On a whim, I gave in and answered one of those questionnaires on Facebook. Those questionnaires that make you think, “That’s five minutes of my life, wasted.” It was entitled, ‘What kind of a hijab are you?’
I was curious, I suppose. I wondered if the result would be what I usually wear when I burst out of my front door most mornings. The questions asked me about things unrelated to clothing, or lack of it. Rather, the questions were about my opinions on free speech, free-mixing etc. I ticked all the required boxes and clicked to get the result, and to my astonishment, I was a – wait for it – dupatta! Well, that certainly made my eyebrows raise.
I have nothing against dupattas, as long as they are kept well away from gas hobs, and they do help to make you look decent in front of relatives who can see you without the full hijab, but still aren’t that close. They can be useful as an instantly-handy Kleenex replacement during tear-jerking films – but I digress. Dupattas, however, are not what I will wear outside, even if they covered enough, as I can’t be doing with all that flipping them back over my head every five minutes. No, my pieces of cloth that constitute a ‘hijab’ are held firmly in place with truckloads of safety pins, to avoid them flying away in any tornado that may descend upon Sweden!
How dare they judge? But so do I..!
What it really made me think was the person who constructed this ‘quiz’, had certain assumptions about the points of view, according to the style of hijab a Muslimah wears. ‘Dupatta’ means she will talk to a member of the opposite sex, if necessary, and a ‘full niqabi’ will never leave the four walls of her home. But don’t we all have assumptions? Don’t we all expect someone with a big hijab to have big iman? Well, this may well be the case, but I have come across sisters in full niqab, standing outside an Islamic conference, probably not knowing it was an issue, chatting away like sparrows tweeting in spring to men who were obviously not their husbands. Then I know of un-scarfed sisters who never miss a prayer and whose smiles to fellow sisters fill charity boxes to the brim – both situations surprised me.
Not the whole story
The hijab, or lack of it, will always create expectations in people’s minds, myself included. Clothing is part of our non-verbal communication, but like false smiles, will not be telling the full story. My own journey of hijab, from Tie Rack scarfs and trousers to jilbab and big, flowy plain scarves, does reflect to a certain extent my journey of knowledge and iman. But my hijab doesn’t reveal that I still have the same foibles as I’ve always had, such as insisting on tea at 4pm (I am queen of my house), or that my negative streaks have magically vanished with the whoosh of a pashmina.
So, a Facebook questionnaire has made a judgment about me and countless other sisters; I can forget about this. But despite being on the receiving end of judgements, if I see a sister wearing niqab losing it with her children or a non-hijabed sister advising someone on fiqh, I will probably start to act like the Facebook questionnaire. A sister with niqab who turns out to be the life and soul at an ‘Eid party should not surprise me, as similarly as a sister who wears no Islamic dress may not be at all happy to talk to the opposite sex.
I should think twice and remind myself that we are all individual human beings, not robots, behind whatever apparel we choose to wear. I’ll try to remember that I’m not wearing a white, curly wig, but an ordinary, black scarf.
Khadijah Stott-Andrew questions the assumptions we make based on a sister’s level of hijab.
Author, Umm Zakiyyah shares her experiences of reclaiming her hijab.
Umm Suhayb lives in chilly Sweden with her husband and five children. She loves creative writing, particularly poetry.