Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Hijab Envy - Part 2

Not only do hijab-clad women look classy, they also act in a sophisticated manner. Last summer, Jeremy and I went to a Kazim as-Saher concert in Lattakia. It was the end of August – peak season for hanging out at the beach and swimming in the Mediterranean. The concert took place in the evening, but it was still very hot and humid. A lot of the women in attendance looked like they had come in from Lebanon – at least, they were almost certainly not from Syria. Tight, revealing tank tops and short skirts were everywhere, along with overdone makeup, garish gold jewelry, and extreme hairstyles. Yes, these women were technically beautiful, but in such a worldly and ostentatious way. About halfway through the concert, several women came in and took their seats in front of us. They were all wearing the hijab. I couldn’t help but compare them and their sophisticated appearance to the more scantily clad ladies around us. Amount of exposed skin notwithstanding, the hijab ladies were definitely more attractive and seemed more composed, mature, and graceful as a result.

Hijab women, if they smoke at all, never smoke in public. They’re long-suffering in summer: just when your instinct is to wear as little clothing as possible, they’re still layering it on, committed to their promise. And they always outsmart us non-hijab ladies when visiting famous mosques (like Omayyad or Seida Zeinab). While I have to shroud myself in a raggity old black sheet handed out by the guy at the gate, they walk in serenely, already appropriately dressed for the occasion. The whole time we’re in the courtyard or prayer room, I’m constantly worrying that my hood will slip back or that too much of my arm is sticking out of the sleeve. Meanwhile, they’re busy enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.

Veiled women are careful to be discreet and avoid unnecessary contact with unknown males. That’s why you’ll often see three or four hijab-clad women packed into the back of a taxi so that nobody has to sit in the front seat next to the driver. Other times, they have a younger, unveiled sister sit up front, or even a small child. On services and buses, men are conscientious enough to shuffle the seating arrangement to allow veiled women to sit alone or next to other women, and not have to share a bench with an unknown man. Sometimes the driver will even call out instructions from the front, orchestrating the arrangements so that there’s an acceptable seat available for a waiting hijab woman. As an unveiled woman, I am not always extended the same courtesy. The hijab also offers protection from shabaab, the young men who love to hassle women on the streets by catcalling and making kissy noises. I’ve never seen a hijab woman get tough-guyed walking across the President’s Bridge, or whistled at when she passes a group of idle security guards.

Women who wear the hijab are good moms, students, and sisters, or so I’ve observed from watching TV. The moms in commercials who send their kids off to school with a good lunch, tidy the house, go to work, and still have dinner ready in the evenings always wear the veil. And their children are always well behaved. I’m always telling my husband that when we have kids, I need to be like a hijab-mom. Once I saw a commercial where an unveiled woman complained of being tired and run-down all the time. Who did she turn to for advice but her hijab-clad neighbor? We unveiled women are usually relegated to superficial roles in cosmetics or perfume commercials.

The hijab simply allows a woman’s inner beauty to be obvious to all. When you interact with them, you realize that you’re dealing with a real person, not a certain brand of clothing or a certain level of wealth or status or attention to personal appearance. We in the western world can learn a lot from these women who don’t show a lot of – or any – skin, yet still manage to be excellent, upstanding examples of beautiful, feminine, extremely capable women.


Catherine said...

The women who ware short skirts and things like that could very well be Syrian!..Not all women ware hijab in Syria..A lot don't! And on parties they ware "sexy" cloth, short skirts, low cut sweaters etc...

Anonymous said...

It is a full culture with dress code, ethics and social ills. You may have seen the bright side, to your information there are prostitutes, criminals and bad mothers inside this group. The one important thing you missed in this post, is that some types of dresses are useless and unsuitable for nowadays life. A lot of these dresses were pretty good for middle ages. Actually, if you go the suburbs you will find more colorful beautiful dresses, and unfortunately they are disappearing in front of those new dresses.
But, I find your discoveries of the positive elements in Hijab are refreshing.

Syrian in London said...

Dear Bridget
Thank you for your fair view of the Hijab in Syria, sometimes someone observing from the outside have a more relaxed balanced view compared the people within the society especially a society where you can see both extremes side by side.
Great writing.

Anonymous said...

"Hijab women, if they smoke at all, never smoke in public"
......Hmmmm I;ve seen plenty

Zac said...

I like your posts and views. Thank you for writing.

Do you see the TV portrayal of hajib vs non-hajib wearing women as theocratic propaganda?

Do you see any connection to 1960s feminist activities; bra-burning and the like? The hajib wearers are conservative, and will make themselves uncomfortable in order to meet tradition's demands.

As your post with the graphic about hajibs shows, there are a variety of ways to wear the hajib and each may indicate differing social standing. Brand names are not at issue, but styles of dress and taste are. How does a hajib differ from any other external item?

Thank you again for writing!

Karmela said...

I went to syria mmm several months ago (about may), and I really fell in love with its culture, im from mexico, and i started dating a syrian muslim man, I told myself, that if it wasnt for my parents (im really closed to them) I would stayed there with him =(

I have been reading a lot about hijab, muslim women, etc. and its fascinating for me

and I totally agree with you, I think hijab women look very classy

Rida said...

Love your blog! So refreshing and insightful...

dinavienna said...

"The hijab also offers protection from shabaab, the young men who love to hassle women on the streets by catcalling and making kissy noises. I’ve never seen a hijab woman get tough-guyed walking across the President’s Bridge, or whistled at when she passes a group of idle security guards."

You are praising hijab for something it CREATED.
Men in the Middle East and in Muslim communities elsewhere are socialized to respect veiled women. Hassling and harassing unveiled women is the back of the coin of respecting only covered females.

Being brought up with the mindset "men have a hard time controlling themselves, women need protection from men, besides covered women show they are decent (implying the other ones do not)" ENCOURAGES the behavior you describe.
The Quranic verse interpreted as the obligation to wear hijab was revealed at a time women were being harassed and even raped by men when they went out of the protection of their settlement to well do things humans have to do and can't do in their house without a bathroom.
The verse literally says "decent" or "respectable" women should pull the cloth over themselves to be "recognized as chaste women".
Implying: the others are not chaste. This view is detrimental to women, as is any whore/saint dichotomy.

And to praise hijab for a harassment of non hijabi women it supports, condones, and solidifies is astonishing.

mohd said...

Great writing

Thank you for your fair view of the Hijab