Sunday, November 27, 2011

Modest Hangups

There were five girls, mostly in their twenties, that wore niqab during Hajj, and four of them wore it regularly in their respective homes in America. The other was a doctor who was just planning on going back to work after taking time off to stay at home with her two children. She explained to me how she went from wearing regular clothes to wearing an abaya to wearing all black with black hijabs. My mother always warns me against this and says it makes me look scary, and I tell her that it is their fault if they get scared, and I say this knowing that no one is scared of me. I used to love being intimidating, but over the years my talents have dwindled and people tend to think I am a nice person and often approach me at the coffeeshop to chat about what I am reading or what I am wearing, or something they are irked about or something about the weather. Yesterday was the first snow and we all took pictures of it. I am excited to wear my new winter hat which is mostly fur and which seconds as a hijab since it covers all of my hair and even if part of my bangs peek out they look like part of the animal the hat came from. Not that I would consider that to be a proper hijab. It is more like "hijab!" written diagonally in pink cursive letters.

A proper hijab is perfect for Buffalo winters. Growing up here, I am no stranger to full face masks, which I first adopted in college, when I learned that I actually needed to reserve an extra twenty minutes before my morning Statistics class just to clean the ice off the car. In my experience, no matter what the context, the face underneath a facemask is a terrifying one.

The girls that wear niqab told me how at times when they are in public but there are only women around, someone will ask if they can just quickly see what their face looks like. They explained that generally, after a day of having cloth over their face, they look awful and unkempt and nothing like what you would want to look like in an unveiling, because for some reason, everyone expects you to be hiding some sort of toxic beauty under there.

And sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t.

One of the younger girls told me about her teacher, who was being harassed by a man about her niqab, yelling at her that she must be hideous under that veil and that is why she wore it. This woman just so happened to be beautiful. So she lifted her veil and challenged him: “Call me ugly again.” Clearly this woman was an inspiring figure for the girl, but to me it sounded like a story of defeat on the part of the woman, that she allowed that man to make her angry enough to unveil herself and share her secret. But I get it. And what I mean by that is, I cannot pass any judgement because I have no way to relate to the woman in that story at all.

The girls told me I should wear niqab because my eyes are “captivating,” and I explained that everyone’s eyes are captivating, I think it's something about their being wet all the time. They look like little alive creatures all by themselves. And also, that what I should be wearing is the opposite of a niqab because all that a niqab would do is to cover the ugly part of my face. They didn’t have a response to that and I didn’t push the point, but I did wear the niqab for a day under some very special circumstances, and it really didn’t make me look like I was hiding a toxic beauty. I looked tired and old and scary, and kept forgetting to lift it when I took sips from my waterbottle. I am not sure the girls understood that I was doing it just for that day, not forever. They asked me how it felt and I said it felt fine.

Winter in Buffalo is a great time for some heartwarming, creative headgear. I was planning to devise a variety of different animal-inspired methods of cover. But I am sure there must be something haram about that, so maybe I should just concentrate on looking like a normal human...says a tiny part of me.

In cases like this, when I have not learned any set ruling to declare something haram, but it feels like there is something haramy about it, I try to find a balance.  In the land of my brain, the balance between dressing like a normal human and dressing like an animal is obvious- winter headgear is to be inspired by mythical creatures.


Anonymous said...

Salam Shifa, I was just browsing around and came to your blog. You are really a good writer :) keep up the good work.
Farah Anees

s.ali said...

Aw, thanks so much Farah Baji! We miss you!!