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Wearing the hijab

Roisin packed her bag and went along the corridor to the cloakroom to do battle with her scarf. The Saudi women were neatly, often elegantly hijabed, their scarves covering their hair and hanging in careful folds around their faces and shoulders. Souad's had been an accessory as well as a cultural requirement. Whatever views anyone might hold of the Islamic head covering, it was an attractive garment.

To Roisin, however, it was a pain. No matter how carefully she tied it, it was either too tight and gave her a headache, or it slipped back, uncovering her hair and she had to keep grabbing at it. She stood in front of the mirror and fixed the scarf carefully in place.

But as she turned away, it slipped again, and she sighed with exasperation. She grabbed the ends and tied them firmly under her chin. Framed tightly by black, her face looked deathly white and at least ten years older. She loosened the ends, and the scarf slipped off. She pulled it off her head and swore out loud. There was a suppressed laugh from behind her.

She looked round. A woman was standing there watching her. She was dressed to leave the campus, her hijab hanging in meticulous folds, her face carefully veiled. Her eyes watched Roisin in the cool light. Roisin coloured, wondering if the woman had understood the obscenity she'd used. "Sorry," she said. "This thing is enough to make anyone swear."

The woman lifted the veil away from her face, revealing herself as the student, Najia. Her eyes gleamed with laughter at Roisin's embarrassment. "You do not do it right, Roisin," she said. "If you tie like this - " she held her own hijab tightly under her chin to demonstrate " - you look like someone's grandma."

Roisin couldn't argue with that. "So how do I do it?"

"Here, I show you." Najia took the scarf from Roisin's hand and unknotted it, tutting slightly at the creases the tie had made. She shook the scarf out. "You should get the proper hijab. This scarf is too small." She folded it into an unequal triangle to make the back longer, and put it on Roisin's head, adjusting it to make the folds hang evenly. She tucked the sides behind Roisin's ears, pulling the front flat, then drew the folds forward. She pinned it under Roisin's chin, and pulled the ends round her shoulders. Then she pulled the scarf free from Roisin's ears and loosened the tight band across her forehead. "With proper hijab, it hang down and you can pin," she said. "But now it is better, see?"

Roisin looked in the mirror and saw herself neatly hijabed, her face elegantly framed by the folds of the scarf. She moved her head cautiously. The scarf stayed secure. She moved her head again, starting to smile as the scarf remained in place.

"Thank you."

Najia's eyes creased at the corners. "You look nice now. Pretty. Not someone's grandma any more."

Their laughter as they left the room echoed down the silent corridors where the light formed pools of gold among the shadows.

The opening frames of Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical 'Persepolis'

The opening sequence of Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical Persepolis shows the author and her ten-year old classmates wearing the headscarf.

Extract from a Guardian profile of Marjane Satrapi:

Such small revolutions are commonplace in her home country, she says, even if we never hear of them. "Do you think, in that society, if a woman has a scarf on her head she is not rebellious?" She scoffs. "Year by year, in Iran, women show a centimetre more hair, a centimetre less scarf. In my family I am the only brown-haired one now, because everyone, under their scarf, is blonde, they have bleached their hair. They have this bright pink lipstick, and prop their breasts up as high as they can, and that is their rebellion. I once saw a girl who shaved her head and wore a big jacket so that they would think she was a man - all so she could drive her car. That was her way of not wearing a scarf on her head."

She is captivated by the irony of her family in Iran telling her, a western feminist dressed in black T-shirt, flared skirt and wedge-heeled sandals, that she looks like a nun and should wear more make-up and dress less modestly.

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Small girl wearing headscarf. Caption: This is me when I was 10 years old. This was in 1980 Four small girls wearing headscarves. Caption: And this is a class photo. I'm sitting on the far left so you don't see me. From left to right: Golnaz, Mahsihid, Marine, Minna. The opening frames of Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical 'Persepolis'