Monday, July 19, 2010

Social experiment

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.

Miriam herself carried on as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

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.


Susanne said...

Adorable! I love the picture! I know of several nonMuslims who wear the headscarf some here in the US and some in the Middle East and Pakistan. Some people find it offensive if you come to their conservative land and DON'T wear it from what I understand from reading blogs. Even in Greg Mortenson's book I see pictures of his young daughter and wife wearing hijab while in Pakistan and Aghanistan. Granted they aren't also wearing shorts.... ;)

I love these kinds of posts! Did you see the article about the American girl who has a Muslim father who decided she wanted to wear hijab in NC? A lot of Muslim bloggers posted that link recently. It was in Oprah's magazine.

Susanne said...

I found it for you if you are interested.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Until about 1970 women in the US often wore headscarves both the kerchief variety and some larger, like Meme's. They were worn to protect professionally styled hairdos from wind and rain. My mom had a kerchief drawer in her dresser. I'm with Meme's desire to mimic style, but think your caution is appropriate for Egypt. If you watch some old movies (Grace Kelley or Lauren Bacall era) you'll see plenty of scarves.

Liz Johnson said...

I love it. I'm glad that she was so well-received... imagine if she had gotten a tongue-lashing from some old woman??

I would love to see the response if she wore that in the US. I wonder how different it would be.


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