VeilThe personal and political meanings of the hijab by jennyyingdi

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									                     A R T I C L E S O F FA I T H




                 Under

         Veil
                              the


          The personal and political
           meanings of the hijab




     O
                  n a frigid January afternoon, I sat
                  in the foyer of Shadified Salon &
                  Spa, waiting for my sister to arrive.
                  Across the lobby, I could see
                  mirrors and barber chairs, but
                  most of the customers were hidden
       by a corner wall. I could still hear their conver-
       sations, and when the stylists, many of whom
       were Lebanese, were done, their customers
       weren’t just gorgeous, they were, “Gorgeous,
       wallah!”—a word many in this north Edmon-
       ton neighbourhood near Little Lebanon would
       recognize as, “I swear to God.”




                                                            By OMAR MOUALLEM // PHOTOGRAPHy By JESSICA FERN FACETTE


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LIke aNy SaLON, It waS a ROOm Of actIVIty,                  makeup and ear candling. Janine must             time.” She was trying to grow it out be-
banter and high spirits. Ceiling speakers                   have noticed me taking it in. “There’s a lot     cause her husband finds long hair attrac-
shot out songs from the pop stars inspir-                   less stuff,” she said.                           tive. He is also, of course, one of the few
ing the haircuts. The clients waiting with                       Martha explained that the salon para-       men who will ever see it.
me, however, were subdued and silent, as                    phernalia normally found in the room
if stuck in a medi-clinic below a nightclub.                belonged to a hairdresser who once pre-          the headcOVeRING kNOwN aS a hIjab
A twenty-something woman with wavy                          ferred working out of this room but no lon-      might be the most evocative personal
hair sat on a couch flipping through an                     ger; it simply got too crowded operating         symbol of Islam. For some, it represents
issue of Cosmopolitan. Across from her a                    from one small room.                             religious commitment even more than
tired-looking mother with a lap full of teen-                    Janine removed her glasses and un-          fasting during Ramadan or pilgrimage to
sized winter jackets stared at a whiteboard                 wrapped her headscarf. Martha removed            Hajj, in Saudi Arabia. But is it compulsory?
of microdermabrasion prices. Beside her,                    the second layer, a teal bandana, for her. It    Unlike Ramadan and Hajj, the modest-
a stylish lady with blonde Taylor Swift                     felt strangely intimate, because my sister       dress code of Hijab is not one of the five
curls texted compulsively. Nothing could                    was, in fact, undressing. Yet in that mo-        pillars of Islam (prerequisites for entry
break the detached concentration of                         ment, Janine’s hijab was not an emblem           into paradise and a symbol of faith). The
waiting.                                                    of her faith; it was just a piece of cloth.      word hijab appears in the Qur’an seven
     Until my sister entered.                                    Here is where I have to stop depict-        times, but in none of those seven instances
     From the neck down, my older sister,                   ing my sister’s hair in any detail: she          does it specifically refer to wardrobe. Until
Janine Mouallem, resembled the texting                      invited me to her salon on the condition         recently, the Arabic word hijab meant a lit-
woman. She arrived carrying a designer                      that I would not unveil her with words.          eral or metaphysical barrier. When I was                                              hijabs (and accessories on following pages) from maysaa’s fashion fusion
purse and wearing Lululemon clothing.                       Although I’m not religious, Janine is,           an infant, my mother pinned a dangling
But the similarities ended where the in-                    and though she will unveil to Martha             ornament to my sleepers to protect me
congruities began. Because here, in a                       and me, she will not for any man who is          from evil spirits. That was a type of hijab.    ing” women. By the nineteenth century,             values apply to ever yday life, and sent           religion were splashed in newspapers
busy urban salon where everything was                       not her husband or part of her immediate         When we would go to the mosque to pray          the keeping of slaves and concubines               them back home with renewed perspec-               around the world. In countries where veil-
about the hair, my sister’s was not to be                   family. Janine is hijabi, a woman who ob-        every Eid, my sister and mother would           became uncouth, but equating unchaste              tive (often imbued with the doctrine of po-        ing was uncommon—such as Lebanon,
seen. It was concealed by a tight seafoam-                  serves the Islamic code of modesty, which        join the women in a section partitioned by      women to unveiled women remained,                  litical groups such as the Muslim Broth-           Malaysia and Canada—women began
coloured lace hijab. All eyes turned to                     begins with her clothing and ends with her       a curtain—another hijab.                        even though the Muslim world was enter-            erhood). It didn’t take long before young          wrapping the rectangular scarf that we
her and lingered a beat too long, as if she                 interactions with men. Revealing her hair            There is, of course, Islamic jurispru-      ing a modern period more recognizable to           Egyptian women, for instance, who’d                now call a hijab around their heads and
had shown up for jury duty in a thong and                   to an outsider male—in public, in a photo-       dence on dress code. The Qur’an is meant        observers today. By the nineteen-sixties,          previously resembled Jackie O with their           necks to identify themselves as believers.
