Archive for category Hijab

There’s a time to stop listening

The internetz are unfortunately all too full of men claiming that women need to wear hijab in order to protect their fragile male selves from being tempted to sin. As well as of women echoing such ideas.

This has got to be the best comment on this phenomenon that I’ve ever encountered:

Even though I’m sure there are other Muslim men who have this same opinion, I think this dude is super confused and doesn’t really have a lot of knowledge about hadith or about other Muslim women at all. He upholds the narrative that all accountability and responsibility of representation rests on the shoulders of (hijabi) Muslim women, absolving him of anything. It’s annoying and he should basically just shut the fuck up. Also, I really really hate when people compare wearing hijab to having a beard. It’s. Not. The. Same. At. All.

As you know, lots of Muslim women wear hijab for a variety of different reasons, some of them religiously based, or for security or comfort and other times for more political reasons. My reasons literally have nothing to do with how I am perceived by a man.

So basically whenever a man starts talking about hijab, I stop listening. Because they have no idea. They really don’t.

Now, if only I had taken that advice years ago. Just to stop listening whenever any man starts talking about how women should or shouldn’t dress or behave.

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“Modesty”–more unpacking

Sorting through all the mental baggage that those experiences have left with me, one thing that I notice is… shame. There is still a residue of shame about the body. My body, as well about other female bodies. The idea that a woman who is sensibly dressed for jogging or yard work or whatever-it-is in the middle of the summer is being “immodest.” The idea that being uncomfortable in order to cover a bit more skin is better than the “shame” of exposure. And that judg-y undercurrent that still to some extent filters my perceptions.

As well as the constant awareness of being (for lack of a better word) seen, whenever I am in places that Muslims might be. Seen, and judged.

Back in the day, we used to interpret feelings of shame about our bodies and others, as well as that feeling of being “seen” as a positive sign that at last we were managing to internalize “true modesty.” Our consciences had become Islamified, we thought… and that could only be a good thing. We must be increasing in iman and taqwa.

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It’s all about control

Several weeks ago, one of my daughters had a school field trip that involved visiting a Hindu temple, a Christian church, and a mosque. A class project on world religions.

Actually, stop judging and body-shaming. My body is not an obscenity. If you don't like what I'm wearing, how about you try lowering your gaze??

Actually, stop judging and body-shaming. The female body is not an obscenity. If you don’t like what someone is wearing, how about lowering your gaze??

Along with the permission forms sent home for parents to sign came a letter from the teacher explaining the type of behavior and dress that would be required of the students. Much of it was very reasonable, reminding the students that these are places of worship, so they needed to behave respectfully. But the girls were also told that they needed to wear long, loose pants (preferably sweatpants) and headscarves when they were at the mosque.

I paused, reading this letter. The field trip was going to take place in the afternoon, in the middle of the week. They would not be attending Friday Prayers, or any congregational prayer. They were not going to pray, either—they were there to see the building, and to hear the imam explain a bit about Islam and the community and the kinds of rituals and activities that would normally take place in a mosque.

In other words, what on earth would be the reason for requiring a bunch of mostly non-Muslim teenage girls to wear headscarves?? Or even to worry about what they might or might not be wearing on their legs??

My daughter wasn’t bothered by this, however. Because she took it for granted that somehow, a girl entering a mosque with uncovered hair or limbs profanes the mosque. And she was proud that at least she knew better than to even think of doing that, unlike some of the non-Muslim girls in her class, who didn’t seem to understand that you have to really watch what you wear to the mosque.

I pointed out to her that when I had first visited that same mosque in the early ’80’s, I saw women wearing short-sleeved, tight, scoop-necked shalwar kameez entering that mosque with transparent dupattas loosely draped over part of their heads and not concealing much of their hair, in order to attend Friday Prayers. They entered through the main door, along with everyone else. Then, they went up to the women’s balcony, put on the large white cotton prayer khimars that were kept there for all those women who did not come to the mosque dressed “suitably” for prayer, prayed, and left at the end of the service.

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Hijab and the objectification of women

Today, I tripped over a modern neo-traditionalist Muslim scholar’s discussion of reasons why hijab is a Good Thing when I was looking for something else.

Advantages-of-Wearing-the-Hijab

Translation: Wearing hijab makes you pious, protected, dignified, noble… and unlike those slutty women who don’t wear it. Which is really the point.

According to him, there are three main benefits to wearing hijab. First, because women supposedly always dress with the idea of whether or not men will find them attractive (even when they are supposedly dressing in order to impress other women…), hijab protects women from being constantly concerned about the male sexual gaze. Second, because wearing hijab trains the wearer to behave in a chaste and self-disciplined way. And third, because it marks gender difference, allowing women to look like women while not also being sexually alluring to men.

This type of pro-hijab rhetoric was all too typical in the conservative community that I used to belong to. Back then, I used to say similar things when I was asked why I wore hijab. While the argument that it marks gender difference always made me uneasy—after all, if gender differences are so “natural,” why do they have to be highlighted through clothing?—I was very happy to go on about hijab as a shield against the male gaze. As a young woman who experienced street harassment (which had sometimes turned quite threatening…), the idea that I could wear what amounted to a magical harass-repellent suit was appealing. (Even though in my experience, hijab didn’t really repel harassment so much as change its tune—instead of receiving frankly sexual comments, I routinely got told to “go back to where you came from” and worse.)

