Thursday, 28 August 2008

Hijab in Lebanon

I've covered different styles of hijab from across the world, including Turkey, Dubai, Malaysia and Afghanistan, but I've yet to blog about my own country, Lebanon. Perhaps because there's not much in the way of a 'hijab fashion culture' like Egypt. Heck, there's not much in the way of hijabis in Lebanon in the first place! I've been working on this for a while now, and unsurprisingly, there is very little on the Internet that discusses the hijab either from a social or style point of view, save for this extremely annoying news report from New TV and this article. Forward to 24:00 to view the clip:

Before I discuss the video, I should probably explain a few things.

1. Lebanon's population is roughly 60% Muslim, and is not considered to be a 'Muslim' country. The rest of the population is comprised of different Christian sects and minority groups, like the Druze.

2. The Lebanese society in general is very concerned with what we call 'mazaher', or appearances - check out this article about 'plastic surgery loans'. Younger people especially are very fashion conscious and some of the most talented designers in the world hail from here: Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad and Mireille Dagher are just a few.

I last went to Lebanon about 5 years ago, and whilst I was there, I saw very few girls in hijab. And those few that did, dressed perfectly reasonably in modest clothing. Things may well have changed, but I find it hard to believe that suddenly all the hijabis are wearing skinny jeans and tight tops.

There were several things that really annoyed me in the above video. Firstly, was the idea that ALL hijabis in Lebanon, save for the ones who adopt Iranian chador, dress like the ones shown. Inevitably, there are going to be girls that try to combine the headscarf (or esharb as we normally call it) with tight clothes, but to give the impression that all the girls who choose 'Western' clothing dress like that is very misleading.

The segment was also giving the impression that 'fashion' = tight clothing. I think I've shown plenty of times here that that is most definitely not always the case. It also seemed to present the idea that hijab-wearing women being interested in fashion is somewhat of a new phenomenon. I assure you it is not. The report kept referring to colourful clothes as something unusual or contradictory to hijab. This has me thinking - 'what the...?' The Lebanese in general don't like wearing the colour black - it signifies mourning and grief. I remember getting positively told off about wearing too many dark colours when I was there. When I went shopping the shop owners themselves would pick out colourful items which were '3al moda' (in fashion). So why should women who wear hijab be expected to dress totally differently to the rest of society?

The problem with this report is that it is already biased from the outset. There is a certain attitude amongst Lebanese (usually with non-Muslims and non-practicing Muslims) that the hijab is something reserved for the super-religious. I am often astonished to see girls in mini-skirts or shorts sounding off about how hijabis ought to dress: 'she shouldn't be wearing that - she's supposed to be modest'! It is ironic that they feel the need to tell others how to be 'modest' when they don't think it applies to themselves... Hence the idea that hijabis should be as drab and boring as possible because they have supposedly elevated themselves above such things as style and fashion. This was represented very starkly when the presenter, Zeyna Zeydan, opted to cover her hair in front of the cleric, when during the rest of the show she too was in 'Western' fashions.

The second guest they spoke to, Laura Abi Khalil is not a Muslim, and yet they felt she should be the one telling us that being fashionable whilst wearing hijab is 'improper'.

In a society where women spend so much time on make-up, hair and clothes and the latest trends, I found that this report was terribly misleading. Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but I felt that they were ridiculing the way some Muslim girls choose to dress, forgetting that this country is home to the likes of Nancy Ajram and Haifa Wehbe (Google them to see what I mean). The commentary about the way the girls were walking and their 'indecent' clothing really irked me too. I would have expected New TV to be a little more responsible, considering the tensions that exist in the country. I also have to question the necessity of discussing these girls' clothing in the first place, when we get enough of it in the Western media.

I apologize that there's so little to show, but perhaps I'll do a post about traditional Lebanese dress (which sometimes I think is jeans and Aviators) - but no really, it exists! If there are any fellow Lebnaniyat reading, let us know more!


Mariam said...

This is too funny Jana.. I'm Lebanese too!! Well half :)
I also noticed when I went to Lebanon back in the day that I was one of a handful of girls in Beirut wearing hijab. Everyone gave me a hard time and told me I was "too young" I should wear it when I get old and instead show off while I'm young. I actually felt more out of place there than in the U.S.
It is indeed a society that focuses on looks and judges by appearance.
There was a saying that you can live in a shack in Lebanon but you have to have the BEST clothing, hair, makeup etc.
Anyway I don't want to go on and on, but I agree with your points :)
We're too alike.. I swear! I've been searching for lebanese hijab and that's how I came across the video for my blog hehe.

sayma said...