tank top.                                                   graph, or even in an adjective as benign as      to be read with the books of Hadith, the        the veil was more neutral; it was princi-          houndstooth skirts and big sunglasses,                  “The hijab in Canada became obvious
     Janine sat down beside me, said hi,                    “brunette”—would defile its sanctity.            sayings and teachings of Prophet Muham-         pally a garment worn by elderly and ru-            were veiling their heads and sometimes             in the late 1970s and early 1980s,” Soraya
and glanced at her iPhone: 2 p.m. Just in                        “I’m thinking of going for a deeper         mad collected by his earliest followers.        ral women, regardless of their religion.           their faces. It was a broader social move-         Hafez, president of the Edmonton chapter
time, her look said. Behind the till, a young               red,” Janine said to Martha, squinting at        These scriptures have edicts on modesty         In films, art and texts created centuries          ment, a celebration of faith as well as a re-      of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women,
woman in a tight pink and black shirt,                      her in the mirror. “But when I take a show-      for both genders, though for men it’s no-       apart, the word hijab was never used to            bellion against Western ideals, which the          explained from Cairo via email. “The new
sporting big coily hair, instantly recog-                   er will I have red coming out all the time?”     ticeably more lax. But where these ancient      describe the piece of cloth or the prin-           parents of this younger generation whole-          immigrants who came at that time brought
nized her. She said hello and my sister said                     “No, you shouldn’t.”                        texts get sartorial is with the proper Arabic   ciples observed by the women who wore              heartedly embraced.                                that tradition with them and affected the
hello in return. “Martha is my personal                          “Do you think red would suit me?”           words for each garment: wear a jilbab, or       it. The tradition predates Muhammad,                    A new term entered the Arabic lexi-           rest of the Muslim women in Canada.
stylist,” she said to me.                                        “It’s going to suit you,” said Martha,      cloak or coat, when you leave the house;        but the verb hijab, to cover or to veil, doesn’t   con: al-ziyy al-Islami or “women’s Islamic         When I arrived in Canada in 1970, no one
                                                                                                             cover your bosoms and much of your tor-         even predate Muhammad Ali.                         dress.” Whereas previously a khimar was            wore the hijab except for older women,
                                                                                                             so with your khimar, or headscarf. (And it           Though anti-veil politicking in Europe        a khimar and a niqab was a niqab, a hijab          who wore it for old age, not as ‘hijab’.” After
                        Revealing her hair to an outsider                                                    is worth reminding ourselves that Islam
                                                                                                             is not the only faith to employ headcover-
                                                                                                                                                             and Canada (such as the bill currently
                                                                                                                                                             before Parliament to ban face-veils from
                                                                                                                                                                                                                became a symbol for the countless gar-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                ments worn by pious women who veiled.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   a recent pilgrimage to Hajj, in Saudi Ara-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   bia, Hafez began covering her hair with a
                         male would defile its sanctity.                                                     ings, the habit of Catholic nuns being but      voting booths) is recent, some of the first        Adopters of the hijab became muhaja-               bonnet, a word she uses because doesn’t
                                                                                                             one example.)                                   governments to ban or punish veiling               baas, anglicized as hijabi. Before Hijab, a        consider herself hijabi. “My position on
                                                                                                                 Veiling has been constant in Islam and      were predominantly from Muslim nations             woman in a headscarf was just a woman in           the hijab hasn’t changed,” she said. “In the
    Mar tha led us down a blue hall-                        “but I could do more of the natural just in      the tradition predates the religion. It was     such as Turkey, Iran and Egypt. Then,              a headscarf. And she was probably not a            Qur’an there is no punishment for not wear-
way, past a row of women with heads in                      case.”                                           a fashion of upper-class women in Meso-         in the mid nineteen-seventies, after de-           student at Cairo University.                       ing it, and, if it is that important, why wasn’t
hair steamer domes, and into a calming                           Janine seemed unconvinced, so she           potamia that Muslim women of privilege          cades of such bans and after the decline                The Hijab movement reached a cre-             it included in the pillars of Islam?”
