The Big Dirty Hijabi Secret

Have you heard of the Hijabi Monologues? I vaguely recall hearing about it some time back, and never bothered to check it out. It’s name is modeled after another live show, and since copy-cats are usually just pale imitations of whatever they’re copying, I didn’t bother reading up about it. Well, today, the LA Times had an article about this show, and had a fairly detailed description of the philosophy and background behind it. The show was conceived by a group of well-intentioned young Muslimahs with the purpose of describing to a live audience the trials and tribulations of women in hijab (and niqab). It mainly deals with the kooky things non-Muslims might say and do when faced a covered up woman.

There exists a huge dirty secret surrounding our communities and the hijab. Pre-9/11, there was a very small group of women covering up. Those who did, generally wore it properly: with loose, modest clothing that matched the idea behind the hijab. Post-9/11, there is a huge group of women who cover up. Except that they really don’t cover up, because they might mix a loose shirt that stops where their jeans start, and the view from there becomes exceedingly repulsive: the tightness of the jeans leave nothing, and I do mean nothing, to the imagination. These are usually the Muslimahs who desperately need Hijab Rehab, and it’s anyone’s guess when they are going to sign up. The sooner the better, because if you’re going to be complaining about how non-Muslims look at you, then you might as well do it right while you’re complaining.

I’ll say, not entirely unfairly, that this show disturbs me. It makes many assumptions about American society, and they are all based on post-9/11 experiences. If you did not wear the hijab before that catastrophic event, you have no idea how accepting Americans really will be of it and of you. We have to realize that the majority of reactions that are negative come from a place of intense fear. As such, they are not necessarily accurate depictions of American society and thinking. In addition to that, they are based on the premise of wearing the hijab for the sake of a) making a political statement; b) making a fashion statement; and/or c) testing how Americans of the non-Muslim persuasion treat us. To me, these are not good enough reasons to don the hijab; alhamdulillah that they have made the step to cover up in the Islamically appropriate way…but the intentions are not purely Islamic. I really do believe that you get back what you put out. One of the girls in the show said,

“I think the thing that surprised me the most was how angry and paranoid it made me: Are they looking at me because? Are they not looking at me because?” said Alhassen, 27, who does not normally wear the hijab. “It really gave me a chip on my shoulder.

And to this I say, “Are you sure the chip landed on your shoulder after their reactions to you? Or did you, in wearing hijab to see how Americans treat you, in fact prejudice your own perceptions of the reactions?” Because, honestly, as a life-long hijabi, I have no chip on my shoulder. I get positive reactions, as well as negative reactions. Both pre and post-911. Your reality is not something I can relate to, except maybe in very insignificant ways which I can’t think of right now.

These Monologues also hide one big, foul secret about being a hijabi/niqabi: there was a time when being a covered Muslim woman in America meant non-covering Muslims would revile us while non-Muslims would accept us with both arms. Not only did they accept us, they also encouraged us. It was not just a few times that I was told, “Don’t ever change how you dress. It’s beautiful! You make America richer.” And I know many hijabis/niqabis who had the same experience. Both my mother and I have had random people approach us requesting us to sit for a painting. This was not done with the intent to exoticize us. It was done for the sake of sincerely seeing the beauty of hijab. (No, we never took them up on it LOL!) And while Americans were busy encouraging us, Muslims were telling us what, you may wonder? They were telling us, “If you want to dress like that, you’ll never make it here. You might as well go back to Africa if you want to be all backward.” And, lest one think this was a problem with just Muslims in America, I might as well disabuse anyone of that notion. Because when we were in Africa, all we’d hear was, “If you want to dress like that, you might as well go back to India, purdah Bibi*.” Did we see negativity from Americans? Of course. But it was relatively infrequent, especially when compared to Muslim-on-Muslim harassment.

Finally, this part, going back a bit to the idea of a chip on the shoulder, really annoyed and baffled me:

That, the creators and performers believe, is the strength of the play: the familiar story lines and problems that allow audiences to connect with the characters as people and not religious figures. In November, at a performance in Chino at LionLike MindState, the monologue “I’m Tired,” performed by Aisha Nouh, 24, resonated with the mostly black audience.

“Do you know what it’s like to represent a billion human beings every day you walk out of your house?” Nouh asked as part of the monologue. “It’s exhausting. . . . I’m tired of wanting to curse but don’t every time some idiot . . . asks me and my friend when we’re standing in line waiting for ice cream, ‘Where ya’ll from?’ And when my friend responds, ‘Miami,’ he says, ‘Listen, don’t [mess] with me.’ “

When someone asks where you’re from, you don’t necessarily know what they are asking about: your ethnic origin or what city you’re from. I’m willing to place bets, though, that they are wanting to know your ethnicity. This is usually a sign of a healthy curiosity. Encourage it, don’t slam it down with a snippy comeback about which city you live in. If the dude wanted to know your address, I’m sure he would have asked, “Where do you live?” I’m presuming he knows English as well you do. Again, this is a question that we’ve been answering as Muslims in America since before 9/11. They don’t mean to be offensive. Believe me, if he wanted to be offensive, he would have just told you, “Why don’t you go back to where you come from if you want dress that way!”

And, as a last bit of commentary to finish off this very long post, I’d just like to advance the notion that rather than merely throwing back America’s insensitivities during this difficult period in our American existence, maybe they could mix in some positivity. Talk also about the beautiful reactions that Americans have demonstrated in solidarity with us. Every coin has two sides, and nobody just likes to hear about how evil they are. Enough of that and they may start wondering, “If we are so bad, what are you still doing among us?”

