“Saint Chola” by K. Kvashay-Boyle

02Feb05

I’ve always been fascinated with hijab, particularly hijab in the United States. To most Americans, who are mostly Christian, the hijab seems foreign and strange. Most Christians don’t seem to remember that one of the significant figures of their religion is almost always pictured in hijab: the Virgin Mary. Even though Christian women are not expected to wear hijab to preserve their modesty as Muslim women are, there must be some remnant of that mentality in Christianity. Because Mary—the Christian epitome of virtue, chastity and modesty—remains depicted with her hair covered, Christians must still understand the philosophy of hijab.

This story addresses a very interesting question: can a feminist wear hijab? Well, obviously, one can, but does doing so betray some crucial tenet of feminism? Many of the American Muslim women that I have known tend to redefine the significance of hijab. Instead of feeling burdened by their veil, these women find it liberating. Veiled, they do not have to worry about being judged for not wearing the hippest clothing or men ogling them. I tend to choose clothes for similar reasons. So am I part of the problem, as some feminists would say, for not embracing my sexuality and submitting to the cultural expectation that women are expected to control men’s desires by not wearing shirts that look like handkerchiefs? I realize that my usual khakis and long-sleeved shirt is quite a bit more liberated-looking than hijab, but if these women find hijab liberating and choose to wear it, what’s wrong with that? Must all women who cannot forsake their religious tenets be excluded from feminism?

I liked this short story. Setting it during the Gulf War and capitalizing on the tension between American culture and Arabs was very effective. Though I’m not sure I quite understand the ending within the context of the rest of the story.

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