yellow room with two salon seats and a                      asked Martha for a hair colour book and          adopted as a symbol of their own (slaves        of the Arab Nationalist Movement follow-           scendo during the Iranian revolution.                   Alia Hogben, the executive director of
washing station. She closed the door be-                    copy of Celebrity Hairstyles to look around      and concubines were banned from veil-           ing the Six-Day War, Islamization arose,           Headscar ves are now mandator y for                the Canadian Council of Muslim Women,
hind us. Janine sat in the hydraulic chair.                 for a new do, knowing only that she was          ing). Later, anti-sex and anti-woman teach-     which saw everything through the lens              Iranian women, but until 1979 veiling              said in a recent interview, “In the early
I took a seat in the empty chair beside her                 not going to cut it short. “I’ve tried to grow   ings by male philosophers, medieval in          of Islamic doctrine. It was cultivated by a        was outlawed and a veil could be forcibly          nineteen-eighties, one-by-one women were
and looked around the sparsely decorated                    it out three times,” she said, almost as if      both historical period and mentality, drew a    proliferation of Saudi scholarships that at-       removed by police. During the uprising,            wearing it, but much more than that, it was
room. The only thing on the walls was a                     to herself, “then I get sick of it and just      direct line between seduction and women,        tracted young Muslim men from around               images of young veiled Iranian women               highly pressured as the way to dress. If you
purple sign advertising permanent tattoo                    go short. But I’m going to stick it out this     calling for the seclusion of free “believ-      the world, taught them how core Muslim             in the streets reclaiming their rights and         didn’t dress like that, you weren’t a good

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                then and there I told myself that the next
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                time I get up I’m not going to do a single
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                thing—just put it on right away and leave

                                                                                                                                                                                         the GatekeePeR’S                                                       the house so that I don’t change my mind.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The first time she left the house in a
                                                                                                                                                                                         chILdReN                                                               hijab, in 2000, Janine became the only
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                hijabi in Drayton Valley, a predominantly
                                                                                                                                                                                         This is the house of the very rich.                                    white town of a few thousand people
                                                                                                                                                                                         You can tell because it’s taken all                                    about ninety minutes drive southwest of
                                                                                                                                                                                         The colors and left only the spaces                                    Edmonton, where she’d moved to be with
                                                                                                                                                                                         Between colors where the absence                                       her husband Abdallah. “I had this excite-
                                                                                                                                                                                         Of rage and hunger survives. If you could                              ment like I’ve never had before. I came out
                                                                                                                                                                                         Get close you could touch the embers                                   of the apartment building and there was
                                                                                                                                                                                         Of red, the tiny beaks of yellow,                                      a group of teenagers just looking at me. I
                                                                                                                                                                                         That jab back, the sacred blue that mimics                             didn’t feel embarrassed. I didn’t feel awk-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                ward. I just had this huge smile on my face
                                                                                                                                                                                         The color of heaven. Behind the house
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                and I don’t know why.”
                                                                                                                                                                                         The children digging in the flower beds
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    With her baby boy in her arms, Janine
                                                                                                                                                                                         Have been out there since dawn waiting
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                walked into the restaurant Abdallah co-
                                                                                                                                                                                         To be called in for hot chocolate or tea                               owned with his brother. Her mother-in-law
                                                                                                                                                                                         Or the remnants of meals. No one can see                               was sitting at a table and didn’t recognize
                                                                                                                                                                                         Them, even though children are meant                                   her at first. When she did, she made a
                                                                                                                                                                                         To be seen, and these are good kids                                    scene. Abdallah came out of the kitchen.
                                                                                                                                                                                         Who go on working in silence.                                          He was elated and proud to see his wife,
Muslim.” That makes Hogben, who hesi-                       identified as Muslims. For some, it was              A standard defense of the hijab—one                                     They’re called the gatekeeper’s children,                              my sister, dressed like an Islamic woman.
tated to make generalizations, uncomfort-                   to defy their parents’ generation, a gen-        often invoked—is that veiling repels the                                    Though there is no gate nor—of course—                                 “That was important to him,” she told me.
able: “It’s not part of my cultural baggage.”               eration the youth thought dissolved too          lustful gazes and catcalls of men. But even                                 Any gatekeeper, but if there were                                      “But he’d never mentioned it to me before.
