Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hijabalogues Part IV.

If I look up once and don't look back about half the people on the street look like hijabis. There are a whole bunch of them in my peripheral vision. It adds a comfortable false sense of camaraderie to the feel of the new neighborhood. I often mistake small African-American boys in hooded sweatshirts and winter scarves for my kinswomen of faith, so long as I don't let that first perception last longer than a second. Same goes for all the winter-geared women that let their pashminas drape over their heads with a few strands of hair open in the front in the style of pretty journalists reporting from Arab countries.

I do not actively scan the urban landscape for hijabi companionship- it doesn't mean much to me. But my secret favorite thing is when I end up sitting beside one of the Orthodox Jewish men reading the Torah on the morning train into the city, or a cute old lady reading the Bible. Me with my little Quran, her with her little golden Bible, Jewish guy with his giant Torah. I wish I could take a picture of it so you could see how cute we are and you would love it too.

I described my typical stance as public worshipper - my interpretation of being a public servant - to my sister, to make sure it wasn't too scary. Taking this measure is also a way of serving the public- taking responsibility for looking scary, and trying not to.

A report was recently released revealing that the NYPD has been monitoring Islamic Student Associations at universities across the country, specifically SUNY Buffalo and NYU (holla! two for two!). It is mostly cyber-related and sounds like the most boring assignment ever, except for that one guy that got to go undercover on a rafting trip. Maybe he just really wanted to go rafting, like that time I re-joined Girl Scouts in high school so I could learn how to farm and keep bees. Clearly the NYPD does not realize that most of us join the MSA to find a future husband. And because, while nine times out of ten praying in the dusty aisles of the stacks in the library is not an issue, there is that special 'one-time' that makes it pretty awesome that NYU has given us a really comfy prayer room with a beautiful view of Washington Square Park. Good job, NYU! I promise never to steal paperclips from the library and to actively try not to scare people. Girl Scouts honor.

Repeating short phrases of praise on prayer beads ('dhikr') is less obvious than offering the mandatory prayers in public, with all its prostrations. But sitting still with your eyes focused on nothing in particular with your mouth moving and no sound coming out also has some fear-potential, according to my reflection in the subway window. Religion aside, it makes you look INSANE. Especially when I keep my beads in my coat pocket 'so as not to attract attention' and then just end up struggling to moving my hand around until it gets to the point where I have to take the beads out just to be sure everyone is clear on what I'm up to and not up to.
I decided it is better to keep the beads public. Keep things kosher. I wonder how many candies are on candy necklaces? One hundred, perhaps? What would Alla say?

Dr. Alla is my Iranian dentist. He shortens his last name to make it easy for his patients because there are about twenty letters after those first four. While he subjected me to many hours of mouth-torture and I felt my soul slipping away, I clung to my prayer beads with the hopes that they could protect me from the potential for harm by a dental student paying me to be his test subject for his board examinations. I see the situation now for what it was- a hopeful guy with the fate of his future in his hands, paying me to let him put those same hands in my mouth while he nervously fumbled for success.

When it was over, Dr. Alla apologized for taking so long and went to shake my hand.
I twisted mine together in a weird way and held them close to my stomach. "Oh, I don't shake hands." I hadn't figured out if he was Muslim or not and hoped that was enough to explain it.

"It" was an on the spot decision, just to see what would happen. I have seen my mom do it so many times, but she somehow manages to be extra cute when she explains herself, like she and the other guy are buddies sharing a secret.

I think I was making a wincing face as though he was still torturing me with those shaky my-career-depends-on-this hands.
He also looked uncomfortable. How quickly the tables turn!
"Oh, it's ok." He looked around at his peers to see if they were watching, and for some reason they all were.

"Yeah, sorry. It's sort of funny, since your hand was just in my mouth for like, five hours."

