to mis-represent Islam, they feel that hijab is the LAST THING a Muslim woman arrives at on her journey to God, that it's the "first place ribbon," or the "graduation diploma," that says she's "arrived." For other non-hijabi women it is a welcome relief not to have to wear the scarf using that reasoning because the self-deprecation involved gives way for more compassion, i.e. "oh, she's not ready yet. She honors hijab so much that she's going to wait until the right time, until she can wear it with perfection and total sacrifice because wearing it is so extremely hard. She's just not there yet."

When I was in high school and I wore the headscarf, it wasn't just the non-Muslims who bothered me. I was part of this girl's youth group that had meetings and discussions. I remember one discussion when a hijabi girl told us all, "remember that if a man looks at you and sees you non-covered--then YOU are responsible for HIS sin as well." Hmm. That didn't sound right to me. And I was guilty of being the hijab police back then too. I remember telling one of my friends that I did not want to go the ice-cream store with a big group of Muslim girls because "it would bother me," when the non-hijabis who wore their scarf at the meetings but not in public would take their scarves off at the ice-cream store. Hmm. Why did it bother me? Why couldn't I just live my own life my own way and let them live theres? Why? I think that I felt it was unfair. If I had to endure stares while wearing the scarf--then they should too. And then there was this girl, Huneza. Yup. She was a friend of a friend. She was Muslim. She did not wear a scarf. She had trendy clothes and long thick curly hair that she always wore down. One day, after I had decided to stop wearing the scarf, Huneza approached me and said something like this, "I'm so disappointed in you. You let them (the non-Muslim) win. You should have kept wearing the scarf and been stronger." Hmm. At the time I was so shocked and said something like, "Um..but you don't even wear a scarf yourself...?" She went on to say it didn't matter that SHE didn't wear a scarf--it was because I had started to wear it and then stopped--I was more at fault. That event I will never forget. It still hurts just thinking about it. How dare she be so judgemental? What the? Now I understand that she held some higher standard to those who wear the scarf, a standard that she did not have to live up to herself, since she hadn't "committed" to it yet.

Oh, and then of course there are the imams, the maulanas, the alims that police hijab. They probably have the most honorable intentions when it comes to correcting women's hijab since they have spent a good part of their lives in sincere scholarship of Islam. Still, I think they should also be gentle in their approach.
Another hijab correction I remember is when I was engaged to be married to my husband. My mother and I went to meet with our resident alim, the maulana, at our Islamic center. He liked to have a pre-marital counseling session with couples and their families. My mother and I went together. We wore Pakistani style shalwar kameez and long, wide wraps on our head and bodies. My mothers hairline started to show after awhile as her wrap slipped down. I'm sure my hairline started to show too. Other than that, we were all covered up. Later, the maulana spoke to my mother on the phone regarding another matter about the wedding and he blurted out in a frustrated/angry tone: "And you [and your daughter] do not even wear hijab correctly!" Hmm. My mother almost started crying when he said that and when she told me what he had said, her voice cracked with hurt. I still feel hurt when thinking of that event. It was his tone. And was just our hair-line--did that deserve such harsh correction? Does that kind of attitude really help to foster community? Is that kind of judging attitude the reason that so many non-hijabi women do not want to be active in the Islamic centers? Because they do not want their appearance to be scrutinized? Maybe. Probably. I know I am still like that. I still do not want to be too involved in the Islamic center community here becasue among other reasons, I do not want to be OUTED if someone from there sees me shopping with a scarf wrapped around my head while at the same time showing an inch of hairline or neck or wearing make-up.

Like I said, I'm guilty of hijab policing too. I wonder out loud why some women cover their hair but then wear an Indian sari that shows cleavage. But I really want to stop doing that. I want to be on the same team, the same side as other Muslims. I don't want to separate myself from them just because they don't follow my style, my ways, even my beliefs the exact same way. I want to support them. Support any effort they make to be sincerely Muslim, to be sincerely human. And I think I will go ahead and become more involved in the Islamic center even if some other members judge me for not being "this or that," because there should be more people like me involved.
Basically, I think all types of Muslims should be involved, diversity fosters understanding and compassion and that's usually good, right?

I remember when I did not wear the scarf and went to an Islamic conference where most of the other girls did wear one. One day, a new girl attended a speech. She had her scarf on kind of loose on her head and she looked at me with my bare head for a few long seconds. The next day she was there without her scarf on. I think she saw me there without a scarf and realized she did not HAVE to wear one either just to be like the other girls. Would that Islamic conference have been better off without me or that other girl there? Wouldn't any benefit that conference have to offer benefit me and the other girl just as much as the girls with the scarves on? How many other Muslims would have attended and could have benefited from the conference if they weren't afraid of being judged by their appearance? Also, some of the girls who DID wear scarves at the conference actually still inspire me to keep being part of the hijabi club now. Because they were cool and understanding and non-judgmental.

There was an Oprah episode about Islam in which Oprah tried to educate America about Islam. On the "After the Show," part, many of the hijabi women said they did not like Queen Rania of Jordan being on the show because she does not represent Islamic dress correctly. How petty is that? Queen Rania had so many wonderful things to say about Islam and about her beliefs in it--yet those hijabi police refused to even let her in the "Muslim club" because she shows her hair and shows her legs. How petty in my opinion. Divisive. Mean. Judgemental.

And then there's a group in the hijabi police who are Muslims themselves, love Islam, and yet still insist that Muslim women SHOULD NOT wear a scarf, saying things like: "The veil was invented by the Turks some 100 years after the Prophet (pbuh & hf)." Others say, "The veil is a form of patriarchal oppression." Once I had a Muslim teacher who taught Islamic history say that the headscarf was used in the Prophet's (pbuh & hf) time to distinguish the prostitutes from the non-prostitutes and is therefore not relevant in our modern times. I could easily be in this group if it were not for the influence of friends and family. You see, there's a huge part of my thinking based on my personal background that insists that the headscarf is not needed in order to dress modestly, that showing the hair, neck and ears is NO BIG DEAL. And along with this thinking, the belief is similar to that of the teacher I mentioned above, that if it was used in the Prophet's (pbuh & hf), then it was used for a purpose that is no longer needed in our day and age. I'm not currently in this group, but there's often a pull I feel from it. Still, as a Shia-Muslim who follows the rulings of a particular Shia scholar, I can not deny the rule of covering all but face and hands.

I know this is all SO COMPLEX when in fact it could be SO SIMPLE. I know. For some, it's simply an Islamic requirement and so I should just shut-up about it. But to me, there are so many cultural and social implications surrounding the headscarf, that it should be looked at carefully. I think there is an entire "hijab culture," that has a lot of negativity in it, a sort of corruption. I really don't mean to cause any more confusion about it. I just want it to make sense to me so that I can keep wearing it without any doubts. So far, there's still doubts, but I hope I'm still in the club.