     A CBC and Environics Research                          eagerly into the melting pot. Of course,         if we were to accept the rationale, does the                                These would be his, the seven of them,                                 And I don’t think he thought I would at
Group survey in 2007 put the number of                      Bullock added, it could also have been           evidence support it? In Egypt, where up                                                                                                            that time.”
                                                                                                                                                                                         Heads bowed, knifing the earth. Is that rain,
Canadian Muslim women wearing the hi-                       “any and all of those things.”                   to ninety per cent of women veil, eighty-                                                                                                              About a month later our family saw Ja-
                                                                                                                                                                                         Snow or what smearing their vision?
jab at thirty-eight per cent, not counting a                      For my sister, thirty-three years old      three per cent of women, according to the                                                                                                          nine in a hijab for the first time. She hadn’t
                                                                                                                                                                                         Remember, in the beginning they agreed
small number of women wearing full body                     and a mother of three, it was even simpler       Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, say                                                                                                            warned us before we left to visit her. When
veils. Though no comparative studies ex-                    still. “Hijab is a symbol of my religion,” she   they’ve encountered sexual harassment,                                      To accept a sky that answered nothing,                                 I saw her I was stunned. I was fifteen, she
ist, even a cursory look through archival                   told me. “Everyday I wear it I learn how         from slurs to assault. A 2008 Washington                                    They agreed to lower their eyes, to accept                             was twenty-one—the age my mother was
photos of Canadian Muslims before the                       much it’s a benefit instead of a sacrifice.      Post story suggested that the hijab exacer-                                 The gifts the hard ground hoarded.                                     when she’d stopped wearing the hijab. I
nineteen-nineties shows the majority of                     When I go out in the winter and it’s cold,       bates misogyny because it exoticizes the                                    Even though they were only children                                    was still a baby when my mother stopped
women wearing skirts and blazers and with                   I’m warm; when it’s summer and it’s hot,         women who wear it. The reporter pointed                                     They agreed to draw no more breath                                     wearing it, which meant that for many
their hair openly in the styles of the time.                it protects me from the sun. When I go out       out that almost three quarters of harassed                                  Than fire requires and yet never to burn.                              years thereafter the only women around
     Hijab fashion helped embolden Mus-                     in public, I don’t feel like I’m objectified.    women were veiled and that almost all                                                                                                              me in headscarves were my aunts. Now,
lim identity, but today’s generation has                    If I’m passing by males, for instance, I’m       Egyptian women veil, but never connected                                    ~ Philip Levine                                                        as a fifteen-year-old, I was confronted by
many reasons to wear it, as Kathy Bullock                   not looked at like I’m just an object pass-      the phenomena, as my sister did when I                                                                                                             my big sister with her hair hidden and her
found in the mid-nineties when she inter-                   ing by. With it on, I become a person.” Be-      told her this statistic. Hijab can diffuse sex-                                                                                                    face framed between folds of cloth. She
viewed Canadian Muslim women for her                        fore becoming hijabi, she said she could be,     uality in decent men, she said, but was still                                                                                                      looked like one of my aunts.
