As part of my seminar class on Jordanian history and culture, I’m writing a short research paper on the hijab–or head covering that Muslim women wear–in Jordan. There are hardly any scholarly articles written about the hijab in the present-day Arab world, and even fewer that focus on Jordan, so I decided to supplement my research with personal interviews. Below is a partial transcript of two of my interviews with muhajabes, or women wear the hijab. Both are recent graduates of the University of Jordan and both wear the hijab. For privacy’s sake, I’ve changed their names.
If you had to define “hijab” for someone, what would you say?
Rabab: For me, hijab is about modesty. It’s not about you have to wear it. It makes you more modest. In all religions, people wear hijab. There’s a verse in the Bible and also the Jewish book. I forget what it’s called. But nuns cover their hair. [Hijab] is how you dress also. I can’t be wearing a hijab with tight, tight jeans and a tight, tight shirt.
Amira: Do you know the meaning of “fard?” In Arabic, it means “obligation.” The first thing that comes to my mind [when I think about hijab] is obligation. It’s difficult to explain. A woman who is not Muslim and converts is not going to understand hijab at first. That’s not what will attract her to the religion. But after entering Islam, she will finally recognize the idea of hijab. I have a hard time defining hijab for a non-Muslim. In general, I believe it’s an obligation [to] God, not just as a protection from men. [A woman who wears hijab] is helping society to be more conservative. I think woman’s duty is that she is given the job of protecting society. It’s not like, “Poor her.” It’s a bigger meaning. The body of the women is more attractive than the body if the man, so it makes sense. Hijab says arms and face showing, cover the whole body. It can’t be tight. Hijab is the idea of not being tight, not being. It’s about not bringing attention to you.
I’ve noticed a lot of young women who cover their hair but wear very tight jeans and tight shirts. What do you think about this type of hijab?
Rabab: They wear it just because they have to, or they want attention. It’s like, ‘I’m cool, I’m wearing tight stuff.’ If you wear hijab, you should like it and then wear it. Religion is between you and God. I don’t need to cover my hair. In my opinion, if I’m wearing hijab with tight, tight clothes, I’m not respecting it. No, this is not hijab.
Amira: That’s not good in Islam. That’s showing off. You’re wearing a scarf for modesty. Just the black one. If you have this big huge bump, everyone’s talking about you and admiring you. If this is what you want, you are not honoring hijab. Fashion is a big deal every single day. I want to scream at them, ‘for God’s sake take off the hijab.’
Would people think it was weird if a Muslim girl didn’t cover her hair?
Rabab: People wouldn’t think it was weird if a Muslim girl didn’t cover her hair. As I said, it’s between me and God. I can’t say: ‘That girl’s bad because of wearing hjiab or that one’s good because of wearing hijab.’
Amira: It is mandatory in Islam for a woman to have hijab. Some people wear it because it’s obligatory, some people wear it because they want to. I take the opinion that if you can wear it, it’s better. And what does better mean, it mans you get extra “points” [with God].
When did you first start wearing the hijab?
Rabab: Well you know that girls start wearing the hijab when they get their period. I started wearing it when I was a senior. I decided with my friend one day. We went shopping and then decided to wear it together. But then I forgot and she wore it and I didn’t. I was so sorry! Then, I was going toSyriafor the weekend, so I said, ‘I will wait until I get back and then start wearing hijab.’ She said I was cheating! (laughs) When I first started wearing it, I wore it but still sometimes I forgot. One day, I forgot and I was wearing hijab [the headscarf] with short sleeves. I thought, ‘Oh no! I should go back and change!’
Amira: In eighth grade. It’s hard to wear at first! I used to play taekwondo. My biggest fear was that all the girls would be judging me [when I started wearing hijab]. The first week everyone is telling you all their opinions. I was really proud of [the hijab]. I’m not really ashamed as you think I am.
What does wearing the hijab mean to you personally?
Rasha: It’s something special. You feel special. No one sees it.
Amira: Just the fact that I’m applying something that people think is hard makes me proud. I’m carrying the whole religion on me all the time. Outside, you might face some situation, face some people, be at some places that are dangerous other than your peaceful home, you’re still applying Islam. You’re carrying your message on your head. For me as a women, I have all kinds of friends who wear the hijab, don’t wear the hijab, wear a half hijab. [Wearing hijab] doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. It means she has something special. I think a woman should use the hijab to say that I am a happy woman.
What do you think about girls who show their legs in the street?
Rabab: It’s a personal freedom. Unless you’re hurting people, you’re free. For example, if I see half-naked girl in the street, is she hurting me? No. So she’s free to do whatever she wants.
Do you know anything about the history of the hijab?
Amira: The hijab in the past was a cover. It’s not only Islamic in this area. Also the Christians and the Jewish had an idea of covering their hair. Islam just came to make sure that people know the hijab with more rules. It’s not a piece of cloth you put on your head anymore. In Islam, there is a question about the feet. How do we decide [whether to cover them or not]. Sheiks gather and come up with this hadith. At the meeting, two groups might have a different opinion. If each have support from the Koran, then you’ll apply one of them and God will know you tried your best. For me, I think [toenails] are attractive to males so I don’t show them.
Queen Rania doesn’t wear the hijab. What do you think about that?
Amira: It’s very sensitive. When she speaks, she speaks to the whole country. Oprah asked her why she doesn’t cover. Rania just said one thing. She said it was a personal choice. Personal choice means the country doesn’t force you to. People will say there’s no verse [in the Koran] that says that you have cover your hair.