Hijabs and Modesty

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

11090958_10153701787980278_1405256105756384901_oI never like to talk about why I wear “Hijab”, even back in my own country, although it was not a big deal as I belonged to the majority. What’s uncommon is not wearing it. But after moving to a Western country, I become the uncommon, the different as I look and dress differently than others. It never bothered me being the “outcast”; on the contrary I feel more comfortable and at ease with myself here than back in my own country. But what does bother me is that I always get asked a lot of questions which always make me feel uncomfortable. Being a very private person, I don’t really like people asking me questions about my personal life or my beliefs, unless we are in a very close relationship to allow for such discussions. I understand that some people simply ask out of curiosity or interest to know more about a different culture and religion.

Although I know that this is not normal and religion questions are a red line for many people, yet a friend of mine once told me that by wearing a veil, I explicitly identify myself as a Muslim, which means I am open to discussing my religion and my beliefs. It is a valid argument, yet it completely ignores the other side who certainly would not like being asked these kinds of questions by random strangers or people I have just met or people who have no business prying into my personal life, my wardrobe or what parts of my body I am to cover or uncover.

Yet, I always know how to adapt and go with the flow and apart from the silly questions of whether I sleep or shower in it; mostly people ask me why I wear it. I always try to cut the conversation short and just give the standardized answer without going deep into the subject: It is out of modesty. One other time, my manager suddenly and quite out of the blue while working, came to me and asked me whether those who don’t wear the “Hijab” are considered bad and I am ultimately better than them. I was startled by the question and I told him definitely not and that it is a personal decision and has nothing to do with who’s better and who is not. This is why I decided to write about Hijab and modesty.

I first wore my Hijab when I was really young about 13-14, but not out of religious reasons or anything. I just wanted to look different as it was not that common back then. Being a childish decision, I took it off shortly after for more than a year. I wore it again, but this time was me trying to be more religious. I wore it this time longer for 3 or 4 years and then I started to feel uncomfortable, burdened, shackled. I could not do it anymore. Part of me kept on saying that I would be happier and freer once I take it off. And I did. I took the decision and told my family who was not really happy about it, but did not force me to do anything against my will. It was only for a day and actually no one really knew about it as I wore it again the next day. All I remember is that I felt uncomfortable and did not feel like myself. Now I am pretty much at ease with it. I decided to stick with my decision, to see it as something I am doing to be closer to my faith.

But, looking back at that time when I took off my Hijab for this one day and then decided against it, I know that part of me was afraid and not quite ready to face all the jaw-dropping stares, the whys questions, the go back to God-preaching and the you will go to hell-threats, which any woman who takes it off is subjected to. I know that while I had the freedom to decide for myself, others don’t have this leisure, and are being forced or pressured by society to wear what is seen as a sign of modesty and are being judged and measured by this scale of modesty that only a simple scarf on the head defines.

I decided to wear something that defines my faith and who I am, but faith never means the absence of doubt. As any human being, I have my own doubts. My mind is buzzing every minute of every day with so many questions that I don’t have any answers to and a continuous struggle to reconcile between my worldly views and my spirituality. And I cannot reconcile with how Hijab is seen as a sign of modesty, because all these labels and definitions always tend to single out something as the modest, the right, the good, the worthy and leave the rest behind or implicitly taunt and criticize all that’s different from the prescribed definition or image.  I know that my faith is not and should not be measured by what I wear. I know that what I wear is not by any means the ultimate definition of modesty. I know that a woman should be free to dress as she feels like, and people have no right to ask a woman why she is wearing or not wearing something.

That’s why I’d like to think of modesty (of any kind) as a decision. And there is never a clear-cut formula for a decision. Decisions are personal, a part of who we are and our personal journey. We should have the freedom to make our own decisions. We should have the right to doubt them, to change them without needing to explain or to justify our reasons. And we should never ever be judged or measured by others’ decisions.

