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June is exam time in North Africa. With some amusement, I read a link forwarded to me from an Algerian website about young women using their Bluetooths and hijab to cheat on their baccalaureate exams. A quick Google search proved this was a pan-Maghreb thing, as Moroccan and Tunisian media has written on the subject.
In North African countries, the results of one’s baccalaureate exams are key to scoring increasingly scarce university places, both at home and abroad. So the stakes are quite high. Naturally, as tech girl, I set out to learn more about the techniques these girls use. As a Muslimah, I wanted to know how these girls are represented in the media as women who wear hijab.
The majority of articles imply that exam time can turn some girls into instant hijabis. In the L’Expression article, certain girls were quoted as saying they were planning to wear hijab and/or jilbab for the express purpose of “increasing their chances” for passing their exams. In fact, the journalist cited in L’Expression mentioned that those caught cheating the most during last year’s exams wore headscarves, but gave no statistics.
I’m quite old school about hijab: I thought you didn’t need a Bluetooth because you could just stick your phone between your headscarf and your ear if it was pinned tight enough. The articles I read mentioned a series of tactics: from the modern day “Call-a-Friend” (whereby your Bluetooth connects you to someone outside of the classroom who reads you a lesson book) to those who record their lessons on their smart phones (either vocally or as files) and select them as necessary depending on the test questions. The more old-school sisters like me can hide cheat sheets up their sleeves or in the folds of their jilbabs.
But the Bluetooth is turning into the option of choice. Six girls were kicked out of their exams this year in Algiers alone for using Bluetooth devices to cheat. Different campaigns take place to remind these sisters of what can happen if caught cheating, but all focused on the earthly, rather than spiritual, consequences (sanctions involved exclusion from future exams). Preemptive action is also taking place: in Algeria, girls with hijabs will have their heads frisked, while those in jilbab will be frisked by females.
None of the news sources I read mentioned anything about the potential spiritual implications of using hijab to cheat. Interestingly, forum discussions on the topic (bladi.net, marhba.com) were concerned exactly with this point: what is to make of girls who only wear hijab to cheat on exams? What is to make of women who use the moral authority the hijab “confers” to cover up doubtful test-taking tactics?
While many news sources content themselves with just stating the facts, I felt it odd that they took it as a given that hijab was a natural storage place for Bluetooth, which may be due in fact to a blurring of the lines between cultural Islam and “Islam Islam” in countries with Muslim majorities. The real issue for me is that, in the forum posts I read, a lot of questions were being asked by people trying to reconcile spiritual and worldly without being given much to go on. Using hijabs to cheat is a new technological twist on the
“insta-hijab” credibility (when the mere donning of a hijab confers a status of holy and pious). In countries where hijab is allowed or tolerated in public spaces, what impact will this have on women who choose to wear it for reasons other than facilitating test scores?