Friday, July 16, 2010


The first thing I did when I got to Amman was call my mother to complain to her that this "jilbab phenomenon" everyone was raving about- yeah, guess what- TRY WEARING IT IN THE WIND! I elongated and punctuated the words "in-the-wiiind," to capture my subject. Half the girls here are wearing niqab although they don't wear it at home, as a sign of respect and accommodation to the situation. I respect that completely, but it is still odd to hear them complain about it. "Sometimes the niqab gets caught in my mouth as I'm breathing" etc.

They have adopted it, dealt with it, complain about it, and it usually blows off their face as we walk to school anyway. I realized within hours that it only upset me because I didn't want to hear women complaining about it, I wanted to hear all the tales of glory and joy that come following an open and visible spiritual transformation. But if a girl is complaining about her hijab, it is because it is, at the end of the day, an article of clothing. And clothes can get annoying. I should equate it with someone else complaining that their heels are killing them, they can hardly sit down with their dress on, or even at the most simple level, in an effort to look cute on a chilly spring night, they are just so cold.

When you wear a jilbab, you feel religious. My form of burqa was sunglasses because honestly, I have asthma and my nose is not attracting anyone anytime soon. There I was in the barely bearable summer heat of the city walking up hills at noon, with all that fluttering and exposing of curves, and it felt so hypocritical. I was embarrassed every time I passed by a man and was still honked and whistled at. I didn't pay as much attention to whether men were paying attention to me- (largely because the women here are so ridiculously beautiful. YES frustrated Muslim unmarried men: if you want beautiful children, here's your ticket).

It only took a few days get used to the niqabs all around me at school, because it's not that difficult to read people by their eyes alone. My point: Tyra, as the queen of smizing, you would be an amazing niqabi. But I can guess what she might say. Probably something similar to what one of my dear sisters said before she became Muslim - "what's with all these poor women wrapped up like burritos? Giiiiiiiiiirl?"
"Women parading around looking like batman" is another one of my favorites.
Wait, I can be a superhero?

I have to admit, sometimes illusions of grandeur are tempting. I can tell when people are intimidated by me and I can tell when they are intimidated by my mother, who acts as though she can see straight through you and wears a jilbab and headscarf. The headscarf is mostly a constant reminder to "be good," which is a kick in the butt that I honestly need from time to time. There there's always Vanity smurf, who I grew up with, and always wondered about. Almost every time I looked in the mirror I wondered if I was admiring myself, when really most of the time I was seeing images of my mother and how similar we look and completely terrifying myself. For me to adopt hijab because I am scared of hell is fine with me. For me to adopt it because I want to make a stand is fine as well. To adopt it just because I can feel something tugging down at me saying 'this is it,' is fine with me too, if I think it will contribute to making me a better Muslim. Whatever reason we start to wear hijab, it is part of God's trajectory for us to get to where we are supposed to be.

I will admit, my intellectual attraction to the ideas of Saba Mahmood in Politics of Piety did had a huge effect on me, not that it was written as an invitation in disguise for young confused Muslim women to go out and wear the veil and see how it changes them from the outside-in.

She posited a motivation for wearing the veil in the idea that religious practice can change one's religious comportment. I was surprised to read about this new perspective from within academia (or anything new regarding Muslim women), although it is similar to what our Prophet, peace be upon him, taught us about fake it til you make it. It inspired me to try. I know a headscarf does not equal a law abiding Muslim, but at the point where I am at in my spirituality, it can't hurt?

This concept is much more well articulated by Janan Delgato in her article in response to a NYT article. Delgato writes, our need to "dismiss once and for all the ill-conceived notion of universality of desire; Not all women find fulfillment and happiness in the same life choices... A second step is not to insult each other’s intelligence. Muslim women have not been brainwashed into Islam, nor are we waiting for anyone’s help to awaken from our supposed 'false-consciousness.' Islam is our informed choice."
I have read these articles so many times, and it is generally always the same debate, except that lately there is legislation at stake around the world and protests for mosques to be built here in the US. Didn't we get over this?

What can we say? We believe in our religion. It is a personal choice. The experience is different for everyone I know. At this point I can take a breath and relax with a cold and lemony fizzy drink on our rusty lawnchair and say, I'm doing this for you, God. Let's both hope for the best. Let's make some honey. The halal way.

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