United Arab Emirates Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced a new cabinet that includes the nation’s first “Minister for Happiness.” Minister of Happiness Ohood Al Roumi will focus “on the future, youth, happiness, developing education, and combating climate change,” the prime minister said in a statement.
Along with the announcement came a picture of the round-faced Al Roumi clad in a robin’s egg blue hijab against a bright blue background. Hijab equals happiness.
Recently, I was assigned to photograph a Modesty Movement Workshop. The photography request insisted that the photographer be female. The photo editor’s suspicions were immediately aroused. Was this group going to force me to wear the hijab? If I didn’t, would a mob be standing by to beat me up?
“Be careful!” he urged. “Call me immediately if anything is wrong.”
I had a pretty good notion of female Muslims by now. Their woman, save for a few suicidal, female jihadists, are pretty tame and harmless. “Female only” meant there wouldn’t be any men around. I figured as long as I didn’t photograph them hijab-less, with their hair flowing, ready to drive spears into the heart of Muslim manhood, everything would be okay.
What to do about my own hair. There was no real problem in that regard. Being hideous and thick, I’ve taken to growing my no-win hair out and back, rather than over my over-heated forehead. My plan has been to wear it in a longer, more mature ponytail for casual dress, and in a bun for work. If I ever find it, that is.
Since the event was bound to be fraught with cultural sensitivity, I decided on a bun. I also had a collection of what used to be called “kerchiefs” or “scarves” from my mother and maternal grandmother. I’m old enough to remember the days when women wore scarves on rainy days to protect their hair-dos. They looked rather like older Muslim women do today.
I didn’t want to wear the scarf, though I kept in my pocket. If I had to – if the situation required wearing it, I would (I’d removed my shoes for a ritual in a Hindu temple). But only if it was absolutely necessary.
I arrived to find a conglomeration of women from “The Umma” as they called it – the Muslim “world.” There were obviously American women wearing the hijab and other American Muslim women bareheaded. This was a Turkish cultural center with many Turkish immigrants who all wore the hijab. In addition, there were women from other parts of the world – Southeast Asia, the Philippines and India – who were not wearing the hijab and looked like they had absolutely no intention of doing so, though they would support their “sisters” who chose to wear the thing.
Seeing that other women were not in hijab, I kept my scarf in my pocket. I felt that to wear it would be to misrepresent myself to them. As it turned out, simply wearing my hair in a bun gave them to believe that I was a “sister.” Yikeys. What a fix. Modesty is so out of fashion in the West, in their eyes, that any modest woman must naturally be Muslim.
A week before 9/11, a bikini-clad beach bunny plunked herself right down beside me on Long Island’s Jones Beach, even though a wide expanse beach was available for the taking. I thought at the time that this bikini-busting babe, with every curving popping out of what little she wore, was out of her mind. But if some outraged Muslim male decided to lop off all her curves, here in America, that was her problem, not mine. I just wanted to know why she had to sit all her curves down right next to me.
When one of the hostesses at the fashion show asked where I was from (meaning in the Umma) and I gave a non-committal, slightly sheepish answer of, “The Newspaper”, the truth evidently occurred to her, at last. Her face fell to her hijab pin and she hastily scooted away.
The purpose of the fashion show was to encourage modest, but fashionable wardrobes. Some of the dresses looked a bit dowdy; others looked like they’d come straight from the 1980s. But who would see anything of these dresses under their coat-like hijab garb?
The speakers said that it was time for the Muslim Sisterhood to unite the female Umma in feminine modesty. They spoke about issues facing the Sisters, such as ISIS?
“What do we do about ISIS?” one speaker asked. “We don’t have any answers? Do any of you? Maybe we can discuss it today?”
What can they do about ISIS? Not a whole lot, considering that their husbands or fathers would beat them, not even within an inch of their lives, but to death if one stray hair peeped out from under the hijab.
