Hijab in the Public Sphere

So Twitter is probably not the best source of inspiration for reflective thought, but a comment I received on my hijab piece “Just leave me and my hijab alone, please” and reading this reflection on a talk given by Tariq Ramadan on the importance of actually engaging with others in our religiously pluralistic society, got me thinking on what my hijab represents and whether I, by virtue of living in a pluralistic society, am even allowed to make such a statement.

The title of my article is provocative and purposely so – I want people to read the stuff I write, yes, it’s true – but it was clear that that certain Twitterer did not actually read my article. I don’t frequently receive questions from people about hijab (mostly because I can be a hermit at times). But when I do, I don’t just simply brush them off and tell them to mind their own business. When a non-Muslim can muster the courage to actively engage with a visible Muslim, I am really appreciative of that fact and try to answer their question to the best of my ability.

But I struggle with my answer on hijab and that’s why I wrote that article.

Still, because I am a visible Muslim woman, does that mean I must therefore serve as a spokesperson for all of Islam and all Muslims?

Further adding to the complexity is the fact that I’ve been involved in interfaith work and want to continue doing it – Tariq Ramadan’s lecture only reinforced this conviction of mine. But am I inherently contradicting myself?

After giving it some more thought, I want to say No. When I come to an interfaith gathering, when we all do, we come with an understanding that we don’t represent, the actions particularly, of all our coreligionists. I can want to educate others on Islam and yet still not serve as the official spokesperson for all its adherents. I don’t think it’s a contradiction and I have to remind myself of this fact when reductionists make me feel like it is.

Man, this is making me think back to my “Secularism and the Citizen in the Middle East” class I took at UChicago. Thoughts of PhD have been swirling around the past few days. I still have no plan of action, but I’ve been thinking I may revisit it again in the future. When a 70 year old man can get his Bachelor’s why can’t I get my PhD, if I decide that is what I want?

I’m learning to accept that goals and aspirations, like my faith and spiritual development, are neither static nor are they linear.

 

11 thoughts on “Hijab in the Public Sphere

  1. Thank you for writing this piece! I loved the part on the complexity of being able to educate as Muslim women because of our visibility, and understanding that we’re not official spokesperson for our faith.

    I think it places an incredible load on our shoulders as well considering the diversity of Muslim women and our experiences.

    Yes sis go for that PhD! :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • And thank you for your piece! You partly inspired this (yours was the positive inspiration I needed!). Thanks for your encouragement. I have much to think about… first starting with taking the GRE again :( Hehe

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think its perfectly fair to be not be clear about something in your life, and still have it as a part of your life. I admire those who go for PhD and wish you all the best if you do decide to go for it. I would like to know what made you decide to wear it after not wearing it for a better part of your life, that is if you want to share. My two cents on hijab is that if someone chooses it, why can’t they. People choose to have weird hairstyles or color their hair purple to carve an identity for themselves and if wearing a hijab is a choice, it too should be treated the same was as we see different hairdos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Shumaila!

      I have no problem sharing why. It’s weird. I’d always felt like wearing the headscarf was something I should probably do, but never had the courage to wear it. Battling with weight issues, I also didn’t want to wear it out of shame. Besides, growing up it wasn’t common among the women in my family. So unlike other Muslim families, it wasn’t an expectation for me or my sister. But after I lost my weight, I felt this immense sense of gratitude toward God – it was a blessing that I managed to lose all that weight, a miracle I felt – and in exchange I wanted to do something “for” God to express my gratitude. I had a vision (I know I sound like a hippie) of myself wearing the headscarf and then after that, without giving it much thought, I started wearing it. Regardless of whether the headscarf is required or not in this day and age, because I feel like I made a personal pact with God that day, I feel like I must continue to wear it. It’s not a burden to wear it, but I’m also not “proud to be a hijabi” whatever that means. I don’t know if that makes sense.

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      • Interesting! Thanks for sharing. From how I see it, yes it makes sense. People show their gratitude to God in different ways. A woman asking for a child gives up something dear and when her prayers are answered continues to leave out that thing from her life to express her gratitude. Its not religious, it is just plain simple gratitude. Wearing a hijab is your way, your connection to God. And like any decision in life, there will be times when you are unsure (because of what people say and not because you doubt your decision), but its something you do for yourself and definitely should continue as long as thats your connection to God. My only concern with the hijab, or actually the custom of any religion is that it should not be forced on a person. Just because one is born a Hindu, doesn’t mean they have to perform certain rituals to be faithful to God, or if one is Sikh the only way the gurus will accept him/her is if they do not cut their hair. What if the person keeps his hair and yet is the most evil person, and consider another person who cut his/her hair and is always helping others, and prays to God in his/her own way- who do you think God would like to call His disciple. A person should be allowed how he or she wants to serve God, because honestly if its not pure and from within, God will know. Everybody’s definition of faith is different and people should respect that. Teach your children/fellow about your religion, advice them, guide them if they need it but then let them decide how they want to practice their faith, and show their devotion. Somebody forcing or punishing someone not following a custom is not what God wants.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Shumaila! I totally agree what one can never judge what is in one’s hearts when it comes to outward forms of worship. But I also have to check myself and not judge when I see others not doing what I regard to be obligatory. In the end, it is God, as I believe, that decides to accept what any of us do. So we may think we’re pious and righteous, but only God has the final say on that matter!

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  3. Ah yes, the thorny conversation about the hijab. What Hijabi hasn’t been asked/questioned about it? :)

    For me personally, wearing the hijab is both a religious act and a political one. I say political because proclaiming so openly one’s Muslim identity is not without consequences. My hijab is a way of putting my Muslim identity first, beyond ethnicity, race, or nationality. It is an act of resistance against a colonial narrative that seeks to reduce Muslim women to a caricature and strip us of our agency.

    Great post sister, love to hear more about your interfaith work by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see your point. But I’m not really political in that sense, so hijab being defined as a proclamation makes me a little hesitant. It ends up being perceived that way, which I have no control over, but that wasn’t necessarily my intent when I began to wear the headscarf. I’m just a little uncomfortable with the attention, but I’m not going to take it off because people feel like they have access to me, if you will. Unfortunately, hijab is perceived very differently in terms of agency – a lot of people assume that it’s been forced upon us and there’s also that tendency to be lumped together simply as a “hijabi,” a term I do not like. Thanks for you comment, I really appreciate it. Insha’Allah, I might write a post on my interfaith work :)

      Liked by 1 person

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