One of the most interesting social phenomenons that I’ve observed during my time in Mogadisho is that of the jilbaab. For those who don’t know, the jilbaab is an Islamic full-length garment that is quite loose and covers both the head and hands.
In Mogadisho, practically EVERY woman and girl wears the jilbaab in public – no hijabs in sight.
When I asked my uncle how the hijab was perceived in relation to the jilbaab, he told me that if you’re driving somewhere, its cool if you’re wearing a hijab. However, he continued to say that if you’re walking somewhere, it’s a safer decision to wear the jilbaab. I don’t think he meant this in the sense that I’d get harassed, but more-so that I could avoid attracting unnecessary attention and blend in more easily with the jilbaab on.
Consequently, now that I’ve been here for a few weeks, I’ve rocked the jilbaab many times.
I think what’s most interesting about this jilbaab phenomenon is how much it differs from the Somalia my mother’s generation grew up in – particularly, the pre-civil war/Siad Barre era (circa: 1969-1991).
The thing is, my mom grew up in an era (1970s/1980s) where Somali women expressed their modesty through traditional Somali clothing – not through Islamic dress. This was a time where women walked down the street in sifaleetiis, garbasaars, and baatis, and girls often showed their hair in public for a majority of their lives.
Mind you, the traditional Somali clothes I’m describing are not immodest – its more so that they don’t fit into traditional Arab conceptions of Islamic dress.
With the end of the Siad Barre era and the onset of the civil war, it seems that Somalia retreated into an era of religious conservatism – particularly affecting dress. And suddenly, with the on-set of al-Shabaab and a host of other Islamic fundamentalist groups into the country, our traditions went from being the norm, to being deemed “un-Islamic”, and consequently, not fit for public spaces.
I suppose this is why almost all Somali women still wear baatiis at home, but now, would never wear them outside.
My question is this: did we lose our culture (as in what is traditionally Somali) to the Arabization of Islam?
Why do Arab countries get to set the standard for modesty?
And most importantly, where do we draw the line between what is Islamic and what is Somali?
Or does that line even exist at all?