There is something I have been meaning to address on this blog for quite some time. One of the questions I get asked quite frequently is if I regularly have had to cover my head throughout my stay. This question is particularly complicated and definitely depends on the context.
There are many types of Muslim families and practices just as with any religion and with any mix of cultures in a country. Some of my friends might wear a scarf on all occasions, some do not, and some cover their head only at certain times.
My family is more observant, and when I am with them, I always cover my head as a sign of respect and modesty. This is the tradition and expectation of my family. Because of this, I have had time for personal reflection on the practice and have had the opportunity to develop my own perspective. Though I do not wear a headscarf regularly out of the house, this was definitely something I struggled with near the beginning of my stay in Oman.
I am not Muslim, and my sense of spirituality is different from that of my relatives. For me, my head covering is a physical scarf, a symbol of respect for living within someone else’s culture and with a family who has warmly welcomed me into their home. For many Muslim women, their head coverings are a strong part of their identity and spirituality extending to their very relationship with god, a sign of modesty and humility. Yet for others, the headscarf may have other meanings. For some Muslim women, it is a completely personal decision, and yet for others, in a larger context, the family and/or community might be part of that decision.
What frustrates me sometimes as a young western woman raised with a strong sense that things should be equal, is when people interpret the need to cover one’s head as a way to undermine a women’s voice by inferring a women somehow provides this mass temptation forcing good men to fall astray . This has been hard to understand for me, when men themselves might not always be conforming to the more conservative robe style attire of Mohamed’s time.
Many modern Muslim women who are themselves strong feminists will say their scarf represents their own liberation from societal pressures to conform. They feel liberated from the need to appeal to a warped female body image. Like all the women I have spoken with, I have my own personal views on the matter, and most importantly, I respect the practice of head covering and a women’s right to choose what is right and meaningful for her. After all it is the decision itself which is most empowering.