This popped up on my Facebook feed this morning, over my coffee and muffin breakfast.
With the rolling news title: ‘In a simple and quiet way she made others look at a Muslim woman without fear or contempt, but with a healthy curiosity’
Do the majority of British people regard Muslim women with “fear or contempt”?
I don’t. And that’s not a statement to inflate my ego and make me sound like a naïve, uneducated liberal but it’s true.
I have a list of people, individuals or nations, who I don’t like. It’s usually to do with their character rather than their specific nationality. Maybe it’s their horrific human rights record? Or their laughable treatment of women? Or their complete myopia to the environment, that they seem gleefully intent on destroying?
Regardless, I Don’t Like Them.
And that’s okay, I am human after all.
But, for all the people on this list of mine, Muslim women do not make the list.
And yet, according to the Telegraph, is that a bad thing?
The gist of the article is how fashion house H&M has begun using a Muslim model, wearing her hijab, in their latest fashion shoots. She was interviewed by Fusion, a fashion blog site, where she lamented the lack of inclusion into the fashion world for women who wear the hijab.
Fair point, though I do think the fashion world excludes 99% of everyone on this planet. With a constantly changing and unknown set of criteria concerning what’s “in” and what’s “out” it’s difficult to qualify what fashion is, and sadly I am one of those people who couldn’t care less about the outcome.
Another fault of mine.
But here’s the rub.
First thing. Has no one in the global fashion bubble been to the progressive Arab countries of the world?
The only one I have travelled to personally is Jordan, back in 2010.
Granted, things have definitely changed in 5 years, but with their monarchy still in place and a progressive government Jordan does radiate a calm influence over the rest of the region, even with Daesh creeping closer, and burning its pilots alive.
While I was there I spent a few days in the capital, Amman, and I saw hijabs in a thousand different colours and worn in uncountable numbers of combinations when it came to accessorising the rest of any teenage girl’s or young woman’s outfit.
The icing on this cake was when I was leaving the city, and I saw one girl walking with friends, wearing a bright acid pink hijab, pedal pushers, and a top that wasn’t tight but it didn’t hide the fact that she was 4 months along with child.
No one stopped them walking. No one stared, or pointed or vented their disgust. It was just another Thursday.
It showed me then that the fashion world, for all its progression, really is just as repressed when it comes to certain issues as Hollywood. And for all the declarations, indicating how perception is, in fact, reality, there are times when such opinions are in fact further from the pulse than it would ever care to admit.
I was at a local newsagents last month, trying my hardest to figure out how to use the self-service checkout when a lady in a niqab (full face covering) stepped up to the checkout station next to me. She had two little ones with her and was like me, just trying to figure out how to pay for the items she wanted. So it was, two people, vastly different lives, united in the effort of understanding stupid technology, put in to “make our shopping experience easier”
[Direct quote from the newsagents’ online store as rationale concerning the inclusion of those bloody stupid machines!!!]
I finished first and left the store.
Walking out and back into the mall, my friend, who was with me at the time, riding shotgun, professed her feelings of unease, standing so close to this mother of two. Who, in honesty was wearing the abaya as well (the loose full-length, long-sleeved dress) and consequently was nothing but a pair of eyes, situated behind a pair of glasses.
“You just don’t know what’s under there” they said.
“Well, the fact that she had two children with her, sort of gave it away” I replied.
“Yes, but it could have been a man under there. You never know”.
Oh, okay. I tried to change tack on this conversation.
“You were coming home late from the bus station last week, weren’t you?” I asked.
“And you told me how there was a group of drunk lads hanging round by the bus stop and that intimidated you, right?”
“So, hypothetically, how would you feel if it’d been a group of women dressed like the lady back there?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. They’d clearly be all going somewhere and that would be fine”.
I didn’t say any more, hoping the epiphany might arrive.
Nothing was said so I made my own point as tactfully as I could.
Basically, for all the people that have ever given me grief, personally, not one of them has been wearing a hijab.
I haven’t been subjected to wolf-whistles from groups of mothers when I’ve walked by. Nor have I been intimidated by drunk and grabby women dressed in burkas when I’ve come back from the pub or on the walk home, following a late shift.
And finally, Muslim women have not pressed flyers telling me Christ is my salvation into my palm, telling me it’s the only way ‘someone like me’ will get into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Instead we both just stood at the self-service checkout; just two separate individuals, united by frustration, doing what we do.
But I didn’t regard the lady with “fear or contempt”.
It’s odd, the western world preaches tolerance and acceptance of difference, but only to a certain degree. Which, in itself makes little sense. If you’re going to be open and tolerant then you should accept anyone, whatever their situation, as long as they’re not hurting anyone.
Or as The Zutons put it most eloquently in the song ‘What’s Your Problem?’
“So stop your smiling, and stop your staring, I’d rather talk and be friends with you”