Hey, thats so true. Its a shame that only 60% is muslim. And the muslims out there are very modest too.

sayma said...

Also one of my friends told me this too.... im too young to wear a hijab! I got so annoyed, i've been wearing hijab for almost 2years now.

nihad said...

assalam alaikum,
i agree completely that this show is so biased. i wonder why they had to focus only on the gals wearing tight clothings whereas u cud see quite a few hijabis in skirts and other modest clothes... its like they want u to decide either u want islam or modernity... .. the christian lady was really funny c'mon shez gonna tell us now wats proper and improper.. well done jana as usual a superb entry

Madame Mansour said...

What do you mean it's a shame that Lebanon is only 60% Muslim? I don't think it's a shame at all, in fact it's a big reason why Lebanon is so interesting versus some of it's neighbors, like Jordan (which is so boring). Ayib mish helwi!

Just keep in mind that New TV caters to the lowest common denominator hence why the reporting is either frivolous or even worse, benignly annoying. Don't expect anything noteworthy or educational on this channel...the channel is for shock value only.

When I was in Lebanon in 2005, I did see several hijab fashions present including the more western looks along with the Iranian chador which is popular amongst conservative Shi3a in Ouzai. I will say that it seemed like the hijab was not quite as popular in Beirut especially among Sunni girls.

And there are traditional Lebanese costumes. Unfortunately, no one seems to wear them anymore. Here's some links for you to consider:

Rabia said...

In my opinion; the girls looked great! Really! There's just one thing I would never, ever do; Whenever I wear skinny jeans, I would never ever show the jeans so high above the knees. The girls show just,... well; everything,.. I've really got no problem with tight clothes, but I just do not want to show the place where my legs begin. That's my major rule and my only comment on the fashionable Lebanese girls,.. But hey; if they're comfortable with it,.. why not?

adiamondinsunlight said...

Jana, very interesting post. I think if you returned to Lebanon you would see a wider variety of approaches to hijab. You are right that the New TV feature was a bit much, although it does point to some interesting trends. In Syria I saw more muhajiba with knee-length skirts and short-sleeved tops, while in Lebanon the ones I see in Ras Beirut (my neighborhood) tend to be fully covered. But their tops are often a long-sleeved, fitted white or black shirt under a tube or halter top in a bright color. Less skin, but no less figure conscious.

One thing you might want to correct is your description of New TV as Christian-backed. The owner is a member of a distinguished Sunni family from Saida. Christians certainly watch the station, as do Muslims and Druze, but its no LBC or OTV :).

Anonymous said...

Assalamu Alaikum to all sisters out there.

While the video is downloading I would just like to say thumbs up to Habiba Jana for not swearing and using foul language on her blog.
Jana I view your blog everyday and i have to thank you for always being responsible and God fearing .
May Allah bless you all

Jana said...

Mariam, no waaay! I should have guessed, we Lebanese do have the best taste :P I agree with you that so many people there think hijab is for old, married women.

Sayma, a shame?

Nihad, the problem is a lot of the time people 'compartmentalise' religion on one hand, and everything else on the other. It's either all or nothing.

Madame Mansour, I'm not familiar with New TV, and frankly, a lot of the Lebanese channels these days are zbeleh, I'm sorry to say. Thank you for the links!

Rabia, the most important rule of hijab is that it has to cover the shape of the body. I don't like the way the story was reported, but I can't agree with tight clothes either.

Adiamondsunlight, you can blame that one on my dad then lol, he told me :D Do you what the owner's name is? My problem is that el balad kelo melyen banet mzalta, lesh 7ata yale 7atta 3a rasa saret mas5ra w el tenyen la2?? I'm going to try to spread this post among Leb. blogs to get more opinions on the issue.

Mouna, aww jazakallah khair :D

Marillionlb said...

Jana, thank you for inviting me onto your page. I am afraid that my opinion on this subject matter will ruffle more than a few feathers. I am old enough to recollect the glory days of Hamra, cocodi, Spinneys by the airport road, Baalback festival, Beiteddine...etc, in those days you could hardly see a mouhajaba; unless you went deep into the south. What Lebanon needs in order to heal the wounds of repeated wars is not more mouhajabat or plunging V necks with a cross dangling. I understand and respect the religious meaning of such an attire , but would not agree when it is being forced or paid for. As for the other extreem, like I have been saying for a while now Lebanon has lost its culture and heritage, according to me the future of this once great nation is gloomy to say the least.
N.B: New Tv's owner is Tahsin Khayyat.

