World Hijab Day and the Rebirth of Spring

This past weekend was Imbolc/Candlemas/Exploration, so if you celebrated any of those I wish you the happiest of seasons!

But lots of people have been posting specifically about that. I wanted to talk about something else celebrated over the weekend: World Hijab Day.

World Hijab Day is fairly new, and the idea is simple. Women of all faiths are encouraged to wear the Muslim hijab for one day, just to see what it’s like both on a personal and a social level. Participants take a stand and confront racial and faith-based discrimination in their day-to-day lives. I made a point of participating.

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Me, running errands on World Hijab Day.

I didn’t choose to participate because I too now cover my hair. It’s because I remember the aftermath of 9/11, when random Muslim women were getting assaulted in the streets for being “terrorists”. A bunch of ladies I knew got together in the South and wore hijabs in solidarity with those women around that time, because Muslim or Pagan or Christian no one deserves to get hassled because of the god they choose to follow. This is simply an extension of that.

It’s because I remember flying home from Houston on Christmas Day a few weeks ago, new to covering my hair but instinctively knowing I’d get more hassle from the TSA if I wore a headscarf than if I wore a beret. I can choose to cover my hair in other ways, unlike most who wear the hijab. That was my first personal encounter with this kind of privilege and it left me distinctly unsettled. I went with a beret for my flight to avoid potential headaches, and have been kicking my own ass for making such a cowardly choice since. Participating in World Hijab Day, occasionally wearing a hijab simply because they’re beautiful, and wearing one next time I fly are all ways to redeem that.

It’s because of the backlash against the Coca Cola ad aired during the Super Bowl, an ad that dared to suggest America is made up of people from a multitude of races and cultures and languages. Seeing the responses made it clear how far a society founded on the ideals of justice and equality still has to go to reach them.

It’s because I’m personally tired of seeing the idea of “real America” – the country that accepts the tired and poor from everywhere else and gives them a chance to work for something better – be co-opted by racist, intolerant, belligerent, ignorant bigots who try to limit access to the American Dream to those who are just like themselves.

And it’s because I’m a polytheist and thus have no choice, none at all. How can I honor the multitudes of gods if I limit my respect to only those cultures I admire? How can I honor the Ancestors if I limit my respect to only Those who speak my language and share my faith? How can I honor the Land Spirits if I limit my respect to only the pieces inhabited by people who agree with me?

*shrug* I can’t. We’re a pluralistic, multicultural, multilingual, multinational faith by default. We have to deliberately choose to be bigots if we do it at all.

Polytheists, and Pagans and Reconstructionists too, are also a minority faith. By stepping up to support religious freedom in general we support it for ourselves, and hopefully form alliances with others that will help support us in turn.

I wore a hijab on World Hijab Day, and I’m wearing one at work today. I wear it in support of Muslim women (and anyone else who is marginalized along faith/culture/language/ethnic/nation lines), as an expression of political and social activism, and as a service to my faith.

What a fitting tribute to the beginning of spring! May everyone be truly blessed.

Piety, Modesty, and Covering My Hair – A Perspective

In addition to all of its energetic connotations, Origination (Dec. 12) is the day devoted specifically to my Lady. Traditionally it’s when She officially tells me the changes She wants me to make in my life over the coming year. Some changes have been permanent and some temporary, but all of them have profoundly changed my relationship with Her, myself, and the world.

Because many of these these things require some kind of prep work (and because I need processing time) I tend to find out what they are a few days/weeks in advance. I get some sort of communication about whatever it is so I can prep, She gives me more detail on the 12th, and I have until Yule to settle it all in my head and finalize preparations. Yule is the official kick-off date, and then it’s game on.

This year? She wants me to start covering my hair.

It seems so simple. However, Her requests usually hit a ton of buttons for me, buttons I never knew I had. This does too. And as usual it’s not the action but the meanings behind it that require me to dig deep and explore things with new eyes.

Modesty

Females covering their hair are all over the ancient world, and the practice is currently alive and well. Muslim women wear the hijab, Hindu women wear the dupatta, married Jewish women wear the tichel, etc.

Head Coverings Worn in Different Faiths

Head Coverings Worn in Different Faiths

To this day it is still the most outwardly visible sign of modesty in many cultures. So when my Lady told me to start covering my hair I wondered if this was an indication that She wanted me to be more modest too.

Modesty is usually defined as dressing and behaving in a way that does not inspire or encourage sexual desire in others. In a broader sense, modesty also refers to behaving with humility and living simply. Considering the work She’s had me doing with humility and simplicity, dressing and behaving in a more reserved way goes with everything else. It’s been something I’ve personally been edging towards anyway. Much to my surprise.

