Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cursed Shield of Protection +1

So here we go. I am going to write about something every woman who has contact with Islamic culture writes about. It's about damn time, too.

What do I wear here in Riyadh when I go out? This:

See? I didn't show my dumb face this time.

I cover with in abaya and scarf. I refuse to wear anything drab, though, so I chose an abayah with the most sparkle, or jigjig as we say in Kreol Moris. This one is from last year and I still wear it to go to the mall. I think it is beautiful and I enjoy wearing it.

When I first got to Saudi, I went to buy myself an abayah with flair and character. I needed to express myself even in my modesty and respect for Saudi and Middle Eastern culture. This is what I ended up choosing:

Well, of course I chose magician sleeves. They are cool. I still wear this one when I am walking around the compound. But do you see a difference here? There is no headscarf. This is because when I am in the compound, I don't feel the need to cover my head.

But why? Am I some kind of hypocrite? What is my problem?

When I was growing up, up to today, my Mom wore a headscarf. Instead of taking after my Mom and wanting to wear one when I grew up too, I despised it. I was very vain and I wondered how I could POSSIBLY live without showing my hair. I think, subconsciously, I was also ashamed of the hijab. I liked wearing trendy clothes like my friends and I didn't want to appear weird or different.

Today, I still do not cover my hair. I do not feel that it brings me closer to God. I do not think I am a bad person or Muslim. I follow the five pillars of Islam and I believe in Allah but I do not feel the need to wear the scarf.

Does this mean that I think women who do wear the scarf are wrong? Not even one bit. If you feel better about wearing the headscarf, about showing that you are Muslim visually, I absolutely respect it. In fact, I encourage Muslim women who venture into non-Islamic countries and who wish to wear their hijab to do exactly what they think is right. Just because I don't do it doesn't mean I am the best judge in the world.

The truth is, I have always believed that no matter what we say or do, only God is our judge. Who am I, or who are we, as human beings, to tell each other what is right or wrong? We have to do what we think is right. As long as we do things that do not hurt other people, or even better do things that help others, we should not be pestered by anybody out there.

I wear the headscarf in certain public areas because I know that there are people there, especially the men, who do not appreciate seeing a woman uncovered. As annoyed or as resentful as I may feel, deep down inside I know I am doing the right thing by covering my head because I am a) respecting a culture (not a religion!) and b) I could have less problems that way.

With my looks, which some mistake as Arab, and my name, people think/know that I am Muslim and they have given me a couple of lectures. I want to minimise lecturing by other people who think they are better than me, so yes, my hijab became protection. Not protection from leering men, they leer no matter what you wear, but protection from those who think they are so religious that they can dictate their beliefs to others as a command. I despise this. I nod my head and act polite, but I hate what they are doing.

Even when I wear the hijab and abayah, act silently and politely, and say Assalamualaikum with respect to everyone I meet, I still get lectures. When I say my salaams to women, some of them look at me and then turn away in visible disgust. I have gotten bad looks from people, especially women, and two grandiose speeches from women at the hospital I went to. Yes, I know they think that what they are saying is right.

However, telling me that "covering your face brings you closer to Allah - you will know it when you do it!" is not convincing. Instead of feeling inspired, I feel even more rebellious. Who are they to tell me I am not close enough with God? I read the Qur'an and the Qur'an is my guide - not any human being.

This is something that is wrong with Muslims all over the world, not just in Saudi (although yes, it is presented here in a very different way and it is given a label of "religion"). People think they have a right to tell people what to do - what to study, where to live, who to marry, etc. That is not right. You should not have laws or pressure upon you from your own friends or family to tell you how to live your personal life. Saying it is Allah's will is no excuse. If you believe in Allah, look in the Qur'an. Those are his words, and that is it. Everything else is a part of culture.

If you are a woman who wishes to cover your face, I am very respectful of that. I question France's motives on banning the burqa/niqab for whatever reasons they give. I feel very sorry for women who want to have professional careers in non-Islamic countries but who still want to cover because they are discriminated against for the wrong reasons.

However, I don't think that covering the face is necessarily a part of Islam. I think it has been used as a means of controlling people and I don't like it. If you are wearing it because you feel comfortable in it and it is a part of you, then you should go ahead and wear it and feel closer to God. I don't think you are hurting anyone by doing so and you are feeling spiritually better about it.

But if you are wearing it because your husband or father forces you, or because you were taught that women are sinners only by looking like the woman you are, then are you really wearing it for the right reason? I'm sorry, but my answer is no. That is not being closer to God: that is making you a victim of culture.

NOTE - I would personally like to thank the following articles for being inspiring to me. These women are excellent writers:

1. Time for a confession: I wore the face veil for eight years by Nadia El-Awady
This article gave me a good idea of women who want to wear the niqab or face veil because they feel it is genuinely right to do so. It also tells me about how sometimes you have to fight to wear whatever makes you feel right.
2. The French burqa ban by Saudiwoman
I may not be anti-choice about covering the face, but I respect Saudiwoman's opinion about the facial veil and was very moved.
3. The Saudi sixth pillar of Islam by Saudiwoman
This is a fascinating article about how women are treated in Saudi. It is further enriched with historical background, some of which I am still trying to find out more about.

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