*derogatory term meaning “curtain lady.” It’s a cuter way of saying towelhead!  Sweet, right?

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15 Responses to The Big Dirty Hijabi Secret

  1. realistic bird says:

    Salaam,

    Interesting, I think if they act as victims they will develop complexes that don’t really need to exist.

  2. dailyislamicthought says:

    interesting post! ‘hijab rehab’ <– LOL! thats too funny! eh but sad.

    • It is sad! I wish I coined that term, but the sister of that great blog is the one who did, mashaAllah. You should check her out for inspiration, if you haven’t already 🙂

      And, please, put a link to your blog in your WP profile so it’s easy for me to find your blog by just clicking on your name 😀 (Not just you, but everyone who reads me here.)

  3. I hate the fact that people within our community treat hijab wearers worse than “outsiders”. In my experience, people used to take an offensive view on hijab wearing women, but society is getting more tolerant as they are being educated over time.

    I think if we cleaned our own minds with regards to the “expectancy” of the hijab, there will be no identity crisis.

    finally – dont even get me started on the Hijab and clothing which complements it issue, it’s just madness sometimes!

    • Yes, we are becoming more tolerant. Yet there is zero recognition of the earlier wrongs, which so smacks of hypocrisy.

      All you can do is cringe at the madness. I feel personally affronted with those violations…so can you imagine how Allah looks upon it?!

  4. Tranquility says:

    Assalaamu ‘alaikum sis,

    Very interesting post! Even though I live in Canada, my experience of both not wearing the hijab to wearing the hijab has been nothing but a good experience.

    I’ve noticed in our community (as an ummah) have to much of a focus on women apparel, to the point that it becomes an obsession. I think it is this focus that some muslim have such a negative view of the hijab and the concept of modesty.

    • Wa ‘Alaykumus Salaam, and welcome to my blog, sis 🙂 I’m glad you’ve had positive experiences on both sides of the issue. And yes, we are rather obsessed with hijab, as well as the lack of it. This might be very well why there is so much negativity surrounding it. Good point!

  5. Sumayah says:

    They had that showing again I think I saw it on facebook. Too bad I had to go back to London and wasn’t able to catch a showing. Thanks for posting.

  6. Sarah says:

    Wow, I’m amazed at how unwilling (or perhaps how incapable) you are to look in the mirror. You rant about these women playing victim, mis-perceiving people’s reactions to them, and making assumptions about others, yet you yourself are trying to pass off your own assumptions as intelligent dialogue. You promote a black and white world where a woman either covers completely or doesn’t cover at all, ignoring the humanity of the women who STRUGGLE (i believe you call it jihad…) and are perhaps not as perfect as you. They don’t need hijab rehab, you need humility rehab…

    Apparently God Himself told you you’re doing a great job enjoining good, but I’m going to tell you something different. Dialogue, progress, and goodness come out of honest dialogue in which people can acknowledge their own shortcomings and challenge their own assumptions just as they do to others. This play, which clearly you didn’t see for yourself (and are therefore basing your post on another writer’s assumptions), is about bringing to light the actual feelings that many hijabis deal with.

    Do all hijabis have chips on their shoulders? No, but does that mean that those who do don’t have the right to discuss or deal with it honestly? Maybe they had experiences that you never had, and so while you can so smugly sit back and claim it’s so wrong to feel a certain way, God knows you might as well if you were put in that situation. You embody the “muslim-on-muslim” harassment you complain about, and I’m willing to bet that it comes from a chip you have on your shoulder that you don’t even realize – that you’re tired of other Muslims picking on you for your way of interpreting modesty. So you turn around and do the same to other Muslims.

    Those who fight monsters must make sure they themselves don’t become one…

    • My world is quite the technicolor world, don’t worry. This post was not talking about the humanity of the women who struggle; it would be incredibly lame for me to talk about a struggle I know nothing about. That is something for those women to do. I can only talk about my struggle, and you don’t have to either like or appreciate what I have to write.

      I do need humility rehab, but that’s neither here nor there. And my post, like the play, was talking about the feelings that many hijabis, namely myself, deal with. There are two sides to every coin–I wrote about my side of the coin. You don’t have like it. You don’t have to appreciate it. And you don’t even have to respect it. But if you’re going to comment on something, at least try to understand it. I don’t recall making a “claim that it’s so wrong to feel a certain way.” And yes I do have a certain chip on my shoulder–I wrote about it at length, and I was phenomenally aware of said chip while doing so. Talking about my chip and where it comes from is not quite the same as launching that chip onto other Muslims, no matter what you might think you know.

      “Those who fight monsters must make sure they themselves don’t become one…” Hmmm. Those who fight monsters must make sure they are really fighting monsters.

  7. Serena says:

    Thank you for deleting my post. It only proves my point even more. Since the last comment you allowed to be published is from March, I can only guess how many other posts you disagreed with that mysteriously disappeared. Way to promote dialogue on your blog… how can you demand that others be more open-minded when you behave this way? How do you sleep at night?

    • Calm down, there. Nothing of yours was deleted, and I don’t even see a comment from Serena anywhere on this post. Unless Sarah and Serena are the same person? The last comment published was in March because that is when people stopped reading it. You’re the first person to come along and post a comment on thsi post, long after I was obviously an extended blogging hiatus. Considering that I blog for free, I figure I can take off when I want and come back when I please. And that explains how I sleep at night.

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