I was sitting in the airport, waiting for my flight, when the lady next to me struck up a conversation.
“I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a question about your …” and she pointed to my hijab.
“No, of course not. Go ahead, ” I said.
“Do you have to wear it all the time, like even when you sleep or take a shower?”
I grinned. “No, only when I’m in public or around men I’m not related to.”
“Oh,” she said. Then: “Do you have hair under there?”
I had to laugh. Where do people get ideas like that? It never occurred to me, before I became a Muslim, that a woman wearing a headscarf might be bald underneath, or have to sleep or shower in it. But I didn’t mind the woman asking me. Because at least it showed that she felt like she could talk to me. I’d rather have that than people who nurse crazy ideas about Muslims and don’t give you a chance to refute them.
I can understand the obsession about hair, though. It goes against the grain in this society for a woman to not show off her hair. It’s not called your “crowning glory” for nothing. I suspect that a lot of non-Muslim women (and even some Muslimahs who don’t wear the hijab) feel sorry for women who cover their hair. How can we stand to cover up something that would make us look more attractive?
I agonized over this issue when my daughter got married last November. I’m as vain as any woman and I worried that I would look bad in the wedding pictures with a hijab covering my blonde hair. I’m proud of my hair. I’ve been a blonde all my life, even if I’ve had to help it along in my adult years. But when I began wearing the hijab I started thinking that I might as well let my natural color grow out. No one would be seeing it anyway and I could save a lot of money. (I finally decided, a few years ago, that I was worth a professional cut and color job, but that doesn’t come cheap.)
I oversaw my daughters getting their hair cut and colored for the wedding, but made no plans to get my own hair done. Then, a week before the wedding, it occurred to me that I would know what I looked like underneath the hijab, and it would affect the way I felt about myself.
Most Muslim women I know who wear hijabs still care about their hair. They fuss over it as much as any woman. You’d think that they wouldn’t care since their hair only shows when they’re at home. But apparently that’s enough for a woman to care about how her hair looks, even if she isn’t married with a husband to please.
I’ve come to the conclusion that women do up their hair because they like to look pretty, even if it’s just for themselves.
I worried a lot about my hair when I first became a Muslim. Performing wudu requires that you pass water over your head and all I could think was, How can I keep that from messing up my hair?
Even after I started wearing the hijab, I fussed about how flat my hair looked when I took it off. I finally figured out how to put on my hijabs so that they didn’t press down my hair so much. After a while I got so used to the hijab, I felt weird when I wasn’t wearing it.
I ended up substituting the hijab for my hair. I’ve accumulated an array of scarves in beautiful patterns and colors and I match them to my outfits. I constantly experiment with different ways to arrange them so that they look the most flattering.
If one purpose of wearing hijab is to make a woman less concerned with her appearance, it hasn’t worked out that way for me. I get a lot of pleasure out of how I think I look in hijabs. Even so, there are times when I wish I had the option of showing my hair, just because I think it looks particularly good that day or I just feel like it.
But in the end, I keep it on because Allah wants me to and because I want to be identified as a Muslim. Muslimahs are lucky that they have such an easy way to make a statement about what their religion means to them. Muslim men who wear Western clothing have no way to make that immediately clear to people. I’m not saying that men should have to wear thobes and kufis (or whatever is considered Islamic dress in their culture), but I do think that they lose something when they don’t.
I felt quite natural in my hijab at my daughter’s wedding, but I can’t help but wonder what other people thought of my wearing one.
Maybe they just assumed that I was bald. Or oppressed.