Friday, August 21, 2015

A Fresh Look at Hijab

Have you ever tried to explain hijab to a non-Muslim, only to stop b/c there is no "one" way to wear hijab? I see so many different kinds of hijabis these days that it might be confusing for me to say what is and what isn't hijab.

This one covers her body, but not her hair. This one covers her hair, but looks like she can't breathe in her outfit b/c it is so tight! This one wears so much make-up she'd put a Latina news-forecaster to shame! This one wears the occasional T-shirt. This one only wears something fit for a burlap-sack race, and gives the stink eye to the rest of women who don't dress like her!

These days, it seems like any of the following outfits can be considered hijab:

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So here is what it means to me, on a pragmatic level.

Growing up in a very conservative culture, I was taught strict hijab standards:

--looong shirt to cover your butt!

--sleeves must come down to your wrist bone

--shirts must be loose

--not a single strand of hair should show

--feet shouldn't show

--the outline of your legs should DEFINITELY not show

Today, I have adjusted these rule for myself by wearing sandals (but not sexy ones), and exposing some skin when no one else is around b/c I need some Vitamin D and you don't produce enough just showing your face and hands. So you could catch me with my arms--elbows down--exposed, on the occasional stroll.

I don't wear leggings, and try to stay away from tight pants (but if the dryer shrinks my only good pair, I try to make it work with a longer top!)

I still cover every strand, but if a few make their way out there if I am sweating up a storm while hiking up a mountain or something, I don't freak out!)

While I grew up with super strict standards, I try to first defer to the feeling of modesty in my heart, instead of just hyper-focusing on the material side of hijab. And this takes it away from being merely ritualistic.

Now I want to reconsider the WHY of hijab. I feel like the WHY of hijab has been lost, somewhere along the way. Its almost like an epidemic of people removing their hijabs these days....I haven't conducted a survey, per se, but I know that some major foundational beliefs about hijab have either been flawed, OR lost,....or both!!!

They "Why" of hijab that I grew up included some or all of these beliefs:

--Allah commands us to cover our hair and body and beauty in the Qur'an

--your hair can cause lust b/c of its beauty, in the way it frames your face and inspires sexual beauty

--we don't want men to objectify us so we cover up our curves

--its our job to distract men from lusting over us

So again, I mostly agree with these. But if you tell a girl or women that she is covering herself up b/c of how a man will react to her, it slowly begins to feel like this, its our job to regulate men from their feelings. NO. Its the man's job to regulate his own feelings. To control his eyes and thoughts.

But while Allah never explicitly says in the Qur'an: "you women, I command you to wear a scarf securely around your face and don't wear makeup and don't wear tight clothes, " He does use more eloquent language to appeal to our sense of taqwa to reach the conclusion that He loves modesty.

So, what exactly does modesty mean?

To my non-Muslim friends and family, it means no booty shorts or halter tops in public. Or, no Brazilian bakinis, just a modest one-piece swim suit on the beach. To some Muslim ladies, it means a simple long-sleeved shirt and some jeans that don't have tons of glitter on them. To others, it means not wearing anything other than black.

I am by no means the fatwa police, or hijab expert! But here is what instinct, experience with guys, and a little basic Islamic literature has taught me.

Ladies, we all KNOW when we look good! Not good as in polished and well groomed and neat, but goooooood. Whether there is a scarf on your head or not, you know when that dress hugs you in all the right ways. You know if that shirt is giving you the perfect hourglass figure, shrinking your waist or highlighting your ample decolletage.

And there is NO SHAME in being beautiful!!! There is no shame in the beauty that Allah gave our forms.

But, we know what is in our own hearts. We know when we are flaunting ourselves for other men and women, and when we are being reserved for Allah's sake.

We know when we are HONORING ourselves by recognizing Allah's rules and authority over us, and when we are trying to exploit what He gave us.

One day, we won't have our good looks to give us that confidence. Why not start now to base our sense of self-worth on our persona, our thinking, our behavior, humor, kindness, and intelligence?

But some of you might say, "its not fair!"

Its not fair to cover ourselves up when women all around us are exposing themselves.

Its not fair to feel frumpy when women around us are looking gorgeous and sexy!

Its not fair to cover up my charms while I am young, no one will see them before they are gone!

Its not fair to see other women flaunt their beauty in front of my husband while I have to cover it up!

Its not fair to cover up in the hot sun while I am doing X,Y, Z....

Its not fair to be held back by my hijab to do certain activities....

I don't know about you, but these are some of the things I have heard over the years, and even, to be honest, some feelings I have had.

But you know what?  A lot of what has held me back, personally, is my OWN perception of myself, not hijab.

