Anyway, this week, I have been seeing stories about the Egyptian and German women's volleyball teams at the Olympics. Specifically, articles such as this one show the juxtaposition of an Egyptian volleyball player wearing long pants, long sleeves, and a hijab, while the German player is wearing a bikini. It seems reactions to photos of these volleyball players have ranged from people citing them as evidence of a massive cultural divide to people citing them as proof of sports as a cultural bridge.
I have traveled and lived in several predominantly Muslim countries, and seeing these photos made me think of how many times over the years people have asked me what I wore while I was in those countries (or sometimes told me what I must have worn without actually asking). For reasons I have never understood, the hijab provokes very strong feelings among some people. To give everyone an idea, I have been asked far more questions about what I wore while in various Islamic countries than I have about learning the languages spoken there, living under systems of government very different from our own, or even interesting things to see in the various countries.
Anyway, with that in mind, these are my thoughts on the subject:
1. In the Muslim-majority countries where I have spent time (Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan) I went around bareheaded except when I visited mosques, or in the case of Kazakhstan, when the bitter cold made a hat necessary.
2. I have gotten to know many Muslim women over the years. In my experience, if a woman is wearing hijab, it means....that she's wearing hijab. That's all. Women may cover their heads for a variety of reasons, and the presence or absence of hijab indicates nothing about her intelligence, education, or "independence".
3. When I read the BBC article I linked to above, the thing that appalled me the most was that female volleyball players in the Olympics were required to wear bikinis until 2012. This seems discriminatory against women who may want to wear more clothing for religious or cultural reasons, as well as women who may just want their butts to be fully covered if they are going to be on TV.
4. My everyday attire falls somewhere between what the Egyptian and German volleyball players were wearing. That being said, if I were to play volleyball in the Olympics (Ha! How's that for an unlikely scenario?), and had to choose between one of the two uniforms, I would opt for the Egyptian one. Long pants and long sleeved shirts leave far less room for wardrobe malfunctions than bikinis do, in my opinion.
What would you wear if given the choice between those two uniforms?