The Ominous Hijab

I’m in Turkey for 7 weeks.

Among many new cultural experiences, I’ve been curious to witness first-hand the role in society of the ominous hijab.  I’ll be spending time in the capital Ankara, in Istanbul the largest city, and throughout the countryside and smaller villages, as we journey south to the Aegean coast.

There is no official religion here, although 96% of the population is Muslim, it’s a secular state.  Compared to most of their Arab neighbours to the east, they’re more like Islam-Lite.

I have to say though, in the short time I’ve already spent here, I’m pretty disappointed to find maybe… 5 women in a hijab.  There were two in niqabs in the grocery store and that got me pretty excited, but for the most part, I’ve been walking around the city and seeing girls in shorts shorter than mine, and couples making out like pimply teenagers in local pubs.  Damn.  No islamic rigidity here.  Actually most of them seem to be terrible muslims, like my boyfriend, who drinks like a fish, doesn’t know when Ramadan is, and hasn’t been inside a mosque since Allah knows when.  I’m hoping he doesn’t go up in flames when he takes me to Hagia Sofia.

Ask him his opinion of the hijab, and he’ll tell you it’s downright stupid. “Nothing in the Qur’an says you have to wear one, and it’s a stupid tradition perpetuated by idiot men who want to keep women docile.”

“Well what about women who choose to wear it freely of their own accord?”

“Well then they’re stupid too. Why would you want to cover yourself like that? It is hot as shit outside.”


My grandmother was Muslim, though she never wore a hijab, and I don’t really remember ever seeing anything too Islam-y in their home. She married a Christian, and I’m sure somewhere, someone probably thinks that means she’ll roast in hell and won’t get to heaven to receive her 40 virgins (wait… so do women get 40 virgins too in Islamic heaven? Talk about short-changed), but mostly all I remember of her, was that she was a sweet but firm woman, and the most wonderful hugger.  Hijab or no, she was respected and valued all the same.

I’ve never had the opportunity to speak with a fundamentalist or a Shi’ite to understand sharia law or why a woman would choose to veil her identity from an ever-growing visual world.

Western women complain about being objectified all the same, and judged for their looks before anything else, yet here in twisted irony we view the obscurity of the Islamic female face as part of that same distress.

I still haven’t gotten down to the bottom of why the hijab is such a thorn in people’s sides, but I’m hoping my remaining time here will lend me some insight.  At the end of the day though, I feel like women should be able to do and wear whatever the fuck they want, but the hijab to me, feels more like a visual statement of religion in your presence — and that, is something I have an entirely different opinion about.

More soon.

4 thoughts on “The Ominous Hijab

  1. There’s this great book call Snow by Orhan Pamuk who is a Turkish writer where he looks at the idea of the secular state vs the Islamic state. He has two female characters in the book who are on opposite sides of the hijab or not to hijab issue. It’s hard to comment on it from where we come from – since we come from a people who really celebrate exhibition – through Carnival etc. I feel like I’m fundamentally incapable of understanding where veiled women are coming from in their world view, because my own socialization is born so far afield from theirs.

    Lucky for me, I don’t believe in hell. So when people tell me I’m gonna go there, I just smile and nod.

    Keep sharing your experiences afar! Can’t wait to hear more!

  2. I went to Turkey a few years ago and like you I saw very few women in hijabs. I had a tour guide who was a woman and she vehemently told the tour group how she felt about the hijab. She was completely against it and held a view similar to your boyfriend. Simply put it was “stupid”, and she would never make her daughhters wear one. She went on about women being free to do and wear what they want. It seemed to me that it was terribly important to her that we understand that Turkey although the majority of the people are Muslim, that the state is secular. At the time I just thought she was being kind of heavy for the audience, and i thought that she should be careful with her statements as we were a mixed group of travellers and you never know who you’re offending. I have nothing against a hijab and the idea of modesty. My issue comes when it is used as an object of oppression. I had a patient a while ago at work and she was a Muslim woman who wore a hijab. When she took it off for her treatment, I was stunned to see that she had the most beautiful hair beneath it. It struck me as sort of romantic that only her husband has the honour of enjoying that beauty. Maybe I’m strange.

    • ” It struck me as sort of romantic that only her husband has the honour of enjoying that beauty.”

      I guess that’s what I am against. Putting Female Beauty on a pedestal like this. I feel like it highlights far too strongly, one player on the team, and the other players of the Female team (intelligence, emotional resilience, rationale, femininity, maternity, instinct) these things are lessened because we still are in this mentality that Female Beauty is just so remarkable it has to be revered.

      I feel like if I asked my fiance to cover himself so that only I had the honour of enjoying his looks… that would make me psychotic.

  3. Pingback: The Ominous Hijab Part II | The Coloured Collective

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