PhD thesis on the politics of veiling at the                “looked at as some thing, not as some one.”      no match for misogyny. Bullock cast doubt         veiling. Even then, she said, “When you       analytical, she became spiritual, and we               Growing up in High Prairie I remem-
University of Toronto. “There are prob-                           When Janine told me this I asked her if    on the implications of the Post stor y,           ask a woman about her decision to wear it,    mostly avoided talking about religion. In          ber my sister as an average teenager with
ably as many reasons as there are wom-                      the hijab did not also sometimes lead to the     noting that such behaviour is clearly un-         it’s amazing how unique her journey is.”      fact, it was only a week before she agreed         an above-average sense of style. She wore
en,” said Bullock, who wrote the book                       very same outcome, if it didn’t make her a       Islamic, but she added that if the story                                                        to allow me to interview her for this article      the brands popular kids wore, usually be-
Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil                        thing to some—a foreigner, a threat, a victim    was in any way accurate, then it was, “clear      my OLdeR SISteR, aNd bROtheR aNd I GRew UP    that we spoke for the first time about her         fore the popular kids. Her favourite past-
and is president of the Tessellate Institute,               of chauvinism?                                   that (this) problem needs to be dealt with        in a moderate Muslim household in High        decision to become hijabi.                         time was drawing her own fashion designs
a think-tank for Canadian multicultural                           Her response came without hesita-          through a social-education campaign. The          Prairie, Alberta, about three hours north-         To say that a woman doesn’t just wake         in sketchbooks she filled with sharply an-
issues. Bullock converted to Islam and                      tion. “I’m sure that to some, in their eyes,     fault lies not with the veil, nor the women       west of Edmonton. It was Little Mosque        up and decide to become hijabi is probably         gled skirts and blazers—a little haute cou-
became hijabi during her doctoral work.                     I’m not someone but some thing following         who wear it.”                                     on the Prairie without the mosque (which      true in every case but my sister’s. Eleven         ture in our tiny tin pot town, even if they
From her inter views with other hijabi,                     orders. It’s not something I think about or          Bullock is adamant about two things:          was an hour south). At the same time          years ago, she dreamt that she had put off         were only drawings. She always wore full
she learned that some women veiled to                       worry about because I know that what I’m         The veil is not magic armour, and one             my sister was arriving at her faith, I was    wearing the hijab until it was too late. It        makeup, and had a particular fascination
rebel against consumerism, others to be                     doing is right for me.”                          cannot understand veiling without                 drifting away from mine. I became more        was Judgment Day. “I woke up, and right            with her hair, which was usually coloured

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                                                                                                                                                            that Bullock was a woman of privilege—a         writer born in the eighteen-eighties (when          house unless she has a male relative com-
                                                                                                                                                            middle-class, white, PhD student. Why,          Muslim women were, in fact, under pres-             panion. Of course, as the religion grows
                                                                                                                                                            people asked her, would a woman with            sure to not wear the hijab), saw it as yet an-      and becomes more globalized, there are
                                                                                                                                                            all these advantages embrace such an op-        other example of what we would today call           more liberal Muslim scholars—male and
                                                                                                                                                            pressive tradition? A friend bluntly told her   “Hislam”—Islam in the control of men: “If           female—publishing their own interpre-
                                                                                                                                                            that she’d just made herself a second-class     he orders us to veil, we veil, and if he now        tations. The tradition of veiling, in other
                                                                                                                                                            citizen.                                        demands that we unveil, we unveil.”                 words, is coming under increased, and
                                                                                                                                                                 The perception of Islam as a religion           The debate over Muslim women’s                 microscopic, examination.
                                                                                                                                                            that oppresses women and uses the veil          right to veil or not to veil has obviously               Khimar, for example, appears in the
                                                                                                                                                            as a mechanism for tyranny is well docu-        been highly pitched for centuries both in-          Qur’an, but does it mean headscarf or an
                                                                                                                                                            mented. In 2006, a Trudeau Foundation           side and outside Islam, and between gen-            unspecific “cover” like a shawl? In Surah
                                                                                                                                                            poll found that of the thirty-seven per cent    ders. But it is also nuanced. Sometimes             24:31, the most pertinent passage on the
                                                                                                                                                            of Canadians who hold unfavourable views        clerics even weigh in on minutiae, such as          subject, only a woman’s private parts and
                                                                                                                                                            towards Islam, one-fifth cited the religion’s   the tightness of clothing. Young women              bosoms (depending on the translation)
                                                                                                                                                            treatment of women as the primary reason        who wear see-through hijabs but who                 are singled out for covering, the latter to
                                                                                                                                                            for their negative opinions. (That number       dress to accentuate their bodies with tight         be dressed with a khimar. The verse is
                                                                                                                                                            has likely risen since the murder of Aqsa       Rock & Republic jeans, and tighter tank             actually more specific about which men
                                                                                                                                                            Parvez, a sixteen-year-old Mississauga          tops over long sleeves, are sometimes               a woman does not need to cover herself
                                                                                                                                                            girl whose father strangled her in 2007 for     called “muhajababes.” It’s hard to say what         for (every man a woman couldn’t theoreti-
and styled after the latest trend. She also                 of heads behind the front counter sport          gious symbol a woman could wear most           refusing to wear the hijab.)                    rules they think they’re following because          cally marry). The passage exhaustively
did her friends’ hair.                                      the newest styles. And there is, of course,      anywhere in the world without fear or con-          The roots of this perception are           although the Qur’an does condone style              details these men, from a husband to male
     As we sat at Shadified, looking at one                 Shadified and its salon cousins. Women           cern. A religious symbol he could wear         deep. In colonial times, when Europeans         to an extent (declaring clothing a divine           servants to any child too young to under-
another through the salon mirror, I told                    who want to have attractive hair—for             as readily as she. Not so the Muslim veil,     returned from Middle Eastern and North          gift that can “be an adornment to you”),            stand sex.
