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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Walk The Line


Me and three friends (2 of them hijabi, one not) went to see a movie. These two other girls, dressed in short skirts and tanks asked us if we were from Pakistan. When they asked us, they seemed excited and interested in us. I got this thought: Maybe those girls look up to hijabis, want to wear a scarf, but feel too weak,too trapped in the pressure to fit in...and wish they were in a position to wear it.. maybe seeing three of us together, laughing, having fun, looking cool--maybe they start thinking they could do it too. (Or maybe they were thinking why are these hijabis at a movie theater watching THAT movie--see they're no better than us!)

I hadn't thought of this before. Instead of non-hijabi Muslims seeing us hijabis and thinking, "they're too religious," maybe they see us and have a sincere longing to be able to be true to the practice of hijab. Usually the non-hijabis I know now respect hijabis but sort of say "it's just not for me, " I'm not that religious," "it's not important/needed." But it made me feel a little proud at the thought that some non-hijabi Muslim lady might see me and wish she could BE LIKE ME--instead of the other way around.

BTW, my two friends who wear hijab live out of state and were in town visiting. If I could hang out with them more often--this scarf thing would be easier I think.


I saw a hijabi working at the library. It made me feel a bit more comfortable around the other workers at the library because I thought--well they must be familiar with her--so I don't seem too odd to them. I looked over at the hijabi, but she didn't see me, so I kept walking. Later, she asked if I needed help with my books, I said, "Yes, my card..." Then she helped me and I said thank you. I didn't say as-salam-alaykum and she didn't either. My hubby said, "Did you say salam? Why not? Go do it now?" Hmm. For a split second I thought--well maybe she's not Muslim! LOL. Oh well, next time. It's not that easy to say salam to strangers. Is it? If I wasn't wearing the headscarf, I would feel less of an expectation to say it. But if one scarf-head sees another--salam is expected! (AND btw, we saw some more hijabis at the store and at the bookstore too on different days).


The other day I was thinking that this blog should be called: Scarf Ace: Wearing a Muslim Headscarf in American even though I Really Don't Want To.

I was thinking how it was my husband who had convinced me to wear it, how he kept bringing it up until I ran out of reasons not to wear it. I remember telling him how hard it was going to be and how he said that once I started it then it would get easier on me or something like that. Hmm. He wasn't very correct about that, or was he? So what was the deal I wondered?

But then I thought about it and felt that I DO want to wear it, but I want the same ability to skip it some days when I do not feel up to it the same way I skip a fast during Ramadan when I'm too worn out or skip or delay a prayer when I'm too tired. I know some might say that makes me a "part-time" Muslim because that's not how the rules of Islam work, but it's just the way it is for me. But if I had that flexibility with the scarf, I don't think I would resent it as much.

And also as is with saying prayers, I've heard it said that if one's heart is not in it, or if one rushes it then it's like one is not really doing it. So is that same with the scarf? If my heart is not in it or I'm doing it half-way, then what's the point of doing it at all?

Mainly I feel vulnerable wearing it when I go out alone and I resist wearing it when it is very hot outside. So the other day, while driving to the store alone on a very hot day, I gave myself permission to not wear it once I got to the store. But by the time I got the store, I had thought about the scarf as something similar to fasting and prayer...something that's hard but something I will do as a Muslim because I believe Islam's rules to be better than worse. So I wore it into the store, pinned tightly and all. And I was fine. Alhamdulillah.

I was thinking that, yes, in the Quran and in Hadith it says that women should dress modestly, but how do I really really know that means I have to wear a headscarf in this day and age to be a Muslim? Then I compared it to saying my prayers. Yes the Quran tells you to pray 5 times a day, but it doesn't tell you exactly all the moves and verses to say, so why do I do it a certain way? Why don't I just make it up the way I want to? Because the rules are rules for a reason. Their foundation is the truth and we do it to stay as close to the truth as possible. So that helped me relate that idea to the scarf and I think letting my mind free from the commitment of having to wear it even when I didn't want to, let it clear up and I could see that on that occasion.


OK, so...big news. I finally got it. Up until now, I've been missing the concept of wearing the headscarf "to please God." I think since I grew up around Muslim women who do NOT wear a scarf, I thought it was really not "that important in Islam." And plus, since I'm naturally shy and modest anyway--I thought I knew what modesty really was and it did NOT have to include a headscarf. So. My hubby and I were having another conversation about it and he said something like this:

"Every culture draws its own line on what is modest. In America, a woman can basically dress any way she wants except for walking around without a top. But in Islam, God drew the line at only face and hands. If a culture of people decide what is modest, then the line goes lower and lower. 150 years ago, women could not dress the way they do now. You could not see a 10 foot woman in only a bra and pantie (referring to the Victoria Secret window display at the local mall) but now people walk by it and not even blink. It's like with alcohol. This culture decides that it's okay to drink--as long as you don't drive..."

