NPR’s Dejabbing Sideshow

NPR’s Dejabbing Sideshow April 25, 2011

Is it just me, or has this spring seen a lot of de-jabbing articles lately?   As a “dejabi” myself, I alternate between taking these articles with a grain of salt and hoping that something put forth by the journalist will resonate with me. One of the recent pieces is NPR’s “Lifting the Veil” (har har), which looks at the stories of twelve Muslim women who stopped wearing headscarves.

The whole premise of the article bothers me: If it isn’t Muslims talking about my hair and taking about if I  wear a headscarf or not, it’s non-Muslims.  Can we get past sisters’ hair already?  Please? I was interviewed once by a Swiss researcher, and part of my photo session involved taking off and putting on my veil.  I don’t understand the fascination with the act of veiling, and the video of the sisters veiled and unveiled creeped me out accordingly.

hijab before and after
NPR's multimedia slideshow showed images of many of the women "Before and After" removing their headscarves, and included audio from them about their decisions.

The reasons put forth are your standard radio-friendly “why I took of the veil” reasons: community pressure, couldn’t find a job, crisis of faith, didn’t feel like it fit with her personality…

I didn’t like the piece because I am sure the nuance and depth to these sisters’ decisions wound up on the cutting room floor. My takeaway from the article was that we, as Muslim women, make our personal decisions based on community pressure and crises of faith.  NPR amassed a collection of American Muslim women (with one big caveat, below) from whom I would have loved to hear something more than just the same old dejabbing bullshit. I say this based on my own dejabbing experience: yes, there were some base, practical reasons, but also many complex, illogical feelings which explained why it took me almost six months to fully dejab (and do stuff like not feel weird if I was out past nine pm, or wear a v-neck top).

That said, several of the dejabis (Lubna, Kim, Noorain) made a point that resonated with me: the idea of the veil as an identity-based statement.  Yes, I will go on the record as saying that in my hijab days, it helped me to identify as a Muslim.  But now I feel the veil doesn’t define my personal Islam any more.  Could it be the same for these ladies?  They gave a number of incredibly complex and personal reasons for both putting it on and taking it off. But really, does it matter?  Why can Muslim men be of any shape and size, but we as women will always be judged by whether we have a headscarf or not? Which is why I think the onus of this piece, however unintentionally, plays into the idea that hijab is a tool of oppression,  just because there is pressure from within and without the community on OMG WHAT TO DO WITH OUR HAIR.

Finally, and most important for me, I’m not the only one to notice that there was only one African-American sister, Saleemah covered (haha) in the piece, as was noted in the article’s comments and on Twitter.  Considering that between 24 – 35% percent  (depending on who you ask) of American Muslims are African-American, it seems paltry that Saleemah was the only African American voice.

We’re not just immigrants, second-generation, or middle-class white girls (such as myself). And our stories are more diverse and complex than even well-intentioned pieces can begin to cover.  Let’s get away from our hair and get into our spiritual experience!

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