The infinite varieties of hijab

Doing a web search, I came across an entertaining cartoon drawn by Syrian cartoonist Puppeteer cataloging the many styles of hijab out there. Its focus is on Syria, but aside from the Kubeisya it seems pretty universal to me. And every community has its well-meaning but unnerving glarers who more or less share the aesthetic (if not the trademark coat…or the cartoon’s unibrow). [HT:  My Adventures in Syria]

Brilliant and wonderfully playful.  I especially like the “ninja”, who’s ready to pounce.  And that Indonesian maid bit is biting but painfully familiar social commentary.


Varieties of Hijab in Syria

  • UmmZaid

    Salaam ‘Alaikum
    It’s cute but there’s something about it, something I can’t put into words, that I find vaguely insulting about it. If I knew what it was, I’d say it, but it’s not something I can verbalize.

  • svend

    Salaams, Um Zaid
    I’m sorry if it offended you.
    The humor I enjoy the most tends to be edgy and provocative. It derives its power from making a point that will inevitably rub some the wrong way. The best humor, IMO, tends to preach to one’s “choir”. And humor is obviously also in the eye of the beholder–what one person finds uproariously funny another finds trite or even nasty.
    I can see how some might feel slighted by the digs at the Qubeisya, seeing them a stand-in for all conservative/traditionally observant (however you want to put it) Muslimahs. Which is why I appreciate the inclusion of the Abou Nour character, showing that this wasn’t simply a slap in the face of traditionalists. She’s commenting on a socio-cultural dynamic that one encounters in Muslim communities the world over.
    And fairly, in my opinion–some Muslims do carry themselves in public with a stern, intimidating demeanor that can make the community a cold place (and which I do not think is anyway encouraged, much less required by, the Sunnah). I think that’s a legitimate concern to raise in a constructive manner.
    Most importantly, I think the cartoon was by no means lacking in affection for the women portrayed.
    But enough of this. There’s nothing more deadly for humor than analysis.

  • ‘EF’

    “…some Muslims do carry themselves in public with a stern, intimidating demeanor that can make the community a cold place (and which I do not think is anyway encouraged, much less required by, the Sunnah). I think that’s a legitimate concern to raise in a constructive manner.”
    In the cyber world I can pick and choose which sisters to befriend…and I would only be able to befriend the friendly ones. In RL (real life) I have been scared out of my boots by the stern, intimidating demeanors of some sisters I see on the street…I also get it from the scandinavians for being in hijab at all (and probably because I am an ‘obvious’ convert) and from the ummah for probably tying my hijab scarf ‘all wrong’ and looking like a ‘wannabe’. Talk about between the devil and the deep blue sea.
    Many’s the time I’ve espied a muslim sister in the street and thrown a big smile getting ready to utter my practised ‘assalamu alaikum søster!’ only to be looked at like I have done something really really wrong and am about to snatch someones handbag. Just where do I fit in? Oh. With Allah. That’s right. So long as I don’t lie to myself. Am I any less a muslim if my hijab is not acceptable to all? I have given up now and am tired of looking like a wannabe Arab…(we have that here)…I am in hijab of my own style..and which muslim sister is not? I have yet to see two muslim sisters interpreting hijab in exactly the same way…there is always individuality even if is subtle.
    I was curious about this ‘cartoon’ because for a long time now I have wanted to see something that presents all the different styles of hijab (and being a muslim woman in public) on one page. I am very curious since the argument rages on in all muslim circles about the ‘right’ way to hijab (and hijab is more than clothes right??). Isn’t mastering the other (non cloth related) aspects of hijab (demeanor and vibes put out) the greater jihad?
    I resent the fact that I am judged for the fact that sometimes a square centimetre of my neck is sometimes showing…when in fact I am swathed in so many layers of voluminous fabric, including a head scarf, that I cannot be in anything other than hijab, appearance wise. But not..due to the square inch of neck? I need to breathe for personal reasons. (LOL). Not a laughing matter though (can feel stern intimidating glares). It is worth exploring ad infinitum our attitudes to how we carry ourselves…even if this does destroy the humor.