So the idea that "God drew the line," finally clicked for me and made sense. Even though I have thought that the scarf is overkill when it comes to modesty, it's the same concept that we Muslims do not drink AT ALL. Social drinkers would say that is overkill because one drink doesn't hurt. One or two. They know their own limitations. But in Islam--it's no alcohol--ever. That never seemed unreasonable or illogical to me. Same thing with everything else in Islam. It's clear cut. So I can finally see that it's the same way with hijab. I mean, I knew that before--but it just hadn't clicked somehow yet.

I wonder if it will make it any easier for me to wear it...Hmm. Let's see. I know for sure that it helps me deal with my husband's concern if my neck or hairline is showing. To him that is making the line slip a bit further down. And he's really sure about the line. I get it.



siouxsie said...

i love your blog it seems your going through the same emotions as me its so weird, some times i feel like just taking my scarf off but there is this thing that stops me my husband says its up to me he just wants me to happy, its good your husband supports you and boosts your imaan, my family are getting sick of me going on about it and wish i would just make up mind, sometimes i feel so confused

Alana said...

Hi, I found your blog today and have really been enjoying reading it. I'm a Christian woman who covers and have been moving in the direction of covering almost all of my hair when I'm out of the house, running errands, etc.

I struggle with some of the same emotions you do, but feel like I need to cover in order to obedient to God. 's commandments in the Bible.

Basically all this to say, here's a shout out of support from a non-muslim, who thinks what you are doing is beautiful, and who appreciates your honesty.

(And FWIW those idiots on the Christian TV channel are not representative of all of us.)

You can see my fashion mistakes at

Carrotflowers said...

I thought about you yesterday! :D I watched the Beauty School of Kabul, a really beautiful documentary about American and British stylists who opened up a school for Afghani women who had been operating underground beauty parlors under the Taliban. These women were AMAZING! (The Afghan women, that is--- some of the Americans really got on my nerves, like this big mouthed, flashy stylist who told the women that they were in "a rut" and "needed to get out of it"--- hello, I think they were doing great to be re-building their lives, even if their makeup wasn't perfect!)

Anyway, I definitely think that these women were far more "made up" than most of the Muslim women I see in America, hands-down. Very heavy, dark makeup, lots of jewelry, glittery scarves wrapped loosely around. The effect was strikingly glamorous, and also made me think. After years of burkas, do you think this is sort of a knee-jerk reaction?

I want to pick my words carefully here so as not to offend, which is not at all my intention! This just really made me curious. I have Muslim hijabi friends, and see many others on campus as well, who are FAR more conservatively dressed. Sometimes their behavior isn't in line with what I think hijab is "supposed" to represent (whatever that means), i.e. cursing, smoking, sitting on the laps of other college boys, etc. But still, wrists and ankles are covered and scarves are pinned tight. By contrast, some of these Afghani women are terrified of talking back to their husbands but look like how I imagined Scheharazade as a little girl.

Any thoughts? Have you seen this movie? I know you mostly write about experiences in America, but the dichotomy between covered-up "liberated" Westerns and decked-out "oppressed" Easterners was very interesting. Care to do a post about this?


Scarf Ace said...

hey ladies, thanks so much for your comments and for reading the blog. i'm sorry i do not always reply promptly--sometimes i need to distance myself from the blog to get a fresh perspective.

sio: don't worry, confusion is normal--it'll be okay. keep looking for the "light".

alana: i look forward to checking out your website

amelia: i haven't seen the film, but will think about your idea

thanks again!

Aisha La Estudiante said...

Sallam Sis,

It's certainly easier to not be the ONLY hijabi. I was bubbly and overjoyed when I saw a group of stylish hijabis on the train locally. I enjoy your candid and thoughtful posts.


Basbousa said...

Sister, you'll be fine. Sometimes it just takes a while to adjust. I love your blog, reflects the same struggle I went through!

LILY said...

I LOVE your blog, I know this is an old post, but I just recently found ur blog and am going back and reading ur old posts, and this one really touched me, as I'm going through the similar emotions n's REALLY refreshing to hear and know other sistas are in the same place. WRITE MORE!!!!!