We are breaking from our regular broadcast about Indonesia to bring you a link to an article about head coverings. This is relevant to Indonesia as there are more Muslims in Indonesia than the Middle East.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/personal/06/09/o.daughter.muslim.scarf/index.html

This is a story of a typical American mom whose nine year old decides that she wants to wear a hijab, Islamic head covering. It’s well written. It’s an interesting introspection from the mother’s point of view. I still feel it misses aspects of head covering rituals I saw while living in the Middle East. In a community where many girls do not cover, I can see this act as a means of self-expression, a way of loftily ignoring popular mores. Some of us achieved the same effect by wearing hand me downs that weren’t really meant for young girls or by burying our noses in books. But Americans in general seem to have missed the boat on hijabs. Even this mother doesn’t seem to understand that it can be just as much a fashion statement as a bikini–for all the same reasons.

If I’m ever in the position of having a daughter who wants to wear a hijab, I think my answer would be the same as my mother’s when my sister begged for pierced ears, “When you’re thirteen.” Wearing a hijab signals a coming of age, that you are now a young woman. Many young women in the States signal this with an impractical string bikini. At least the hijab will ensure that your neck doesn’t get sunburned.

If you think that wearing a hijab is a purely religious act, then you should walk into a girls’ bathroom at a school with Muslim teens who cover. At Mar Elias, half the girls would be brushing their hair while those with hijabs were busy adjusting theirs to look as nice as possible. Many of the girls used pearl or sequined pins for added flair. In the markets, young girls rifled through the mountains of fabric searching for what would most accurately express their sense of fashion in the same way American teens hunt for a kick-ass pair of jeans. If you think that girls who cover aren’t concerned with their looks, then you need a course on human nature. Just look at the picture of mother and daughter from the article. Her hijab is bright and colorful; it’s an expression of herself.

Of course the other side of all of this is that both these ideas of beauty have been fed to women by a paternalistic society. How is being leered at for showing skin any different from being told that nice girls cover up? I had days in the Middle East where I wanted to put on a hijab because I hoped it would give me more protection from the visual sexual harassment that is simply a part of life in so many places, not least of which is the American high school. This of course goes back to my comment on human nature. Girls are conditioned to care about how we look. Our image is very important. Guys, and my brother might not be the best litmus test, just don’t care. That’s not what they’re told is significant. However, most teenage girls do. Now the girl in the article may be the exception (she’s also only nine) like I was. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that most girls are very conscious about how they look and what that says about them. They will compare who is stylish and who isn’t whether its about sparkling hijabs or Tiffany bracelets. There’s a lot of work to be done on the actual problems not the question of whether your daughter is covering or not.

After all, what’s more embarrassing: cute photos of you wearing colorful scarves or those shots during your Goth phase?

I rest my case. Back to our regularly scheduled program.

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