Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why do women wear veils?; or, Nirvana in Egypt

I am not going to pretend I know the answer to this question which involves, to the best I can tell, a combination of faith, fashion, social pressure, and lots of other things I don’t presume to understand. Today, on campus, I saw a young woman wearing a veil or hijab (as, I would very roughly estimate, somewhere around one-third of the female students do). This student caught my attention because she was also wearing a Nirvana (as in Kurt Cobain!) tshirt. After a month or two here, this sort of thing—like seeing women in hijab nodding their heads at a hip hop show—does not really surprise me, though apparently I do notice things that seem incongruous with what many folks in the US think they know about women who wear hijab. People, and I vigorously include myself here, tend to think that they know something about someone by what they wear in public, or otherwise what they look like (and these judgments seem to be more often than not directed at women). Many of my most outspoken and liberal-minded students (and AUC is overall a rather liberal place) wear hijab. In our class discussions, my students here constantly remind me that you really don’t know anything meaningful about someone by what they wear (or don’t wear).

This post was inspired not only by the Nirvana fan, but also by a good article from Al-Jazeera about Egyptian women and hijab, which you can read here.

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