Nilly said...

Your post was very interesting and comprehensive. You've said everything I wanted to say. By the way I am a Muhajaba and ready to move to Lebanon from the U.S.
The comments on your post made me concerned though about how would I fit in the Lebanese society wearing the western Muhajaba attire!!
Any advice or feedback from all the Lebanese Muhajabt out there will be highly appreciated :)

Anonymous said...

i am lebanese and i find it so shameful that hijabies are wearing clothes like that. Some girls look OK but a lot im sorry to say look like tarts. it is great they cover their hair but the body is more sexy than hair. they need to wear loose clothing. and how can they wear jeans and skinny jeans with a short top? these would be ok if they just wore longer tops, but some of their tops barely skim the top of their pants.
It is because of this that Lebanese girls are stereotyped as 'loose women' in the Arab world and this really hurts me because i am lebanese myself. if the girls only dressed more respectfully, then other Arab nations would respect them more.

adiamondinsunlight said...

Hi Jana - I love reading all the comments that your post has inspired! You really get people thinking - and talking.

MarillionLB has beaten me to the punch in answering your question, but yes - Khayyat is the owner. He also owns All Prints, the bookstore/publishing house. I have never met him, and to be honest probably wouldn't recognize him in person, but I know that his father was a well-respected judge and that his grandfather was a religious scholar, both in Saida.

MyHijab said...

I've touched on this topic before on my blog. I had a really hard time on my last ttrp to leb a few months ago as it was my first time in hijab there.

The problem with the lebanese is that they are very quick to criticise rather than praise; and that goes for everything, not just the hijab.

A shame really.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there are a great deal more Hijabs walking around Lebanon. I should know, I just got back 3 weeks ago. I say a "great deal more" because when I was there 7 years earlier, there weren't as many.

In the month that I was there, I traveled throughout 80% of the country from the deep South, the East, the West and a few parts North and the Hijab was everywhere. In all colors and styles. However, I have to admit that a few interpretations of the "modern hijab" were . . . well . . . I don't even know what to say, but other than hiding their hair color and skin tone (minus hands, face & feet), there wasn't much else left to the imagination. Literally! I swear to God, one example I saw . . . a girl walking down the street wearing a BLACK CAT SUIT with a teeny, tiny, tight red sequinced thin strapped mini-dress over the cat suit and matching red sequinced head scarf. How is that considered any form of Hijab? Where's the modesty in wearing a CAT SUIT?!?!?!?!?

Now, I will admit, I do not wear the Hijab and in certain neighborhoods, I did feel somewhat intimidated surrounded by all the Hijabs, but once I took notice of this interpretation of the "modern hijab" (kinda' hard to miss) I began to realize that chances were noone noticed or was bothered by the fact that I was walking around in a halter top.

someone said...

I know what you mean! and I totally agree with your analysis of the video.

A lot of my friends wear their traditional clothing for special occasions (weddings, eid, etc.). I especially love the Moroccan & Pakistani styles. I'm Lebanese. So I's sort of jealous because Lebanese people didn't hold on to their traditions and opted for the western dress styles instead; to the point that we start to wonder if traditional Lebanese attire ever existed loool

Anyway, so I started looking for what Lebanese traditional clothing look like and the only ones I could find feature some sort of colourful 3abeyeh/dress and a special type of headwear. I'm guessing each type of headwear can be traced to influences from other areas..

here is what I found so far - classified by the type of headwear:

1- clothes featuring a tarboush, a cone-shaped hat with a veil sticking out of it:

I believe these became fashionable in Lebanon because of French influence. It looks very similar to the "hennin", a cone-shaped headdress worn by European noble women at the time.

2- clothes featuring the tantur, a silver cone worn by noble women:

3- clothes featuring a cap:

4- clothes featuring a turban:

American Muslima Writer said...

