Cross posted at MMW and Tales of a Modern Muslimah

American hijabis often have a lot to think about when they step outside their doors. Will we be denied a job because of hijab? Will we be asked to take off our hijabs at work or school? Will our hijabs make us a target for racists and xenophobes? Will we be pulled out of line at the airport because of our hijabs? However, one place we don’t expect hijab to cause us issue is in court. In courtrooms throughout the U.S., Muslim women wear hijab and Muslim men wear kufis if they’re inclined to do so. My mother, who is a social worker, wears hijab when accompanying clients to court.

 

Lisa Valentine. Image via AP.

Lisa Valentine. Image via AP.

So it must have been completely shocking for Lisa Valentine to be denied entry into a Georgia courtroom because of her headscarf. I’m sure it was one of the most racist incidents in her entire life. Despite the fact that Valentine’s civil rights were violated and this incident was inspired by racism, the media’s coverage of Lisa Valentine’s ordeal has been mixed at best.

One constant issue that I have in the reporting of Valentine’s ordeal is the reporting of her using a swear word. Every article and news clip on this story has mentioned it. “When she turned to leave and uttered an expletive, Hall said a bailiff handcuffed her and took her before the judge.” “Frustrated at being prevented from entering the court, the woman reportedly uttered an expletive and sought to leave the area.

Why is this fact so important to mention in every news story about Lisa Valentine? Wouldn’t a lot of people use an expletive if they were denied access to court? It’s almost as if the mention of Valentine’s use of a swear word is being reported as a cause for her arrest instead of a law that was abused by the bailiff and the judge. I wonder if the mention of Valentine using an expletive is to make her seem at fault or to simply make hijabis look bad. Either way, I found the constant mention of this fact to be really annoying and unnecessary. She cursed. So what? No matter what Valentine said, there’s no reason why she should have been arrested and sentenced to ten days in court.

Additionally, the coverage of Valentine’s ordeal hasn’t focused much on the racial dimensions of the incident. Valentine’s civil rights were violated because she is a Muslim. Even though she was barred from the court because of her “headwear”, her headwear was religious in nature. There’s little mention of the fact that Valentine’s headwear wasn’t ordinary headwear at all but part of her religious attire. In most of the stories I’ve read on Valentine, this distinction isn’t made except by Valentine herself.

Also, I have seen no discussion of how xenophobia and Islamophobia probably influenced what happened. I doubt that a nun would be asked to take off her habit in court because Catholics are not seen as foreign. However, Islam and symbols associated with it (such as hijab) are. Without looking at the issues at these issues, the stories on Valentine seem incomplete.

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Fashion designers are now starting to see head scarves as the latest hot fashion trend. In an Islam Online article, various designers were quoted about this new trend. Two words that came up often were”modesty” and “chasity”. Apparently fashion designers want to show that modesty, chasity and elegance are not mutually exclusive. Although the designers said that they weren’t focused solely on Muslim women, I’m sure that Muslim women are definitely a market that is increasingly being focused on by the fashion industry.

As a hijabi, maybe people think I would be elated by this article but I’m actually a bit cautious. For one thing, isn’t the one of the objectives of hijab to take the focus off of outer appearances? One of the most common arguments given by hijab apologists is that the hijab prevents women from only being judged by how they look. It allows women to be judged for who they truly are. If headscarves are suddenly made into the latest fashion trend, doesn’t it suddenly lose that purpose? Hasn’t it become the latest commodity that women must have? As Muslims, should we support that? That’s why I was a bit surprised that the article was featured on an Islamic website. The commercialization of hijab seems antithetical to what hijab is all about.

Also, the article brought up the issue of the definitions of modesty and chasity. As I read the article, I kept wondering how modesty and chasity are defined especially in this quote:

According to Dennis Nothdruft, curator of London’s Fashion and Textile Museum, the headscarf resurgence is about a new sense of “chastity” in fashion. He affirms that the trend is not all new after all. “Women wore headscarves in medieval times to maintain their modesty,” he explains.

Is the wearing of hijab the sole indicator of modesty? What about women who do not wear the hijab, both Muslim and non-Muslim? Are they immodest? Isn’t modesty also related to our attitude? I don’t think hijabis who look down upon non-hijabis to be the most modest people around. Arrogance isn’t modesty at all. This isn’t to say that hijabis necessarily look down upon non-hijabis but it is to point out that modesty is about much than headscarves. Also, women who don’t wear headscarves are not necessarily immodest. Modesty is a complicated thing and I’m never happy when it’s reduced to our appearance.

That being said, I can’t deny that I do try to look nice and that it is rather cool for people, Muslim and non-Muslim, to realize that dressing in hijab does not mean dressing “Umar the tent maker’s daughter” (as my mother put it). Dressing in hijab does not mean that we don’t put any care into how we dress. So when I read articles like the one referenced, in a weird way I do feel a little happy.