New ‘Muslim Fantasy Fabric’ is Better than Gore-Tex
It’s Summer and hot as hell getting hotter, and people are flinging off as many clothes as they possibly can – including me. Although perhaps you couldn’t tell, since I can’t fling off quite as much as most people. But trust me, when you catch me in July, I’m wearing as little as possible (oo-er)(oh stop it!).
For a Muslim woman, what we wear is perhaps most on our minds at times like this. When you walk around thinking, ‘oh God I don’t want to wear ANYTHING’, it’s definitely the sign of a troubled mind.
In the fantasy world that exists in my head, I imagine scientists – the same scientists who developed Gore-Tex and neoprene – would be given massive government private grants to develop a fabric that while durable, opaque and flowing, would also have cooling technology, absorb sweat and have built-in deodorising properties. About half a billion women in the world could be very very interested in that.*
I would pay at least £40 (what? that’s a LOT of money to me) for a jilbab that did all that. And I bet it would take off with non-Muslims, too – it’d be a real alternative to no few clothes, and really, if you’re given the choice of not wearing clothes in the pursuit of cool, or wearing clothes that actively keep you cool AND protect your skin from the ravages of pollution, UV rays, people spraying miscellaneous fluids like saliva on you, and alien mind-control, what would you choose? Really? REALLY?
Rudely interrupting this sophisticated and complex daydream of a better world, enter…hijabistas.
I know. I didn’t even know there was such a thing.
The fashionista-hijabi is probably pretty self-explanatory: trendy young women (and older – let’s not be ageist) wearing hip and cool streetflash that allows you to ‘be fashionable and express yourself while keeping your modesty’.
Ignoring for a moment (only for a moment, okay?) my problem with the idea of following fashions, herd-like, at any time, it is with no little dismay that I’ve watched the ‘hijab scene’ develop.
I recognise this is a great way of making hijab an attractive option for young Muslim women, or for anyone turned off by the idea of it, but I wonder whether the fashion of hijab is the beginning of losing its way. The more I read and learn and try to understand, the more I feel that the way I dress – and certainly by association, the way I behave – needs a lot of improvement, and not in the direction of fashion dictates. Hijab has an intrinsic beauty everything to do with what it is, and very little to do with how it looks.
I always have bucked every fashion trend, very much down to the reason that what I wore could never fit into what was considered either normal or appealing. Certainly, there have been (rather regrettable) experimental episodes in my Lost Youth (XD) where I was tempted by the devil** to try, but it wasn’t to much avail. My clothes would always be too loose (or not loose enough, depending on who I was trying to please), would always be more concealing, I would always cover my head no matter what – and more. There wasn’t a middle ground that didn’t entail losing some vital part of either or both worlds. I couldn’t win by trying to have both. I chose.
I know to a lot of people, the way I live hijab can seem pretty conservative and even restrictive, but I hope those same people will agree that I am anything but repressed.**** Part of the conflict, I am sure, descends from a belief that there’s an implicit relationship between personality and apparel, but I think this link is a little less distinct, and indeed less important, for some Muslim women. The abaya or jilbab is not their natural clothing: it’s what you throw on TOP of your natural clothing – your feminine, pretty, attractive, colourful and expressive natural clothing. A veil veils that, it doesn’t showcase it. That would, by definition, betray the object. If by covering, I’m revealing something other than a commitment to my Creator – whether it be personality or figure – I personally don’t feel that that is what it is meant to accomplish. If we are to replace the transmission of pheromones with the transmission of personality, you’re simply skinning the cat in a different way.
There are things you come to terms with giving up – especially if, like me, you end up spending more time outside the house than in, and more time in jilbab than out of it – like makeup (God I cannot take makeup off so I only abuse myself with eyeliner if I know I’m not going out for the next two days and THAT nearly never happens). And seriously flat hair when you wear hijab is as inevitable as the death of a snowman on a hot day. Almost permanent tan lines at your wrists? Check. Safety-pin dents in your head? Check. Constantly pricking yourself in the face with pins? Check. Bad hijab days? OMG. CHECKCHECKCHECK.***
Cosmetic considerations aside, however, I’ve found in the course of my covered career there’s a more severe price that, at the end of the day, you do pay. If you wear hijab, yes, you can become an easy target for stupidiots. Yes, it can make you look ‘foreign’ in most English-speaking countries – which at its most harmless creates comical situations, but at its worst can be a real threat to your safety. For South Asian women, including me, vitamin D deficiencies can be problematic in the unwinnable tradeoff for anyone spending a lot of time out of the house.† And yes, evidently, it can provoke xenophobic institutional or governmental policies tailored specifically against you. It is unfortunate – and more than unfortunate, without a doubt - that all of these things are true. I’ve experienced nearly all of it at one time or another, but I don’t think that we can or should take responsibility for national insecurity and other people’s inability to see past themselves.
I don’t mean to undermine my Muslim sisters by my tirades against fashion (can you see I’m a crotchety mismatching and unmatched spinster?). Everybody’s process and journey is different: mine (evidently) has never been particularly touched by fashion concerns. I’ve known women in every stage of this process, backwards or forwards, and I’ve met and talked to so many who were in the midst of great transitions, of both an inner and outer nature. It is my sincerest hope that Muslim women don’t lose their way while trying to find it; I hope they can stay beautiful in their souls, stay faithful to their Creator, and live in the world while living for what they believe comes after it.
There is always a price to be paid for your convictions – this is not true about hijab alone, and certainly is not limited to questions of faith, but is true in all things. We constantly make choices based on our convictions, that depend on taking one thing and leaving another. Having a conviction doesn’t mean it’s easy. But it does force you to keep on trying.
* Well, after solving famine, water, medical, hygiene and other issues. And poverty in general. Debt. Wars. Tyrannical government. Etc.
** Merely an expression. You wouldn’t think about it twice if I were a heathen, would you?
*** Because, contrary to popular belief, hijab is not the end of bad hair days – or rather, it IS, but it’s also the beginning of REALLY REALLY BAD hijab days. I’m not kidding. I have them all the time often sometimes every so often.
**** I SHOULD be more repressed. How often my mouth gets me into trouble. Sigh.
† Erratum: There is actually no relationship between covering and vitamin D deficiency in South Asian women, on the authority of the doctors of the endocrine unit of St. Thomas’ Hospital (London). Thanks to my sister for the correction.