I am afraid to tell my beloved
That I love her;
Loses something when it’s poured out
– Nizar Qabbani
There was this story I remember reading about, I believe by Kierkegaard, in one of the philosophy courses I took in college. I don’t know if I remember it correctly anymore, but I believe my (probably incorrect) memory has made me who I am today so I have never bothered to look it up again. In it, he tells the reader why he decided not to inform the woman he was completely besotted with his feelings for her. He describes how if you love something you should not pursue it, because the initial love you feel is at its apex, and once you get to know the loved object, and see its imperfections it will slowly erode in its magnificent meaningfulness. I don’t interpret him being in an unhealthy state of infatuation, rather he explains how love, unrequited and unknown, is at its purest state. There is no ego. Perhaps, it is at a moment like that in our life where we can understandIbn al-Arabi’s explanation that all creaturely love is derived from divine love:
The Prophet said, “God is beautiful and he loves beauty.”… Hence God is described as one who loves beauty, and he loves the cosmos, because there is nothing more beautiful than the cosmos. At the same time God is beautiful, while beauty is intrinsically lovable. So the whole cosmos loves God. The beauty of God’s handiwork permeates his creation, while the cosmos is the place where he becomes manifest. Therefore the love of the different parts of the cosmos for each other derives from God’s love for himself.
Love, unblemished from other people’s knowledge, undiluted by sins of jealousy or resentment, is perhaps one of the greatest sparks in our lives because it is the closest we can get to our ruh, the purified soul, created by God, that has no veils between us and our Creator. There is something magical maybe divine about being in a state of love, however temporary or long, that makes it so powerful, extraordinary, and never explicable except through poetry. Whether that state be created by the sight of a beautiful landscape, a fascination with philosophy and sciences, or an individual, there are states we pass through in our lives that are Beautiful because of love. And there is knowledge that this state cannot be shared, since it is an experience that you alone will be able to cultivate into something significant in one’s life. Perhaps it is in this state we become the most creative, the most innocent, the most honest; perhaps it is in this state that we are closest to being able to seek the divine whether we realize it or not.
Perhaps this knowledge of its purity explains why love is so terrifying. As an adult, very few things we touch can remain in a state of purity. Holding love, especially unrequited and unknown, in our hearts is like trying to move while balancing a cup filled with water to the brim, where losing even one drop means we have lost it all. Our egos – the jealousy, resentment, hatred – can come in so quickly and unexpectedly to demolish the pathway to our delicate heart, holding us ransom until we transfer our pure state of love to whatever our ego tricks us into thinking is love.
A friend reminded me recently that love is not an exchange. Love does not require romance. Love does not require reciprocation. She reminded me of this as she recognized the inner turmoil I am going through to keep love while fighting off my ego. When it comes to love for an individual, I believe we become enamored by the divine attributes we see in the other, making us want to transform ourselves to hone the same attributes within us and to encourage further spiritual growth in the other. When it becomes even the slightest bit out of place from this pure state, we lose that access to Beauty we held on to so dearly, and our recognition of that loss makes us desperately try to grasp onto anything that we erroneously convince ourselves is love. Further we spiral down into an abyss that only causes our object of affection to distance themselves further and further away from us.
No calamity is there in the world equal to separation: if the souls of men should flow out of their bodies by reason of it-and much more the tears out of their eyes-it were but little to wonder at. A certain philosopher, on hearing a man remark that separation was the brother of death, said, “Nay, but death is the brother of separation”… For my own part death itself would be easier for me to face, than parting from my beloved; and breaking off only brings me sadness and, if it continue, may well provoke me to frenzy.
The combination of separation, unrequited love, and ego is devastating, prolonged can only lead to madness. (Sometimes, I wonder if I am becoming a bit like Majnoon, except with my ego taking over to regularly destroy me with a repeating mental apocalypse so as to keep me away from understanding love as it should be understood.) It is moments like these that the ego needs to be controlled with fierce motivation in order to prevent further separation from other entities in our lives that are loved by us. This is where they say that love takes effort. Love for me is not ferocious in its expression. It is stable and gentle and very delicate. Rather the ferocity comes in attempting to fend off the ego from destroying it.
