Hijab and Innocence (Part I)
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.