Saturday, March 29, 2008

Me So Hijab

HijabWalking the halls of my large, very international, urban university, I often find myself face to face with what I once considered human-sized jawas: Muslim women wearing hijab. In fact, over the past few semesters I’ve even befriended a few such women who work in my department. But when our eyes meet, I feel their gaze bore straight through me. As if I were naked. In fact, I’m a bit unnerved by the intensity of their stare. I am always the first to look away.

The interaction starts out mundane enough: light chatting about students or professors, general academic conversations. But then they invariably make some kind of inappropriate comment (insofar as Muslim law is concerned!) about my hair. Or my earrings. Or my clothes.

Growing up in Texas, I of course have been conditioned to be friendly and (as the infamous joke goes) even to say, “How nice,” when in fact I mean, “Fuck you.” Typically, when I receive some compliment on my clothes, I can just unthinkingly respond, “You look nice too.” I realized quickly that even the most kind Muslim woman would think I was being an asshole should I make that mistake.

How would I recover from such a faux pas? “Your shroud is so much nicer than Nadira’s!” or “How do you keep your cloak so dark? Is there a special detergent you use?” All-purpose purdah Tide perhaps?

When I’m among my female Muslim colleagues now, I reign in the niceties with a simple “thank you.” But sometimes their comments continue: “You change your hair so often!” “You’ve shaved your head again!” “Why did you take out your earrings?”

It seems I’m nothing but a western inkblot upon which they project their deepest desires: to wear multicolored clothes, to apply hair gel liberally, to slip a little bling into their otherwise drab lives. I wish they could see me for the person I am underneath all the sales-rack wardrobe, expensive cologne, and perfectly coiffed mane.

As one online Islamic “boutique” claims: “Islam liberated woman over 1400 years ago.” But when will I be liberated from being a mere object of fancy to these charming women in chador, to these burqa’d babes gone wild? Their dress is supposed to protect them from the lustful gazes of men, but who is protecting me?!?!

1 comment:

  1. I love you because you make me uncomfortable while you are criticizing people that I would criticize. Damn your good.