I remember listening to a lecture by a shaykh where he momentarily took a tangent to describe a case of a young Muslim girl centuries ago that was literally dying from heartbreak, as a demonstration for how most of us do not understand what love is in today’s society. Emotions and inner states of being may have been more sacred and meaningful centuries before, before it became so easy to let our ego take the wheel.When asked by Krista Tippet if humans are less capable of love and commitment in today’s age John O’Donohue, who also believes beauty is a ‘human calling and a defining aspect of God’, replied, “I don’t think we’re less capable at all. I think we’re more unpracticed at it and therefore more desperate for it.” He then proceeded to talk about the necessity of intimate relationships and inner reflections in order to recognize and see true Beauty.
Again, this is where love takes effort. Love requires us time and time again to surrender our ego. To give up all wants. Perhaps this is why never telling someone is better than having them know. Love requires us to do the most difficult thing in order to retain every drop of water in our cup. And we may never expect anything in return. Is that not Beauty?
Or I’m super creepy.
Read this article called Love in the age of Pickup Artists, which makes me think of love in the age of online dating. Where we have things like OKCreepsters, copypastas, and deploying other easy-to-find google-search strategies to help one get across the chessboard. I didn’t know the author was going to delve into Stendhal, an author I loved to read way back when I was 19, and it made me remember a time I believed in his sort of ‘effort of love’/crystallization that seems too idealistic for our age. I like to read a bit on the history and transformation of our understanding of love, and, after reflecting for a bit on this particular article, I kind of agree with certain sentiments in the quote below –
…love is fading fast. Long ago, the world provided much of our eroticism for us, by leaving us few options other than restraint. Now we no longer have Madame de Rênal’s happy home, or Fabrizio’s prison walls, to do us the favor of getting in our way. Were Stendhal to visit us today, this would no doubt be one of his first observations: love has become too easy. Or, rather, love has become too difficult, because sex has become too easy. If you take up love today, then, you take on an extra burden: the burden of creating your own eroticism, of conjuring up walls and limits out of thin air to replace the ones we have lost. You have no choice in the matter. Love was hard enough already; it has only gotten harder. Your love will exhaust you. But it will be worth the trouble. – See more at: http://thepointmag.com/2010/examined-life/love-in-the-age-of-the-pickup-artist
Last night, I ‘ghosted‘ out of an event and no one noticed.
Originally I hated that term and posted this thought on facebook (blockquoting myself so it segregates properly) –
Going to the argument made towards the end, if I were at a family gathering and I ghosted that would be incredibly rude, since my presence is important to them and I say goodbye as acknowledgement that they are important to me. If I were at an event with only my closest friends and I ghosted that would still be rude. If I were at an event with my closest friends + x, where x is an arbitrarily small number of people, and ghosted still rude.
Event = closest friends + x + y, where y is an arbitrarily small # of ppl = still rude
Event = closest friends + x +y +z where z is an arbitrarily small # of ppl = still rude
Eventually event = n, which is the summation of the total number of people necessary to be defined as a ‘party,’ where apparently no one really cares for my presence at this event, and, as a guest of this event, I apparently don’t care for anyone else’s presence, then why am I at this event?
But now I see this term a little differently.
It’s truly humbly to be living in an environment that for the first time no one cares about your presence. I can say anything to almost anyone and they won’t remember it the next day, maybe not even the next hour. I think ghosting even means that there is a type of people who enjoy going to events, but it doesn’t matter with who, it’s the experience that is of primary importance. The acceptance of ghosting here in a big city has flipped the entire model of how I am used to operating in society, and perhaps is the key to why transitioning into this urban environment has been so difficult.
The ability to ghost provides a greater level of freedom in a way. As a Muslim woman, I’m used to having every action scrutinized (and generally brought to negative light). Here, freedom seems to be defined as doing what you desire as long as it harms no one else. No one cares unless you do something harmful. As a result, I can do almost anything with almost anyone at almost anytime. I’m not used to this level of freedom, I have yet to take advantage of it, but it’s easy to see how others have taken it to accomplish goals they would otherwise not have been able to elsewhere.
It also means that the etiquette here is different as well. In a small town, it would be rude to leave an event without saying goodbye, to at least your close friends, since consideration there is giving people your time. Saying goodbye in a way acknowledges their presence at the event. You show them that they are important enough in your life to have their presence recognized, and to not leave without at least a greeting. Here, where everyone in a subconscious way humbly acknowledges their lack of importance in each other’s lives, perhaps it is more polite to save people time.
