Today, February 1, is the third annual World Hijab Day. I heard about it at the beginning of February last year, but not until it was over. I put a reminder in my calendar so I wouldn’t miss it this year. This is not my first time wearing hijab, but the one other time was only for a few hours. I had taken my children to a Diwali celebration with some Sikhs. We all covered our heads (including my son) to avoid standing out as much, and also to avoid possibly offending anyone. Everyone there was incredibly wonderful, and we really enjoyed our visit.
This time, I’m doing it to see what it’s like to wear hijab for an entire day. The first reactions I had to it myself were that I feel younger and prettier, and a little mysterious. Then I noticed that it was an odd sensation to have it on. It slipped a little, and I had to get some assistance to put it on correctly. It was a little inconvenient at first, but no more than my long hair (which also gets in the way sometimes). In the hours that I’ve worn it, I’ve gotten very used to it, and almost forgot about it (even though I’m writing about it now). My husband woke up later than I did this morning. I had the hijab on before he came down the stairs, and he seemed a bit surprised, but he doesn’t object to it. No one else has seen it on me yet.
The purpose behind World Hijab Day, from what I’ve read, is to help dispel the many myths surrounding the tradition of wearing hijab. Not everyone has the perception that only oppressed women would ever cover their head, but many do think that. As much as I support the idea of helping people stand up for themselves, I’ve seen how doing what you feel is ‘helping ‘ can be the wrong thing to do sometimes. I ran into a situation as a substitute teacher. One of the other teachers, I found out, was allowing a young girl to take off her hijab during the time she was in that teacher’s class. The girl’s father showed up one day, and the teacher was trying to hide the girl while she tried to find her hijab. The teacher later told me that she told the girl to take it off earlier in the school year, and always allowed her to do so even though the girl’s parents had specifically told the girl not to take it off, and told the teacher to let her wear it. I went to administration about this, but they sided with the teacher. While I don’t personally think it necessary for a young girl to cover her hair (she was only around 7 years old), I was appalled that the teacher and administration felt there was nothing wrong with not only encouraging a child to disobey her parents, but also assisting her in doing so! Would they have done the same thing for a child who didn’t want to wear a kashket, yarmulke, Mennonite prayer kapp, dashtar (which is extremely common in that district), or turban? A child who wanted to wear skimpy clothing or makeup? A child who wanted to cross dress? A child who wanted to cut or shave off his or her hair? Would they have interfered if a girl wanted to wear hijab if her parents forbade it? I doubt it, and hope that they wouldn’t. I don’t feel it’s a teacher’s job to make a child dress a certain way, but I also don’t feel it’s a teacher’s job to tell a child to disobey his or her parents, and/or cover it up when he or she does. I also don’t feel it’s anyone’s right to harass or try to intimidate someone about their personal clothing and headgear choices.
I can’t figure out the reasoning behind all of this. People are getting upset about a piece of cloth on someone’s head? I remember going to church and seeing the older women, especially widows, sitting there with lace coverings on their hair. What about nuns? Their head covers look nearly identical to hijab. I wore a veil for my First Holy Communion. Many brides wear views. I’ve never seen a picture or statue of the Virgin Mary with her hair uncovered. Some women wear scarves for reasons of fashion. No one accuses any of them of being brainwashed or weak. Some cultures don’t require women to cover their upper bodies. Do people in those cultures consider us oppressed because we wear shirts? I imagine that some women are forced to wear hijab when they don’t choose it, just as some women in this country are forced to do things they don’t want. I’ve heard of women who are forced by their ‘lovers’ to endure physical and verbal abuse, ordered to stay in their home and not leave, not allowed to talk to friends or family members, only permitted to wear certain clothing, and even have their day to day activities dictated to them. I know these things happen far too often, but we don’t claim that all women in the United States are oppressed because some are.
The irony to me is that many well-meaning people feel they are helping women to feel free. Women who actually ARE forced to wear hijab are not really being helped by people sounding off about them. Women who choose to wear hijab are affected by the spread of these myths. As I sit here on the couch, wearing hijab for the day, I’m concerned about the reactions I might get when I leave the house. I’ve hear d about women being hassled for doing what is THEIR CHOICE. Today, this is my choice, and I’m wondering if I will also be hassled for it. It’s kind of embarrassing and sad that I have to be somewhat relieved that World Hijab Day is on a Sunday this, my first year. Would I be as brave if it were on a weekday? I probably won’t know at least until February 1, 2016.
I don’t like at all that anyone is being oppressed anywhere, or that people’s rights are being taken from them. However, focusing on women who wear – or don’t wear – certain things is, in my opinion, not the way to solve any of these problems.