Uncovering the Truth of Covering Up

We are two girls living in Abu Dhabi. It’s a bit of long story as to how we got here, and each of us has our own. When we first told our family, friends and outer circles about this move, people asked, “Are you going to have to cover yourself up? Wear a Hijab? Aren’t you afraid of being repressed as woman? I’ve heard women there don’t have rights.”

Having lived here for 5 months now, we’ve had a different experience. It’s always Western Media telling us what it means to be a woman in the Middle East, but we thought, why not let these women speak for themselves? And as girls in this region, we wanted to provide a different, more personal perspective on what it means to be Hijabi and a woman in the Middle East. We photographed three of our fellow classmates and friends, Ayesha, Sarah and Wafa, and asked them some questions.

So, how did you decide on how to wear your Hijab? Is there a name for this style?

S: A lot of experimentation took place when I first started wearing my Hijab. Just like a haircut, you have to find the style that suits your face and your “style”. There are quite a few tutorials on YouTube actually. I tend to switch it up quite often, but I always come back to my favorite, which is the easiest.

A: I don’t think the way I wear my Hijab has any name. There’s the turban style, and also the Spanish style that is pretty popular in Egypt. It basically depends on the face shape and most importantly, it needs to fulfill its purpose.

Do you have a favorite headscarf? (Colors! Patterns!)

S: I do. And it’s pretty uninspiring. A black cotton maxi scarf. I tend to wear a lot of patterns on my clothes so I don’t want to clash. I do have one that’s like a massive 100-dollar bill. I call it my hustler scarf, and yeah, it’s pretty badass.

A: This one! [Points to her scarf and giggles] I love wearing scarves that are some shade of pink.

That’s pretty awesome. What made you decide to wear it? Have you had to explain this decision often in the past?

S: My Hijab is part of who I am. I don’t think I’d be the same without it. I see it as a symbol of my dedication as a Muslim. It’s a challenge and I’m not going to pretend like it isn’t, but pulling through makes me stronger as a person I feel. Given the way I was brought up – believing that the Hijab was a part of Islam, I knew that I would eventually wear it. The question was when. And for me that was easy. I grew up in the UK, and once I finished primary school at Year 6 and was about to go to Year 7 in a new secondary school, I felt I was ready to make that transition. There was a nice little Muslim community in my town, and a few of the girls went to the same school so I wasn’t the only one wearing a scarf. Looking back, even if I was, I don’t think it would have been an issue. The students were tolerant, and I never saw my scarf as something that would hold me back, even in the early stages, which is a blessing in my opinion. I think because I’ve always been so sure of wearing my Hijab, and that the conviction actually shows, I haven’t been asked this question as much as one may think.

A: I think the Hijab has a lot of different meanings for Muslim women and even for one person, Hijab can cover (no pun intended!) a whole spectrum of reasons as to why it is significant and what they feel about observing it. The most important reason for me to start wearing a headscarf and dressing modestly was because I believe in God, and this is a part of my faith.

What do you personally think Western Media gets wrong the most about Muslim women? Have these misconceptions popped up in real-life situations?

S: That we’re oppressed. I’m in no way saying that there aren’t any Muslim women that are oppressed, but it’s not only Muslim women. It’s a tragedy but thankfully it doesn’t apply to all of us.

Another thing that ticks me off is when cultural traditions are mistaken for Islamic law. I reserve the opinion that Islam has been corrupted by the cultures that adopt it. Much of the negative media revolving around Muslim women stem from twisted cultural traditions rather than Islam.

A: A common misconception that I’ve faced since I decided to cover is that I’m being forced to do so by my parents. I find that hilarious (because I have a habit of doing the opposite of what my parents want me to), and demeaning, because it means that you don’t think I am capable or intelligent enough to make my own decisions about how I want to live my life.

Any closing statements?

S: I wish people would understand that there is more to Islam than what meets the eye. I wish people would take the initiative to speak to a Muslim or read up on Islam from an objective source before making assumptions.

A: I just wanted to mention that, in fact, in the UAE, 77 percent of women decide to go onto higher education, and the colleges here often have a majority of female students (up to 75%). All the media here has no negativity towards women and, in fact, is empowering women to go after their dreams.

After a few hours posing and playing around with silly props, we not only got a glimpse of what it is like to live with the Hijab, but it also became very clear how badass and empowered these girls are. We’re lucky to be able to enter this “girl’s world” and we wanted you all to see how women empowerment comes in so many forms and includes so many different types of people.

Emily Bio: Born in Canada and raised in Atlanta, Emily Wang is an aspiring artist/punk rocker/activist living in Abu Dhabi. She likes making zines for her friends and being happy. Check out her work at emilyjwang.tumblr.com!

Agustina Bio: Agustina Zegers is a Chilean visual arts student living in Abu Dhabi. She is mildly obsessed with crazy architecture and all things minimal. You can follow her instagram @agustinazs and her visual diary at diariovisualaz.tumblr.com.