The urban life definitely lives up to its stereotype of promoting individualism over a communal environment. I can keep reading a lot of articles on how this is dangerous for one’s mental health as it induces loneliness and substantially decreases empathy, or I can figure out a way to take advantage of this – take my time here to define and pursue my own aspirations.
Ghosting is the term that I’ve been looking for to define my experience here in NYC, that differs so greatly from life as a small town girl.
I do have many unanswered questions though
- Is it possible to develop meaningful relationships here? If no one wants you to care for them, then how do you develop love?
- Is it possible to find meaning – something so easy to do in a small town environment, and seemingly impossible here?
- If no one cares, how do you express emotions in a healthy manner – the positive, the negative, the in-between?
- Is charm more important than love here? I’m not used to this either.
- How do I properly define consideration in an urban environment? – I still think I’m at the tip of the iceburg here.
- And a question that’s still amorphous and forming in my head – why does one go about caring for the larger causes here, but not for the individual? It seems paradoxical, since the individual is of importance here, but there seems to be a trickle-down theory going about with solving the big solutions that will eventually reach the individual. Idk, just leaving this here so I can come back to it and turn it into something that makes sense later..
- I have a ton more but it’s past my writing time.
I’ve been meaning to write a few posts, but I’m waiting for the right thoughts in my mind to coalesce:
- Good Hijabi vs. BadAss Hijabi
- The problem with this dichotomy. Why is the term badass reserved for Muslim women who do things that Muslimahs are traditionally believed not supposed to do? This article sums up my theory really well on why we shouldn’t call any woman badass. On a much more personal thought, why are ‘good hijabis’ expected to be boring women who constantly react to every sentence with a SubhanAllah?
- A non-serious post on the difficulty of finding romance as a hijabi, based on friends (and maybe personal, haha, yeah right) experiences on being hijabzoned — I.e. being brushed aside in the undesirable “hijabi” or “too modest” category without being given a chance to express one’s individuality. You know you’re hijabzoned when he treats you differently than non-hijabis, with what he thinks is giving you more respect or, worse, when they come to you expecting you to validate their imaan (‘I prayed five times today!’).
- Hijab and Space II
- Entirely on encroaching on public space as an American, Muslim, and Individual… yes, encroaching.
- Or instead of writing anything, just post this paper that is one of the awesom-ist papers I’ve read on the subject.
- Hijab and Beauty
- Understanding the role of hijab in society. If the hijab’s purpose is to primarily be a method to control gender relations, then where does beauty stand in this? Are we really hiding our beauty by hiding our hair? Can beauty be more than physical appearance?
- Probably would end up similar to this blog post
- Hijab and Men
- Hijab and Innocence II
- A follow-up that attempts to answer the unanswered questions left in part I.
Anyway, this Thanksgiving break was the first time I ran into many members of my home community in a state of hijablessness. The feeling of normalcy that had been gained during my months of Penn was replaced with some embarrassment, guilt, and a little anxiety. There was an odd sense of shame that came with showing my hair in a room of people, who all had their hair exposed, because they have known me since a child as a hijabi. I haven’t made a decision yet on the hijab, and I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. I’ve worn the hijab for over a decade, it’s kind of difficult to make a decision within a few months time.
Someone I know, who also at some point in time experimented with the hijab, perfectly sums up how I feel with hijab experimentation:
In terms of hijab, I really, really like being without it. And I kind of hate that feeling. But it feels like now all my actions don’t represent anything. They represent only me. Part of the reason I took it off was because I was beginning to feel strangled by metaphors. Like people (parents, friends, strangers) were seeing or hearing one thing and it would mean something bigger than it actually was. And not just regarding the hijab, but a lot of other little things too. So taking it off was just a small step of being free of that feeling…. Unveiling is not inherently liberating but perhaps the meanings I, myself, had attached to the veil have now disappeared.
I did have a discussion with my Imam on the hijab and what it means in modern day society. I don’t want to share his words since they were meant for me personally, but knowing that I have a community available to me that has been supportive and not judgmental (I know from stories from friends that it’s quite common to be harassed for taking off the hijab) about it has been a great blessing. It is one of the things I recognized as something to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.
