Nadia Elawady writing at the blog Inner Workings of My Mind has a secret. She wanted to find out what life was like without the hijab, her Muslim headscarf:
…I experimented last week. I took off my hijab – the headscarf many Muslim women wear to cover their hair.
I have been wearing a headscarf when I leave the privacy of my home for 25 years, since I was 17. That’s a long long time in human years.
I took my hijab off during a recent trip to Europe. I wanted to know what it would feel like. I wanted to know how people’s perceptions of me would change and how my perception of myself would change.
I had been thinking about the whole hijab issue for years – if you haven’t already figured that out from my blog. Why is the hijab considered obligatory in Islam for women? Is it really obligatory or was it just something that a group of men decided was most appropriate for women of that time and age to protect them? Does what applied more than 1400 years ago still apply now? And if so, why? Does a woman really need to cover herself from head to toe to avoid being harassed or being seen as a sex object?
I had been traveling around the world for ten years and while doing so I observed women, how they dressed, and how men reacted. The conclusion I always came to was that women all over the world were wearing what they wanted to wear and for the most part were not treated inappropriately because of how they dressed but rather how certain people reacted to dress based on their own convictions. What I noticed is that no matter what a woman wears, there are some people out there who treat women inappropriately. There are men who will harass women that are scantily dressed and men who will harass women covered from head to toe. There are people – men and women – who treat women with disgust because they are scantily dressed and other people – men and women – who treat women with disgust because they are covered from head to toe.
I’m trying to open my mind and heart these days. I’m trying to figure out what I feel is right and what I feel is wrong, not based on what I was taught to believe but what I myself truly believe. To do this, I’ve been trying to start from scratch to see where I’ll end up. It’s really not easy. There are layers upon layers of conditioning and memorizing and learning since childhood that one needs to dig through to reach an original innocence to start from. I haven’t found that original innocence yet.
It really was an interesting experience. When I started comparing how I thought I was perceived without the hijab and how I thought I was perceived with it, I truly could not find any significant difference. That completely shocked me. Apart from that one feeling of relative invisibility and lack of attention at the hotel breakfast hall, I was pretty much invisible no matter what I wore when I went out. I even tried wearing a short dress and heels. Nothing.
No matter what I wore, there were still the rude people, the nice people, and the we-could-care-less people.
Welcome to the world of women – how often do we feel invisible in meetings and other places, except with those who want to give unwanted attention?
What is your experience?