Is there value in having women of all faiths — women who don’t usually cover their hair — don a traditional Islamic hijab?
I ask because my Facebook feed has been filled with photos of women in hijab. Like those who wore hoodies in solidarity with Florida shooting victim Trayvon Martin, my friends are covering their hair to protest the murder of Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old Iraqi woman who was found near death in her living room in El Cajon, Calif., last month. Next to Alawadi’s body was a note calling her a “terrorist.”
Though El Cajon police have not determined whether Alawadi’s murder was a hate crime, women all over the world condemned the incident as one of religious discrimination. Today, the “One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi” group on Facebook counts more than 17,000 “likes.”
But in recent weeks, details have come to light that suggest that Alawadi’s murder may not be the hate crime it once appeared to be. And it didn’t take long for some to cast doubt on the “One Million Hijabs” project, insinuating that it glorified a culture that condemns women to second-class status. Commenters on anti-Islamic sites called Alawadi’s death an “honor killing.”
Elana Maryles Sztokman, in her recent Sisterhood blog post titled “The Case Against the Sheitel,” seems to be mistaken in her critique of the wigs that many married Orthodox women choose to wear. Sheitels are a model of how Jewish law is supposed to function and change. We will know that the Arab world has modernized when they, too, favor sheitels over headscarves.
Let me explain. Many religious communities, including traditional halachic ones, have deep-seated concerns about matters of modesty. Sure, these concerns seem quaint to some of my students — students with their belly buttons out for display, students who comfortably endorse sexual activity as a form of recreation. As one of them said to me, “Sex to us is like food to Jews; we use it to celebrate, and variety is the spice of life.” But the simple fact is that how one dresses and what one shows frequently does serve as a signal of how one is prepared to act.