When we were at the Khan al-Khalili last week, we bought Miriam her very own headscarf. She had been begging for one for weeks and complaining that the blanket she was using for a makeshift headscarf at home wasn't the right size, and wasn't pretty enough. So we found a stall selling headscarves and out of all the bright colors and exotic patterns, she chose a beautiful dark maroon one.
For the next few days, she insisted on wearing her headscarf around the house. She even wanted to sleep in it, but relented when we told her that not even real muhajjibas wear their hijabs to bed. First thing in the morning, though, she wanted it on, but she was sure to ask if real muhajjibas put theirs on right when they woke up. That's when I found myself trying to explain the concept of "in actual or potential sight of an unrelated male" to my 4.5-year-old. Secretly, I hoped she would never ask to wear the headscarf outside, in public, because I wasn't sure what I would say.
But of course that time came. She asked to wear her headscarf one evening when we were out walking, doing errands. And we let her.
The only reason I even hesitated saying yes is because I wanted to avoid offending anyone. A friend of mine, who is not Muslim, wore the headscarf in Jordan to avoid harrassment from young men. But one day, she got chewed out by an elderly Muslim lady for being disrespectful. I didn't honestly think that any old ladies would yell at my daughter, but I did worry that people would think we were treating the hijab like a joke, even though Miriam is about as respectful of the hijab as a preschooler can be. She adores veiled women and loves seeing the different colors and patterns and fashions they put together in their headscarves. To her, right now, it's an item of clothing, not a serious religious commitment. When she wore the headscarf outside that evening, it was the same as if she were wearing a tiara, or a long, flouncy skirt, or carrying a purse - she was just mimicking a manner of dress that's a little grown-up for her.
So I was very relieved when I saw that the vast majority of people we passed on our walk regarded Miriam with smiles and gentle laughs. They certainly don't see little white girls in shorts and t-shirts wearing a headscarf very often.
Those who didn't laugh or smile mostly just looked at her in bewilderment. But nobody seemed to be offended, and nobody scolded her, or us.
Social experiment WIN, I guess.