her of these memories.                                      their eyes and the eyes of their husbands,       institutionalized by gender and, for some,     African travels, they mythologized Muslim       the dividing line between the modest and                 Bullock, who, like most exper ts,
     “Actually, I was thinking about becom-                 that is—can now find a hair salon to cater       not just around the face, but in your face.    polygamy and harems. The West consid-           immodest appears to centre around exces-            believes khimar has always meant head-
ing a hair dresser,” she said, while Martha                 to them. It’s easier for Janine today than       For many, it remains a symbol, a device,       ered itself superior, Bullock told me, and      sive embellishment, today and historically.         scarf, has witnessed increasing opposi-
folded square after square of tinfoil over                  it was for our mother in 1987, and she           even, for female oppression; the metaphor      thought anything connected to the Middle        The stomping of feet adorned with ankle             tion to this definition over the last fifteen
every section of her hair until it almost                   feels becoming hijabi has brought many           wrapped around the head as tightly as          East was backward and oppressive; the           bracelets (so as to tantalize men with their        years. Contemporary writers such as Reza
looked as if she were veiled again. Before                  positive changes; fellow Muslims call her        the scarf.                                     veil symbolized that.                           jingling) was condemned in the Qur’an.              Aslan believe the tradition of khimar as
becoming hijabi, Janine continued, “fash-                   “sister,” which she prizes. In the presence                                                          By the time we started to move away        But what is excessive today? Makeup,                headscarf evolved from Muslim women
ion was everything. It was part of my per-                  of non-Muslims, Islamophobic insults             SeVeNteeN yeaRS aGO at the UNIVeRSIty Of       from the Christian era and into the secular     jewellery and other adornments are as               emulating the Prophet’s wives, who were
sonality.” She paused. “Wearing the hijab                   have been almost nonexistent (racial slurs       Toronto, in a city that’s now home to al-      era of the twentieth centur y, Bullock          normal to Muslims as non-Muslims. How               veiled in much the same way that Victo-
just makes the styles different.”                           have come her way twice, she told me, and        most half of Canada’s 900,000 Muslims,         noted, the Christian reaction of Muslim         do you define immodest? And who is do-              rian women emulated Queen Victoria’s
     Adjusting to her new hijabi lifestyle                  both times she “handled it”).                    Kathy Bullock’s commitment to Hijab was        women being oppressed was picked                ing the defining?                                   fashion sense. If books by Aslan and Leila
was surprisingly easy for Janine. Cultural                       Not that there aren’t challenges.           received differently than my sister’s. Bull-   up first by secularism and then by femi-
tolerance has emerged palpably, if slowly,                  “Sometimes when you wear a hijab,”               ock, an Australia-born Muslim convert to       nism. “The difference now,” said Bull-
in smaller prairie towns. Arriving in High                  Janine told Mar tha, “people assume              Islam, was researching her doctoral the-       ock, “wasn’t ‘we have to Christianize the
Prairie in the nineteen-eighties, after years               you’re a foreigner. But I was born and           sis and working as a teaching assistant.       people.’ It was ‘we have to secularize an          young women who wear see-through hijabs with tight
living in a town with a large Muslim Canadi-                raised here! Once my sister-in-law, who          She worried how students would react.          westernize for them not to be oppressed.’”             jeans are sometimes called “muhajababes.”
