Sunday, October 2, 2011

To Wear--or Not to Wear--the Hijab

A Vancouver woman who made "the painful but liberating decision" to stop wearing the hijab on a regular basis describes her journey in the Toronto Star:
Rahat Kurd, who wrote about removing the head scarf in the summer issue of the Montreal quarterly magazine Maisonneuve, was part of a group of spunky Muslim intellectuals in the ’90s who defended criticisms of Islam. They presented a positive image of Muslim women who could be feminists and stand beside other women in the struggle against male prejudice.
They were poster girls among Muslims, valued for their sharp tongues and knowledge. Listened to because they had chosen to wear hijab.
But their words didn’t carry the same weight in the mosques where they prayed. There, says Kurd, now 41, their criticisms were ignored or glossed over.
“We were covering our heads in the world, but how were we being treated in the mosques? Where was the space for us? Where are the leadership positions? Where was the recognition of our talent and contribution in the wider community?”
Of Kashmiri and Pakistani background, she had started covering her hair when she went to Westdale Secondary School in Hamilton, where she grew up. “Nobody looked at me strangely,” she recalls. “My teachers did not and neither did my friends. I remember one of them saying, ‘Oh, you have such interesting fashions.” I was thinking too much about it and almost no one else seemed to think about it.”
Her reasons for donning the scarf? “A feminism-related defiance about how a woman’s body should be read in public,” she says. “There was also the sense I had that we were invisible when we were growing up. I felt a fierce conviction I wanted to express my Muslim identity. I liken it to the way teenagers want to express who they are through their clothing. When you haven’t had life experience, your clothes matter so much.”
As she approached 30 she was rethinking her position. By then she'd married and moved to Vancouver, where she lives with her seven-year-old son.
She recalls that she and her spouse took a long trip to India, Pakistan — and Iran, where they hiked and backpacked for seven weeks. “I had this odd sensation of my scarf, the thing I’d chosen, my prized symbol of independence becoming inscribed with a totally new meaning — not of my choosing, but the Islamic Republic’s.”
Perspective is key, eh? It's one thing to wear the hijab by choice here in Canada, when no one is pressuring you to do so--and to see that choice as a feminist act. It's quite another to find yourself in Iran, a country where there is no choice--no, none at all--and see it in the same way.

Lacking that perspective, this chick--the pro-hijab to Rahat's no-hijab in the centre spread of the newsprint Sunday Star's first section--says she wears it defiantly (as if to say "in your face, kafir").

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