Warning: This makes no sense. Slightly emotionally charged AND super awkward.
Note 2: This is a very individualized post and may not relate to too many people.
Women are native to Paradise: is this not the most underestimated disclosure of the Book?
Today, the above quote popped up in my life and it made me think about hijab and innocence (and sexuality?). If I’m correct in that he’s speaking about hoors, I see the quote as recognition of the importance of women’s spirituality and maybe implying that women too have the right to be seen as sexual beings. (Side note – Besides hoors, we also have the story of Zuleikha in the Qur’an, who, interestingly enough her attraction to the beauty of Yusuf (AS) is seen by Rumi as really a spiritual desire to find God).
In contrast to this (I can’t phrase this correctly), depictions of hijab today involve describing women as diamonds that need to be protected or lollipops that men are able to respect. Recently, I read a study conducted that attempted to determine the relationship between hijab and sexuality, which concluded that hijabis are held to an idealized understanding of femininity as well as are seen as those who trounce sexual objectification with their rejection of Western-oxcitiy. Rather than being in control of their sexuality, it’s almost as if hijabis are responsible for taming others. Hijabis seem to be held to an ideal standard where women are expected to be at this fantasized level of innocence and purity, and this brought about another question that I have on my list of questions I’m trying to answer:
- Is the hijab and modern conceptions of individualism incompatible?
In an awkward transition, all this comes back to labels that I’ve been given throughout my hijabi life – innocent, modest, cute, naive, etc. Ask my family and they’d disagree with all of these labels. However, when I won a game of Cards Against Humanity, played with friends, it was photographed to be displayed as a complete aberration to my seemingly ossified character.
Being a hijabi is difficult.
We’re the permanent virgin in the virgin/whore dichotomy. Without my hijab I feel as if I am permitted to express myself without fear of contaminating this image that every type of person, Muslim or member of other faith, holds against Muslimahs. Expressing my thoughts on something that is antithetical to my supposed innocent character is always shocking to people. Certainly there are a plethora of hijabis who regularly challenge these stereotypes, but, in my personal experience, there is this great fear of saying something that would violate the delicate and fragile symbol that the hijab holds for so many people (Also I already have a mental note to write a post on the ‘good hijabi vs. badass hijabi dichotomy’ that I’m not a fan of)
This week I posted a photo of myself at Times Square that garnered a lot of attention perhaps due to my expressive gait, and I had no understanding of how to react to this. I started to doubt myself. The night I took that picture people came up to me and asked if they could take a photo of me. I initially assumed it was because I was wearing shalwar kameez and it looked exotic, but after seeing the reaction from people both in offline and online life I’m starting to believe it may have been due more to my exotic appearance as a whole. It’s as if people have started to assume I’m going through some bizarre Muslim version of Edna Pontellier’s Awakening. Suddenly, hijablessness has transformed my intransigent character to one that can assume more than innocence, and I have no idea how to react.
Looking at sources in the Qur’an and hadith (if you’re into hadith), In complete opposition to the innocent hijabi character, we have hoors. [Q: Is innocence the only way to heaven?] But besides that we have a queen, thinkers, warriors, and much more. We have women who are modest, but also women who stood up for themselves, women who stood up for their society, women who worked for what they believed in, women who would feel comfortable enough to ask the Prophet questions about the fiqh of sex, etc.. Basically, women who were individuals, who were more than a hijab (if they wore one).
Our tradition celebrates the diversity of various women’s thoughts and actions. Yet, in modern day society, I feel that hijabis are stereotyped as this singular character in communities, required to sacrifice her individuality in order be a paragon of Modesty. And I think as a result my new goal with this experiment is to prove this thought wrong. To prove that I can assert some level of individuality without feeling pressured into being this person that I am not, without having to be labeled ‘badass’ if I refuse to be the modest hijabi (Personally think the term ‘badass hijabi’ can be just as bad as being the stereotypical modest hijabi, since now women are forced to hide their vulnerabilities so as to be constantly ‘badass’.)
Random thoughts for Post #2:
– Isn’t it odd that women in paradise are recognized all over Islamic literature as sexual beings, but Muslimahs find it difficult to even have a single discussion on sex?– I recently posted on MWIH a few papers on Islam and sexuality, and most of the reaction from Muslim women was a mixture of relief and surprise since they felt that these are conversations that people are too afraid to have. Is this another thing to blame on culture?