Modesty, Meaning, and Me

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

I would not say modesty is my strong point. In fact, I spent the better part of an afternoon creating non-modest memes of myself.

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Then I sent said memes to friends so they could share in my wit and glory… modesty… about that…

I spent quite a bit of energy and time fighting against the idea of modesty while growing up. In a religious sense, modesty, specifically clothing modesty, was seen as a virtuous trait for women- and women only. My beautiful, confident, feminist warrior princess side of me had a difficult time with this message, and proceeded to throw the baby out with the bath water.

But then our writing intern, Nermine, wrote a beautiful piece including her definition of modesty, and it is the exact definition I’ve been looking for all these years. So here I am, aware of my faults, but slowly beginning to come around again.

So, modesty, it’s time you and I had a talk. I recognize that what some may see as confidence in me is sometimes insecurity (not all the time! But yes, okay, sometimes). I recognize my need for bluster and bravado, and that you, dear modesty, may be a better option. I’ve seen you before, you know. That quiet confidence, complete security in oneself. You and I have had some good moments but have never become fast friends.

Modesty, you are directly linked to security, and security is linked to self-love and acceptance. I know when my spirit is in its happy place, fully loved and accepted by the universe, you will come quietly and build your nest in my heart. I want to be a wise old woman someday, and I need you there with me.

So, here I am. Deflate my pufferfish-like ego, and help me to get back to the truth. And the truth is, I still look pretty good even when I am deflated.

Success and Modesty

Today’s post comes from our regular contributor David Etim, who is writing from Lagos, Nigeria. David provides deep insights that show us that modesty and success do not have to be opposite in our lives. in fact, David believes that there is  a way to see modesty and success as linked to one another, that a type of modest success exists.

modestsuccessIn all honesty, my life as an individual has been dramatically influenced by people whose lifestyle have been moderate both in the Bible and in the secular world such as: Rick Warren, David Oyedepo, and Bill Gates, just to mention a few.  I believe my worth would have been far less than what it is today without access to the life-changing stories of these men. When the spirit of modesty influences a heart, it will be reflected in the way the person lives, and leads them to a success rooted in modesty.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “Modesty” as “showing regards for conventional decencies.” I am of the belief that modesty is not thinking less of myself; it is thinking of myself less. It is also my belief that living a modest life will make me very successful and productive.

In my banking days when I was in a training, one of my course-mates said to me, “Etim, your lifestyle does not fit our environment.” He meant that I lived more modestly than the rest.  When the course ended, I was singled out as not only the youngest in that course as one of the top three in the whole course. My modest lifestyle did not go unnoticed. Modesty pays! Even the bible notes modesty and rewards it, according to Gen. 6:9-10: “Amidst all mankind at that time, God singled out Noah…….He tried always to conduct his affairs according to God’s will.”

There is no way around it. Modesty and success are not opposite, but in my life at least, modesty has brought success. So I say, to God alone be all the glory!

What is Modesty for an U.S. American Living in Morocco?

We decided to have each member of our staff reflect on the question: What is Modesty?  Our Writing Intern, offered her perspective as Muslim woman, our Editor in Chief tried to define modesty, and our Author in Chief explored modesty in a multicultural world. For our last piece in this series, our Social Media Intern, Will O’Brien, shares his thoughts on modesty beyond its depiction in western media.

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When I think of modesty, my mind jumps to an image of a dad lecturing his daughter for her “revealing” outfit choice in one T.V. sitcom or another. I fear that this is often the western image of modesty– something a man is imposing on a women. I am afraid we seen modesty only as a symbol of the hetero-patriarchy, an accomplishment of white men, and a feather in the hat of the traditional powers that be.

Having conjured this image myself I cannot claim to be immune of the societal structures that placed it there; however, in taking this image a step further I hope to change this concept. What if modesty, as it is taught in most religious traditions, as an act of self-expression, not an imposition?