Thanks for the invite:
My few cents, (liras),
When i lived there for three and half years I saw lots of hijab and felt very comfortable with all the different ways people wore hijab. The older gen doesn't liek the NEW hijab look too much either but because it is "in fashion" they praise it because everyone else is praising it, they try to save face at all costs even if it compromises their religion for some people. There is a strong movement in the 20-somthings and above to get away from the new fashion and work in more suitably islamic clothes.
There are hundreds of different ways to wear hijab in lebanon as you all well know and i found out many of them and tried many of them while there until i found a comfortable way for myself. I think they look absolutly rediculous strutting around like mini peacocks looking for a man to pick them off the streets like hookers for marriage.
There are good and properly attrired muslimahs there for men to seek but sometimes they miss it being blinded by the bling in some sister's hijabs.
The worst thing i ever saw was across the whole dip of Mulla area Beirut. I spotted a rainbow headed hijabi. I was entering Mulla and she was walking towards Mar Elias. Her entire hijab was covered in those sparkly rainbow-making blinding sequins. And there was a full sun... she looked absolutly rediculous like a walking circus. i felt bad for her and tried not to go anywhere near her area.
Good call Jana.

So there are plenty of normal hijabis but the latest trend for younger girls is to wear these rediculous clothes. SOme I don't mind like a colorful abaya with a plain or patterend hijab etc.. but these skin tight flashy I gotta show off everything but still be covered idea is grotesque.

Anonymous said...

hey am probably adding a comment really late but i just saw the blog n i had to write sth being lebanese myself. I live in lebanon unlike u guys n i just LOVE it. ive been wearing my hijab for like 2 month only n i agree that there are some muhajabas down here that are not dressed as modest as they should however there are alot of other girls that wear verrry modest and fashionable hijabs including moi :D. in my opinion the problem is that over here u have to pay alot of money to find a suitable outfit and the more cheap ones are those tight ones so i guess thats why they are more spread. im happy with the way i dress n i think its suitably fashionable n i ve been stopped several times down the street by strangers not wearing hijab tellin me how much my outfit is suitable and "mratab".i think that more modest outfits like the ones on ur blog are being preferred nowadays more than b4 so i guess people over here tend to like more modest fashionable hijabs than tight ones.and about traditional lebanese clothing its still alive of course u can find the "sherwal" which is still worn by the druze, there is also the traditional outfit of the "Dabkeh" and the "tarboush" and alot more.
And one more thing the fact that only 60% of lebanese are muslims is just great it shows how people are living together as neighbors and families regardless of religion and i think this is modernity by itself.

misschatterbox said...

Hi Jana,
I fully agreed with your assessment of the video! I laughed at the fact that the sociologist woman (a non-hijabi, with above the above-the knee length skirt) and short sleeved non-hijaba zeyna were so quick to condemn the girls. And of course the picked a random guy off the street to comment,who probably doesnt doesnt observe Islamic dress himself to represent the "public."

Btw I would like to 'second' Mouna's comment.. its great to read a 'clean' blog. I was just reading another hijabi blog, where the writer has talking aboUT a similiar topic, in terms of hijabi girls combining tight/immodest clothing and hijab, and started her criticism of the girls with "WTF.. WTF??!!" hardly an exclamation that gives one the moral highground!

P.S I love your blog!! The style is great.. an actually true blend of 'western' fashion and modesty, which proves the video was wrong to think that hijab 3al moda, or western style hijba = immodest!

lebandeen said...

Hi Jana,
I felt very glad to know that the person who runs this blog is lebanese :)

I'm lebanese too, and i live in Beirut. And i've never went abroad. I agree with who said that here in Lebanon you hear that you are still too young to be a hijabi.. i hear this always :)

I've been met7ajba since feb 2009 only. And i faced a lot of stress from all my friends when i put it. They are from other religions and they couldnt accept me untill recently. I felt depressed. But i knew i wanted the hijab and I faced them all. I work at the ministry of tourism as an inspector, and even in my work i faced a lot of disacceptance. They are a kind of disgusted from my appearance. And i even still feel this till today. Few people here will encourage you for the idea of hijab. Here they think the hijab is only for the very very religious or for those women who are above 60. Im only 24 and they could not accept me as a hijabi.

As you mentioned, some hijabi girls do not dress in a modest way. But in fact there are a lot also who dress in a fashionable but modest way and they really respect their religion and the scarf they put on their heads. And elhamdellah I'm of those. I will not wear something that is ugly or old fashioned but same time i respect my hijab.

May allah guide us all to be real muslims..

Anonymous said...

I know this blog post is almost 2 years old but I felt like I had to include my own insight on this matter. I agree with the Anonymous post made in 7/9/08 05:18.

