Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Hijab Envy - Part 1

There’s just no reason not to admire a woman who wears the hijab (the Muslim dress code of the veil). It’s one of my favorite things about living in Syria. There are so many different styles and colors and levels of strictness the women observe, from a head-to-toe black covering to a chic scarf barely covering gorgeously styled hair. Some women don’t even wear the veil at all, even if they are Muslim (this often comes as a surprise to us Americans).

Most Westerners are familiar with the loose, black covering (I think it’s called a chador) style of hijab. But here in Syria, sometimes they don’t even have a slit for the eyes. Instead, the face is covered by a slightly thinner piece of black fabric that works like a one-way mirror: they can see out, but we can’t see in. It’s not uncommon to see a woman draped in black chatting on a cell phone while shopping, or passing an object of interest under her veil to get a better look at it before she purchases it. At night, they usually have a younger, unveiled companion, like a son or daughter, with them – I imagine it’s to help them navigate the streets in the dark.

The next level seems to be the “trench coat hijab.” These women wear long, loose, yet stylish belted trench coats in blue, tan, or black, and a simple white headscarf. The belts are usually left untied so that the body shape remains hidden. This is one of my favorite styles of hijab – it just looks so classy, all year round. I sometimes tell my husband that if I were Muslim, and if I wore the hijab, I would choose this style.

From there, it’s a descent into a myriad of different levels of hijab observance. The most common seems to be almost normal clothing styles paired with a colored or patterned hijab, except the clothing is usually longer, looser, and higher-collared. Some of the headscarves are absolutely beautiful, and the women are always finding ways of wrapping them creatively. The great thing about this style of hijab is the butt-covering feature of the shirts. I’ve learned from the natives that this can be a very helpful deterrent to male hecklers (don’t ask me why, but it works, somewhat). They pair these shirts with loose trousers or a skirt in a drapey fabric and the effect is very elegant.

There’s also an in-between category of women who wear normal clothes but never a patterned hijab, only pure white. It seems to me that these are generally younger women or teenagers, and you can sometimes see herds of them wandering around together. It makes me wonder if it’s a case of friends choosing to dress alike. In the States, girls might wear the same style of jeans to show solidarity; here, if one girl wears the white hijab, her friends do, too.

It’s pretty rare, but sometimes you’ll see a woman wearing a headscarf paired with a tight shirt and a calf-baring skirt. I’m not sure what exactly is going on here, so I won’t try to explain it. Other times you’ll see a beret or an oversized baseball cap being used as a headscarf, but it usually doesn’t work and ends up looking silly (in my opinion).

But the hijab is more than just a dress code: it’s a method of behavior as well. More about that later.


Ayman said...

Very interesting to read a foreigner's views about very local issues.

Wild West Muslimah said...

As an American Muslim who wears hijab... love your blog. Very cool insight especially how you described the different levels of hijab.

Anonymous said...

I disagree....there is nothing fashionable about the hijab no matter how you look at it....it is nothing more than what it truthfully is......a symbolic indicator of a lack of freedom of expression and a male dominated society.....and there is no beauty in that.

baty said...

To Anonymous: How condescending is that? That you believe that all of these woman, without exception, are so stupid and weak and unresourceful that they are forced to wear the hijab is simply ignorant. Have you ever spoken with a woman who is deeply passionate about Islam, and who is educated?
I was born in Syria, and moved to America and then Canada when I was four. I wear long skirts and longsleeved shirts, with a hijab that covers my hair, neck, and ears. I love it, and in fact begged my mother to allow me to wear one when I was in grade four. She made me wait till I was about to enter grade 6, when I would understand the meaning and importance of the hijab. It is a great source of pride for myself.
The purpose of the hijab is to safegaurd my modesty, and to keep what is precious, me, from people who are not willing to offer respect and responsility in return.
As to the "lack of freedom of expression", what idiocy. How is what colour hijab I choose to wear and in what style any less expressive than hair? Why is it an "expression" when a girl chooses to wear a miniskirt, but a "male dominated society" when a girl chooses to respect herself and wear modest clothes? Which option benifits "male dominance"? It seems to me if the men of a society wanted to demean woman, they would strip them of their dignity and make them wear clothing to satisfy their sexual persuals.
Also, haven't you ever see the difference men exhibit in their behaviour around hijab-clad women and other women? Hijab gains you instant respect, as a reflection of the self-respect it exhibits.

Um Dayo said...

Hello from Egypt! I am an American Muslim here with my husband and children. I just thought I'd let you know that one reason you see the groups of girls with white, unpatterned hijab is that they are most likely students an the plain white hijab is part of the school uniform. At least that's how it is here in Egypt.

Maryam Farrouk said...

Of course u want to be anonymousu as u are racist and uneducatef