Guest post: Reflections on slavery, hijab, male authority, and convert neo-traditionalist apologetic bafflegab

(by Rosalinda—largely in response to this post)

I am under the impression that the whole women’s dress thing is something no woman can ever, ever do “right” in the eyes of these men. First, they claim that all women should wear hijab.

And when women where hijab, those scholars/brothers talk about how a woman wearing hijab shouldn’t wear pants, colourful clothes, jeans, jewellery, tight clothes etc. So a woman can never win. Talk about gaslighting…………

Here is a good take on the whole “correct hijab” thing by Orbala.

And yes, even Hamza Yusuf claims that a woman who doesn’t wear hijab “dishonors herself”.

OMG I can’t believe this! He uses the fact that enslaved women weren’t allowed to wear hijab by 3Umar al-Khattab and that they were bare-breasted as an argument for the “tolerance” of “traditional islam”.

This is of course NOT true: Hijab could, in that day and age, only be worn by free Muslim women to distinguish them from enslaved Muslim women, whose bodies were basically fair game – a slave owner had the right to have sex with an unlimited number of his female slaves, who, like Kecia Ali puts so eloquently, “weren’t in a position two hold or withdraw consent.”

But this argument of his is really mind-blowing…..

And it goes on and on………that if a woman doesn’t wear hijab, her husband and/or family are “responsible” and that other Muslims only can give “nasiha”.

And then he makes the point that Muslims shouldn’t “obsess” about women, which seems quite progressive……except that distinguishing enslaved women (which almost certainly must have lead to street sexual harrassment, since enslaved women had very little rights. Even if another man then her owner would have raped or harrassed her, which would be haram and zina, only her owner could file charges due to “usurpation” of his “property”. And all the official rules set aside, what choice or retort would a woman have in practice in that time & age, let alone a slave) and a man being “responsible” for his wife’s hijab isn’t.

What also really catches my attention is the fact that Hamza Yusuf says “3Umar ibn al Khattab didn’t allow the imma’ to wear hijab”. “imma” is the plural of “ama”, meaning female slave. (I just read this in Kecia Ali’s Sexual Ethics & Islam)

Why does he uses the Arab word for “slave girl/woman” and not simply the English word? Maybe I’m being to negative or suspicious, so correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that strange?

It’s as though he wants to present a pretty picture by referring and NOT referring to slavery, since many Muslims don’t even know that word and the Muslims who do, no that he isn’t actually critiquing that practice of 3Umar.

But the whole thing that he presents the fact that slave women were obliged to walk bear-breasted to be easily identified as a slave as some sort of positive evidence of the tolerance/wisdom of the “Islamic system” is basically twisting the truth, if not outright lying and saying black is white and white is black.

It’s fine with me that he is a neo-traditionalist, but NOT that he lies. (Which is haram to begin with)

Apparently, when defending the “Islamic system” (which isn’t “Islamic” per se, but only the patriarchal, scholared elite cisgendered heterosexual male medieval INTERPRETATION of Islam) anything goes.

But really, being apologetic about slavery in this day&age is nothing short of being criminal.

I’m a practising & proud Muslim. I’m also a direct descendant of enslaved West-Africans in the Caribbean.

The only way for me to get through this issue, is that slavery is always wrong, period. Yes, also in the time of the Prophet (pbuh).

It was wrong that he had slaves, but in the context of late antiquity/the early Middle Ages, there probably didn’t, or barely existed people who could grasp this – even not Muhammad himself.

So, the fact that he advocated treating slaves well and manumitted all of them on his diying bed was quite revolutionary for that time, but of course does NOT sufficed for the time, or even for the time of the transatlantic slavery, for that matter.

And the fact that he manumitted them, hints for me to the fact that he started to realize the fact that slavery is wrong.

Slavery and bondage had been abolished and Europe well before the transatlantic slavery started, so one could say that since the time of that abolishment, people should have known.

So yes, one should see the slavery the Prophet practiced in the historical context, just like everything if one wants to understand history, but that does NOT mean that one should defend that practice.

Understanding something in its context and apologetically defending it, aren’t the same.

Come to think of it, I wonder what African American thinkers like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, but also Amina Wadud, have to say about this.

Maybe they have resources on how to unequivocally comdemn slavery in any form and holding on to the values of human rights treaties, without being anachronistic or apologetic, and while also believing fully in the Quran.

*     *     *     *     *

It’s quite interesting that both Hamza Yusuf and Yasir Qadhi SEEM to take a stand against lecturing women by men how they should/shouldn’t dress. But, as one knows, the devil is in the details.

They don’t have any problems with the lecturing an sich, but with who does it. When a “strange” man lectures a woman about Hijab or Good Hijab, then it’s wrong.

But if her husband of family does the same, then it’s ok, since, according to Hamza Yusuf, “it’s the responsibility of her husband of family.” Right. So much for “choice” then, since it’s not the womans choice to make, but the choice (and responsibility) of her husband or family.

This quote by Yasir Qadhi is practically the same as the one by Hamza Yusuf on this. Yasir Qadhi writes in the article about the women’s mosque in L.A.: “And most importantly, we need to tell our men that it is not THEIR business (unless a family man is dealing with his own wife/daughter) how other women dress. Let the people in charge of the masjid deal with dress codes.”

Yes, “(unless a family man is dealing with his own wife/daughter)”.

Also, something which I find VERY troubling is that Hamza Yusuf talks about “THEIR women” vs.”OUR women” which basically means that women are the property of……….men.

My comments:

Yes, it’s certainly interesting—and revealing—to compare what one leader says in different contexts, to different audiences. To get beyond the apparently “progressive”-sounding soundbites about respecting women and telling men to lay off, and to see how exactly these leaders deal with parts of history that don’t support the pretty picture they are trying to paint of “the Islamic tradition.” Or how they think that mundane situations which tend to be flashpoints of conflict, such as body policing in mosques and elsewhere, should be negotiated. Looking at these details can reveal a much more complicated and sometimes troubling picture, to say the least.

Somehow, I doubt that Yusuf has agonized much over slavery. I could be wrong about that, but such comments about enslaved women don’t show any sign of that. And why would he? He’s white, middle class, and… male. So he can afford to see such parts of history in romanticized terms.

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  1. #1 by threekidsandi on March 23, 2015 - 3:13 am

    It seemed, to me, that despite meeting the most conservative standards of hijab, one was never modest enough. For after covering ourselves, we then had to police ourselves. Do not walk to attract attention, do not allow men to hear your voice, do not mix, do not go out of the house without necessity, it is better if you pray at home, etc. It truly never is enough.

  2. #2 by nmr on March 23, 2015 - 1:40 pm

    I think if the male scholars were to be honest about the impact of the institution of slavery on the sunnah it would start people questioning the “good for all time” premise that much of Traditional Islam is based on. Too many questions, too many headaches for them, they choose instead the path of least resistance and omit the unsavory. Because when you get right down to it, a categorical defense of hijab is also a defense of a society in which consent is nonexistent and some women, because of their status, are fair game for rape.

    • #3 by xcwn on March 23, 2015 - 8:53 pm

      Yes, I think you’re right.
      Neo-traditionalist male scholars don’t want to open the door to endless questions about the moral goodness and timelessness of the tradition, so it’s much easier in the short run for them to speak in vague, romanticized terms about it.
      But how can this work as a long term strategy in a world where people can easily google just about anything?

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