Wednesday, August 16


"Three generations of women sat and watched a Hindi film."

I can also begin this post, "Lisa Ray, a beautiful, Polish-Bengali actress from Canada, debuted in Dilip Mehta's Water."

But this post is not about an actress, nor is it about a film. And I will not be claiming to have "understood the significance" of this work of historic art.

The first question someone asks an expecting couple is, "Do you know if it's going to be a boy or a girl?" Why does it matter?

If you're old enough to be reading this kind of blog, you're able to answer the previous question on your own. However, my observations--where this post begins--is regarding the timeless, universal probability that gender (regardless of how you define it) determines whether you will be prone to self-oppression or to live as one who oppresses someone of the opposite gender. I specify "someone of the opposite gender" rather than saying "the opposite gender" because I know for a fact that it only takes one person to receive the acts of oppression that is because of her apparent weakness (a mother, a sister, a wife, or a daughter) for the probability to be fulfilled. And I'm sorry if you're surprised by this--because so many women around the world have known this as fact since birth, and witnesses are only so.

Oppression, in the above claim, is not to be imagined as glimpses of physical injustices; The invisible, the intangible that has sustained this probability as a fact of life for so long--in this is found the origins of the "oppression" at hand.

There is a phrase that is heard quite commonly today; "Hijab is liberating." I'm no expert on hijab--my intention at age 13 had nothing to do with liberation. Quite on the contrary, it was the acceptance of a role. I wish I could add more to the end of that last sentence, defining this "role," but I knew then, as I still believe, that what I was accepting transcends what even the longest lifetime would not let me truly begin to understand. I consider embracing hijab my first conscious step in a journey that goes beyond death--one that revolves around the axis of seeking truth and understanding.

Hijab is often misperceived as a sign of piety. Without dismissing those who embrace hijab in the process of becoming more pious Muslims, I would like to discuss my own observation from a different perspective. I often feel the disconnect between my heart and my appearance increasing. It becomes more frightening as thoughts turn into moments, moments into days, days into months, and suddenly I'm in some substantial "phase." And yet I know it is another sign that I am in the process of getting somewhere--though I'm not sure where I'll end. For those that know me, my reaction to events as, "This must be part of some meaningful process to learn or become something," is pretty consistent. But there are thresholds that must not be crossed, and I guess that's what makes me a bit nervous about my exploration phases. At what point have we strayed so far that we are "misguided?" And even then, have we strayed so far, and so consciously, that Allah, Subhan wa Ta`Ala, will not guide us back? The fear of joining the company of Abu Lahab, perhaps, is a form of guidance. Yet the zeal of seeking experiences that teach, that ingrain, be they full of risk, almost compels "to be fulfilled."

Returning to oppression...In my experiences, I'm not so certain that hijab "liberates" at all. You're correct in thinking, "Well, you shouldn't use extremities in measuring such a vast topic." So again, I will say that my experiences do not support the theoretically liberating hijab. Vanity is not addressed with cloth--it may even fuel the truly vain, because now you have more accessories. This, I know, is possible because I experienced it and see it in others.

The theoretically liberating hijab must have supplements, like sincerity, modesty, devotion to practicing Islam in the way it was ordained. You can read about this theorized hijab on others' blogs.

In my exploration over the past few years, I've come to a strange realization: My relationship with "hijab" has nothing to do with my level of iman. Scary, right? But this is my finding.

At moments when I am in complete spiritual darkness, when my heart seems to have altogether disappeared from my soul, I still don't question certain "basics," as I've come to call them. These include the monotheistic principles of Islam, and really all other pillars of faith. Also included are ideas of justice, humanitarianism, environmentalism, etc. And somehow, hijab seems to have become another idea/practice that I can't deny.

Here is the relationship, in short: Hijab asks me to never leave it, under any circumstances, and I ask the same of it. I've clung to it even when I had forgotten seemingly everything else. It is these experiences "on the fringe" from which I've decided that hijab, if explored, can be understood by a woman of any faith. However, I also believe that the other "basics" mentioned, if explored sincerely and thoroughly, will inevitably lead to Islam...which is kinda neat.

So what does hijab do for me? Well, it gives me a sense of security, control, relief... I have the ability to filter what people are seeing without owning a television network. It's also somewhat like taking your cellphone along every time you leave your home--as if its being with you will protect you from being kidnapped, raped, shot, stuck in an elevator, or even drowning in some flash flood without anyone knowing about it. Very deluded, yes... And yet, you probably wouldn't leave without your cellphone, right? So I think that's how it works, and you wouldn't understand the cellphone thing until you get used to having one, just like hijab.

What does oppression have to do with hijab? Well, I've just been stating that hijab does not necessarily liberate. If oppression is the opposite of liberation, we might claim that hijab does not necessarily oppress. This statement leaves room for the fact that hijab may not liberate one from oppression. So I had mentioned earlier that gender dictates whether or not we will be prone to self-oppression or oppressing others of the opposite gender. As a female, I am most likely to be self-oppressive. Note that this nature is not being limited to Muslims or any particular culture--it seems to happen universally.

