A feminist agnostic wears the veil
I took off my hijab today. I wore it for a week.
It started at a consultation on the Mamapasano incident convened by the Anak Mindanao (AMIN) party list. AMIN Rep. Sitti Djalia Ansarudin Turabin, whom I had known since she was a young activist, invited me to join them.
Prior to that we had been in touch through our social media accounts when I commented on one of Rep. Turabin’s posts about the insensitivity of people talking perjoratively about Muslims, as she sat in her hijab (a scarf used to cover the head and chest) a few feet away.
Many things were discussed at the consultation meeting where half of the crowd were peace advocates based mostly in Metro Manila. ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman discussed his report to the Senate on the Mamapasano incident. Given the high level of emotions and the terrible amounts of disinformation, I urge readers to read and download his presentation.
I came away from the briefing convinced that of the many actors that led to the high death toll, the MILF was the least accountable. I also learned that human rights violations were also committed against the people of Mamapasano and that they deserve justice too.
I agree with Gov. Hataman that the people who are most aggrieved are not the fallen SAF nor the 18 MILF fighters. As he points out, while all deaths are regrettable, at least those who bore arms in the encounter died for principles they believed in. The ones most aggrieved are the civilians, including an 8-year-old girl who was deaf and mute. Her parents were also wounded.
All lives are valuable
What struck me most about the consultation were the tears of the Muslim women. Why, they asked are the lives of the soldiers more valuable than the lives of Muslims?
The news media refers to them as the “Fallen 44” when 69 people died. And what of the wounded and displaced civilians, conveniently forgotten yet again? Those who call for all-out war do not understand what that means, what war has meant, for the women and children of Mindanao.
They tried not to cry actually. But broke down in tears anyway, bewildered that one bloody clash in a long line of clashes should be so important that if would derail the peace process. The story of lives lost to war in Mindanao, in atrocious conditions of massacre and oppression, is a long and painful one, of which Mamasapano is but the latest chapter.
The MILF negotiator detailed these massacres to the uninformed Sen. Cayetano in the senate hearings. The Muslims and other indigenous peoples of Mindanao who support the peace process are willing to forget their own loss and suffering. That is why there is a peace process in the first place. Otherwise, there are too many Mamapasanos that would justify continuing revolution in Mindanao.
Now Mindanao is being used yet yet again, by people in Imperial Manila – to increase an ambitious politician’s profile or as means to call for the ouster of a president. Now the peace that activists both Moro and non-Moro have worked for, is threatened by a rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry.
I finally broke down and shed a few tears too when a young student spoke. Only the advice of her elders was keeping her from packing up and going back home instead of finishing her studies in Manila. She told of how it had been difficult before the Mamasapano incident, but how much more difficult it was for her now. She has received so many anti-Muslim slurs.
As one peace advocate noted, “the level of anti-Muslim sentiment seems almost the same as the level right before the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Bosnia.”
Sign of solidarity
And so, right there and then, I decided to wear the hijab for a week. As a sign of solidarity. As a sign of protest against those who refuse to understand that those who resisted the government with arms had every good reason to do so. Against those who refuse to understand that the peace process is not a triumph of the MILF or President Aquino. Rather it is the the triumph of those who have borne the brunt of war and have managed to convince these two armed forces to sit down and talk.
Some of those dear to me protested when they heard of my plan: “Why wear an iconic symbol of women’s oppression?”
And indeed it is true that millions of women are forced to wear the hijab against their will. It is forced on them by repressive regimes that impose the strictest and most unequal gender roles. The purveyors of fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, the kind of radicalized Islam we are hoping to head off in Mindanao by the peace process, have also promoted an increasing return to veiling in the Muslim world.
The arguments bothered me because, I am not merely a woman of Metro Manila, I am indeed a feminist and an agnostic. I am fearful of all religious fundamentalisms and their prescriptions for women.
But I chose to wear the hijab anyway because, the women I was with that day seemed glad that I would do it. Because, as I went through my week in the privileged and sequestered places in Metro Manila, people had to accept my presence as the “other” that had never been understood and was now increasingly feared. I wore it because I could explain more about the peace process to my colleagues, the woman who sells me fish, the people at my gym.
And I did it to become familiar. Familiar with the double stares in the restaurants, the increased scrutiny at mall entrances, the standing out in a crowd.
But I also became familiar with the colorful hijabs that one can choose to wear. With the task of making sure the hijab matched with the colors of my shirt. At the absolute need for a hijab pin. At the heat of wearing a hijab but also its usefulness when walking under the sun. I gawked at the expensive jewelry one could wear with the veil at the expensive hijabs I found online. I was amazed at all the coquetry women of the veil still manage.
I also became acquainted with some peace advocates and some Moros. I was afraid of being mistaken as a genuine Moro, because I might do something to dishonor the women who had accepted me, had been patient with me, had taught me how to tie the hijab and forgiven my lack of cultural understanding.
Accepting the other
Still there were differences that could never be erased, least of which was my inability to stay away from pork. I also doubt whether my jeans-and-t-shirt-with-hijab costume made a good argument for wearing the veil.
A discussion within my community-for-a-week alerted me as well to yet another truth about difference. That even those we think as “the others” are not all the same. My woman Muslim friend says that the hijab is a voluntary thing. One of my male Muslim friends says that for him, “it is revealed” and therefore an obligation. I, as usual, prefer the woman’s view on this. However, it is these instances that tell me that there are multiple others. That my “others” have their own “others” who are still not at all like me. That all of them require my respect and recognition.
I wore the hijab as a sign of solidarity with the oppressed. In my heart I know that this kind of solidarity, must ask nothing in return. This kind of solidarity is the privilege and duty of all persons of good will. I wore it for far simpler reasons such as I needed to return the favor of my friend Sitti who came to Manila as a young activist when we asked her to join us. I wore it as a meditation on my own unearned privileges and my continuing journey in recognizing different other persons as a moral and equal beings. I wore it because I desire peace. And it is only in accepting difference without trying to change it, that we will find peace.
I wore the hijab for the sake of solidarity with the Moros of the Mindanao. Then I took it off again for the sake of solidarity with the other peoples of Mindanao who do not wear the hijab. I took it off seeking still for a Filipino nation at peace. Because the unity that underpins peace and justice in a diverse and secular country does not lie in collapsing our different identities.
We show our unity when we hold on to our differences and yet learn to traverse the long distances between us. As when, a feminist and agnostic decides to traverse the long distances between her and a hijab and her hijab- wearing sisters welcome their stumbling infidel of a friend. – Rappler.com