Headscarfs Are Off – Freedom in Foreign Lands

Monday 11 January 202102:25 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

خلعتُ حجابي عندما شعرت بالحرية خارج وطني

I still remember the cold metal frame of the balcony door as I stepped out, as well as the coldness of the floor. I hesitated a good deal before I stepped out onto the balcony of my room; I had just finished bathing and washed my hair. I stood in front of the mirror, completely dressed and grabbed my headscarf, and before I finished putting it on, I paused for a moment and ran towards the balcony.

On a fine spring morning in the month of May, the scene unfolded in front of me to convey a canvas of colors in blue, green, and white. The sight, accompanied by a soft dewy breeze and white clouds that fade timidly, was captured by a soft backdrop and a green coat carpeting Lebanon’s Brummana mountains, interspersed with small houses and cabins that do not disturb the landscape, but rather give it a classic, endearing and natural feel.

I approached the glass door of the balcony and gingerly opened it so I could touch the light morning dew and gentle sun caressing my skin. I hesitated as I pushed myself to the balcony... I am veiled now; will anyone see me with my hair? Would I be guilty of going out to the balcony without wearing a headscarf? Will God punish me? And the most important questions swirling around in my uncovered head were: Will people see me? Will they harass me and maybe even laugh at me? But perhaps God will forgive me because my hair has not seen the sun or felt the air in 14 years. During all that time, I would wear the headscarf all day and until bedtime, in an attempt to get accustomed to it.

Perhaps God will forgive me because my hair has not seen the sun or felt the air in 14 years. During all that time, I would wear the headscarf all day and until bedtime, in an attempt to get accustomed to it

I would convince myself of my bonds with various arguments; that I am "messy” or “ruffled", or this is good because my hair is wet or because I feel cold, amongst other arguments.

But now, I am outside Egypt, and all these questions began revolving in my head for the first time. I am having a discussion with my mind as if it was a person in front of me, instead of another person lecturing me and praying for me to maintain the path of virtue and not heed the Devil’s whispers to take it off. I am now free of all these pressures, and I am happy with my desire to experience committing sins.

I am having a discussion with my mind as if it was a person in front of me, instead of another person lecturing me and praying for me to maintain the path of virtue and not heed the Devil’s whispers and take the headscarf off

I let my head out onto the balcony, a few centimeters ahead of my body. Standing in the middle of the balcony, the sun's rays touched my head, and I felt goosebumps, or maybe I felt a slight sting like electricity that moved from my head to the rest of my body. Now I sense something like an organ that I had completely forgotten about for 14 years. I forgot about my hair and that it is an important part of my body. I forgot about it until I lost all feeling and sense of it, and that part of my body became something taken for granted.

My hesitation stemmed from the fear of angry looks and the interference of everyone in the personal choices of other individuals as was happening to me in Egypt. Perhaps a passerby would chastise me for a stray strand of hair visible to the public from under my veil, or perhaps a girl alleging kindness would fix my headscarf to cover my exposed hair, thinking that she's doing me a favor. But funny enough, that day no one looked at me as I stepped out – a moment of freedom I haven't felt in years… Through that moment, I connected with nature – the sun, the light, the air, the earth – without being held accountable or harmed, and as if that same sense of freedom was something new and different. An elderly neighbor had seen me and was watching my hesitation, and it was as if she wanted to greet me, smiling at me warmly as I returned the same smile.

I began to feel the areas in my body that the sun reached, caressing my locks of hair, passing the air and the sun through them. The more I did that, the more I felt that electricity, and some mysterious inner happiness spread within me.

That time, it made me seriously think about the feasibility of the headscarf, and whenever I discussed the issue with someone, I would take religion out of the discussion and would speak in terms of human rights. I would say things like, "It’s my right... I am free... I want this," among other expressions through which I adhere my natural right to own my body and that it is not the property of passers-by, neighbors, family, and people ‘of all sorts’ to hold me accountable for. I am now a firm believer of what Dr. Nawal El Saadawi said about clothes holding a function related to the weather only, instead of holding some standard for morality or religiosity.

Two years later, I was on a journey that took nearly a full day to reach Palestine via the Karameh Border Crossing in Jordan. I was on my way to the West Bank in response to an invitation by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS).

I left Cairo donning my hijab in full, and when I arrived in Jordan’s Amman, I took it off and wrapped it around my neck, and when I reached the Jericho (‘Ariha’) rest stop, I took it off completely. Something in that country encouraged me to take this step, and starting the first day of my press tour in Palestine, I have not worn the veil.

I would take religion out of the discussion and speak in terms of human rights. I would say things like "It’s my right... I am free...” among other expressions through which I assert my natural right to own my body

I wandered around within a number of cities – Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus, and even Jerusalem. It was not too difficult for me to experience several days without a hijab. I felt as though I had been this way since I was born and had never once worn the hijab. This is how I felt I was free, and I alone owned my body. My stay in Palestine lasted about nine days, during which I was not once subjected to a single instance of physical or sexual harassment. No one stopped me in the street to pray to God for my guidance or to question why I am not veiled.

It is not conditional for the homeland to be a large piece of land, as it may be a very small area bordered by the shoulders.” This is a saying by Ghassan Kanafani, who believed that freedom was an essential thing that a person must hold on to with his arms and palms all the way down to his fingers.

When I returned to Cairo, one of the first quotes that shocked my very core was one of Ihsan Abdel Quddous in the opening line of the film "I am free", which was a miserable attempt to convince the girls of that generation that freedom is something harmful to their health. But its opening scene said, "There is no such thing as freedom and those most free among us are actually slaves to the principles in which they believe in and the purpose they seek. We demand freedom so we can put it in the service of our goals and aims, and before you demand for your freedom, ask yourself for what purpose will you give it away?!”

I decided then that I would not return to donning the headscarf ever again, for if I was free to take off my headscarf outside my country, I also had to have the same freedom while in my homeland.


*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22

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