Are Black Muslim Women Part Of The Natural Hair Conversation?

22/09/2016 17:24
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Nappy and coarse are words most of us are all too familiar with when we think of 'Black' hair, but perhaps these words are slowly being confined to the annals of history, because black hair today is speaking another language.

As it was for African Americans in the sixties and seventies, natural hair is symbolic of greater self empowerment for many women in the African Diaspora today. Some have termed this a 'Revolution' of sorts; or for want of a better word, an 'awakening'.

You only have to look at recent protests by black girls at Pretoria High School on the institution's controversial policies around uniformity to know that Black hair has a language of its own, where the users defiantly state 'Here I am, visible and sufficient'.

As a Black Muslim Woman, I too speak this language.

Ever since my university days, I have been intrigued with the curly bush that is my crowning glory. And as fate had it, I became fixated on how to grow my hair naturally to my knees (yes... my knees) and how I could go about finding the magic pill that would do that (there is none by the way).

Despite thousands of online tutorials on how to take care of your natural hair, how to grow it long and the emergence of hair conventions and forums, Muslim women seem absent from this conversation.

One could say that this is because we have bigger fish to fry. We are already preoccupied with a struggle that yet again has to do with what is on our heads; a struggle against an increasing targeting of Muslim women bodies in both Western and non Western contexts.

One might also be mistaken to think that if half the time one does not see the hair of a Muslim woman, it is almost as if it does not matter whether she keeps her natural hair or not.

But it does matter. Our heritage and our experiences are shaped by all the things that make up our identity- including our blackness. And whilst I believe that black women have the choice to wear their hair as they like and choice does not negate one's blackness, many Black Muslim women I know are choosing to go natural to manifest theirs.

Entrepreneur Dalilah Baruti is one of the many Muslim women who is contributing to this conversation. She has not only created her own hair care business called 'Hug My Hair', she has authored a book on how Black Muslim women can take care of their natural hair under the hijab or headscarf. She is also online vlogging on this issue and I recently conducted an interview with her which you can read here.

I believe efforts like this are important because for such a long time, there has been a mystique created around Muslim women and our traits beneath the hijab. But I find the hair of Black Muslim women to be even more misunderstood. Yes our hair defies gravity too! And many of us are just loving it.

We are also concerned about overheating of hair which can occur with long periods covered up and not being in contact with too much water whilst performing ablution before our daily ritual prayers. In Baruti's book, she offers advice and solutions around such issues.

I decided to highlight this topic on a panel discussion on a weekly AfroDiaspora TV show I produce called Africa This Week on the Islam Channel and came to understand how pressures to not wearing natural hair could have an impact on our self esteem as women who cover.

During that discussion, writer and broadcaster Nusrat Lodda alluded to some of the ramifications that wearing one's hair in its natural state can have for Muslim women and how ideals around beauty can be damaging to our self esteem, particularly when dealing with potential spouses who have a very limiting ideals on 'beautiful hair'.

For Muslim women who don their natural hair, this could cause unnecessary pressure to conform to hair practices they may not be particularly comfortable with. No woman should have to do that for anybody except for herself.

The debate however extends further than that of only donning their natural hair; it's about having a healthy crop of hair on one's head and appreciate the hair that we were born with.

Within the Islamic tradition, there is a belief that God has created mankind perfectly in form and that we are in the best form of ourselves.

The Qur'an states: "Undoubtedly, We [God] have made man in the fairest stature" [Chapter of the Fig, Verse Four].

For me, growing my hair as I believe God intended runs in line not only with my Islamic identity but great pride in my African heritage.