The Hijab-wearing woman’s experience that could help us better understand one another

Nigeria’s cultural landscape is still taking shape, we are caught in the thick of this process daily in the conversations we have about things we hitherto only have among inner circles.

It is why Twitter user @beehatu, took to the microblogging site to share her enduring struggle being a Hijab-wearing Muslim woman living in a predominantly non-Muslim environment. In her tweet, @beehatu, recounts how she gets shamed each time she covers her hair after an appointment at a saloon by people who struggle to understand the logic behind covering her hair after going through the trouble of making said hair. What is the point?

The Hijab is the name for a variety of similar coverings that believing Muslim women wear to abide by the Quranic call to, “guard their modesty,” in Quran 24:31. This however is one of 7 times the word is reiterated in the Muslim Holy Book. The word itself literally means covering or separation in order to mask or protect something. Which in this particular context means the modesty of believing Muslim women.

Conversations about the Hijab often take on two contemporary issues, each addressing two distinct realities. Both hold merit in their particular context.

The first is the issue of the freedom of Muslim women to choose and what it means for women in predominantly Muslim societies that viciously enforce the Hijab – case in point the ongoing fight for Iranian women to reclaim their right to wear the Hijab on their own terms. This is relevant in the context of the continuing global conversation on women’s rights. This is also close to the root of the experience of @beehatu. Many non-Muslims believe Muslim women generally wear the Hijab under duress.

The second is the issue of Muslims living in diverse societies where uncompelled by the strictures faced by Muslim women in predominantly Muslim societies, they wear the Hijab willingly. Many do so to ground themselves in their Muslim identity in an environment that wouldn’t bat an eyelid if they ditch the rituals and practices that make up that identity.

Nigeria is a generally diverse country that even in its most remote corners is populated by people of different faiths and cultural realities. Our peculiar situation is thus, as mixed as our reality.

Christians living in predominantly Muslim environments like Kano State are often forced to dress to blend in and not draw attention to themselves. The reason is simple; there is a palpable disdain from its Muslim majority population for those who dress counter to their ideas of modesty, even if they are not believing Muslims.

In the same vein, Muslims living in predominantly Christian environments get side-eyed for veiling, for stopping mid-work or mid-interaction to pray – raising questions about how that affects productivity in the long run, and for being strict against the mixing of genders in public spaces.

The experience of @beehatu is not unique in both local and global context. The conversation it drives however could be uniquely ours depending on the direction it takes. It is up to all parties involved to determine how to interact with this particular subject moving forward.

We could, as a nation, choose to pursue the course of understanding that allows us to coexist in harmony. This must be rooted in a healthy curiosity that seeks to get why things are the way they are for others, rather than judge them based on our limited lived experience.

The alternative is the course of “dey your dey – mind your business” we have historically been charting which does a disservice to the union we continue to talk about but refuse to walk the talk in our interactions.

A healthy encounter in the case of @beehatu will be one in which her saloon interrogators simply marvel at her wearing of the Hijab and ask why it is important, whereupon she goes ahead to explain the idea behind it to them, if she so chooses.

They would have learnt enough so that the next hijab-wearing woman to patronise them wouldn’t need to go through the same interrogation and all is right with the world.

 We have a long way to go but we wouldn’t get anywhere until we choose a path to tread.

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