I can play sports, go bike riding, go camping and hiking, go swimming in a pool or in the ocean. These days, we are so so blessed to see Muhajibas doing everything from riding motor-cycles to doing ballet to being body-builders to being professional fencers for the US team!

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I can feel put-together, polished, even trendy (not that I'm a trendy chic), and look attractive without drawing attention to my figure or my sex appeal.

I can be a part of this modern society and experience SO MUCH while being covered, MORE SO than was possible 10-20 years ago, b/c there are constantly people of faith who are finding ways to make it work!

For me, hijab boils down to these things:

--Women have a deep desire to reveal their beauty, find someone who appreciates it. Men have a desire to LOOK at the beauty, to appreciate it. So a woman's greatest struggle and jihad is to not exploit herself, and not draw a man's attention upon herself. A man's greatest jihad is to not seek out a woman's beauty. That's not to say that women don't seek to look at a man's beauty, or that a man doesn't seek to feel appreciated for his beauty. I'm sure we've all seen plenty of examples of this behavior! But our OVERALL, deeply ingrained drive, is to do what I have mentioned above.

--Anything that enhances my sex appeal belongs in the privacy of my own home, or with my closest lady friends and family.

--Sex appeal is NOT the same as being attractive. A scarf framing your face perfectly can be called "attractive," but it doesn't add to your sex appeal. I believe exposed hair DOES add to your sex appeal b/c it is part of your intimate, private beauty.

--In the Qur'an, Allah instructed women to take their outer garments that were ALREADY covering their heads, and draw it over their exposed bossom. Only parts that must appear naturally can be exposed, so I take it to mean that feet are OK, as long as they aren't being presented in 6 in long, glittering heels, b/c we all know what shoes like that are associated with--sex appeal!! So whatever I wear, from my scarf to my occasional make-up to my shoes, I make sure that it doesn't contribute to sex appeal.

--In hadith, the Prophet instructed that nothing should be showing of the woman except her hands and face, as opposed to the shape of her body--these are parts that appear naturally and are needed for everyday life and work.

--Men who do not practice hijab will always find ways to ogle women. Even if you are covered head to toe in a burqa, if the wind blows against your body and there is a pervert around, he will find ways to try and objectify you. So wearing the articles of hijab will not automatically stop rape or cause immediately pious behavior.

--When I purposely, intentionally try to please Allah with my appearance before I leave the house, I end up dressing a little differently, and feeling VERY differently about myself. I feel empowered!!! And I feel blessed.

--Allah has authority over us. So if He wants us to be modest in our demeanor when in public, who am I to neglect the wishes and guidelines of my Creator?

So how do we create a community of people who are observing hijab? How do we support each other to observe hijab properly?

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First off, we have GOT to stop the judgmental approach. We can NOT inspire anyone to cover themselves up with shame and guilt. (Granted, I have only actually heard this approach from the 50 year-olds and not from the 20-30 year old generation.)

But that doesn't mean we stop using our sense of judgement. We just have to focus on ourselves first, making sure that we are doing things for the right reasons, and if we aren't, then we ADJUST that.

We ask Allah to guide us to do what is right instead of what is practiced by a majority of people in society. Allah's laws enhance the quality of our lives and create strong communities, whereas society doesn't always have the best standards, and increasingly, our standards are just going down hill. Will we just follow along or stick to Allah's timeless values?

We don't stop wearing a scarf just b/c we've been wearing it for the wrong reasons. We change our inner thoughts and start to wear it for the right reasons!!

We don't shame others for makeup, then give in to the peer pressure and suddenly show up with the famous cat-eye to the masjid. You just gotta persevere in the standards that you know to be correct! Don't give up!

We have to remind ourselves that we are HONORING ourselves as nafs (souls), as khalif-ullah (vice-regents of God), as women, mothers, and daughters by trying to please Allah and drawing attention to our other human qualities.

We find APPROPRIATE places to enjoy sharing our beauty, like throwing a girls-only party with close friends to try out new makeup and fun styles. No one said we have to stop caring about beauty and fashion, or not take care of ourselves!! The key is in the WHERE and HOW we reveal this beauty.

We seek to find our worth OUTSIDE of our image and appearance. Through our mental, moral and physical strength. Through our creativity and other abilities. 

We remind ourselves that we are also honoring our husbands (present OR future) through hijab by not drawing other men's attentions to ourselves.

Together, we can help create positive reinforcement and positive peer pressure for not getting all glamorous and sexy in the wrong environment. 

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How do you try to honor yourself and Allah with your hijab? What feels acceptable and unacceptable in terms of hijab? How do you contribute to a community of women who want to practice modesty?

We're all growing and learning, insha'Allah. While I welcome different perspectives on this issue, I will NOT accept responses with a mean, arrogant, or sarcastic approach.

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