Thursday, July 10, 2014

Two Hijab-Clad Women

Two hijab-clad women are in a restaurant bustling full of people, awaiting the call to prayer via the television on the wall on the far side of the restaurant, enabling them to break their day-long fast.

“So how’s work been?” Wani raises her voice just enough to penetrate the din around them.

“Oh, you know, same old same old. Clients always giving me headaches. I thought I’d have gotten used to it after three months. How wrong was I?” Suraya ended with a flourish and got back to typing on her phone. She was still as energetic as always, even after fasting for a whole day. Wani, on the other hand couldn’t quite bring herself to match her level of energy.

“Hehe, yeah. If it makes you feel any better, life as a teacher isn’t all that great either.” Wani said, forcing a smile on her face. It was not that she didn’t want to be there. She was just so tired.

“Yeah, you told me about that the last time we met. Which was, what? A month ago?” Suraya replied promptly while finally putting her phone down on the table.

“I think so. I remember you posted that meet on instagram. You tagged me in it.” Wani said while stirring her orange juice.

“Oh yeah. Let me look for it.” Suraya unlocked her phone and started scrolling until she found the picture and showed it to Wani, proof that she was indeed looking for that picture.

Wani and Suraya had been friends in secondary school. They wouldn’t call themselves BFFs by any measure, but they had their occasional late-night pillow talks. And when they found out that they worked quite close-by each other through facebook after five years of studying apart, they decided for a get-together around a month ago. They didn’t talk about much, just regular catching up kind of things. And now, after a text conversation initiated by Suraya, they were breaking fast with each other.

“Oh hey, you went to Rashid’s wedding!” Wani said after scrolling down a few pictures since Suraya didn’t seem to mind. Although she followed close to four hundred people on instagram, Wani never really did any scrolling through her feed. She mostly just checked the pictures she was tagged in from time to time. And she wasn’t tagged in any of her old classmate’s recent wedding.

“Yeah, it was great! His wife is soo pretty! Why didn’t you go?” Suraya said with enthusiasm and curiosity.

“Em, if I’m not mistaken, I had school that Saturday, so I couldn’t make the drive. Jauh la.” Wani exhaled with furrowed brows.

“Oh yeah, cuti ganti’s still a thing in schools huh? Haha. I took several pictures at the wedding. Isn’t his wife just lovely?” Suraya smiling widely as she talked.

“Yeah, she is pretty. Would be prettier if she wore a tudung though.” Wani commented as-a-matter-of-fact-ly. She looked up when she didn’t hear any response from Suraya. “What’s the matter?”

“Erm, I think her tudung has nothing to do with whether or not she’s pretty. After all, she’s the person I’m complimenting. What she chooses to wear has nothing to do with it.” Suraya was speaking with a lowered voice now, but she still made sure that she was heard.

“No, I didn’t mean it that way. I meant, it would be better for her if she wore a tudung.” Wani said wanting to dissolve what she felt was tension.

“And how would it be better for her if she wore a tudung?” Suraya didn’t seem to be soothed by Wani’s change in choice of words.

“You know, she wouldn’t be sinning if she wore a tudung. You know this, right?” Wani couldn’t understand why this was getting Suraya so upset.

Suraya took a long breathe before responding. “Even if she chooses to not wear a tudung, she is still not committing any sins. Did you know that not anywhere in the Quran is stated that women need to wear a tudung?” Suraya tried her best not to seem too angry, but she wasn’t doing the best of jobs.

“Ya la it’s not wajib for us to wear tudung. It is, though, wajib for us to cover our aurah. And our hair is part of our aurah.” Wani was starting to get irritated by Suraya’s lack of respect for their religion.

“Says who? Your ustaz? Ustazah? Where did they hear that from? Their ustaz and ustazah? We have to go straight to the source, Wani. Look at what the Quran says. It states specifically, in the verse I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with as well, Surah anNur verse 31: and drape a cover over their bosoms. Nowhere in the Quran says anything about covering your hair.” Suraya was getting furious, Wani could tell. But she wasn’t backing down.

“Again, the issue isn’t the hair. It’s the aurah. It’s our aurah! Our whole bodies are our aurah, except for our faces and our hands!” Wani didn’t expect to raise her voice, but there was no backing down now.

“I beg to differ! The women in the Prophet’s time couldn’t have regarded their hair as part of their aurah. Most of them couldn’t afford to, since they had to work the fields to fend for themselves in a society whose misogyny was exactly what the Prophet was trying to get rid of. You think wearing a hijab in Malaysia is hot? Try wearing it in the deserts of Arabia your whole life without the help of air-conditioners or even electric fans!” Suraya was really starting to get fired up.

“If you hate the tudung so much, why are you wearing it then?” Wani was definitely baffled by this. Suraya was a hijabi. Why did she hold such a grudge against the hijab and still choose to wear it?

“Because I am emulating the wives of the Prophet, may peace be upon him! They were the only ones who were specifically told by God to hijab themselves from men. They didn’t work the fields. They were protected. And since I have the luxury of being able to emulate them without persecution or other worries, I choose to do so. It doesn’t mean that people who choose otherwise are worse Muslims! They deserve the same amount of respect as any other Muslim woman! And if you can’t see that, then,” the sound of the azan, the call to prayer broke Suraya’s speech. She noticed that she was at the edge of her seat, so she adjusted her sitting and took a bite from a date that was provided for them by the restaurant. She felt that the air around her suddenly became thicker.

Wani ate her date without making any eye contact with Suraya. She just concentrated on the plate of rice in front of her.

The two hijab-clad women ate their meals in silence.

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