A new product has hit the Pakistani market – Hijab shampoo. It’s meant for women who cover their heads tightly in hijab that leaves their faces exposed. The hijab is not like, say the Afghan shuttlecock burqa, which covers a woman from head to toe.
I think this product is brilliant because it caters to a large part of the urban (only urban) population in Pakistan. In the last ten years or so I’ve seen more and more women adopt the headgear, burqa and abaya, which are used in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, Saudi Arabia. The abaya is more of a full-length, mostly black coat-like ensemble. In some countries women wear the niqab as well, which sections off the face from the eyes down.
The people who are marketing the new hijab shampoo are capitalizing on what say that is the excess production of oils, build-up of scalp dirt etc.
All my life I’ve seen Muslim women – whether in London, Montreal or Pakistan – labour under these garments. And I’ve often wondered how the hell they manage to pull it off, especially in the Pakistani heat.
I myself do not even wear a dupatta, the long scarf that you’re supposed to cross like a V over your chest in an attempt to distract menfolk from your rack. I find the swathes of cloth distracting when I’m busy in the newsroom. I try, instead to wear clothes that keep me covered in all the right places. Gone are my days of mini-shirt glory in Montreal winters.
I would like to think that I am tolerant enough to not comment on women who make the choice of covering up a certain way. Indeed, in Karachi, especially if you are coming from certain neighbourhoods, taking public transport or taxis, you need to adhere to this code for simple protection (even if it is not your religious belief). Wearing a full-length black abaya sends a message across to men on the street.
But I feel conflicted about the women who may be forced to make this choice by their families. I feel sad when I see little girls, who have not hit puberty, wearing the hijab. They’re barely high as your knee and yet they’re being trained to cover up. I wonder about the invisible interpellation, the enforcement of social codes that are unspoken but become entrenched.
But more so, a gynaecologist recently told me that a lot of these women who were coming to her clinic for obgyn consults were turning out to be massively deficient in Vitamin D. These hijabis, she said, aren’t getting enough sunlight. They are covered up the entire time they go out and when they aren’t covered they are indoors where they don’t get sun. This leads to migraines, bone trouble, and aches and pains that they keep popping pills for.
Interestingly, the boys in Karachi say that it is the girls who wear the hijab and abayas who are most likely to “put out”. I’ve often wondered if they are aware that it seems a little bit like a double standard if they cake their faces with makeup but decide to cover their heads. Isn’t the purpose of the hijab modesty? In fact, in Islam, as far as I know, the principle is that men and women should lower their eyes and behave modestly. When driving home, down Sunset Boulevard, I often see the sex workers in a full burqa standing in the shadows, waiting to be picked up. A reporter told me that the way to tell is if they are standing at an odd spot where there is no bus stop or taxi stand.
And so I wonder, I wonder about a product that is full of chemicals that some company is peddling to women who are developing a condition from wearing what some scientists would call an “unnatural” shield to sunlight and air. My grandmother has always worn a dupatta all her life. But the large cloth is loosely wrapped from her shoulders to her head, leaving just enough for fresh air to circulate as it were. It covers the same amount of flesh.
One of our sub-editors commented on the segregation of men and women the other day. At a special celebratory gathering at her house, I believe after her parents had performed the Hajj or Umra pilgrimages to Mecca, they had invited a senior cleric and scholar. When her father invited him up to say a few words, the gentleman said to the guests that while he did not in principle attend mixed gatherings he agreed this time to honour an old friend. He recited the prayer and stepped down. The sub-editor’s father then came forward and remarked to the gathering that as far as he knew, one of the biggest mixed gatherings that takes place in the entire world is the Hajj. Men and women walk together in the House of God, the Ka’abah and it is strictly laid down that the women’s faces must be uncovered. Makes you wonder if we have had it wrong all along.
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