Tag Archives: hijab

“My Goal – That You Are Found by Wonder”

We support a ceasefire in Palestine.

Laurie's photograph of Queen T'hisha, a dark-skinned naked Black woman lying face up on a couch with her breasts showing and her legs crossed
Queen T’hisha, by Laurie Toby Edison

Debbie says:

It’s sometimes easy for Laurie and me to forget that not everyone loves and celebrates the naked body the way we do. That’s why I was delighted that Mona Eltahawy, whose global news round-up we often cite here, wrote her own essay on the subject.

She recounts going to her first clothing-optional party in 2013:

When I was younger, my body was an afterthought. When I started my period at six months past 11, my body changed so much that I barely recognised it. I think that’s where my estrangement from my body and its wonder began.

That nudist party in Cairo, when I was 46, and, unbeknownst to me at the time, in the throes of perimenopause, was the start of a conversation that brought me back to that wonder of my body.

In the beginning was the word. And my eyes said “Look! Look now at these magnificent bodies around you.”

The human body is wonderful!

As I eased into being naked among others, I looked at more than my fellow nudist party goers’ eyes. I took in their bodies in all their wonder and knew that my body was adding to the communal wonder.

It’s a familiar trajectory: you start noticing how something in other people pleases you: their hair, their eyes,  their voice, whatever. And if you’re honest with yourself, you start realizing that that attribute in you probably gives them the same feeling, so you have to admit what you have to offer. I think this is especially true with the naked body, because — even in this frequently sex-friendly time (in many places) — most of us still have limited experience with nakedness outside of sexuality.

To be naked among others is to enter a community of vulnerability–disrobed, disarmed–and risk–will they judge my body; we are all naked in a conservative country that is under the dictatorship of a military-backed regime. …

Vulnerability and risk are the heart and mind of wonder and will fuck whatever preconceptions you brought with you to the party. When the woman who had been sitting directly across from me went into the room where we had all left our clothes and came out to say her goodbyes in hijab–only her face and hands showing–fuck me! What?!

Eltahawy captures what nakedness means to her, and thus makes it available to many people who may not have experienced it or thought it through–and the details of the hijab do the job of making her experience individual while also comprehensible to those of us not from Islamic cultures.

That nudist party, my first but not my last, that woman – hijabi by day, nudist by night – demolished that wall. I went home lighter and able to hear, at last, my body again.

Look at your body! Really look. Listen to it. Can you hear it?

My goal: that you are found by wonder.

My wish: that you intensely live.


Debbie occasionally posts on Mastodon.

Follow Laurie’s Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.


Quick Take: Iranian Muslim Women Offer a Nuanced Way to Think about Hijab


Debbie says:

In my experience, the argument about Muslim women wearing hijab can go to a very simplistic place: either the hijab (or other forms of modest dress) represent a woman’s right to express her own religious choices in her own way, or it is a form of oppression against women which should be combatted at all costs. Unless, of course, it’s an appropriate demand placed on women based on a thousand-year religious tradition which should not be questioned–but I don’t tend to be in spaces where that argument is presented.

Masih Alinejad and Roya Hakakian, writing in the Washington Post, have rethought this argument in a really useful way (this article is also available in Arabic at the link):

There are two vastly different kinds of hijabs: the democratic hijab, the head covering that a woman chooses to wear, and the tyrannical hijab, the one that a woman is forced to wear.

In the first kind, a woman has agency. She sets the terms of her hijab, appearing as ascetic or as appealing as she wishes. She can also wear makeup and fashionable clothing if she likes.

In the second kind of hijab, the woman has no agency. Where we lived, the terms were set by Iranian government authorities under a mandatory dress code that banned women from wearing makeup in public and forced them to wear a baggy, knee-length garment to fully disguise the shape of their bodies, over a pair of pants and closed-toed shoes. For a while, the authorities even decreed the colors that women could wear: gray, black, brown or navy.

Thinking this way moves the question from the hijab, which is just a scarf until it’s draped over a woman’s head, to the question of choice: are you wearing whatever you’re wearing because you want to, or because you are compelled to? What do you risk by not wearing something? (The article authors reference a Saudi activist, “Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes after defending the women who have defied the hijab laws”.) Who governs your choices?

Talking about Iran (and Afghanistan, which is facing a potential return of the hyper-misogynist Taliban), Alinejad and Hakakian say:

Women who live under these forms of hijab effectively live under a gender apartheid. The coverings mark women as lesser citizens, legally and socially unequal. In Iran, there are restrictions on women’s ability to travel, obtain a divorce or enter sports stadiums. A woman’s courtroom testimony is in most cases given half the weight of a man’s. The forced hijab honors neither tradition nor religion; it is a powerful tool of misogynist oppression.

They also imply (without discussing, since it isn’t their topic) that in the U.S. and other western countries, a hijab can be an act of not just choice but courage in the face of white nationalist violence.

Last week, I was in Sacramento lobbying at the California State Capitol. It was Muslim Day of Action, sponsored by the California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. Literally five hundred Muslim residents of California were there to engage with their elected representatives, and most of the women were wearing hijab.  I really appreciated seeing the people there.

I have certainly known for a long time about the importance of choice in all areas of life, including clothing and religious clothing; nonetheless, Alinejad and Hakakian have given me a clearer framework to recognize what I am seeing.

Just as Americans must distinguish between violent radicals and ordinary Muslims to successfully fight the former and honor the rights of the latter, so must they recognize that not all hijabs are created equal. [U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan] Omar and other Muslim women who benefit from the freedom that America has bestowed on them are especially well-positioned to speak up for women forced into hijab.

By itself, the hijab is a mere piece of cloth. Tyranny turns it into a symbol of oppression. It is democracy, with its embrace of diversity, that turns hijab into an emblem of power or beauty for those who choose to wear it.