– Are we (the non-scholars) understanding Islamic modesty wrong?
– How to become more grounded in an aspect of faith that is so public and to make it about a relationship with God, rather than other’s perceptions — is that possible — to make physical appearance solely a dedication to God?
– Is the hijab supposed to be tied directly to sexuality? Do we wear the hijab in reaction to men?
– Trying to find an overarching theme that involves more thinking rather than telling my personal story… right now my thoughts on this are too hazy to write something clear.
After reading a few books on the unreliability of hadith, having a long conversation on lack of authenticity of hadith, and interacting with many Quranists, I thought it might be time to make a list of some resources that discuss hadith that generally defend hadith. Not saying that I have strong convictions in defense of hadith, but being that the introduction to the lack of authenticity of hadith brought about an internal religious meltdown in undergrad, I thought it might be time to find things that permit a sense of balance.
To be updated.
- Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence M.H Kamali (Chapter on Hadith)
- Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern Jonathan Brown (have yet to read)
- Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought David Brown (not really a defense, but a must read)
- An Introduction to Hadith Jonathan Brown
- Hadith on Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medival and Modern Jonathan Brown (lecture)
Written a few years ago
I generally try to read one ayat a day to give myself time to reflect upon it. I haven’t gotten too far in the Qur’an with this process, so the ayat I read today is from the beginning of Surutul Baqara:
And be steadfast in prayer; practice regular charity; and bow down your heads with those who bow down. 2:43
Immediately upon reading this ayat I thought of the many lectures or khutbas I have attended on this subject on maintaining khushoo in prayer. The thought of ensuring that prayer is one that is made with attentiveness and spirituality has been inculcated into our minds since the very beginning of our religious education, and yet salah is nothing more than a perfunctory task for most of us. We can’t always perform salah with people who are God-conscious, to assist us with our own khushoo, right? I came up with a general reflection on this ayat, and thought that was all I was going to receive from it.
I began writing this essay in my mind while in class (and being that it’s been 12 hours since I was in class, this current blog post is not up to par with my original thoughts), as I started to think about what is considered the ideal goal in our society. We favor and strive to become the people who speak eloquently, the people who can purchase impressive items, or the people who know the names of things/ideas/processes. However, if we were to pray with those people, those people who we specifically and primarily attribute these qualities to, they surely would not be the ones who have attained the status of the Ar Raki’ûn mentioned in this ayat. They, therefore, would not be the ones that we are told to bow down with (this is in no way implying that we should pick and choose who we are going to pray salah with, just wondering who it is that would most likely help us in obtaining better humility, concentration in salah.) So who could it be?
At that moment an image of my father popped up in my head. And as a result of the many ephemeral realizations of seeing the importance of something we regularly take for granted, I knew I had to write a blog post about this. A reminder of the greatness and blessings of having a good family. My father, a highly educated man, but one who has an illuminating sense of humility and docility. I’m using the word docile, a typically negative word, but in a way that Shaykh Hamza Yusuf mentioned in a recent lecture I listened to. Docile in the sense that one is teachable, a positive word. Docile as in the complete opposite of one who becomes arrogant once they learn, utilizes information in pedantic manners. Docile as in something far from the ideal that society generally strives for.
Just recently I spoke to him about a fact I learned today about Malcolm X, and his expression of curiosity and amazement was the same that I see every time I mention any interesting thought to him. My father, a person who I would never doubt any fact he presents to me due to his own intelligence, finds even the smallest thought a person has as important and fascinating.
Lord, fill a Muslim’s heart
With a desire so fervent
That it will set his heart aflame
And stir his soul.
– Muhammad Iqbal (at least the Internet says so)
I remember a few years ago reading Yasmin Mogahed’s piece on being against “western” interpretations of feminism and how leading prayer isn’t a sign of equality but rather a hidden desire to be like men, and disliking it very much. And then Sana Saeed’s piece, which primarily focused on criticizing frameworks of Progressive Islam, but she did spend a bit of time saying that the question is not about a radical reinterpretation of Islam but really about space,
[T]he problem is about how we frame our discussion on equality. The problem is not about where women pray in relation to men, but rather what this position says about their space in the community. Space speaks – space has meaning not in and of itself but because it is given meaning by those who create it and those who inhabit it. The space created for Muslim women in the masajid of North America says more about their position in the community in terms of religious engagement than about a centuries old, outdated position of prayer. Praying next to each other or having a female Imam lead a mixed-sex congregation doesn’t, still, get at the root cause of the problem. It takes a rather stark and “radical” action and imposes it immediately, without allowing for natural evolution. Spatial restructuring requires mentality restructuring. Change the position of these women in their community and then you will create changes in space. This is how it is done organically as opposed to through sensationalism.
