It is remarkable how coming to a new place can entirely change how one perceives everyday or commonplace occurrences, behaviors, and all other aspects of life that we never think twice about. In this first post I would like to comb through an often mundane topic, hair. I never thought I would ever be intrigued in a public place when seeing a woman’s hair. But, here I am, actively noticing those who choose to wear a hijab, niqab, or other covering versus the women who do not. Jordan has a fairly mixed population in this regard, where although a majority of women it seems wear some kind of covering, there is a significant number of women who do not. As a westerner, and long inculcated into the ideology that religiosity is contrary to modernity, assumed that this meant that this society was fairly modern. While, to some extent, this is true this was not a narrative conducive to immersing myself and better understanding Jordan and its people.
In my work at the Center for Strategic Studies at Jordan University, I am doing research on EU foreign policy and women in the MENA region (Middle East, North Africa). Something that I came across that has truly intrigued me and informed my experience is the newly growing movement of Islamic feminism. It is a movement that reads the Quran without the patriarchal or misogynistic interpretations that have allowed the Quran to be seen as justifying the oppression of women. Their interpretation sees the Quran as actively promoting the idea of gender equality and women’s rights. Many people in the west, and myself for a long time, saw the hijab as another manifestation of that oppression. This is a dangerous idea to believe, because it denies these women ownership of their religion and their selves and makes westerners believe some kind of enlightened group that knows how to better secure the rights of women than these women themselves do. Women in Jordan do still suffer and do not have the same rights as men, but the fact that some choose to cover their hair has nothing to do with it.
I was speaking with one of my host sisters, 12 year old Sewar, who does not yet wear a covering. I was asking her whether she wants to wear one or not and she simply smiled and shrugged at me, telling me that she’ll figure it out when she has to. My host family is certainly religious but she does not feel forced, it is up to her and how she feels about her religion. Her hair is hers to cover.