Monday, December 24, 2007
Hijab: danger or respect?
I always wondered how much one can tell about the others from the way they dress. Does it tell you anything about their personality, their social life or whether they are terrorists or not? To me, the answer is: “no.” However, from my personal experience, it seems that that it is not the case for everyone. I have been called socially awkward, a terrorist and stupid simply because of the way I decided to dress. In this essay, I attempt to explore my own experience to better understand how someone can be misunderstood or misjudged from the way she/he dresses.
Eight years ago, after a very long and hot summer day, I was sitting in the shade of my tent in the Saharawi refugee camps in southern Algeria, trying to revise the verses we covered that week in my Qur’an class. The Qur’an is the holy book for the Muslim belief. It is our primary source of information on how to carry out the message that was sent to us from Allah (God). There are things that are not explicit enough, which are then farther explained in the Hadeeth or the prophet Mohamed’s sayings and deeds. While drowned in many other thoughts including the next school year and flipping the pages, a section called Al-Noor (light in Arabic) shone on the page. After reading it, my whole life seemed to have brightened up. I finally discovered it after six years of studying the Qur’an. I found it myself, and no one told me about it. It was the section about Hijab. Hijab is dressing modest and being respectful to one’s self and to their creator. I decided not to start wearing it immediately that summer because of the difficulties I would face from my family and community. I, thus, started wearing it when I went back to boarding school in northern Algeria, for it was easier since most people wear it there. When I first put it on, I felt all the respect and security in the whole world. I then felt free and comfortable walking around without any Algerian giving the usual looks: “Why doesn’t she have some respect for herself?”
Somewhere in the back of my mind I was aware of some of the challenges I would face as a young Muslim wearing the Hijab. However, it never occurred to me my own society’s reaction and especially that of my family and community members. Despite the fact that my society is Muslim, very few Islamic rules are followed and Hijab is just one of them. When I arrived home after a four days long trip in the bus from my school in the north to the camps in southern Algeria, the first thing I received after “welcome back” was criticism. The first person said: “You have become like them [extremist Muslims or commonly known terrorists]”, and then my aunt agreed: “Yes, this is the way they brain wash your young generation.” My grandmother had a whole different approach to it. Even though she was blind and obviously could not see how I was dressing, immediately I was fully described to her by my younger aunt. She then went on to say: “This is not our culture, this is not Islam. Islam is to pray five times a day and fast if you ‘can’.” It seemed that I was coming up with new ‘Islam’. All of these comments entered one ear and left the other. I was and I am still very certain and confident that the decision I made is the best for me.
My first victim was a Spanish security officer. Four years ago, when I first arrived to Murcia in southern Spain for vacation, I encountered my first foreign victim. While waiting for the bus leaving to the main city, I decided to check out the shops in the airport. I was walking in my long white skirt and my head covered with a matching scarf. Then, I saw him approaching closer and closer. When he arrived, he grabbed my hand without asking any questions and took me to the nearest office. He took my bags and documents and asked me what I was doing in the airport, which I found very silly to ask because what else do you do in the airport apart from being a passenger waiting for your next plane or bus to the city! I decided to answer him in plain and simple English and I said: “I am coming for vacations to Murcia.” He seemed lost; perhaps she is threatening me, and so he ran to bring an interpreter but asked someone to look after me until he came back. I then turned back to the appointed ‘guard’ and asked him in Spanish what was wrong with the officer: “Que pasó con él?” He looked at me with great surprise and told me that he went to get someone to translate for me. When the officer came back with an interpreter, I started to speak to him in Spanish and told him the purpose of my visit, yet he still insisted in searching my belongings and performing some security ‘check-ups’. He was not the only security officer that behaved in the exact some way ever since I started traveling in Europe and other parts of the world. Moreover, it was also the public that look at me in suspicion when walking in the street or even worse when I am running my four miles runs in the mornings.
To conclude with, from my experience, not have I learned how to deal with misunderstanding situations, but I also found out that these clashes can happen between different cultures and within the same culture. For instance, in my case I was misunderstood within my Muslim-Arab society and also by Europeans. Moreover, it is very important that one explains her/his situation when such misunderstanding takes place. Similarly, confidence and patience are the best solutions in most of the cases. Hence, if you believe in your decision, go ahead and do it but be aware of the challenges and obstacles in life.
Note : The viewpoint of Author doesnt reflect with the Zeina Staff viewpoint