I think that modesty is not purely a performative representation of one’s self based on how they dress, or how society tells them to dress. Saba Mahmood, in her book Politics of Piety, advocates for modesty to be an element of individual agency. It is not something that can be imposed on someone, and thus modesty is something totally different than what is portrayed in much of western media. True modesty is a decision that one makes for oneself about oneself.

What is Modesty in a Multicultural World?

We decided to have each member of our staff reflect on the question: What is Modesty?  Our Writing Intern, offered her perspective as Muslim woman, our Editor in Chief tried to define modesty. Today Our Author in Chief, Jenni Taylor, asks what this complex topic might mean in a multicultural world.

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I find myself at a loss when it comes to defining this word, modesty. It is a word that has caused infinite amounts of trouble around the world rather than the freedom and security that should come with spiritual truths. Love, joy and peace certainly haven’t been nearly as controversial, culturally or in my own life. Why modesty?

Currently working in China, leggy skirts and shorts are perfectly acceptable for work while shoulders or a loose blouse will earn a chastising commentary. In other places, in other times, ankles, or hair, or wrists are considered immodest.

I understand clothing modesty is only one facet of the word, but it leads us to a rather important piece of wisdom: values, even spiritual ones, CAN be cultural.

So, I’d like to gently point out that all values may contain validity, but are not equal in importance. If a value leads us to the judgement and closed hearts then maybe it merits less of our attention. In our multicultural world, multiple definitions are always acceptable, each culture can define things differently, and I can define things for myself while allowing everyone else to do the same.

What is Modesty for a Language Nerd?

Since this month’s topic seems to have a lot of people stumped, we decided to have each member of our staff reflect on the question: What is Modesty?  Our Writing Intern, offered her perspective as Muslim woman. Today our Editor in Chief, Autumn Elizabeth discusses her take on modesty.

FullSizeRender (6)When I get stumped on a word I always turn to my friend the Oxford English Dictionary. According to this near-sacred text modesty is

Moderation, temperateness, self-control; freedom from excess or exaggeration; Decorum, propriety; scrupulous sobriety of thought, speech, conduct, etc.; natural avoidance of coarseness or lewdness.

This definition makes it hard for me to accept modesty as part of my spiritual journey. As a storyteller I live in a world of exaggeration, as an activist I believe in things like freedom and as a rebel, I cringe at the thought of self-control. But what if the OED has it wrong? What if the modesty we are talking about, a modesty of the spirit, strays from this definition. Perhaps, the essence of a spiritual modesty is the constant acknowledgement that there is something in the universe beyond ourselves, no matter if that something is God, الله (Allah), or simply the energy of love. Perhaps modesty is  the understanding that humans are not the most important entity in the universe. This is a modesty I can accept, a modesty that resonates with my feminist beliefs, my vegetarianism, and my faith. Moreover, modesty as simply the recognition that there is something greater than myself allows me to live as a storyteller, an activist, and a rebel and still live with modesty.

Want to share your ideas about what modesty is? Share them with us by submitting!

What is Modesty for a Muslim Woman?

Since this month’s topic seems to have a lot of people stumped, we decided to have each member of our staff reflect on the question: What is Modesty?  Our Writing Intern, Nermine Mohamed, offers her perceptive today as  Muslim and as a woman. Her answer shows incredible wisdom and gives us all a touching image of modesty to consider. 

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When I think of the word “modesty” what comes to mind is not a specific appearance, dress, or behavior, but more like a combination of everything: a certain lifestyle, a certain aura that surrounds and frames a person. It is a tone that is never too loud or too self-assured, it hovers between confidence, uncertainty and accepting that you can always be wrong. Being ready to listen more than talking, feeling no need to stress your own ideas among a group, always thinking before speaking, making sure that what you say is of value and not just noise to fill in the silent gaps. It is knowing when to talk and when to be silent and also knowing that silence is not a bad thing at all! Not everything has to be spoken. It is being comfortable with oneself. The way we look, the way we talk, the way we behave among people. Modesty does not mean not drawing any attention to ourselves, but it means drawing attention to the right things, the meaningful things. It is how we behave as if no one is watching us, seeking no praise or compliments for being who we are: natural, unassuming, effortless, no need to be anyone but ourselves. It is like a breeze, caressing one’s skin. Always soft, nice, kind, and caring, it spreads out positive and good feelings and makes you feel at ease, never making a fuss, but simply passing by without you even noticing.

