Responding to the Latest Attempts to Save Muslim Women from their Clothing – Muslimah Media Watch

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As readers on The Feminist Wire facebook page and website began to object to the piece, a respondent posting as “The Feminist Wire” (who later identified herself to be Wilde-Blavatsky), attempted to counter some of these objections by obfuscating whiteness and showcasing a lack of knowledge of the history and function of the hijab. To defend her position, the author cited her intimate connections with people of colour and informed her critics that “acknowledging the differences between women in terms of race, religion and culture” was politically divisive. We know these to be common defensive responses from those in positions of privilege. And our response is as common: “Listen.”

Take a moment to read the full response here

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Photography Lighting the Fire Under Saudi Arabia’s Proverbial Bum

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Saudi Arabia has, as we all know, never been my favorite government.  I love the people, but the government has always rubbed me the wrong way.  Maybe it’s because I’m a woman who likes to drive.  Maybe it’s because I enjoy independence, and the freedom to choose my own clothing.  Maybe because monarchy has always made my stomach churn just a little bit.  Whatever the reasons, I’m not one to shy away from criticizing The Kingdom.

This, however, has gone too far.  Even for the Orwellian Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices.  Saudi Arabia has lost its plot over a photograph of a woman in niqaab holding up a bra.

The photograph was displayed as part of a photography assignment in Thompson River University, Kamploops, BC.  After a group of students complained about the “provocative” image, it was removed.  It’s now back, but the Saudi Arabian government is now involved.

I, of course, not one to shy away from controversial art, am a fan of the artist, Sooraya Graham’s work.  A niqaabi herself (not that it matters), she explained that she wanted to picture veiled Muslim women as normal people, too.  She said she was tired of having people point to her in stores, and wanted to express her own humanity through the photograph.

I believe that is why Saudi Arabia is having such a difficult time with this.  Women as people?  We can’t have that.  The photo, after all, implies that she has breasts, which implies that she also, by default, has other uniquely female organs.  She may even have sex, or worse, enjoy it (brazen hussy).  If she has a bra, she also may wear other pieces of lingerie, which, just by the implication, means she has no decency because it makes sexually frustrated men want her.  Her eyes, too, are quite nice, so they’d thank her to cover those bad boys up.

Sarcasm aside, the artist has support from many people throughout the world (I’m sure some, too, from Saudi Arabia).  Sooraya, keep doing your thing.  Keep taking great photos that express what you think the world needs to hear – because they do.  To read the full article (and see the video clip) click here.

Does Modern Feminism Have Room for Muslim Women? Make Way for Reema the Riveter.

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The feminist movement doesn’t have a very large place for Muslim feminists, and with feminism being as diverse as they come, attitudes towards Muslim women vary from open and accepting to a very arrogant, pittying rejection.

We’ve Got a Long Way to Go, Baby.

Feminism was originally and has traditionally been by, for, and of middle-class white women.  Bell Hooks discusses it in her free pdf, Feminism Is For Everybody.  She explains how feminism has had to struggle and adjust to include women of non-white races and their unique struggles into the feminist movement.  The same struggle, I think, is going on right now as the wider feminist community decides if we’re really welcome here.  Not only is race/ethnicity an issue here, but culture and religion.  It’s complicated, and it’s not going to resolve itself overnight.  Still, there are some attitudes that are certainly outdated and need to get with the times.

The debate about hijab has been a heated one in feminist circles.  While some may observe that it’s a little bit ridiculous for nonMuslim women to form opinions on how Muslim women dress, it still happens.  In the west, as Muslims, we’re still largely defined by our clothing, like it or not.  For hijabis, the judgment is immediate.  The moment they see us.  Before they hear our voices or opinions, before they have a chance to get to know us, they see this foreign, seemingly cumbersome cultural “veil”, and decisions are made by them about us: your entire life revolves around your religion.  If you’re not married, you live at home.  You are conservative, and often, you judge everyone else’s clothing choices.  For nonhijabis, when they “find out” you’re Muslim, the fact that you’re not wearing hijab brings on an entirely new set of judgments.  You’re not that practicing, you’re very liberal, you resent “back home” culture, etc.