Hair straying out from under the hijab, it turns out, is practically impossible. The hijab consists of two parts: an undercover hair net somewhat like a shower cap only tighter and made of cloth for underneath that gathers up every single hair and the outer shawl, larger than the standard scarf that starts at the peak of the head and comes down to the shoulders.
The two folds are pinned at the neck, then brought crosswise back across the shoulders and pinned again in the back behind each shoulder. Gads! Wouldn’t Velcro be easier? There were two types of inner caps, the traditional rounded hair cap that follows the contours of the head and a more modern hair cap that looks like something from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The modern cap features a visor in the front and a pointed tail behind.
The hostess greeted the visitors from all around the globe. She noted that some women were not wearing the hijab at all and that was all right – for now. “Hijab is a process,” she explained, part of the female jihad or journey, as she put it, towards modesty and righteousness. “As time goes by, you’ll get used to it, especially as more women in the Umma accept the hijab” as a normal part of being a female Muslim. She crowed about growing ranks of Muslim women and her audience cheered.
At first the older women smiled at me, graciously. But then, their smiles turned to unpleasant grimaces and their eyes glittered maliciously. Somehow, I’d been outed. Probably it had something to do with not joining in the Muslim prayers.
Still, the young women running the event were quite gracious and offered me food from the luncheon. I must say, whatever the rolled-up meat treat they had on had was made of, it was certainly delicious. So was their rice dish. Yummy.
After everyone ate, I took pictures of the hijab presentation, carefully avoiding the uncovered portions. I watched carefully, figuring I might have to don this darned thing someday. I remember the days – or at least the photos of the days from my mother’s album – when ladies were required to wear hats and gloves. Roman Catholic nuns used to cover themselves from head to toe, just the way Muslim women do now and no one batted an eye. But then the Flying Nun’s mission wasn’t to expose all the infidels to hideous deaths.
All that ended in the mid-Sixties, along with men’s fedoras. I was disappointed when my father stopped wearing his hat. He looked really handsome in that hat. So did all the men. But he said there were fashion rules even for men. Even men had to go along with the fashion crowd or they would stand out, and nobody wanted to stand out.
Just as behatted women stood out after the Counterculture Revolution of the 1960s, the Hijab Revolution will ostracize the daring woman who goes out on the street, unaccompanied by a male relative, with her hair blowing in the wind. The speaker talked about Muslim girls who were gibed for wearing the hijab in school. I agreed with them – at least to a point. This is America. A person should wear whatever they want to wear, so long as they’re not displaying their Lady or Gentleman parts.
But we live in a real world, where social norms rule, especially fashion norms. Women are ruthless in their fashion dictates. I’ve been given the going-over by mother – and by my fatuous older brother – for growing my hair long, which allows my prominent ears to stick out, and not tending promptly to my increasing excess of gray hairs. “Mind your own business” and “Leave me alone” goes right over their heads. They seem to think that, no matter my age, they have an inherent and dutiful right not only to tell me what to do (I’m 56!) but to insult me if I don’t heed them.
So you can imagine what living in a totalitarian Umma will be like. They’re treating the matter gently now, to coax women into donning the hijab. Once they gain dominance, however, the beatings will begin and American women will be running to the bazaar to buy, at great expense, the under-hijab hair covering that I pragmatically purchased for $5. The shawls, made of silk, are a good deal more costly. Silk is used because the Muslims, being preternaturally superstitious, believe the fabric keeps evil out of their hair.
Don’t think I look forward to the day when I’ll have to wear this cursed thing. I’ve just finished growing my thick hair out and backwards to keep it off my over-heated forehead. But now, the future portends my having to wear a hair covering and a heavy shawl just to get from my car to a store or a workplace without being beaten to a pulp.
Will American women really heave-to this fashion extremism? They were fast enough to go to the extreme with mini-skirts in order to mock Christian morality. Turning their noses up at clucking tongues required no great act of courage. Will they have the same temerity to revolt against the dictates of Muslim Modesty with AK-47s pointed at their curly heads?