  • svend

    Salaams, EF, and thank you so much for sharing these heartfelt, articulate and profound observations “from the trenches”. The most eloquent and convincing arguments are the testimony of real life experiences of those most affected by the issue at hand.
    My mother, God rest her soul, was a Danish convert who loneliness in the US was sometimes worsened by needlessly uptight imported “Islamic” cultural norms at Islamic community fora.
    There is something profoundly unfair, unhealthy and very “Victorian” about the way Muslim women are often mercilessly judged by the little details of their dress.
    I can sort of relate to your point about needing to be comfortable, Muslim sensibilities be damned if need be. My wife is very susceptible to heat and uncomfortable in a lot of the heavy clothing expected of Muslimahs in many traditional Islamic cultures. She always dresses modestly, but realizes that modesty sometimes must be understood relative to circumstance as opposed to treated like an unchanging absolute. We live in a particularly hot place now (Georgia), so striking a balance isn’t easy. And the one-size-fits-all approach that many Muslims unsconsciously apply doesn’t help. Not all women can physically handle wearing a dark abeya-type outfit with an airtight hijab and it’s not right for the community to penalize them for deviating a bit from this demanding model.
    Your point about the literally infinite numbers of styles of hijab that are out there is so true. I’m constantly amazed by all the different ways hijab can be and is worn. (Not to mention how some “fully covered” women push the envelope of modesty in other ways.)
    Getting back to the cartoon, I understand that people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and don’t want to berate people for not being outgoing, or for having a different cultural background from mine. At the same time, I think there needs to be some kind of dialogue about these sorts of issues. And humor is sometimes the most powerful way to convey complex arguments about social life.

  • svend

    Forgot to mention that I agree 100% with your point about hijab being about behavior more than dress. This is a point I argued here

  • Someone

    Do you ever now how Malaysian using jilbab??
    Try to find out, it’s very strange…stranger than the sexy jilbab..

  • djinnzfree

    hijab is wrong.

  • Mike DeBurgh

    At an Eid al Fitre celebration I once saw a young woman wearing an outfit that covered everything except face and hands, yet was one of the most provocatively sexy women I’ve ever seen.
    I think the cartoons are a wonderful commentary, and doesn’t all humor prick somebody’s balloon? I learned when I was a young boy that for something to be funny somebody or something is hurt. I’ve not yet found any exceptions…

  • renan

    This kinda of cute and painful. I’m an indonesian, but I’m not a Muslim. I enjoy those styles of hijab, coz I can find those styles in Indonesia as well. Sometimes they even wearing hijab with short t-shirt.
    I’m quiet disturbed with that Indonesian maid character. But, the funny part is, that’s how Indonesian maid in Indonesia looks like, too. Hehehhe, this is really Indonesian typical maid, I think.
    This make me realize that there are so many Indonesian workers in foreign countries, such as Egypt, Syria, Turkey, etc.
    thanks for your post, this is truly a high quality reflection for my nation, they will understand how others see them, and good for self development :D

  • svend

    Hi Renan, walaikum assalaam.
    Thanks for the comment. Your comment about the incongruous mix of hijab and a t-shirt reminds me of the anecdotes I’ve heard to the effect that in Indonesia and Malaysia hijab is not as reliable an indicator of religious conservativism as elsewhere. I’ve heard that it’s not unheard of for people dating (in the Western sense) to be doing so in hijab without much concern about there being a clash with religious principles, perhaps because hijab serves a secular purpose as an ethnic marker (and, thus, is worn by women who might otherwise not be inclined to dress “religiously”). It makes sense–if you need to wear hijab to avoid being confused with another ethnic group, some of those covering won’t be otherwise practising.
    That maid character is quite wicked, but I don’t see the barb as directed at the Indonesian but rather the BCBG Syrian woman. Your point about Indonesian maids looking that way back home is very interesting. To me, the extreme contrast between the two satirizes the narcissism and selfishness of third world elites in general. But I can see how one might interpret it differently.

  • svend

    I know exactly what you mean, though I doubt it would be wise to elaborate!
    Very true the bit about balloon-pricking. I find humor with an edge infinitely more entertaining (and, often, edifying) than anondyne stuff that avoids pushing any buttons.
    And in this case, as I noted above, I think think people getting pricked deserve a little bit of good natured ribbing.

  • Adrita

    While you are lost in your razor sharp humor, I would like to ask is this your way of deflecting the crux of the issue regarding the obligation of hijab (on both men and women actually) specifically for women because they cover more? Obligations of Islam from its birth to now, are not circumstantial, unless explicitly stated in the authentic texts. Even if you argue the point of hijab being circumstantial, remember that the hijab was revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) for every muslim in the heat of the Arabian peninsula and I dont recall him making any exceptions. Actually there was no record of any winging, nagging, raving, whatever-ing from the muslim women of that time. I suppose respect is given where respect is due. Which is why not much of respect remains now, due to Allah’s right upon muslim women not being recognized with inappropriate clothing by some muslim women and their equally candid male counter parts having a good laugh at the whole situation.