"The Travelling Hijabi" - Egypt

The day I started wearing hijab I was in Egypt. It was December 31st, 2008. I was visiting my family over Winter Break. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in my uncle's house. I remember what I was wearing, and how my hijab had been "styled". Styled is a bit of an exaggeration. It was wrapped, it stayed on, let's just say that.

The reason I chose to start in Egypt rather than in Canada although I had been on my journey to hijab for sometime was very simple: It would be safe. My brain told me that because some 80% of Egyptians are Muslim and let's say 75% of women wear hijab, then it is the perfect place to start. I would be safe from stares, questions or comments. Nobody would comment on how much they "loved my hair", or how beautiful I am without the hijab on. Finding hijab appropriate clothing would be easier, the hijab choices were endless and really it was going to be an easy transition.

My plan was very thorough. I was going to be away from my friends for 2 weeks. During this time, I would build my hijab collection, delete my old pictures from Social Media and learn how to wrap my hijab. Also, I had planned to upload pictures of myself with my hijab on while still away in an effort to make my friends "forget" what I looked like without my hijab. Also, making a life change while surrounded by people who loved me, supported my decision and encouraged me just made perfect sense.

That was almost 10 years ago. As the years have passed and I continue to return to Egypt every year, I noticed the attitude of people changing about the hijab. It wasn't changing for the better. I noticed this change from a person level (your average Mohamed Egyptian) but more so at a systemic level. Perhaps this had something to do with the political turmoil that our country has faced. With overthrowing of 1 president followed by the election of another, then overthrowing him too, there has been chaos. Not just politically but socially as well. People are different. They are not the people I remember seeing when I used to walk through the market with my grandfather. Even my own family members changed. The values and ideals I thought were deeply rooted in our culture are no longer there. The importance of family, kindness, caring, being supportive of one another, loyalty, even the Egyptian sense of humour; all that changed.

Although our culture dates back to the Pharaohs and we still do many of the cultural practices as they did, Egyptians have a "foreigner complex". This meaning they look to the West for how they should be doing things. Unfortunately, they do not learn from all the amazing things the Western culture has to offer (ie, health care, commitment to work, respect for time, equality, etc.). They look at what they wear (or don't wear), how liberal they are in male/female relationships, even exploring alcohol and drugs. This saddens me. It blows my mind, how in Canada, you can have a Muslim and Non-Muslim next to one another and aside from obvious things, you may not be able to tell the difference. Also, I noticed that in Canada Muslims are more "Muslim". This of course isn't true for everyone and I shouldn't paint all with the same brush but from the basic practices, and how we live our lives as Muslims, I see it far more in Canada.

There are some things I have noticed about how people view hijab in Egypt. There seems to be an idea that wearing hijab is not "classy". There is an obvious class difference based on how you choose to wear your hijab. More conservative women, who fully cover their hair, perhaps wear looser clothing or abayas can be viewed as having a lower class, although that most likely isn't true. The upper class, more modern hijabis are the ones who opt for other forms of hijab (ie the turban, hat, etc), likely show some hair, perhaps their clothing is tighter, maybe less concerned with their necks or arms or even legs showing. I'm not saying this is all true, I am saying this is what I have observed during my time in Egypt.

I will however tell you about one incident that completely threw me for a loop. Last summer, we had planned to take a trip from Alexandria (where my in-laws live) to Marsa Matrouh. Two absolutely breathtaking places. We had planned to spend 4 days at a resort to enjoy the beach, relax and have some uninterrupted family time. As we were booking, we realized that some resorts did not allow the Modest Swimsuit. Can you even fathom that?! I can go anywhere in Mexico with my modest swimsuit but in Egypt; a MUSLIM COUNTRY; we had to ask if we were allowed. Many of the resorts feel that the Modest Swimsuits lower the level and class of the resort. Strange in my opinion, but I could be biased.

I have never faced anything negative in regards to comments or slurs, or harassment for my hijab but I know it exists. Systemically, there are universities that have tried to ban the hijab as well as some places of employment do not allow the hijab as well. If that happened here in Canada it would be abig issue!

Does it concern anyone else that in a Non-Muslim country I have been able to wear what I want, without any issues and in a Muslim country we need to ask permission to be who we are and defend ourselves from labels that may be placed upon us because we chose to wear hijab?