I have probably written more posts on this over-scrutinized practice than I had ever intended to write or would ever read from myself (I sincerely thank you all for tolerating them with magnificent patience.) While I usually approach the dynamics of determining what is or isn’t modest from the oppressive claims of patriarchal men (and the women who reinforce them by policing other women) resulting in harmful consequences exerted on women as a class, I want to point out some bizarre and hilarious inconsistencies I’ve noted when it comes to how I “police” myself. Beginning with the Qur’anic verse:
to subdue their gaze, and to be mindful
of their chastity, and not to show off
parts of their adornment [in public] beyond
what may [decently] be apparent
or obvious thereof;
hence, let them draw their covers
over their bosoms. (Qur’an 24:31)
The last part is easy because it’s so direct and specific—cover bosoms. Okay, so I won’t walk around topless. That’s simple enough. Got it. So far so good.
And then we look at what’s right above it: not to show off parts of their adornment [in public] beyond what may [decently] be apparent or obvious thereof. In other words, refrain from showing adornment except for the beauty that cannot be hidden because it is so apparent, or the beauty which when hidden causes obstructions from ease or interruptions to routine (I believe this is why the niqaab is not Islamic, though of course I support every woman’s right to wear one).
But here’s what I find so absurd when this is applied in practice by Muslims: we do the exact opposite. We take great care to cover beauty that is most apparent—like the hair or face or figure—and this often results in displaying adornment that creates a spectacle, whether that’s a blue niqaab or decorative accessories. In other words, when I do cover my hair, I wear sparkly hi’jab pins. And when I don’t cover my hair (which is most times) I sometimes wear hair flowers anyway, so I guess according to mainstream interpretations that’s just failing twice.
Hair flowers are awesome.
One of the reasons I’ve observed this is that in my mother’s culture women take great care to make sure they look extravagantly beautiful whenever they leave the house as though they are attending a party—even if they’re just running to the store. (Altogether a look considered appropriate would be described as “tasteful.”) And simultaneously my mother always advised me to dress modestly, recommending I wear a headscarf and cover what is most obvious (especially since I have so much hair that wisps of it are inclined to escape), while handing me my lipstick. Assuming lipstick is an indication of immodesty (which I don’t) isn’t this a direct inversion of what the verse commands?
I find this both amusing and perplexing.
Of course, I don’t consider hair flowers or hi’jab pins or makeup immodest at all. Not only because the verse specifies not to show off parts of their adornment signifying that presence of conceit renders the performance immodest, not the adornment itself, but because of the following hadith:
The Prophet, peace be upon him, said to his companions, “No one with an ounce of arrogance in his heart will enter Paradise.”
In seeking to understand what arrogance means, the companions asked, “O Prophet of God, what if a person likes to dress well?”
The Prophet, peace be upon him, responded, “God is beautiful and loves beauty. Arrogance is rejecting truth and looking down on people.”
And that is pretty clear.
Of course it’s the very thing that patriarchal men deny: that it’s not the woman who adorns herself who is immodest, but the men who look down on her and police her. Another inversion—this time one that is far from charming and is downright reprehensible and inexcusable.
The clarification on verse 24:31 provided by the hadith, particularly defining arrogance as “looking down on people” is also why I retaliate comfortably whenever anyone attempts to police me. I don’t consider it arrogance when a woman pridefully wears a sparkly hi’jab or the infamous hi’jab hump when she is commanded otherwise (by men)—this is a response to arrogance, and in fact I consider it permissible:
But indeed if any do help and defend themselves
after a wrong done to them,
against such there is no cause of blame.
The blame is only
against those who oppress
with wrongdoing and
insolently transgress beyond bounds
through the land, defying right and justice:
for such there will be a penalty grievous. (Qur’an 42:39—44)
What do I do when I hear passive agressive statements coated deceptively in sugar about how a “woman’s best jewelry is her modesty”?