Want to share your ideas about what modesty is? Share them with us by submitting!

Preparing For Modesty

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief  

modesty prepreareI’ll admit, I am not the most modest person in the world. In some senses I have worked hard on doing things that most people consider immodest, such as embracing my sexuality, loving my body, and having excesses of fun. So as I prepared for a trip to Morocco, it wasn’t that surprising that my closet contained virtually nothing that met the cultural standards of modesty there.

Despite all my travels, I’ve never been to a predominantly Islamic country before, so I wanted to make sure I was prepared. I researched what parts of the body I shouldn’t expose, and read copious articles on the mix of European and Moroccan values and fashion happening in places like Casablanca.

I found lots of diverging opinions on dressing modestly. Some people said ti was a political statement to wear whatever they wanted as women, others felt most comfortable adopting the fully traditional Moroccan dress. My favorite piece of advice, coming from a European woman who spent several months living in Morocco, was that she tried to embrace the cultural modesty while still being herself.

Of course, this isn’t simply a cultural question, but also a religious one as well, and I think it is important to respect both religious and cultural values as a traveler. So this brings me back to my closet, and its complete lack of what one might call “Moroccan Modest” clothing. Although I could go for the political statement, as I write this my partner is packing several sari’s I have acquired from around the world to help me cover what my clothing won’t. Hopefully this international hodgepodge of fabrics, and a Ramones t-shirt or two, will sufficiently allow me to feel like myself while embracing a new level of modesty. Hopefully, I will be able to respect the culture and faith of Morocco, while honoring my own. Hopefully, I will be prepared for modesty and presented with new ways of viewing this complex concept.

Seeking Submissions: Modesty

252355_10100328866241411_1783125421_nThis month at Searching Sophia’s Pockets, we are focusing on the theme of MODESTY. Modesty is a very complicated issue. Its enforcement may stifle some people’s spiritual journeys, while being modest might be the expression of other people’s journeys. So dig deep and tell us your thoughts on modesty and how it has been a part of your spiritual journey.

If you are stuck for where to start your submission, here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. Do you express modesty in your daily life? How?
  2. Is modesty of dress, speech or spirit part of your spiritual journey?
  3. How do you feel about modesty and feminism?
  4. How do you relate with the concept of modesty?
  5. What are you too modest about?

With Wisdom, Love …and Lint,

The Searching Sophia’s Pockets Team

5 Ways To Start Your Journey Towards Self-Acceptance

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So far this month we have talked about accepting our choices, accepting differences, but we haven’t delved too deeply into the realm of self-acceptance. Loving and accepting ourselves may be one of the hardest aspects of acceptance, but self-acceptance is far from impossible. Here are five ways to begin your journey to self-acceptance. We hope they bring you lots of wisdom and love.

  1. Be a bumble bee…which is to say watch Harry Baker performing spoken word about self-acceptance at a Ted Talk.
  2. Take a course on self-acceptance. Everyday Feminism has a great one focusing on self-love (with reduced rates for folks with lower incomes), and Oprah offers a free ten day path towards self-acceptance.
  3. Explore your own unique type of courage with this quiz from Greenpeace.
  4. Stop comparing yourself to others and just breathe.  Read about the ways that yoga to help with that in this article from Yoga Journal  or this one from Rebelle Society.
  5. Try praying, meditating or writing about the best aspects of yourself. Enjoy them, revel in then, and share them!

Have other ideas about starting the journey to self-acceptance? Share them with us in a post, or below in the comments!