Look, Ma! No hands! Also, another guy that does not laugh at my jokes! Just when I thought I had seen them all, thinking I'm in the clear, making appropriate jokes, being an appropriate person...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Getting Over the Hump

What I've learned from perusing hijab blogs and tutorials is that I don't learn much from them. Most of it is common sense, but the girls are cute and working out their hijab issues in their own ways, and I know they are like-minded folk in that their way of sharing their adventures and frustrations with life in general is to write about it on the inter-web. The latest one I found plays the Willow Smith refrain "I whip my hair back and forth" as she demonstrates how to assemble the khaleeji (of the gulf states) style, which involves pinning giant flower poofs under the hijab to create mass volume. This is something of a controversy in the hijabosphere, owing to a hadith from the Prophet peace be upon him that "There will be in the last of my ummah, scantily dressed women, the hair on the top of their heads like a camel’s hump. Curse them, for verily they are cursed." [At-Tabarani and Sahih Muslim]
So there is often a mini-disclaimer in hijab tutorials, whenever that step comes where the clip goes on it is accompanied by a nervous giggle and a "now this step is not necessary, but if you do it, this is how you do it."

Well, what to say? My hair has a mind of its own and I'm not super concerned with this in relation to my own head, but I was definitely surprised by how many other girls actively avoid the 'camel hump.' And power to them.

If your approach to hijab can straddle the line between the let's-do-what-is-fashionable category (a dangerous one) and the identifying-what-you think-is-wrong-and-then-avoiding-it-category, then of course, it is necessary to figure out what "the wrong thing" is. When it comes to something as personal as how we dress, especially for western girls who decide to cover, it is natural to want an explanation. As much as we might strive to follow the ideal of not needing an explanation and just being cautious for the sake of Allah, hijab has become one of those things that is difficult for a lot of girls, even those of us that know it is "the right thing."

But that is just hijab as a concept. On the ground, we are dealing with things like the camel hump. It has become the standard, fashionable way to wear hijab across the Muslim world, which I didn't realize until I moved to Jordan. And it has made its way to America, and I suspect it is from here that the blogs first started getting called out for encouraging haram stylings, accompanied by hadith-posting in the comments section, and the resulting, often hilarious comments of hijabis of the world. Ok, I secretly love comments sections of Islamish-websites because you can find the most insane conversations between humans, fully documented and time stamped. But I don't recommend reading it unless you want to understand the concerns of the modern Muslim youth who either have no one else to ask, or just prefer to ask the internet.

For some, avoiding the camel hump is about avoiding the attempt to look pretty. But then what about the flowy dresses and the rings and all that crazy stuff we can do with our eyelashes? And what about that girl over there who is already so pretty? I'm just trying to wear this on my head and still look like a girl. The issue is an expanding universe of its own. Others say it is about avoiding deception because it makes it look like you have a lot of hair even when you don't. But I really do have that much hair! So wearing it some other way would be a worse deception! And then, my favorite. Hey girls! Guess what I asked my brother and his friends and they don't even think it looks good! They think it makes you look like an alien! 

So there's that approach. But when the dominant dress code for women worldwide is based on what is attractive to men, it makes sense that Muslim girls would think this way. Is anyone teaching them anything else?

There are levels of naiveté but I think for the most part we know what we're doing and intention is everything. Hijab for a woman who is wearing it begrudgingly is obviously not as fun as the game I'm playing, (which I have named "OK. Let's Do This"), and for a defiant woman living in a country where it is imposed on her, it is often a way to slyly defy authority. I can't relate to that. I'm from the land of the free and the home of the brave. If a policeman or politician had forced me to start wearing hijab when I was 12, there's no telling how that would have played out. It's hard to wear hijab in America, but yes, we are the lucky ones.

 I do feel bad for those Persian girls in that one stock photo that is used online with any discussion of "improper hijab." I personally first found them when I was trying to figure out why Persian girls are so cute (still a mystery). More often, the point is made using along infographics captioned with grammatically incorrect one-liners about modesty, likely created by college students who clearly have not studied the fiqh of images representing living things or the adab of using caricatures to get your point across. I'm not saying the point doesn't need to be made, but don't be a jerk about it. And have someone revise your grammar.

I think every woman who is making an effort to dress modestly and still look cute deserves a medal. It's not all fun and games. And even though I already know most of your tricks, ladies, as a somewhat lonesome Buffalo hijabi, I have loads of fun following your adventures in modesty and it is comforting to know you're out there somewhere under the same sky struggling with your hijab pins having an ironic dance party to "Whip my Hair." Plus, I get to use words like "loads" because that's what the khaleeji girls say.