A muhajabah is ‘a woman who veils’. A muhajababe, on the other hand, is ‘a sexily dressed woman who veils’. With the furore around the veiling of Muslim women in Western societies, a book entitled Muhajababes hints at a timely discussion of a hot issue.
Encouraged by her boss to take a ‘holiday’, Allegra Stratton, a young BBC journalist, takes a few lessons in Arabic and sets out for the Middle East. Her mission? To uncover a cultural revolution among the youth. Her methodology? To talk to everyone she meets who seems her age. She valiantly records the details of every conversation and every encounter in her notebooks, writing “in bed, in nightclubs, in taxis, private cars, standing in the street and sitting on the curb”. Herein lays the problem. Muhajababes offers a multitude of lively snapshots but little of the bigger, more complex picture. Because of her contacts, the young people she meets up with are less interested in being part of a revolution than in being the ones to film it, write about it and make money from it.
The experience of reading Muhajababes is like watching music videos. It’s all gloss, glitz and glamour. Stratton glibly observes that the battle between piety and secularism is being waged on television screens across the Middle East and that some women choose to wear the veil not out of religious devotion or as a political statement, but merely because it’s trendy. These are interesting issues that deserve thoughtful analysis. What we get from Muhajababes are observations as shallow and catchy as the book’s title.
Muhajababes, Allegra Stratton, Melbourne University Publishing, $24.95.
Review first published in The Courier-Mail in 2006.