A PALESTINIAN woman takes a photograph of her husband on a mobile phone at the beach in Gaza City.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Sometimes, living in a conservative society will force you to do things you don’t believe in; things you don’t like and things you never expected to be doing one day. This happened to me growing up. Living in Hebron, a city in the West Bank which has old traditions and is very conservative and full of religious people forced me to wear the hijab, the Muslim female headscarf.
I remember not wearing the hijab until 7th grade ,whereas all of my classmates wore it, because they wanted to and they were so convinced of its virtues.
For me, to be honest, I didn’t expect to be wearing it one day. That was, until my religion teacher told me, “You will not be able to join religion class unless you cover your hair. Look at all of your classmates and how beautiful they look with it.” In our society primary and elementary school all have a religion class, similar to how in the West students have social studies or other subjects.
I didn’t know what to do then, because I didn’t want to miss the religion class, even though I’m not that religious; that class was interesting. When I went back home and told my parents about what happened, they were a bit supportive of the teacher and said I should cover my hair just like other girls in the class. I felt like I had no other choice.
I started wearing the hijab based on my teacher’s pressure, but of course I only wore it in school. I used to take it off once I was out of the school. Some girls saw this and they thought it was wrong, so they went and told my teacher. That teacher got so mad and told me, “If I hear again that you took your hijab off when you leave the school, you will be in so much trouble.” Then and only then did I start to hate her, and the hijab. I continued wearing it until I graduated from high school. I thought that since I had graduated that teacher would not have control over me anymore and I could actually be free and take it off, because as I said, I didn’t expect to be wearing it in the first place.
As time progressed I told my parents that I didn’t like it and I didn’t want to wear it in college, but they said that would “give you a bad reputation, especially in a place like Hebron.” I got so mad and sad; I really thought college would be the place where I could at last choose what to wear and what to do, but this didn’t happen. Maybe I’m a bit of a dreamer. College was the place where I met many girls, some of them were religious and some just traditional, who cared a lot what others think and say about them. I considered myself so liberal compared to them.
At the beginning I found it hard to get along with anyone since we have a different way of thinking. I literally didn’t find one single girl who thought the way I did, which got me so depressed. I somehow started to share my thoughts about how much I hated the hijab and how much I wanted to take it off with other girls in college. I got different reactions to this, most of them negative. Some of them told me “you will not have many friends if you take it off” and others said “do you think guys would want to marry someone who doesn’t cover her hair?” After hearing that, I wanted to try and see if those girls who told me about marriage were right.
I started dating a guy and after a while brought up the hijab subject with him, and I wasn’t really surprised by his reaction. He told me, “We can’t be together if you take off the hijab. My family wants me to be with a good Muslim girl.” Oh my god, what a society, I thought. They care about nothing but the appearance. Is the hijab the most important thing about the girl you want to marry? He said this because it was stuck in his mind that a covered girl is good and everyone wants to marry her, but the uncovered one is bad and she will never get married.
Is marriage the most important thing nowadays for a girl? Anyway, my desire to take off the hijab was increasing day by day, especially when I got people telling me I could not. Every time I was out with my friends from abroad, I immediately started to think, “Why can’t I be like them and choose what to wear?” Then one day I got the chance to talk to my parents and tell them about my desire to take the hijab off. I told them I would wear it in Hebron for their sake, so no one would talk in a bad way about their daughter. But when I go to more open-minded cities like Bethlehem or Ramallah, I told them, I’m not going to wear it.
My dad had no problem with that, but my mom didn’t like it and she told me, “I don’t like the idea, but I’m going to agree because I don’t want to force you to do this. Maybe one day you will choose to cover your hair without me telling you to do so.” My mother said this even though deep inside she knows I will never be convinced of the reason for the hijab, or comfortable in it. And since we had this talk, I wear the hijab only in Hebron. I liked the idea and experience of not wearing the headcovering outside of Hebron; therefore, I decided that I don’t want to live in Hebron anymore, because simply I can’t be who I am there. I guess the struggle with the hijab is almost over – but now I have a new desire: to leave Hebron.The author is a Palestinian student from Hebron.