Women Debate Wearing Islamic Head Scarf
Tuesday, November 14, 2006; 3:17 PM
BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Shereen Ali is beautiful, young and outgoing. She loves hanging out at Beirut's hip cafes and, like other women in her crowd, she's a stickler for the latest fashions.
What sets the first-year medical student apart from her girlfriends is the head scarf, or hijab, she always wears _ and is careful to match with whatever tight ankle-length skirt and fitted, long-sleeved blouse she has picked out that day.
"Every morning I wake up, I am aware of my hijab identity," says Ali, 21. "I have to be, because it determines the way I behave toward people and them toward me.
"I always feel I have to prove to them that my wearing the hijab doesn't mean that I am a fanatic, close-minded or backward or even an extremist, but that I'm very much like them."
Ali is not alone in Lebanon's diversified society of Muslims and Christians, where it is not uncommon to see women dressed in black and a head scarf walking hand-in-hand with girlfriends _ or even sisters and relatives _ whose hair flows freely and who wear skimpier outfits.
And it's also not uncommon to see young "hijabed" women wearing makeup. For Lebanon's Shiite Muslim and Sunni Muslim women, dress ranges from traditional black to the fashionable colorful scarf tied under the chin, with the face showing, to the typically Western short skirts or slacks favored by Lebanese Christians.
Although many Muslim women wear the hijab because of tradition or because they're pressured to by families or religious figures, many others do so of their own free will _ like Sawsan Herbawi, 38, who comes from a family that was not particularly religious.
She hides her long, naturally blond hair under a polyester scarf, exposing only her green eyes and freckled face.
Until six years ago, Herbawi not only was "hysterically against the hijab" _ as she put it _ but preferred clothes that were head-turningly revealing. Suddenly one day, she changed to a black robe and a plain headscarf.
"I don't know why I became hijabed. It was shocking to me because I used to be disgusted by it, I was against the principle of women wearing it," she said. "I felt something inside, I don't know what, but the feeling told me that I should wear the hijab."
Her husband was speechless when she told him of her decision, but didn't try to stop her.
She first donned the hijab on a visit to the shrine of a Shiite Muslim saint in the Syrian capital of Damascus, hoping the saint, Syeda Zainab, would give her the strength to keep the hijab on forever.