The BBC News Magazine has a longish piece by Shaimaa Khalil about not wearing hijab then wearing it then not wearing it and now wearing it again – in which, bizarrely, she never mentions the actual (and obvious) gender politics of it. It’s just a religious requirement or duty that she either accepts or doesn’t accept, but the content of the requirement/duty is left out.
She talks about photos from the 50s and 60s that speak volumes about social change in Egypt.
There they are in short-sleeved dresses, impeccably cinched at the waist. The dresses of some of the younger ones actually stopped well above the knee. And the hair!
The beautiful and complicated hairdos that my aunties and their friends pulled off just to go shopping or to their universities looked like something out of a vintage glamour magazine.
But times change. In the 1980s and 90s the strict Wahhabi version of Islam was arriving in Egypt – brought back by the millions of Egyptians who’d gone to work in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
Political Islamic movements were gaining ground too, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. Soon all the adult women in my family were wearing the headscarf or the hijab.
She says it’s a long and complicated debate, whether or not hijab is “an Islamic obligation for women” – but she doesn’t ask why it should be an obligation for women alone.
I didn’t start wearing the headscarf until I was in my 20s – and I wasn’t forced to do it – despite several years of pressure from my mother.
“What are you waiting for?” she’d ask. “What if something happens to you? Will you meet God looking like this?” she would say, pointing at my trousers or T-shirt.
Sometimes I would nod, smile and walk away. On other occasions I’d fight and argue.
But deep down it was becoming ingrained in me that wearing the headscarf was the right thing to do. So, towards, the end of 2002 I decided it was finally time to “do the right thing”.
But why? “The right thing” how, and for what reasons? Why was it becoming ingrained deep down? What was the substance of those arguments? Why resist, then why give in?
She doesn’t say. She started wearing it; she moved to London and worked for the BBC.
Then, last year, I went through a very personal and private journey of questioning many things about my religion: about practice and belief, what was I doing out of conviction and what out of habit?
How much of my faith did I want to exhibit? Would I, I asked finally and crucially, be any less Muslim if I took off the headscarf?
The final answer was no.
So, after months of indecision, the day came when I’d decided to remove it. It took me hours to get dressed and when the time came when I’d normally put the headscarf on, I just didn’t.
But why? Why didn’t she? She doesn’t say. The whole thing is weirdly emptied of content and discussed solely as an external.
Now she’s going to Pakistan as the BBC’s correspondent there, so she’ll have to wear it again. But since we don’t know why she cares either way, the irony doesn’t amount to much.