Posts Tagged embodiment
In the last post, I talked about how as white North American converts, we often found ourselves living out other people’s fantasies of an Islamic ideal. Usually, these were the fantasies of immigrant or immigrant-descended Muslims, but sometimes these were the fantasies of other (usually older) converts.
These fantasies could be aspects of the thought of modern Muslim political movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood or the Jamaat-i Islami which had become popularized, such as the notion that “Islam solves” social problems such as racism by uniting all believers within one umma. Or, they could be quite apolitical and superficially profound ideas taught by various neo-traditionalists, such as the idealization of the medieval Sunni scholarly tradition.
Either way, these were things that either didn’t really exist anywhere today in reality, or did exist, but fell miserably short of their idealized billing.
How did we not realize that these were fantasies rather than reality—and that trying to live them out would lead to some serious problems? Partly because in those pre-internet days our knowledge of what was really going on in Muslim communities even here in North America (forget anywhere else) was very limited.
And partly because what I would call a “reality filter” had been quite quickly and coercively implanted in our minds, so that even when we did see, or read or hear about Muslims past or present acting in ways that seemed to challenge our fantasies, it wouldn’t lead us to ask some pretty obvious questions. That reality filter was constructed and reconstructed daily, through ubiquitous phrases such as:
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.
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.
My inbox is still kinda conservo-Muslim-ish. I still get emails from a number of Muslim orgs and businesses. Including Shukr.
Clearly, Shukr is rather proud of their line of “modest” sportswear for women. I clicked on the link… and sighed.
“Move with modesty.” Trademarked, no less. Wow.
Hoodies to the knees, sweatsuit material “fitwalking” and even “powerwalking” long skirts… oh, did that bring back memories.
Because I and a good friend of mine used to do a lot of fairly “active” things while wearing conservative hijab. I well remember hiking, skating and boating in long, heavy skirts or jilbabs—even swimming in lakes in jilbabs or long dresses and headscarves. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy or comfortable (and in some cases, it wasn’t very safe either). Though, at that time we were less worried about ease or comfort or safety than about our kids, as well as community gossip.
We wanted our kids—especially our daughters—to know that hijab does not need to limit women. We were concerned that if they picked up the idea that hijab comes with a long list of “can’t do this/go there/be involved in that” then they wouldn’t want to wear it. So, we felt that it was on us to set an active example. For sure, no one else in our conservative community was likely to. We exercised in those conservative clothes, and tried to ignore the disapproving glances and the sideways comments about how we evidently hadn’t really understood the “spirit of hijab.”
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.
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.