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One woman’s experiment: taking off the hijab 31, May 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam.
Tags: , , , ,

The ever informative @blakehounshell pointed me (and all other Twitter followers) to an article written by a Muslim lady who decided as an experiment to take off her hijab to see how it feels.

Here is the link to the fascinating and superbly written article. It’s well worth a read. Some of the best bits are below with one or two really rather profound turns of phrase. This is one of the best things (and certainly best written things) that I’ve read in yonks.

Why is the hijab considered obligatory in Islam for women? Is it really obligatory or was it just something that a group of men decided was most appropriate for women of that time and age to protect them? Does what applied more than 1400 years ago still apply now? And if so, why? Does a woman really need to cover herself from head to toe to avoid being harassed or being seen as a sex object?

I had been traveling around the world for ten years and while doing so I observed women, how they dressed, and how men reacted. The conclusion I always came to was that women all over the world were wearing what they wanted to wear and for the most part were not treated inappropriately because of how they dressed but rather how certain people reacted to dress based on their own convictions. What I noticed is that no matter what a woman wears, there are some people out there who treat women inappropriately. There are men who will harass women that are scantily dressed and men who will harass women covered from head to toe. There are people – men and women – who treat women with disgust because they are scantily dressed and other people – men and women – who treat women with disgust because they are covered from head to toe.

So one morning while in Barcelona, I decided to leave my hotel room wearing a short-sleeved shirt, jeans and no scarf on my head.

I went to the breakfast hall and immediately felt that I was invisible. I had become accustomed to being noticed – just ever so slightly – as a woman wearing hijab in Europe…For the first time in my traveling years, I wasn’t noticed. And I IMMEDIATELY missed the attention. I was a bit hurt, I must admit.

I then tried walking around on the streets of Barcelona and did some shopping. Nothing. I was just one person amidst thousands on those streets and in those shops. Had I always been one person among thousands? Was I always this invisible?

No matter what I wore, there were still the rude people, the nice people, and the we-could-care-less people.

I tried the same experiment in London and got the same reaction of no reaction.

Two things did happen as I walked around these two European cities without the head scarf. But they were internal.

I felt that a Nadia I had known years ago reappeared. It was high school Nadia. Nadia before the hijab. It wasn’t that I had felt young again. It was more like I had figuratively peeled away some layers to bring back a person I was many many years ago. It was refreshing.

I’m back home in Cairo, wearing my hijab. I don’t feel regret for having experimented. And I don’t currently feel like I want to permanently take off my hijab. There are a few reasons I feel that way. I don’t expect people’s reactions to me taking off the hijab in Egypt – people I know – to be positive or supportive or we-could-care-less. There would be lots of drama involved and I don’t know that I’m up for that. There’s also a part of me that still feels that the hijab might be obligatory. Maybe God really does want me to cover up from head to toe. I still need to figure that one out.


1. Lesley McDonald - 1, June 2011

What a great post…

I remember being on the London Underground and a young lady in a very impressive Hijab got on… one with her eyes covered in mesh… I knew she was young because I could see her beautfully manicured hand holding a rail and I could also see a very expensive handbag only just visible. It felt like she was somehow the centre of attention and my impression was that at some level, perhaps even consciously she knew this and did quite enjoyed it.

Lovely to hear from someone who wears a hijab what her experience is of wearing and experimenting with not wearing it.

thegulfblog.com - 1, June 2011

It’s a fascinating debate that I dare not enter!

But I will relay one wee anecdote that pins my covers to the wall. Crossing from Jordan to Syria, I was stood at the immigration desk convincing the fellow that I had never been to Israel when along the way was a lady in the full Darth Vader get up: all covered. But, the thing that surprised me was that there was a gaudy, crappy diamante, huge ‘Chanel’ motif thing down the side of the Hijaby bit. I don’t get it…

[And I’m still angry to this day that the Syria border fellow wrote on the inside cover of my passport: where only the Queen is allowed to write…]

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