Archive for June, 2012

Hijab, “empowerment” and “choice”—the darker side

Audre Lorde famously wrote that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.”

In the last post, I examined several reasons why I, and a number of other North American converts I knew in the ’80’s and early ’90’s enthusiastically embraced hijab. We believed it was our religious obligation, we found identity and community through it, hijab allowed us to have a sense that we were actively participating in our religious communities, and it seemed to be a way of laying our issues with our bodies and sexualities to rest.

There is a less sunny side to all this, however. Read the rest of this entry »

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Hijab, “empowerment” and “choice”—the sunny side

In my previous post, I said that my (now ex-) husband did not force me to put on hijab. In the ’80’s, that was quite true. If anything, he resented the fact that I wore it, partly because he thought that it made him look like a fundamentalist. (While he was certainly growing into one day by day, he wasn’t ready to publicly announce it through his wife’s clothing; his immigration status was tenuous, and he was worried about what might await him if he ended up having to return to his homeland, where Muslim fundamentalists were often suppressed by the government.) Sometimes, he’d refuse to be seen with me in public if he thought that my attire was too conservative-looking. Read the rest of this entry »

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Learning to wear “good hijab”

Putting on hijab was part of my conversion process. Initially, I hemmed a navy blue square of light-weight poly-cotton material, and tied it firmly under my chin. I wore that with baggy jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, which I left untucked, so that it would sort of cover my butt.

In the ’80’s where I was living in North America at the time, that was more than enough to turn heads, and to prompt endless questions from complete strangers as to “why I was dressed this way.” It also made it nearly impossible to get a job. Going into a store drew immediate attention from the salespeople, who would quickly come and ask me if I “needed anything.” Riding the bus, going for a walk, or even sitting on a park bench would draw comments, nosy questions, and of course, endless staring.

Some converts I knew dealt with this sort of thing by becoming walking, talking advertisements for Islam, turning comments or questions by curious onlookers into opportunities to basically preach to the nonbelievers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Analyzing Muslim teachings on modesty

Among the issues that I am trying to untangle at the moment is things that I was taught (or more often, absorbed from my environment) about the body and sexuality as a conservative Muslim.

Both conservative Muslims and the wider society’s “mainstream” media often treat certain Muslim ideas about the body and sexuality, particularly when these relate to women, as distinctive or even unique symbols of Islamic identity. One of the results of this approach is that it can make it more difficult to critically analyze such ideas, partly because so many other complex and politically charged issues are dragged in along with them.

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How we were sold on patriarchal religion: reason #142

In a word, fear.

We were afraid of so many things: Hell. The Day of Judgment. Temptation. The end of the world. What if our kids refused to pray once they reached the age of 10. The angels cursing us. Losing our faith. Our kids trying drugs. The coming of the Dajjal (AntiChrist). What the community would think if we did X, or said Y. Ideas that threatened our view of the world. (Unwed) teenage pregnancy. The Torture of the Grave. Our kids leaving Islam. Celebrating non-Muslim holidays. God’s anger. The future. Conspiracies by the “enemies of Islam” against Muslims. The persecution of the believers that will come at the end of the world….

We feared such a mixture of things. Some of these things (our kids trying drugs, teenage pregnancy) are issues of concern for many if not most parents, whether Muslim or not.  For religious leaders and groups to acknowledge that many people (particularly recent immigrants, or young, inexperienced parents) have fears of this type, and try to support them in dealing with these sorts of issues in constructive ways is one thing—but encouraging and even fostering fear is quite another.

The conservative Muslim communities I was involved with or associated with in the ’80’s and ’90’s often fanned our fears in order to serve their own purposes.

Read the rest of this entry »

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