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Exploring identity on PhD in Parenting.
32 My Islamic Life July 16, 2010 at 4:52 pm
As the mother of two Muslim daughters, I can remember the first time each one decided to wear their Hijab out in public. The older one decided that she just wanted to continue to wear hers after we had left the Mosque. The younger one wanted to wear one to school. DD#1 took hers off after we had walked around Target for a while and I put it in my purse, fixed her hair and that was that. DD#2 took hers off while at school, but I’m assuming it was no big deal since she goes to an Islamic school.
I spoke with one of my Muslim friends about this thing that my daughters do when they choose to wear Hijab out. She said, don’t make it a big deal. No one who wears Hijab thinks it is a big deal when they see someone who is under 14 wearing one. They understand it is a way of emulating someone, akin to wearing a princess dress, or a doctor’s scrubs, walking around in mommy’s high heels.
I don’t know how I will feel if and when they decide to wear Hijab full-time. I will do my best to be supportive, pick out pretty scarves and modest clothing for them to wear, and learn all I can on how to tie one in the most flattering and fun way. But I won’t really know until we cross that bridge. But I tell you, the thought makes me a little verklempt.
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For the record, I’m married to a very secular Turk. His parents were very non-religious, though in Turkey everyone (99% of pop’n) is at least nominally Muslim. (I grew up in a secular but nominally Christian home but am non-religious.) In Turkey, his relatives generally observe holidays because that’s what everyone is doing– it’s easier to fast during Ramadan if the whole country is doing it with you (though some Turks don’t). Eid and other holidays are just about getting together with the family and eating a lot, which everyone can get on board with. Some of the extended family are somewhat more religious (attending Mosque regularly, etc.). We also have a wide circle of Turkish friends with varying degrees of religiosity. But among the many dozens of family members and friends I’ve met, I haven’t met one who wears the hijab (in family photos, it seems the last woman to wear hijab was my husband’s great grandmother, and she stopped later in life). Of course, in Turkey, the hijab is a political issue, too–people who believe in secular gov’t vs. folks who want a more religious/theocratic gov’t. So it’s a hot button symbolic issue there as well.
I also have Egyptian Muslim friends who believe in God, attend Mosque, etc. but don’t wear hijab. Ditto Palestinian acquaintances. In fact, virtually all the Muslims I’ve ever met don’t wear the hijab. So I always find it interesting that especially in countries where Muslims are in the minority, the hijab often becomes an important symbol of identity. No one in Turkey or Egypt or Palestine needs to shout, ‘Hey, I’m Muslim’ because those societies are Muslim dominated and there aren’t the same stereotypes as here. However, here (and sometimes in Europe) I wonder if it can sometimes become a declaration of identity, like, ‘Hey, I’m Muslim and proud of it!’ Or is it that Muslims in the minority feel a need to be more devout, whereas in some Muslim dominated cultures there’s a very wide range of devoutness (just as there is here w/ Christianity). In your circle of Muslim friends, do most women wear hijab or not?
It seems some people in this country think if you’re Muslim you have to wear hijab and you can’t ‘look like an American’ and be Muslim. One friend visiting Istanbul said “I see more women in hijab in Berlin than here.’ I love that because it really messes with peoples’ idea of Muslims as some exotic ‘other’ in weird clothes. A bunch of Muslims that look ‘just like us’ seems to blow people’s minds. (Of course, Jewish folks long ago made this transition– a century or more ago, many Jews in this country and in Europe might’ve been identifiable by clothing, but now everyone accepts that you can be a perfectly devout, practicing Jew without dressing like a Lubavitcher or Hasid. It’s also noteworthy that Christian women covered there hair until a few hundred years ago…and in some countries and contexts (e.g. Catholic church services) more recently than that.)
I don’t really have a point; I just wonder how all of this will play in your daughters’ decision to wear hijab. Paternal expectations (whatever they may be), the desire to affirm (or possibly reject) Muslim identity, the feeling that they need to be more devout to set a good example of Islam in America or, alternatively, the feeling that they can show that Muslim women don’t have to look any certain way to be Muslim– it seems like there is a lot to think about in this decision.
Jessica, Thank you for commenting. I think that in every religion, there are varying degrees of how strictly the “rules” are followed or interpreted. Even in my town, we see Hasidic Jewish families walking from one end of town to the Synagog every weekend, and then we have Jewish neighbors that never attend. The Muslims in this town range from modest dressers to full on Hijab and Jilbab. There are even a few women that cover their hands and faces. We live around the corner from a Catholic College that is run by nuns that live on the premisis, and even they dress in all varying degrees of conservativeness. It’s all part of the rainbow.
When you are in an Islamic country, you expect to see Hijab all the time, so it may not even register. Around here, I don’t usually even notice, unless I’m paying close attention anymore. I remember I made it a point to pay attention when my SIL was coming for a visit, so I could assure her she wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Also, I imagine, because your husband is non-practicing, the majority of your friends or your circle of community is that of very moderate Muslims. Y’no like minds stick together?
I’ve always been told that it is the choice of the woman to wear or not wear Hijab. Several of my friends wear hijab because they feel indecent without their hair covered. It’s fluid. I know a woman who wore Hijab for many, many years and then decided that she didn’t want to continue wearing one. The majority of the women in my husband’s family wear hijab, but I do not. I’m not sure what my girls will do, or how they will come to that decision. They attend a pretty conservative school where all the teachers wear hijab and it is part of the school uniform, but we know outside of school, not everyone wears hijab or jilbab. I will counsel them to listen to their inner voice and follow what they feel is right for them. Even if it means wearing Hijab one day and not the next.