UN General Assembly Vote Reflects Shift in Syrian Public Opinion
Saudi Woman Climbs Everest in First
Emerging Lebanese Pop Musicians Defy 'Habibi' Songs
Algeria: Middle East’s Next Revolt if Soccer is a Barometer
Making Fashion Saucy: UAE’s S*uce Boutique Helps Local Talent Shine
Reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared Refugee Camp
Today's Exclusive Columns
Mideast Arts & Culture
Last month, fashion bloggers, designers, and “it” girls from all over the world graced the front row of the 6th annual Fashion Fighting Famine fashion show, held on March 31st...
If you’ve been to your local H M store recently, you would have noticed the promotions for EDUN (http://www.edun.com) founded by Bono and his wife Ali Hewson to sustain long-term...
Ben Affleck's 2012 political thriller "Argo," about the 1979-1981 Iran hostage crisis, reached the streets of Tehran, Iran via the black market soon after its theatrical release in the US....
Though most Americans have distanced themselves from any association with the Iraq War, March 19, 2013 marks the tenth anniversary of the United States-led invasion. Perhaps the occasion provides the...
History has a way of finding itself in the voice of heroes. Not so much for the heroines. Women, often the backbone of revolutions, almost always find themselves relegated to...
- Written by Eman Jueid
- Category: Culture
If, according to my grandfather, the point of a woman covering herself from head to toe in public was to assume some level of modesty, then my stay in London, England, turned that logic on its head. Spending a leisurely afternoon walking the maze of a well-known department store, I was astonished by the amount of Muslim women I saw clamoring for designer handbags and perfumes. It is not so much their inherit need to shop, it’s what they were wearing that puzzled me. Pink scarves encrusted with Swarovski crystals and dark brown scarves with the Louis Vuitton logo framed their faces. Their long sleeves may have hidden their skin, but the intricate lace or patterns drew attention to them, despite the women’s efforts at “modesty.” Designer shoes and heavily-applied make-up completed their look.
Was this a new trend? Something we could call Muslim chic? If modesty and averting male glances were the purpose of the headdress, these women had a very different interpretation of what “modesty” meant. To be sure, the women looked fantastic, but why bother covering yourself for modesty’s sake when what you cover yourself with screams glamour? Perhaps this was a case of the hijab as status symbol. In the United Kingdom, under the law of religious freedom, these women chose to wear their headdress as a cultural fashion expression.
In Iran, women do not have the choice when it comes to wearing the hijab. With the constant harassment of the Morality Police and the threat of spending the night in a prison cell (making friends with drug pushers and prostitutes), Iranian women don their scarf and long, buttoned jackets pretty much every time they leave their homes and venture out. For many women, the act is as much an expression of piety as it is of security and comfort; it is not a bad idea to cover oneself when navigating the packed metro and streets of Tehran. But when a government forces its female citizens to adhere to a specific interpretation of the Quran, requiring them to dress a certain way, various subtle rebellions develop.
In a country where the hijab is mandated by law, the way women wear the item of clothing becomes a form of protest. I have observed the younger generation of Iranian women, in their twenties and early thirties, push the boundaries of the law by pushing the boundaries of their exposed hairline. Here, the colorful scarves take on a meaning beyond fashion statement. It’s like giving the collective middle finger to the group of men who say, “This is what a woman should be.”
I have by no means begun to completely understand the role of the hijab in Islamic society. But recently, one moment of clarity happened upon me as I stood outside of a hotel in a Mediterranean town in Turkey. My eyes followed a woman, dressed casually in a long-sleeved shirt and blue scarf. She approached a female vendor on the outside patio of the hotel. The older woman, dressed in a draping black hijab, extended her hand to show the younger woman her hand-made earrings. The two bantered a little. Some laughter took place. In the end, the woman in the blue scarf took her purchase and walked away, passing by another woman who was sitting poolside, sunbathing in a bikini. All three of these women appeared to be Turkish. All three expressed their personal relationship with religion and God in a variety of ways.
Maybe Turkey is a country that got it right? Maybe its model of a democratic Islamic country that has provided the opportunity for women to understand what they want from and are willing to give to any religion. Sitting on the patio, sipping my coffee, sans hijab, I thought this was the interpretation I was looking for. What a novel idea. Choice. A fully-aware and personal choice. As the mandate to wear a hijab was thrown away, so was the desire to use it as a social status symbol. In that moment, the headdress, or lack thereof, became a thing of beauty, spirituality and confidence....not something to struggle with.
And then I remembered that Turkey is a country in which, until very recently women in hijab were forbidden to receive college educations, work in government, or run for office. That brings up an interesting question: what’s the difference between forcing someone to wear the hijab, and prohibiting them from doing so?
It’s a common psychological reflex, when authority figures tell someone to do something, one automatically wants to do the opposite. We learn it when we are young. We fight against the urge as we grow older. In the case of expressing our faith, if it was a woman’s choice to wear or not wear the hijab, the item of clothing could unlock all the mystery and animosity governments and people feel toward it. Like the wearing of a cross around your neck, it can show the modesty of a tiny gold crucifix or the glamour of a bedazzled cross. Either way, it shows the woman’s relationship to faith. Her choice.
I wonder who I would be if that tantrum-seeking-nine-year-old experienced the same choice.By Neda Tavassoli, Aslan Media Contributor
*Photo credit: Ali Jalili
AUDIO: Will Scandals Stall Obama's Agenda?
Support our Mission with a Financial Donation Today
Donate below! Why Support Us? Click Here
Join our Book Club!
Newsletter: Stay Connected