It’s a difficult situation for us Muslim women to be in.  You cannot win for losing.  You’re either pious and untouchable, or secular and “loose”.  No middle ground.  It’s the case of “virgin or whore” on a whole new level; and it’s inescapable.

In relation to feminism, it’s worse.  If you’re a feminist, or are familiar with the feminist movement and its many (and often diametrically opposed) opinion-factions, you’ll understand the complexity that arises from any controversial topic, and we’re one of them.

To some feminists, womens’ personal choice is paramount.  It is the quintessence of feminism, the backbone of the movement.  It super-cedes everything else.  To other feminists, womens’ liberation is more important than womens’ choice.  The two may not seem to be particularly opposed, but they are.

For a feminist that values choice above everything else (I’ll use the term choice feminists, though keep in mind it’s a bit of a simplistic term), topics like the issue of pornography are very clear cut.  If a woman chooses to engage in porn, it’s fine.  Obviously, if she’s coerced or forced, the choice feminist is against it.  For a (what I’ll term for the purpose of this article) liberation feminist, pornography becomes more complex.  To some, it’s seen as an empowering experience, a way to take control of ones sexuality in the way one likes.  The liberating potential of porn becomes the topic of discussion more so than “well, she chose it so it’s fine”.  To others, porn is a demeaning, disgusting thing and no woman should ever take part in it.  That a woman may make the choice to participate is hardly a concern, often the reasons a woman may choose it are discredited or analyzed.  There is no way, to these feminists, that pornography is acceptable, and the women who partake in it simply aren’t liberated.  They can’t be.
That is not to say, of course, that choice isn’t a factor for all “liberation feminists”.

The issue of porn is one that is heated and lengthy, read any feminist message board or  facebook page and you’ll see it immediately. Muslim women are fast becoming the “new porn” topic.

Why Hijab Has Become the Feminist Issue of Note

The Muslim world has long been under scrutiny for its, let’s just say, lax attitude towards women’s rights.   In Pakistan, women are attacked with acid for refusing marriage proposals (though the practice has recently become illegal).  In Saudi Arabia, women still cannot drive, or travel without the accompaniment or at least written permission of a male relative.  In Afghanistan, women are forced into Burqas, full cloaks that cover the entire body including the eyes, and in some cases are fitted with blinders (like horses wear) so that their husband or father can see exactly where she’s looking.  Just in case she checks out another man’s ankles.  These countries have had centuries-long issues with treating women like humans, issues that extend into history far before Islam.  They are, to say the least, deep seeded parts of the culture.  Many misogynist men, women, and even scholars, use their religion in an attempt to normalize oppression and quell protest.  In many cases, it works.  In many cultures and countries, women are prevented from receiving not only basic education, but religious education as well.  They have no opportunity to question what they are told.  It is like Middle-Ages Europe, you’re forced to rely on your religious “superiors” to tell you what you must and must not do.  If you object, hell fire is your obvious destination.

These practices are opposed by most Muslims – if they identify as feminists or not.  The vast majority of us will tell you that they are a clear bastardization of our beloved religion and way of life.  Islam loves, honors, and respects women, we’ll say.  We may reference the countless female scholars who have shaped modern Islamic jurisprudence discourse, or the heroines in Islamic history who have been warriors, leaders, teachers, professors, and scholars.   We may suggest you learn a little more about Khadija Bint Khuwaylid, the wife of the Prophet, who could be classed as nothing less than a fierce, intelligent, loyal and independent woman.  We offer you these examples of women of old who inspire us and have shaped how we see our world.

But they are not alive today.  If they were, they’d weep for us.

They never would accept that Muslim women be treated like cattle, they would, no doubt, remind us all that Islam was, at its very core, a liberation movement.  It came to free women from the oppressive culture of the Arabian Peninsula – and indeed the world.  Regardless, many of these practices survive in Muslim communities today.

Feminism has, of course, noticed this, and has, of course, gotten angry.  It’s become a hot topic because here, in the Western feminist sphere of discussion, like in the hills of Afghanistan, our religion and our cultures have become melded.  There is no concept of the distinction.  They have become the same.

