Occasionally a secular type Muslim confesses to me that my hijab intimidated them when we first met. Like, they thought I would be kind of narrow and holy-moly before they got to know me. They assumed I would judge them and give them fiery lectures when they erred. A lot of more outwardly religious type Muslims are like that, I guess. There really are some of us who blurt things out in an attempt to intimidate others towards faith. I think of myself as a sort of Middle Path person, so I try to avoid that sort of thing unless it is a very well placed mini-lecture. But I guess I should take the painful experience of dealing with the more zealous Holy-Molies into consideration when analyzing one of the typical and easily categorized reactions to hijab, so as to be less taken aback by it.
An example: At my daughter’s class birthday parties there are these women of Muslim backgrounds but who are sort of upper class or elites in their home countries and they are very posh looking, surgery-fied and show up for toddler parties wearing the latest fashionable outfits and tall high heels. Their housemaids chase the kids while they chat amongst each other. For them, hijab is “lower class.” These women hardly talk to me, probably because they think I am judging them. Well, I am judging them, I suppose. But not in that “You are going to hell, you harlots of tabarruj” sense. More like, “Wow, I couldn’t even tell she had a nose job because the last birthday party was in dim lighting but now that we are in direct sunlight I can see the nose job and lip injections. How could I have missed that before?” kind of way. But they think I am judging them in the Holy-Moly way. I leave the first kind of judgement up to God. And I tell myself to stop being so shallow and silly with regards to that other catty innervoice (geeze, I guess I am pretty shallow about some things). But I can tell that I make these women uncomfortable. Their husbands jump 5 feet out of my path because of the hijab. They behave very awkwardly around me. They look down and avoid my eyes. One time a woman of this sort said to me out of nowhere, “You are so good wearing hijab and you are not even an Arab. I would like to wear hijab, but I am not ready. But you are so much better than us! God bless you.” That revealed a lot to me. First of all, I am not better than any one of them, and only God knows what is in their hearts. Also, hijab has nothing to do with being an Arab. That aside, these women are comfortable as they are in their closed settings with their friends and family members, but in the broader picture in their countries they are looked down upon for not towing the party line and wearing hijab. They probably get lots of comments from people who would like to see them covered up (which I feel is an individual choice, and no one should be bullied into it!). So when they see me, it could somehow remind them of that sort of thing. They are bearing a social burden by not being covered. They are seen by their societies as the opposite of the goodness embodied on the image of a woman who dresses like me. That must be another reason I make them uncomfortable.
Another example: One of my husband’s cousins confided that he was afraid of me when we first met. (I am the only one in the entire khaandaan who wears a headscarf except for one other bahu who lives in America) Because of my scarf, he had expected me to be something different. He had his own (mis)perceptions about scarf wearing women in the Pakistani context. He was relieved that I turned out to be “nice and easy going.” It hadn’t even occurred to me that anyone would ever feel afraid to meet me, but now that I look back on other interactions between my rather secular extended in-laws, I can see their perceptions of hijab coloring our initial conversations.
All I can say is that I really think religiousness is personal. I really could care less if these people choose to cover or not. It is their business. I have enough to worry about looking after my own errant soul. I feel increasingly non-spiritual these days. My mind concentrates more on worldly things and occasionally strays toward the depths of vapididity (noticing nose jobs and so forth). I believe in hijab for myself, and I need to practice some heart softening activities. But to some people, my outward appearance is conveying a Holy-Molyness that I just don’t possess. It aslo strikes me how much class and ideas of religiosity are so intertwined for some people. Anyhow, it is hard to imagine how li’l ole me could possibly intimidate anyone, but I guess I do scare some people! Boo!