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Converts, wtf?—More on women leaders

Years passed. Years of being in a neo-traditionalist group (that turned into a cult). After years of that, I had undergone quite an attitude adjustment. I had long ceased to question the idea that marriage and community order had to be patriarchal. I wasn’t expecting female leaders or scholars to uncover some sort of egalitarian “hidden history” or to interpret the Qur’an or the hadith or fiqh in an egalitarian way, either. I mean, the texts say what they say, and there’s nothing that anybody can do about it.

But still, when I realized that “mainstream” Sunni conservative immigrant-dominated groups such as the MSA and ISNA were rethinking their past opposition to the idea that women can be leaders, I was intrigued, and hopeful. Maybe, some sort of change in thinking about gender roles was in the offing?

But I didn’t really move in those circles. They were middle-class and immigrant-dominated. Their events were too expensive for me to even think about attending, usually, when they weren’t too far away to begin with. So, it didn’t seem likely that I would actually encounter any of these fabled new female leaders.

But then, 9/11 happened.

Shortly after 9/11, I attended a conference put on by a large and well-funded “mainstream” conservative Sunni Muslim organization. I was in search of solace.

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A sermon that I wish I had heard: “We live in a rape culture”

Nobody to the best of my knowledge has preached such a sermon, but one can always dream…. Maybe if we keep dreaming good sermons, they will eventually balance out all the rotten sermons we heard.

This sermon would have been preached by Imam Hoda MacKenzie. Yes, that’s a Beatles’ reference:

Father MacKenzie writing the words of his sermon that no one will hear/ no one comes near/ look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there/what does he care?/all the lonely people, where do they all come from? all the lonely people, where do they all belong?… [“Eleanor Rigby”]

So, take it away, Imam MacKenzie!

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All praise is due to God, whose help and forgiveness we seek. We seek refuge in God from the waverings in our hearts, and from our evil deeds. The one who God guides is guided, and the one who is misled will not find a patron or a guide aside from God. I bear witness that there is nothing worthy of worship but God, and that Muhammad is God’s messenger. I seek refuge in God from the outcast satan. In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. All praise belongs to God, the sustainer of the worlds, and peace and blessings upon Muhammad, his family and Companions. ‘Amma ba’d:

God Most High says: “Wa man yaksib khatii’atan aw ithman yarmi bihi barii’an fa-qad ihtamala buhtaanan wa ithman mubiina” –“The one who commits a wrong or a sin and puts it (i.e. the blame) on the innocent has burdened themself with falsehood and  evident sin” (Q 4:122)

Sisters, Brothers, Friends: we live in a rape culture. We here in North America live in a culture in which straight men’s sexual assaults of women, children of any gender, and trans people—while illegal and punishable by law—are still also all too often regarded as somehow excusable, even justified. A culture in which the onus is most often placed on girls and women to dress and behave in ways that supposedly will reduce their risk of being sexually harassed or assaulted—rather than on boys and men to cease harassing and assaulting. A culture in which the onus is on trans people to pass, or at least to be unobtrusive, so that they don’t get harassed, sexually or physically assaulted, or even killed. And as Muslims, what is our place within this culture of rape? How are we responding to it? Do we contribute to it, and if so, in what ways? Does our Islam challenge us to work against this culture of rape? If it doesn’t, why not?

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We did not model unconditional love

In the last post, I was discussing Amina Jabbar’s awesome post over at MuslimahMediaWatch. Among other things, Jabbar’s post gave me some optimism that maybe it might some day be possible for Muslim  discussions about various types of oppression in Muslim communities to get beyond the simplistic approaches that I usually see. That it might become possible for ideas and practices to be recognized as oppressive without also simultaneously disavowing them as “cultural, not Islamic,” or “extremist, not mainstream”… or the results of “wrong interpretation” or whathaveyou.

Looking back, I wish that I paid attention to my misgivings about some of the ideas floating around in the '80's and '90's about "how to raise our children to be good Muslims." Ah well, hindsight is 20/20....

Looking back, I wish that I paid attention to my misgivings about some of the ideas floating around in the ’80’s and ’90’s about “how to raise our children to be good Muslims.” Ah well, hindsight is 20/20….

It also was really (for lack of a better word) triggering. In part because of the article she linked to, about Maryam Basir and her father’s response to her career choices. According to the article, Basir prays five times a day, fasts in Ramadan, eats halaal, is married to a Muslim man, and avoids alcohol and drugs. Nonetheless, she and her father are estranged as a result of her decision to become a model. Her father, a convert who serves as an imam for two prisons, laments, “I wanted my children to be pious and knowledgeable. But only one of my daughters still wears the hijab. In the end, you meet Allah and you are judged…. it hurts my heart to see what Maryam is doing. I fear for her.”

My first response to that was recognition. Yes, I recognized that approach to child-rearing, all right.

And I remembered a story that we read to our kids, about a girl who had been thrown out of the house by her good Muslim parents because she would not live according to their (Islamic) rules. Samira, her name was. I hadn’t thought about that story in years. What a horrible story for us to have exposed our kids to. What the hell were we thinking??

Back in the ’80’s and ’90’s where I was living at the time, so much effort went into “raising our children to be good Muslims”—which meant first and foremost, that they had to practice Islam in accordance with the conservative understanding that we were being taught. We were absolutely determined that our kids would learn how to pray, fast, read the Qur’an, eat halaal, adhere to conservative Muslim norms of behavior, and (in the case of girls) wear hijab… and as far as we were concerned, failure was not an option. Nor was partial compliance an option, because “Islam is a complete way of life.” So it would not be good enough if (say) a child prayed regularly but dated, or was a good and generous person but didn’t wear hijab.

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