Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Guest Posting on The Hijab - Maryam

Introduction: This is the first of an occasional series of guest postings by friends who comment on my main site. The purpose of the postings is to explore aspects of Islamic culture often misunderstood or treated with hostility and contempt in the West. To my mind one of the most telling parts of her posting is where she says:

I was treated with great hostility by self-described feminists who saw only the hijab and not the woman wearing it. It seemed that in their eyes I could not be a properly "civilised," or "emancipated," woman unless I was prepared to accept their definition of what it was to be "modern," "civilised," and "emancipated." I rejected then and reject now the idea that anybody can be "liberated" on somebody else's terms.

Maryam sometimes comments here and participates vigorously in other fora. I first met her more than thirty years ago when I was an Irish schoolboy living in Vancouver for a year. During my third (and final!) attempt to learn ice skating I skated over a tooth left on the ice by some other eedjit's accident, went flying, and crashed head first and at high speed into the barrier. Maryam's fiancé skated over, helped me to my feet and drove me to hospital where I was attended to by an exhausted and overworked intern - Maryam. She patched me up, assured me that I would be no more brainless as a result of my mishap than I had been before it, and dragooned Hussein into driving me home. Hussein was surprised that I asked him how one said "thank you" in Arabic and sufficiently curious about Ireland that he invited me to join them the next weekend for a picnic. The three of us have been firm friends ever since.

markfromireland



Hijab: The Enchancer of Modesty - Maryam

In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.

My friend markfromireland the follower of the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) has asked me to write some brief notes on the Hijab.

The word "Hijab" itself comes from the Arabic word "hajaba" which has the meaning "to hide from view or to conceal" and its context is the modest clothing of Muslims - women and men alike.

The Hijab has many aspects, but the one which I am going to explore is that of modesty and, as I am a woman, I am going to concentrate upon the Hijab for women. For a Muslim woman the Hijab is meant to help her preserve her modesty and thus protect her God given dignity as a woman and as a human being. This naturally leads to the following questions:

  • What is modesty?
  • How does the hijab help preserve it?

While I was preparing to write this I looked in several English language dictionaries. All of them defined "modesty" in generic terms that gave no indication as to the word's significance and expressed "modesty" in terms of the clothes worn and of lacking vanity. The kindest thing I can say of such unspecific statements is that they are sufficiently vague and fluid to mould well to changing mores. For me as a Muslim however modesty is far more inclusive and profound than it appears to be for Westerners, moreover it does not change as time goes by. It is both a way of dressing and a code of conduct.

Clothing

Hijab sets itself up a a preserver of modesty. In broad terms clothes for women may not emphasise the shape, be see-through, or excessively short. The essential idea is that the beauty that we as women possess naturally by the grace of God - Subhana wa Ta'ala - is not there to be used as latitude for exploitation.

Men are subject to similar commands but because God did not create men in such an beautiful shape as he did women they do not have to cover as much. :-)

Behaviour

Hijab is also a code of behaviour and one that is binding upon men and women alike. Both sexes are required to act in such a way as to enchance the dignity and respect of both parties. Naturally this means that behaviour such as flirtation, and philandering are strictly forbidden. This is not to be a "kill joy" - to use the English expression it is to protect us from being treated as the source of illicit (haram) pleasures.

It is for example forbidden to flirt with a woman because the object of such flirtation is to treat her as a sexual object and a sexual object only. When I deal with a man either in my professional capacity as a doctor or in my "lay" capacity I expect him to treat me with respect. In short I expect him to defer to my knowledge of my field and to treat me personally in such a way that I feel at ease and unthreatened while doing business with him.

Hijab has other benefits first as an aid to Taqwa (piety,) and secondly as a way of asserting one's identity.

The Hijab As An Aid to Taqwa (Piety)

Can a Muslim woman be pious without observing hijab? Of course she can and many are! It is not for me or anyone else to try to perceive what is in somebody's heart from how they dress. The Holy Qur'an states:

"…And God knows what is in your hearts…" (Surah 33: 51)

Only God Subhaana wa ta 'ala knows who has faith and who does not, and only God knows the extent of any one person's belief. I wear the Hijab, my mother does not, each of us is quite comfortable with her decision, each of us is a Muslim. I wear the Hijab because I find it helps me on my path. It is not that those such as myself who wear hijab are better than those who do not. It is, as I have often heard our host say, that there are as many individual paths to God as there are human beings and that my path (and that of many of my sisters) involves wearing the Hijab.

The Hijab As Assertion Of Identity

I also wear the Hijab to assert my identity first as a Muslim and then as an Iraqi. I spent many years in the West after I first qualified as a doctor following my dream of becoming the best pediatric oncologist that I possibly could be. Often during those years I was treated with great hostility by self-described feminists who saw only the hijab and not the woman wearing it. It seemed that in their eyes I could not be a properly "civilised," or "emancipated," woman unless I was prepared to accept their definition of what it was to be "modern," "civilised," and "emancipated." I rejected then and reject now the idea that anybody can be "liberated" on somebody else's terms.

For me both as a Muslim and as an Iraqi the hijab is an honour and a duty for me personally. I wear it for its comfort. I wear it as an envoy of peace. I wear it as a symbol of my joy that I am a Muslim and an Iraqi. Most importantly I wear it as an invitation to my Muslim sisters to join me in a life that moves in only one direction - towards God. It gladdens my heart that more and more women have accepted this invitation.

Maryam

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