Hijab does not have an effect on self-oppression necessarily, nor does it on self-liberation. Self-oppression and self-liberation are not definite, but lie on a spectrum. Thus, one can be subject to more or less of either, at any given moment. That's probably why it takes work to progress towards liberation--history has proven that it is impossible to completely cut all ties with any kind of oppression over night and be "liberated" the next morning. You're probably thinking, "Iraq," but this can also apply to internal struggles all human beings continually experience.

It is true that those who will to use hijab as a means to self-liberation can--but only to an extent. Hijab doesn't protect one from the shayateen, anymore than it guarantees Paradise.

And so I hope my fellow hijabies, as well as those who are not familiar with hijab, and those in between, can better understand that hijab, for people like me, is a means to serve intrinsic needs that all women should be capable of minimally understanding. It isn't just some Muslim thing ordered upon women--that is far from the truth. There is more to it than most Muslim women are likely to explore. And I'm still learning.

If anyone's actually gotten to the end of this post and wants to discuss any of the above further, I would eagerly look forward to doing so.

Also, please note that I'm not encouraging or discouraging any kind of behavior through this post. Rather, as initially stated, it is merely a collection of my personal observations, based on my individual experiences. Nothing more, and nothing less.


Outspoken Soul said...

Interesting...Isn't the "sense of security, control, relief" and "the ability to filter what people are seeing without owning a television network" that you say hijab gives you a form of liberation? So in that sense, hijab is liberating !?

I guess it depends on each person's definition of what liberation is .. they differ, which is one message (of many) I get from your post. :)


Samira said...

Salam Ya Ukhti :)

When hijab liberates me from my devices--i.e. my pride, my vanity, my enslavement to mundane desires--I will most certainly at least post about it, i'A :)

Your claim is well taken--I totally see what you're saying. And theoretically, it should hold true. But for "hijabies" like myself, hijab, though not exactly liberating, serves other needs. Liberation, arguably, is the highest need, because it would allow us to be as close to Allah as we can get, right? But until one reaches that level, I think the other needs it meets, such as "security," especially for the introvert, are also valuable. And thus I distinguish what you've quoted from the idea of a liberating hijab. And perhaps, in my definition, there are degrees of liberation, and perhaps I'm not quite in the "zone" yet for it to really be liberation. I hope that makes some kind of sense.

Samira said...

I just realized that you tied "liberation" with "sense of security, control..." I guess I should have made it more clear that I'm assuming the very need for these things we lack as human beings is enslaving. The most liberated any of us could be (and I may be wrong about this) seems to be through absolute trust in and recognition of Allah, Subhan wa Ta`Ala. But it seems that so long as we worry--about anything, really--we are enslaving ourselves to ignorance of Allah. And that, indeed, is the epitome of self-oppression, because we exist in rememberance of our shortcomings as opposed to the limitless Power and attributes of Allah.

So if hijab facilitates rememberance of Allah, then we're using it correctly. But external devices go only so far--even fasting. It is certainly possible that someone fasts the entire month of Ramadan but gets no use out of it. Both fasting and hijab, and salat, seem to be tools we can use to progress towards liberation from our self-oppressive thoughts and actions.

rima said...

i don't think you can assign such characteristics to hijab, i.e. labeling it liberating or oppressive. it's something that is commanded of us and so one should just accept it as such. keeping in mind that hijab is NOT the head scarf, rather this scarf is only one element. i don't think i need to get into the whole concept of inner and outer hijab. but hijab is a barrier. you place this barrier, or it is placed for you. and it can and should be used to block out haram.

with regard to whether it is oppressing or liberating, both or neither... an individual who truly understands hijab can never be oppressed when practicing it. i've actually been working on a post about that... you've inspired me to finish it inshaa allah.

some people may feel oppressed by it, and i contend that is due to a lack of understanding of the nature of it and wisdom behind it on the part of the one wearing it (head scarf, et al), and the one who had them wear it.

understanding comes with iman, or vice versa.

personally? i feel completely free, walhamdulillah.

Samira said...

masha Allah. And I look forward to the post :)

rima said...

oh, dude. i wan't saying anything about you, i hope you know. i love you :)

Samira said...

I didn't think you were at any point--no worries :)

...about to check your blog for this post...


rima said...

haha i am not that quick. it will take me a couple days to get the post up inshaa allah :) i'll let you know inshaa allah. btw you still owe me a phone call. i owe you two, but you owe me one, do not forget!

Samira said...

OMG...serves me right to try to use big words...

So people, when I say "devices," I actually mean "vises/vices." And if I mean to actually say "devices," I'll probably go with "things."

Your Overzealous Blogger/Editor-in-Chief [Unfortunately for us all]

arafat said...

fascinating post.