Then there’s that Sh. Hamza Yusuf sound clip that revolves around every few months and no one does anything about it after that.
And now there’s this viral Ali Gomaa article, ” if the Americans agree and feel satisfied with adopting the legal opinion which permit women to lead men in prayer then it is their own preference but we don’t issue such fatwa in our country because it goes directly against our cultural heritage which was established for centuries. The ultimate aim for any jurist is to look out for the interest of his people without contradicting a juristic consensus.”
All this brings me full circle back to a list of questions I drew up a while back before starting the hijab experiment. If we were to step back a little further from the women leading prayer topic and discuss gender and space in the context of religion two of my questions that I’m still trying to figure out are
- How does the hijab shape public/private space, and how does that affect our roles?
- Is the hijab a community obligation?
My main problem with Yasmin Mogahed’s article is her definition of Western feminism. Although I agree that I find certain aspects of Western understandings of feminism quite problematic and excluding, I don’t see her interpretation to be correct. She argues that Western feminism has adopted the framework of women imitating men, and that shouldn’t be the goal of women. To me, the goal of “Western” feminism is to give both men and women greater access to public and private space. This means that women should be able to have better access to the public sphere, where traditionally they are meant to be in the private, and men should be able to have greater access to the private sphere (greater paternal rights, emotional validation, etc.), where traditionally they are meant to focus on the public.
Among Islamic conversations, this form of feminism is validated through the hijab. There is a popular argument about how women who wear hijab can fully participate in society, as men will be able to respect them more. I remember learning as a child stories about how women during the Prophet’s time were harassed and the hijab was brought about as an identifier of their religion, and, as such, members of a larger community that will come to their defense if they were harassed. This sort of thinking has led me to believe the hijab is a form of spatial division (in the context of the Qur’an, the word ‘hijab’ is used to discuss spatial division but does not refer to women’s clothing as it literally means ‘curtain’). The hijab, in theory, should give women greater access to the public sphere, and, in theory, the state of hijablessness is a state meant for privacy. It’s a physical marker of mental spatial division.
But that’s not really true. Women who wear the hijab are still harassed by men. Are the cases of women being harassed by men simply exceptions to the rule? Many Muslims seem to agree that they are exceptions, but that doesn’t explain the high level of sexual assault in Muslim countries that women have to face. Could it possibly be that the high levels of sexual assault we see in these regions is related to the idea disseminated through this argument of the purpose of hijab — that men are unable to control themselves, and it’s somehow women’s responsibility to quell men’s sexual desires? If the answer is yes, then that does indeed make hijab not an individual choice, but a community obligation. [This argument also leaves greater room for victim blaming as it seems to say that women who choose not to defend themselves with their clothes are deserving of sexual assault.]
A second question that comes about from this argument, is that if hijab is the solution to interaction in the public sphere why are gender roles still one of the most confusing topic for young practicing Muslims? (I follow this blog of this young imam that takes questions from teenage Muslims, and half of the questions are on the topic of proper gender interaction) In a recent article Haroon Moghul wrote about the Muslim marriage problem a young man asked, “Can I ask a woman in a headscarf for her phone number?” Is this being asked because the topic of marriage belongs in the private sphere category and such a question interferes with the public/private division? Why are/should women be less approachable because of their hijab?
In my personal experience with the state of hijab and hijablessness, I’ve noticed that I get less attention when not wearing the hijab (which was initially surprising to me since I had a ridiculous belief about how the hijab relates to beauty — but that’s for another post). In fact, I feel I have received a greater amount of respect with my inconspicuousness, primarily due to the lack of attention I receive. I’ll just say that a friend once told me that I ‘attract [strangers who are] creepers,’ and without the hijab I no longer get that attention.