an population, my mother, who had jumped                    doesn’t wear a headscarf, came here from         “I walked into the classroom and wrote              In the early twentieth century, Brit-
on the Hijab bandwagon, was in a situation                  Lebanon. She was pregnant at the time,           the word ‘hijab’ on the chalkboard. I said,    ain’s High Commissioner in Egypt, Lord
like Janine’s. She had arrived in a place                   so I made an appointment for her at the          ‘I’ve become Muslim, I’m wearing a hijab.      Cromer, wrote in his book Modern Egypt              In much of the world, Hijab means               Ahmed, an Egyptian-American scholar
where she was the only woman in a heads-                    clinic. I called ahead to the nurse and told     If anyone wants to ask me any questions        that the seclusion of women was a “fatal        wearing a headscarf to cover a woman’s              who wrote Women and Gender in Islam,
carf. In 1985 she thought it alienated her, so              her that I was going to bring in my sister-      about it they can talk to me after class.      obstacle” to modernizing the region and         hair and clothing to cover her skin to her          become the preferred interpretations of
she took it off and hasn’t worn it since.                   in-law and that I’d be translating for her,      Right now we’re going to do Hobbes.            had an obvious “deteriorating effect on the     wrists, ankles and collar. This is the law ac-      tomorrow, it might mean a good Muslim
     In 2011, my sister lives in Edmonton,                  since she didn’t speak English. So we walk       Sit down, open your books to page              male population.” This stance was echoed        cording to Hadith recorded by early male            woman will feel free to wear her hair pub-
a city with several mosques, libraries and                  in and the nurse comes and shakes my             seventeen.’ After class. two people came       by some Muslims. Qasim Amin, a late             and female followers of Muhammad; this              licly and guiltlessly. But clearly the hijab
tens of thousands of practising Muslims.                    sister-in-law’s hand and says, ‘Hi, Janine,      up to me. One person asked, ‘Do you            nineteenth century Egyptian nationalist         means believers like my sister are follow-          will always have considerable religious
She lives in the Internet age, when she can                 nice to meet you. This must be your sister-      have to wear that in the shower?’ and the      who is sometimes called the father of femi-     ing God’s will. Still others, particularly          potency, not just because it’s an ancient
find ample religious support online or surf                 in-law.’”                                        second said, ‘Have you heard anything          nism in Egypt, wrote scathingly of veiling      men of the Wahhabi religion dominant                ritual but also because it’s so malleable a
sites like Fashion Fatwa for chic, modest                        This anecdote put Martha into hys-          about Jesus?’”                                 and seclusion, which he said made women         in Saudi Arabia, say a modest woman                 symbol, able to adopt meaning according
fashions. Edmonton hijabis can now stop                     terics, which made her rhinestone cross               I told Bullock about my sister’s posi-    “worse off than a slave.” Amin’s criticisms     should cover every inch of skin but her             to changing history, geography, politics
by boutiques where window-display man-                      jiggle. It was the first time I’d noticed this   tive experience in becoming hijabi, and        were met with anger from Muslim women           eyes. Others don’t even spare women                 and the zeitgeist. My sister happens to live
nequins model colourful silk scar ves                       religious symbol, which was stylish but          she speculated that the difference prob-       in Egypt, even though most at this time         that privilege. In rare instances, it’s taught      in a time in which the hijab means piety,
embellished with sequins, where a row                       considerably subtler than Janine’s. A reli-      ably had something to do with the fact         didn’t veil. Malak Hifni Nasif, a feminist      that a modest woman does not leave the              not chastity, or privilege. She also lives in

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a country that doesn’t govern modesty                       essay by secular Iranian writer and femi-        leaders in Muslim households. It’s not
with the rigidity, or righteousness, of                     nist Azam Kamguian: “The main reason             the hijab that makes it so, she said, it’s the
Saudi Arabia. The fact that women like                      for hijab is the need for controlling wom-       Qur’an. But what compels my sister to veil
my sister choose to dress to their wrists,                  en’s sexuality. Veiling internalizes the Is-     more than any man or cleric is the pres-
ankles and collars, and cover their hair,                   lamic notion in women that they belong to        sure from within to have taqwa, the love
is, at root, a reflection less of the times in              an inferior sex, and that they are sex ob-       and fear of God. Taqwa is the charge a
which we live than how these times are in-                  jects. It teaches them to limit their physi-     Muslim gets from praying and the shame
terpreted by Muslim clerics and religious                   cal movements and their free behaviour.          she gets from drinking. It is, like Hijab,
scholars.                                                   Veiling is a powerful tool to institutionalize   experienced individually while simultane-
                                                            women’s segregation and to implement a           ously being influenced by teachings in a
maRtha Left the ROOm tO Let jaNINe’S haIR                   system of sexual apartheid.”                     male-dominated arena. But, for Janine,
soak in the dye for forty-five minutes. My                      “Is that it?”                                Hijab does not make her a servant to men
sister smiled as she anticipated what was,                      “Yes,” I replied.                            but to a genderless deity rewarding pure
to her, the best part of any hair cut. “I love                  “I don’t believe that at all,” she said.     devotion.