I’m very much a feminist. I’m comfortable with my sexuality, enjoy exploring it, and have no problem expressing it. Modest dress – from the plain clothes of the Amish to the full burqa found in some Islamic countries – all too often spoke to me of repression, oppression, and subjugation. I linked it to the ideas that men could not be trusted to control themselves, that a man controlled a woman’s sexuality, and that a woman’s value begins and ends with her being a sexual object. Since all of that is absolutely wrong I dismissed the value of modest dress pretty early on.

However, I like controlling the expression of my sexuality as much as the expression itself. My sex life is mine to experience, mine to share as I choose. If I want to be naked with someone and share something sacred with them – and yes, a one night stand can be sacred – that’s my choice to make. And if I want to say “no” and not share my sexuality with others, that’s mine too. Interestingly enough, I’ve found that modest dressing helps with that.

When I was younger, and much less sure of myself, I saw being sexually objectified as a plus. It boosted my confidence. I didn’t realize at the time how much I had internalized the idea of a woman’s worth being solely based on her attractiveness, and attractiveness being based solely on perceived sexual availability. When I started to “come of age” (around 19, for me) I started wearing more makeup and strategically placed jewelry, lowering my neckline, and raising my hemline. Every time I was catcalled or groped in passing on the bus was a compliment. After all, weren’t these random strangers showing me I had worth?

Then my Lady stepped in. Over time, with Her guidance, my self-esteem grew – and my discomfort with being sexually objectified grew right along with it. Now, the catcalls and gropes and people undressing me with their eyes have become offensive. They are attempts to rob me of my agency, to take my sexuality away from me and again make it the community property I once thought it was. Modest dressing has become a feminist move on my part, a way to claim my sexuality for myself and remove it from the public sphere. With the decrease in overt objectification coming my way I feel better about myself and my place in the world. Covering my hair as a part of this didn’t occur to me, however – it’s not part of my cultural tradition.

While all of this has been an outgrowth of my experiences with my Lady, it’s all been personally driven. The idea that this same reasoning would be what She used to come up with the “cover my hair” requirement was strange, because the only time She has ever expressed any interest in my sexuality is when I lost moderation with it. So I meditated on it and asked Her about it. The answer? It’s not about modesty, it’s about piety.

Piety

Modesty is often seen as an indicator of piety, but they’re not the same thing. Modesty is about behavior and appearance. Piety is about the depth of spiritual devotion. For faiths that require it, demonstrating modesty can be a visual sign of devotion. Pagans and polytheists don’t really have a living tradition advocating modesty, though. We hear a lot more encouragement for being skyclad than we do for covering up.

Again, this confused me a bit. From what I was getting (and it can certainly be garbled, so I’m all about the double checking!), She wants me to cover my hair at all times except for a) when I’m alone, and b) when I’m specifically with Her, whether other people are present or not (i.e., ritual space or devotions). This is not the way covering is normally done.

Lots of people cover their heads only while praying. It shows respect to the Powers, and can symbolize submission to a deity. A head covering is also “above” you, symbolizing that a deity is above you too. More faiths have women cover their heads during prayer than men – one source I found states that women being veiled while men are not is a way of signifying man’s sovereignty over women.

What She wanted seemed kind of backwards from what I was reading.

However, while I was researching the tichel I read that one reason women do it is to save something special for their husbands. It allows their husbands to see them in a way no one else can. Only a woman’s husband can see her naked, because her sexuality is exclusively his to enjoy – and that includes her hair.

Now THAT I can relate to piety.

For someone who serves their gods as I do there is no relationship that tops it. I often describe myself as being in a poly relationship with Arianrhod as my primary. She is my first and foremost concern, my number one priority. So yeah, I can totally see how keeping something of my physical self just for Her works. Only She gets all of me, and this is a highly visible way to show that. It shows that I respect and honor Her above all others. And since I’m showing that at all times, it makes everything I do an act of devotion.

As far as uncovering in Her presence goes… well. If there is ANYONE I can be naked in front of, completely exposed and totally raw, it’s Her. I have no defense from Her gaze, and when She is present there is nowhere to hide. A part of Her is with me always, but having Her direct regard? She sees everything. Why bother to cover anything in Her presence? Uncovering my hair for ritual, when I’m specifically focused on and honoring Her already, then becomes an act of offering, giving Her everything I am and showing my openness to Her sight.

Pretty amazing return for wearing a scarf on my head.