Lately I'm seeing many Muslim women get round the 'modesty' factor by wearing catsuits. It's like they're bending the rules. They know they can't show too much skin, so they end up showing everybody their naked-like bodily figure. And I must admit, it's a lot more intimidating or provocative than seeing a woman in a non-hijab dress. Because while the dress conceals the feminine bodily figure, the catsuit makes her look naked or as if she's covered in paint, despite the fact it covers more skin than a normal dress.

So that's the irony, really. For example, I've seen women in mixed gyms wearing spandex unitards / catsuits. Although this trend died in the western world, it's still widely prevalent around the middle east. One time I remember seeing a Lebanese woman wearing a green spandex catsuit (or unitard) with long sleeves. She literally looked like she was naked and covered in green paint. The irony was she still covered her hair with a white headscarf lol. And with the pink leg warmers she was wearing, it just made her look so slutty.

But I figured this is a gym and sometimes you need aerodynamic movement. But what's a woman's excuse for wearing a catsuit in public? That lady literally left the gym in her catsuit. She just covered up her genital region with a small pink mini-skirt. But anyone can clearly figure out she's wearing a catsuit, which was only covered by a small mini skirt over the genital and bottom area.

I'm sure a man's first feeling would be "wow that is so sexy!" And it is. Istaghfarallah I cannot hide my feelings but it was incredibly revolting and sexy. But my instinct always told me it had to go. It has to be banned. Ban the unitards and catsuits!

Zahra said...

Dear Jana,
I know exactly what you mean! I've seen so many non-Muslim women, especially Westerners, with this kind of attitude. They think that wearing the headscarf covering is in some sort of way a golden ticket to looking boring and un-stylish. While Islam does encourage women to dress up modestly (hence the word 'hijab'), it does not necessarily mean they can't look fashionable or clean-looking. I think the problem with Western perception is that they often think of hijabis as Catholic nuns. I also find it rather hypocritical when a non-hijabi lambasts on a hijabi for wearing something that she 'thinks' she shouldn't wear. Maybe they ought to look at themselves in the mirror one day and realize their own faults and loopholes.

The problem with the West is that they treat this as a good sign, whenever they find Muslim girls dressed up in tight jeans and tops while still being covered in a headscarf. They treat it as a sign of Muslims finally embracing Globalization and Western values. I learned to discover throughout my 50 odd years that these media junkies always look at the two forms of extremities. They either highlight on Muslim women in Taliban-style niqabs and stand against it, or highlight on Muslim women in tight garments and stand for it. They never seem to bring the spotlight over to the majority of the population, which is wearing modest religious clothing, albeit trendy and stylish at the same time.

Oh and I think the person who commented above me should lower his gaze the next time he sees a Muslim sister wearing something that he thought looked 'sexy'. ;-)

Speaking of which, one-piece spandex cat suits were widely popular in Kuwait back in the 1980s, long before the 1990/1991 Gulf War started and at a time when our country was embracing Westernization. Kuwait was like the Dubai of our yesteryears, full of glitz, glamour and a few nuisances that we as traditionalists had to put up with.

The issue of some hijabis giving a bad name for the majority existed for a very long time. From my personal account, I still remember that time in 1996 when my sister and brother-in-law caught their then 18 year old daughter wearing a skin-tight, one-piece blue spandex cat suit under her black abaya. She was leaving the house on a night-out with her friends, just before her mother and father caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a shiny blue reflection off her body in the neck and ankle area, despite the abaya successfully covering most of it. Her mother (my sis, may God always guide her to the straight path) asked her daughter to fully unzip the abaya.

After they discovered what she had worn, they were traumatized. These things happen, unfortunately. The good thing is it was stopped before anything worse might've happened. But it's a testimony to how long and far back some hijabis from all over the Arabic and Islamic world have tried to steer themselves into the downhill spiral path of self-destruction.

It's like my sister always says, these cat suits were made for one purpose and one purpose only: to be ripped apart into tiny little pieces and thrown away in the bin. "If my daughter wants to wear a second skin and pounce around like a naked animal in the wild forest, she shouldn't be surprised if someone comes hunting for her and skins her suit." My sis has a really twisted sense of humor but while she jokingly talks about her lifetime memories, we all understand our greater responsibility to keep our communities as clean as possible. :-)

Asalamu Alaikum sister Jana.


Related Posts with Thumbnails