So going back to the Ali Gomaa article, where he states that the argument of whether or not women should lead prayers should consider cultural understandings, we could take into account about how here in America at least women’s participation in society is generally not affected by physical appearance. [Ok, that is a total lie but believe me for a second specifically in regards to the state of hijab or hijablessness and not the pressures of beauty placed on men and women (hijab and modesty — for another post).] As such, does that mean that we don’t necessarily need to make this physical division of space? This is where I get stuck since I think that I’m mixing too many thoughts in one idea and I lose my ability to explain things….
Anyway, basic conclusion that everyone already agrees with, clothing choices should not determine the level of respect a person receives nor should it determine their access to society. Is this reason enough to permanently take off the hijab – for right now, no.
A feeling of connectedness to home, spiritually speaking, would appear to make sense as a reason for wearing the veil and subsequently make it all the more dreadful to those seeking to police an othered citizenry. The veil constitutes a marker of divinely ordained and radically differentiated space, which is collapsed through the premise that one is always under God’s law from the ultra-orthodox Islamic perspective, but it is also the case that the veil actually can and might be liberating for those seeking spiritual solace in police states, both literally and figuratively. Coupled with the fact that the veil does not have to be worn inside the space of one’s home, it becomes evident that the symbolic value and meaning of the veil is an affirmation of the radical division of space requisite to Allah’s law, which is itself an interpretation as the Koran offers little guidance as to how women are to dress in public space aside from the injunction in Sura 4 to cover their “ornaments” and to dress “modestly.” The varieties of hijab derive primarily from the Hadith, an extensive collection of secondary writings attributed primarly to the prophet Muhammed and his followers, which actually challenges the clear distinction between the sacred and the profane evident within fundamentalist Islamic theologies. In other words, the diagnosis for hijab is Koranic, but the prescription derives from other sources, which thwarts any attempt to locate various forms of hijab as divinely ordained or, at the very least, Koranically-based. However, the radical division between the sacred and the profane within Islamic theology, which is shared amongst the foundational narratives of all Abrahamic traditions, is precisely what the veil is meant to overcome from the insider’s perspective, even if the veil differs according to the spatiality of its cultural capital, which is only part of the issue at stake in the French veil ban. Summarizing the findings from a qualitative analysis of veil-wearers in contemporary France, Hussain notes, “[…] in most cases, the women interviewed said they adopted the full-face veil as part of a spiritual journey. Many desired to deepen their relationship with God and draw on the actions of the Prophet Mohammed’s wives for guidance. They recalled their feelings of extreme joy and well-being on the first day of wearing a niqab/seetar.”(31) Building on this sentiment, Afshar’s work comments on the relational tensions brought about by the veil for women wearing it in non-Muslim countries and for converts. She observes:
For Muslim converts the decision to wear hijab in the West is a public political assertion of the right to belong to the community of Muslims, but, particularly for convert women, it is not a rejection of home and hearth and kinship relations with their non-Muslim families and parents. Within liberal democratic states and feminist contexts their decision to wear the hijab is a matter of faith and identity and a political act of solidarity, but not one that alienates them from their kin and communities.(32)
The multiple allegiances that Afshar maintains are critical for making sense of the veil-wearer’s sense of self are exactly what have drawn such sharp theological and political attacks from all sides, even if the purported intent of the veil-wearer is spiritual, and it is problematic to divorce the cultural capital invested within its varieties. On the other hand, critics remain skeptical of the collusion between politics and religion that are embedded within the veil and see such spiritual justifications as a sign of the institutional interpellation that is a necessary component of a totalizing Islamic identity, which is also seen as transforming public space into a theo-national space—one where women are inhrently second-class citizens. Arguing against the theological homogenization of identity, Berger contends that “the contemporary use of the hijab seems to ignore or negate sexual difference in the theological order by helping to define and assert a single, overarching Islamic identity, while at the same time firmly establishing women’s specific role in the process: it is as though the particular invisibility of the hijabwearers enabled Islam to stand: in their place.”(33) Berger’s combative assault on the ideology underlying the veil alludes to Žižek’s take on the veil within ultra-orthodox Islamic theology while raising the fundamental question at the heart of the veil debate: have the particularities of female identity been thrown out with the veiled bathwater of having one’s identity always-already mediated within the (public) space of Islam? How might these contending perspectives be reconciled?