Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
November 2013


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The Meaning of Modesty

For the first 10 years of my adolescence, I wore hijab. My mother wore hijab, and so did my older sisters, so it was a natural progression. Even in those initial, 'awkward' teenage years, I never found wearing a head scarf particularly difficult - it was easy for me to make friends in high school; it didn't stop me from taking part in extracurricular activities, nor did it make me want to shrink away like a wall-flower. To me, it was just something that was done, and because I was always taught to go out into the world and get what I wanted, it was never a hindrance, but just a part of me; by no means did it define me.

As I grew older, I began to actively question why I was wearing hijab. I started  asking myself what exactly was its intended purpose? As I thought about it more and more, I found myself disagreeing with one of the primary justifications for wearing a head covering, which was modesty.

In my eyes modesty is more about overall character and the way one carries one self. Modesty is equally applicable to both genders, and it should not be solely a woman's job to ensure that a man 'is not led into temptation'. I thought about the centuries of cultural interpretation that heavily influences the wearing of hijab, which has given it such prominence.

Neither, I thought, is wearing hijab always about liberation. Liberation does not come down to what a woman wears. This holds equally true for the argument that being scantily clad is liberating, or that wearing hijab signifies liberation. True liberation, I felt, was much more elusive and a lot harder to achieve than simply choosing to wear or not to wear an item of clothing.

Around the same time that I was feeling this way, I came across a poem by my late Grandmother - an Afghan poet and feminist who was years ahead of her time in mid-twentieth century Afghanistan. It was a simple, beautiful verse written in Farsi, which translates into "Modesty and infallibility is not only wearing the chadar- I swear that chadar does not protect you". 

So no, it wasn't a series of negative experiences that prompted my decision to stop wearing hijab in my mid-twenties, rather it resulted from long and arduous thought. While I don't wear hijab in my day-to-day life, I do respect that it is a woman's choice: if a woman, of her own prerogative, decides to wear one—then she should be respected for making that choice. Equally, if an individual chooses not to, then that is her decision. After all, true liberation stems from having 'real' choice while continuing your relationship with God - not choice that is fraught with cultural and societal expectations, and masked as 'a woman's choice'.

I will fervently defend the right of any woman to freely exercise true choice, whether this means wearing a head covering, or choosing not to. For me, this has meant not wearing one, and I feel all the more modest, liberated and emancipated for it.


Durkhanai Ayubi