The Relationship Between My Clothes and Other People’s Beards

Yes, there’s a link — and you won’t believe what it is!

For the record, I dress like a ten year old boy (and my friends and family can vouch for that). This is relevant to the story, I promise.


A photo of sauce I got from the internet

A few weeks ago I was cooking pasta in the kitchen (where else, Nida?). I was wearing a t-shirt, probably a free Fruit-of-the-Loom one I got at an event or something, and joggers. I don’t observe hijab. I’ve got the sauce simmerin’ when my Dadi (paternal grandmother) comes in and tells me that some acquaintances are coming over to drop off an invitation to their kid’s wedding. In India wedding invitations are delivered by hand, at least to close relatives/people you want to impress/brown nose. I’m like, “Cool, grams.” But she’s like, “Put on a dupatta, dumbass.”

Dupatta
a large piece of cloth worn by South Asian women as part of an ensemble or to cover one’s head/upper body
I’ve already decided to refuse, resist, revolt, recycle.

I ask her why. I already knew what her response would be, even before she says it, and I already knew what my reaction would be. I also knew what her reaction to my reaction would be. That back-and-forth with an elder where neither of you understands the other.

Which is why, when she informed me that I would have to wear a dupatta to cover my healthy, functioning human body because the people who were coming over were very religious and the man has a beard (daadiwala), I didn’t have the energy or the words to explain to her why that was really fucked up.

No, I did not explain to her why that didn’t make sense. I didn’t explain to her that my body isn’t dirty or bad. I didn’t remind her that the onus is on the Muslim man to lower his gaze, especially when the female subject is a young woman closer to his daughter’s age. Oh, and the assumption that a religious Muslim man would be offended/seduced by any woman who doesn’t wear an extra piece of cloth on her body. I was apoplectic.

The irony of my self-imposed purdah didn’t hit me until much later.

So, what I did was…

…put off the stove and went upstairs to my room until they left. I felt weird okay? The irony of my self-imposed purdah didn’t hit me until much later. I was angry and grossed out at how my body was being sexualised. But what I was most angry about was that someone else — a guest, an outsider — could dictate what I could and could not wear inside my own house.

Purdah
the practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of screening women from men or strangers, especially by means of a curtain.

In my immediate family the women don’t wear hijab or observe purdah whatsoever. The men may or may not have beards because of their own choice or because it’s just a totally natural thing to happen to one’s face. We’re pretty chill Muslims, we’re well-versed-in-Islam Muslims, and we follow the edict of live as you wish to live and let others do the same. So why is it that when we meet people who might appear to be “better” Muslims or “more Islamy” than us, we have to pretend to be something we’re not to please them? Who are they to judge us?

Who are they to be pleased or displeased with what I wear in my own home? Nobody.

But here’s the thing: I don’t know if those people would have judged me or my family’s honour. They might have been cooler than cool. What I do know is that my grandmother clearly felt that they would. It was her belief that we should present a representation of practising Islam that does not fit with our actual practice. Why? To save face? To avoid offending them? In my own home?

What annoyed me the most was the hypocrisy. So we only observe certain Islamic customs in front of others because of what they might think and not because we want to feel closer to God?

Hypocrisy 101

South Asian Muslims consume this weird combo meal of hypocrisy and religious inferiority that manifests itself in irrational and demeaning behaviours.

“What will people think?” Here’s a thought: they might think that you simply live your life in a different manner than they do.

No, your daughters don’t observe hijab, but if they’re honest, kind, strong women then they’re already great Muslims. Muslim women who do observe hijab do so out of their own free will and not because some bearded uncle expects them to. And Muslim men can grow as much facial hair as they like, but that’s their body, their choice and their problem, and that choice has zero bearing on how Muslim women choose to practise religion or experience the world.

Cringe all you want but the ink spells the truth — only God can judge us.