Friday, May 28, 2010

Choosing to Wear the Muslim Headscarf

The choice to wear a Muslim headscarf, or hijab, can often be difficult for American Muslim women.  How interesting, then, is it to hear the story of Krista Bremer's fourth-grade daughter, Aliya, the product of a Muslim father and Christian mother, who has chosen the headscarf to mark her own identity.

Ms. Bremer writes of her trepidation on learning of her daughter's desire to wear the hijab:
I wanted to ask her to remove her head covering before she got out of the car, but I couldn't think of a single logical reason why, except that the sight of it made my blood pressure rise. I'd always encouraged her to express her individuality and to resist peer pressure, but now I felt as self-conscious and claustrophobic as if I were wearing that headscarf myself.
Despite her misgivings, Ms. Bremer allows her daughter to wear the hijab and meditates on what it means to cover in American culture and her own experience growing up uncovered.

One thought I felt Ms. Bremer missed, was that covering confers dignity to a woman in a way uncovering does not.  In recounting her own experience with a bikini, Ms. Bremer notes that she felt, "a strange and mounting sense of shame."  Some feminists, however, may argue that a bikini allows a woman to feel powerful, sexual, and in command of men's desires and her own abilities.

Yet, it is hard to imagine that one could feel dignified in such clothing.  And in Islam, the dignity of a woman is to be protected at all costs and intimacy is to be shared only through marriage.

A great scholar of Islam, Shaykh Amin, once explained to me that in Islam, the clothing of people should be like that of birds.  When you look at most birds, you never see their private parts, because they are always covered.  One differentiates the sexes by the colors of the feathers, beaks or other features.

In a similar way, men and women should cover themselves  in modesty.  Like birds, however, modest dress can also be beautiful, colorful, even playful.

I am glad that Aliya has chosen the unconventional and individualistic path of the hijab.  May it strengthen her character and build bridges of understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.

One final note, Krista Bremer is the winner of the Pushcart Prize and has written many other fascinating essays, including "My Accidental Jihad" in which her criticism of Ramadan and fasting is transformed by a realization of what it truly is demanding.

1 comment:

nac said...

Well said. Reminded me of my experience at the beach.