Looking at foreigners’ opinions on Saudi Arabia, I noticed how the most concerning thing for women, is the idea of having to cover one’s hair. If you ever ask a western woman about why she would not accompany her husband to Saudi Arabia, the answer is very likely to be: “I do not want to cover up.”, unless she actually decides to come along.
Yesterday night I saw part of an interview with the German journalist Alice Schwarzer, talking about women wearing a headscarf. It was a very short piece and I cannot tell what it was all about in detail but it certainly got me thinking.
Why would non- muslim people spend so much energy on discussing and being concerned about the idea of covering up for the sake of modesty and a culture’s habits? What is so bad about it and why not focusing on some more important issues than the way people dress?
I spent the majority of my childhood in a muslim district and women in hijabs were something I saw on a daily basis. Later on I saw some of my classmates doing the same thing and I was always fascinated how beautiful some of the girls looked with the different types and colors of fabric on their heads. I guess that based on these friendships and experiences I have always been curious about what it is like to wear a hijab outside at least once.
So before leaving the compound for groceries, I did some research online and, after discovering that there should be no problem with doing so as a non- muslim woman, especially in a country where covering the hair is technically required for every woman, I decided to cover my hair entirely when outside, to see for myself what all the western fuss is about.
I hope that the findings of my research were true as I am typing the lines above.
Now, I know that the reason why some westerners are sceptic about the whole “cover your hair” thing is because as far as we westerners are concerned, women do not have a choice in whether to hide their hair or not and apparently choice is a very important concept in most western societies.
But honestly, I think that, as of for a place like Saudi Arabia, if a woman was born into and raised with that specific belief, she will most likely not see why there is something wrong with that dress code.
That just as a hypothesis, based on the fact that some of my friends chose to wear a burqa, even though they live in Germany. I sure understand that I might be wrong with that thought but just throwing it out there for those to whom this might apply. Those of my readers who disagree: Fair enough. My bad.
So after watching some YouTube tutorials, I put on my hijab the way local women would do, or at least tried my best at it, and went to the bus.
The first reaction was as expected. Some of the western women who went with me, looked at me like I just got out of a ufo or something but I just took a seat in the back of the bus and distracted myself with Dvorak’s violin concert, not paying any attention to anybody.
Once I found myself among locals again, I started to observe the people who were passing by me, while trying to figure out how it actually feels wearing a hijab.
Well, you know, it is actually not a bad thing unless you want to focus too much on the fact that the scarf is black and the sun is shining like crazy but once inside a building that issue is forgotten quite fast. Besides, in Saudi Arabia the scarf does not have to be black necessarily.
It does not feel uncomfortable per se. I guess I might have felt strange because I am not like all the other women here and yet I somehow tried to fit in but generally I felt like I would even without my hair covered. The only less pleasant thing was that I had to fix the scarf up every now and then because it kept sliding down a little, but then I did not put it on too tight in first place so that is just all matter of technique.
There were quite some things that I have noticed now that I showed up with my hair covered.
First of all, I did not have to worry about the mutawa possibly approaching me and telling me what to do because now I was dressed as required.
Previously I have noticed how the local people would sometimes stare at me like I belong into the zoo, because I looked different or at least it was obvious that I am a westerner. Today, almost nobody that I passed by or stood next to looked at me with a surprising or as sometimes done, an angry look (angry probably because I am not from this culture or whatever).
This time I was just part of a huge crowd of women covered in black cloaks and nobody bothered to pay attention to me. Dear ladies, if it really bothers you that you are being stared at here, just try to cover your hair at least a little bit. It might change something.
I once told a friend of mine that I would consider covering my hair once living in Saudi Arabia for the sake of showing respect for the local customs. She tried to get me away from the idea, saying that if I did so, the people there would think I am one of them and treat me accordingly.
She was quite right with that. I may not have been “treated” accordingly as she put it, but as I entered some shops, the shop attendants would talk Arabic to me right away before switching to English, at least those who were Arabs. When I entered a shop previously they would speak English only, with a few exceptions.
I find it strange that just because a person appears like a muslim, it is automatically assumed here that he or she speaks/ is Arabic. I don’t look anything like an Arab. I am white and have blue eyes!
One of my friends here once said that I could pass as Egyptian (for whatever reason). Maybe that’s why.
So in general I would say that covering one’s hair is really not as much of a big deal as some people make it but that is just me saying that. It is not difficult to do, it does not physically hurt and it can actually look very pretty if you try hard enough.
Dear ladies out there, dressing up modestly is really one of the smallest things you should be arguing about. There are way more important things than that when it comes to deciding whether to live here or not.