After watching this Arab Makeup and Veil Style video, I ran to my mirror to play with scarfs and jewelry.
I was seeing the hijab through new foreign eyes.
I’ve had to wear the hijab in some countries during my travels, but never any as creative and decoratively gorgeous as the ones in this video.
The hijabs I’ve worn were mostly muted colors without adornment. Though I always sought out the most beautifully-patterned ones, I was usually advised not to wear bright colors or any decoration on them. So, after learning how to keep them from falling off all the time, I pretty much forgot I was wearing them by the end of my first week in the country.
Now, posing and preening in front of the mirror – a thick chain necklace draped over my scarf in a not-quite-successful attempt to imitate the veil fashions in the video – I wondered about Western reaction to the veil.
We think they cause oppression, repression, digression…and all kinds of other –essions. We give a lot of power to those little scarves.
Do we pass the same judgements against a nun’s habit?
An Orthodox Jewish woman’s head covering? An Indian Sikh woman’s turban?
We haven’t heard outcries against these coverings.
All are worn in the name of religion.
What is it about a Muslim woman’s head covering that sends us Westerners into such a tizzy?
The fact is that most Westerners who decry the hijab – or any Muslim covering – have never spoken to a Muslim woman, have never been to the Middle East, have no knowledge of Islam beyond selective post-9/11 media soundbites or extended coverage of terrorist events, and interviews with radical fringe Muslims who don’t represent the majority.
Add to that, sensationalized photos of honor killings presented as if they are the norm for all Muslim women across the entire Middle East, and maybe it’s no wonder Westerners cling to their list of –essions!
But let’s trades eyes for a sec…
How do you suppose Muslim women see us?
What if they’ve formed their judgements about us Western women based on their own selective media coverage?
What if Muslim women see us as one big fish-lipped, chipmunk-cheeked, floatation-breasted monolithic woman – representational of all Western women – who allow our faces and bodies to be repeatedly injected and sliced in a desperate flight from aging?
What if Muslim women peer at us from beneath their hijabs, and see a culture of women so obsessed with youth and being desired by men, that we allow our young girls to be photographed and filmed in all manner of sexualized images for the pleasure and profit of men?
What if Muslim women think The Real Housewives, and Britney Spears represent us all as a whole?
Are you shuddering with me?
In my travels throughout Asia, I’ve met hundreds of Muslim women who love wearing the hijab. I’ve met just as many who don’t. But just because our mainstream media selectively focuses on the ones who don’t, doesn’t mean those women are representational of all.
The only thing we can be sure it represents is Western media ideology.
Think about it.
Do media-dominating, puffed up, stretched out, plastic surgery-sculpted Hollywood stars and trophy wives mean we all are?
Of course, not.
Everyone has a different life experience from everyone else.
But they are all valid.
And if we’re smart, we’ll take them all into account – not just the ones that make headlines, or fit nicely into our own personal or patriotic ideology.
I’ve made many female friends throughout Asia – some who feel oppressed beneath their hijabs, and some who love their hijabs. Each interaction helps me develop a well-rounded view of Muslim women apart from the oppression-focused image created by our media, Islamophobics, and post-9/11 fear-mongers.
And, introducing Muslim friends to Christian, and Jewish friends rewards me with exchanges that are brilliant, beautiful, all about mutual respect and tolerance – no matter what we may disagree on.
And, let me tell you, we have some deeply diverging views!
In truth, we respectfully agree to disagree more often than not. Yet somehow, instead of becoming angry, we’re completely fascinated by our vastly different ways of seeing things. Contention is replaced by genuine interest, and respect is the rule.
We have this saying, “Respectful ignorance will be rewarded with knowledge. Judgemental ignorance gets the boot!”
The enormous divides between the diversity of friends I’ve brought together could be cultural Armageddon.
But it’s working.
Because it’s based on minds that are open, expectations placed in abeyance, and judgements that are deferred. Most importantly, it’s based on face-to-face interaction.
Suspending belief in ideology-based media sets us free to see each other through new foreign eyes.
What are your views about the Muslim hijab?
What do you think about Western reaction to it?