“Here might not be a permanent, but is there a possibility?
Or does it remain a far-fetched utopia?”
I haven’t felt this way since I was a wee lass getting onto a roller coaster for the very first time. I was eight, or nine, and my (still) fantastically, brilliantly, awesome friend, Fatima sat beside me. I think it was a first for both of us, the rest were better schooled in the disambiguation of the world-out-there. We were only just catching on. It was a primary school field trip to Gold Reef City, but I can recall the way I felt as if it were yesterday, a mixture of terror and excitement clenched like a flyweight’s fist in the pit of my stomach.
A minute later, I got off that roller coaster, Fatima and I smiled at each other and rejoined the queue, “Please Sir, a little more of the same.’ But that second time, exciting though it may be, never lives up to the first. Roller coasters lose their potential to exhilarate after a while, so much so that you can be sitting on a mega-roller coaster and yawning during the biggest dip. Walking away from the theme park you eventually realise how wonderful it is to be a child, experiencing the world for the very first time.
But then years later, it happens again. I hold the controls to this roller coaster. Fatima’s not beside me yet, but the adjacent seat is filled with a number of great people, so many of them, friends, and I’m grateful for here and now.
The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us…During the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing specialty…pornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal…More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers.
(Naomi Wolf 1991 The Beauty Myth )
Ideological battles are often waged with women’s bodies as their emblems, and Western Islamophobia is no exception. When France banned headscarves in schools, it used the hijab as a proxy for Western values in general, including the appropriate status of women. When Americans were being prepared for the invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban were demonised for denying cosmetics and hair colour to women; when the Taliban were overthrown, Western writers often noted that women had taken off their scarves.
I experienced it myself. I put on a shalwar kameez and a headscarf in Morocco for a trip to the bazaar. Yes, some of the warmth I encountered was probably from the novelty of seeing a Westerner so clothed; but, as I moved about the market – the curve of my breasts covered, the shape of my legs obscured, my long hair not flying about me – I felt a novel sense of calm and serenity. I felt, yes, in certain ways, free.
There’s been quite a buzz about Hijab in these parts, such that it seems that the Hijab is coming under a viscious attack in a civil war, prompting Safiyyah and I to tentatively launch a Defend the Hijab campaign- Safiyyah has posted an excellent piece on the subject and I quote a snippet of her opening here-
Apparently, there is a trend amidst young Muslim girls to wear “hijab” but commit the most heinous of acts, while still trying to keep up the “innocent Muslim girl” act. This in turn, has prompted some people, to over-generalize about hijab, some even going to the extent of saying it is just a cover for carrying out sinful deeds, unsuspected. This warrants an agressive defence, of that which I hold dear to me, so I have decided to put fingertips to keyboard, and formulate my beliefs, opinions and experiences about being a Muhajiba (one who practices hijab).
I’ve been in hijab since I was thirteen years old. No, it was not forced upon me. I was covering my hair sporadically since twelve, but at thirteen, I remember waiting to see the pulmonologist, wearing an abaya over my jeans and tshirt, I felt such calm, so at peace with myself. I told my Dad that I wanted to wear an abaya ‘all the time’. I’ve had my moments of rebellion, my fleeting attempts at higher degree of street-cred but I shan’t expound on them here, because I feel some shame in them and I believe that peddling the sins, my own and others, for the entertainment of a few amounts to a seedy glorification of it. May Allah forgive us all. Remember the Hadith,
Narrated by Abu Sa’id al-Khudri: I heard the Messenger of Allah(blessings and peace be upon him) as saying: ‘He who amongst you sees something abominable should modify it with the help of his hand; and if he has not strength enough to do that, then he should do it with his tongue; and if he has not strength enough to do even that, then he should (at least abhor it) from his heart; and that is the least of faith. (Muslim)
Safiyyah aptly says,
To those people who seek to malign the hijab, through their actions, remember that society might think good of you, but what of Allah? And to those who damn those who practice hijab due to the actions of a few, remember that the believers are supposed to cover the sins of their brothers and sisters, and try to change them, not expose them.
Saaleha, in her post, You know what I am before you know who I am, says, ‘Ramadaan tends to froth up the visual Islam; the conventional markers of the Faith such as the hijab and the beard’. She’s succinctly described the place of the Muhajiba in this society. It’s easy to pick on the Muhajiba because she’s easily picked out.
A final message to the detractors,
This is not an elitist club. I don’t think I’m better than you. I am not perfect. Kindly do not subject my intentions to conjecture. We really are in this together. May we all find the common ground to join our hearts and minds in rendering better versions of who we are.
Some time ago, on a shopping trip, Aamena scolded me for holding on to the handrail while we rode the escalator. ‘Do you know how many people touch that? Some people don’t even wash their hands after they use the toilet and then they touch that. It’s germs! Yuck!’ I dutifully pulled my hand away. ‘Who told you that?’ I asked, impressed at the little sanitation freak. ‘It’s so obvious. All these people touch it. It’s dirty. You’ll get Aids if you touch it.’ Now I was amused, ‘You can’t get Aids from riding an escalator Aamena.’ ‘Yeah, well you can get sick,’ she said crossly, turning away from me in disgust.
So on Sunday when I hobbled into the Pick n Pay in Norwood, cursing my stupidity for wearing heels while traipsing through the supermarkets of Johannesburg in a desperate search for Vanilla Ice Cream, I smiled when I noticed sanitary wipes for trolleys. Thinking about how proud Aamena would be of me, I snatched a wipe from the pull-out dispenser and began haphazardly cleansing the trolley of any unsavoury organisms lurking in the vicinity of my hands. I was interrupted by an American drawl, ‘I agree with what you’re doing there.’ I looked up, smiling. An orthodox Jewish man stood behind me. I replied, ‘Yip, you never know what lurks around these parts.’ ‘I don’t agree with you people…but I agree with you about this… I don’t agree with a lot of what you do…I don’t agree…’ he stammered incoherently. My trolley cleansing ritual complete, I dumped the wipe in the bin provided, looked at the man’s family in tow, noticed his wife, her concealed hair and smiled at him. ‘We’re more alike than you think,’ I said and wheeled my trolley away.
‘O the One Whom eyes cannot see, conjectures cannot grasp, and describers cannot describe; Whom events cannot affect and Who does not fear calamities; Who knows the weights of the mountains and the volumes of the oceans and the counts of the raindrops and of the tree leaves, and the counts of everything on which night brings darkness and day brings light; O the One from Whom a heaven cannot hide another heaven, nor the earth can hide another earth, nor an ocean can hide what is in its depths, nor a mountain can hide what is behind its ruggedness-make the last part of my life its best, my last deed my best one, and the day I meet You my best day.’ Ameen!