when you’re getting your hair washed and                    “That’s so silly to think that, because on            When Janine wears her hijab she’s re-
your head rubbed …”                                         the other side, through my eyes, when I          vealing what’s underneath it. Not her hair,
    I suggested that surely there were                      see television shows and commercials             but her conviction that this is what a faith-
cheaper ways to get a head rub. She                         with girls moving up and down, their             ful woman does. The veil externalizes her
laughed, so I followed with what seemed                     whole bodies exposed, and that being             certainty about her faith, and she sees it
to me a fundamental question: Why, if                       the main point in ever y music video,            as but one question on the exam she must
the only time she exposed her hair was                      I think that’s objectifying. And I think         pass to enter paradise. Some will tell her
when she was alone or at home—bearing                       that’s making women and their sexuality          she is doing too much, or not enough, but
in mind that every time she removes her                     into objects.”                                   no one will change her mind. Unless she
hijab and unwraps her hair it must be re-                       I read her a second passage by               changes it herself.
styled, and that every time it’s restyled it’s              Kamguian: “The law of veiling is not only             Martha returned and rinsed out Ja-
                                                                                                             nine’s hair, supplied the treasured head
                                                                                                             rub at the washing station, then gave her
        her hijab does not make her a servant to men but                                                     hair a trim. When it was all over and done
                                                                                                             with, her hair looked lovely to me in ways I
         to a genderless deity rewarding pure devotion.                                                      literally cannot describe. My sister put her
                                                                                                             glasses back on and took in her new look
                                                                                                             in the mirror. Next, she ran her fingers
done knowing that it will inevitably be ren-                humiliating to women, but it is an insult        through the strands, pursed her lips.
dered unkempt, because she must re-don                      to men. It is a clear indication that, in the         “This is going to take some getting
the hijab when any man from outside her                     eyes of Muhammad, all Muslim men are             used to,” she said.
family enters the room—why then would                       sex-crazed.”                                          Martha and I assured her that it was
she still dish out $150 to get her hair co-                     “It’s not something asked by Muham-          striking. Janine pulled the fitted cap over
loured and cut? Why go to all that trouble                  mad,” Janine said. “Muhammad is just the         the top of her head and grabbed her hi-
for so little exposure?                                     messenger. He brought the message. So            jab. She stretched it at arms length by the
     “I’m doing it for myself,” she ex-                     whatever Allah asks for us to do in Qur’an       tips and folded the long edge a third of
plained. “It’s nice for kids to see their                   has been proven time and time again to be        the way down. Next, she pulled the pad-
mom looking good and being in style. And                    beneficial to us. It doesn’t only have to do     ded straight edge over the top of her fore-
I do it for my husband because he’s my                      with sexuality, and it doesn’t mean every        head and under her chin, then around
life partner. Just because you cover your                   man feels that way. But maybe there are          her neck. Last, she tucked the tail into
head doesn’t mean you don’t want to look                    men that do, so it’s protecting you from         the front of her sweater. Her hair was
good and please your other half. My hair                    them. There are many benefits to our-            gone.
is something special just for him. It’s like                selves, to our bodies, to our minds, that we          She opened the door of the yellow
a gift to him.”                                             don’t even realize.”                             room, releasing the pent-up hair product
     Janine sees Hijab as more than a                           She wanted to be clear about two             odour, and walked past the rows of wom-
commitment to her God; it’s also a com-                     things: Abdallah didn’t make her wear the        en with their heads inside air steamers,
mitment to her marriage, given that, like                   hijab but he loved that she did and, “the        none of whom would have known what
many hijabis, she didn’t start veiling until                whole reason I do this is that it’s some-        my sister’s hair looked like before or after.
after marriage.                                             thing asked of me by my God.”                    Janine paid up, then drove home to show
     I wanted her to see it from the other                      I asked her if the hijab being so            her family her new look and, presumably,
side, so I read her a passage from an                       gender-oriented made men the de facto            to let her hair down. eb

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