That most of us would tell you “they are NOT the same!” makes little difference.  You see a woman forced to veil in Somalia and a woman veiled in New York, and you cannot fathom that their lives have nothing to do with one another.  You don’t realize that while the Somali woman may not have a choice, the girl in New York probably does.  You lump us all together, good intention-ed but naive.

More than Just a Poly-Cotton Blend – Hijab, Identity and Piety

For many Muslim women, hijab is a symbol of freedom.  Freedom from being objectified, judged based on our bodies (will they listen to me when my boobs are so perky/saggy/big/small?), and vanity.  For a lot of us, we not only enjoy the ease of throwing on hijab (if I had a nickel for every woman who told me she “envied” how quickly I can get ready in the morning), we enjoy the control over what parts of us are seen.  We determine it, not society around us.  It’s liberating.

For many Muslim women, hijab is an expression of piety and relationship with God.  It’s a spiritual journey to the decision to wear hijab, something done only for their God, no one else.  For these women, their spiritual identity is very closely linked to their hijab.  It is not only a clothing accessory, it’s their identity.  A part of themselves, a connection directly to their Creator.  Criticism of hijab is not only a disagreement with their dress code, it takes issue with their very core being.

It’s more complex than many Western feminists understand.  To be honest, we don’t expect you to.  The problem, however, lies in the judgmental ethnocentric ideals that are pushed down our throats.

Ethnocentric Feminism: Pity Their Way to Liberation

What I earlier referred to as “choice feminists” usually don’t get particularly involved in this topic.  “If a woman wants to dress that way, she should, but no one should be forced” is the summed-up-stance.  Like the porn debate, though, “liberation feminists” have, in my experience, tended to be divided into two categories.

Some “liberation feminists” argue that, as I touched on earlier, hijab is a liberating and freeing choice to many women.  It has its value and place in Muslim society and in these womens’ lives.  As long as women are choosing it of their own free will, it’s a positive, empowering, and beautiful thing.

Others argue that hijab, as it’s used to control and oppress women in other parts of the world, is at its very nature oppressive and controlling.  Women cannot, they claim, choose it of their own free will because it is in essence a symbol of coercion, fear, control.

The problem with this idea is that it’s entirely ethnocentric.  A western feminist may have no idea why a woman from Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, or Yemen may want to wear hijab.  There’s nothing within her own culture or belief paradigm that can compare, it’s foreign, and in her mind, associated with oppression.  Obviously, then, it is bad.  It’s not western, it’s not something that “we”, independent, intelligent, educated feminists in the West, do.  Thus, independent, intelligent, educated women don’t choose to wear it.  Anyone who does, obviously, is none of those things.  She cannot be.  She’s not like me.

The West has long viewed “foreigners” as stupid, less evolved, backwards, oppressed, poor, and uneducated.  They wear funny clothes, eat food that we only eat on a night out as a “cultural experience”, talk in weird languages and in fact some of them incorporate sounds we’ve never heard before.  Some of them can’t speak English, or do so poorly or with a thick accent.  The West views these people as almost child-like, less intelligent beings that need us, the civilized West, to help them along in their quest for modernity.  It’s the White Savior Complex at its most systemic.  It’s not always about skin color, but culturism isn’t something that even feminism has managed to escape from.

To many feminists seeing a woman  in niqaab (a face veil) or even hijab, pity is what they feel.  Poor, sad, oppressed little girl.  She cannot even dress herself, her dad, husband, brother, or uncle chooses her clothes for her.  She’s pathetic, probably uneducated, and more than likely has been beaten in her life time.  She’s passive, mousey, shy, introverted, and stupid.  She’s no woman, she’s the intellectual equivalent of an abused child.  Pity her.  Pity the sad foreign girl.  No woman would choose that.

What they’re forgetting is that we’re not like that.  Most of us, indeed, especially in modern countries, aren’t like that.  We’re doctors, teachers, professors, lawyers, manual workers, chefs, surgeons, nurses, seamstresses, and homemakers.  Just like you.  We struggle with overcoming cultural expectations and oppression, just like you.  We struggle with fitting in to a society that doesn’t really know where it wants us to fit – in the kitchen, or is it comfortable with us on the front lines?  Especially for us in Western countries, it’s a struggle.  A struggle nonMuslim feminists won’t ever understand.  Because they can’t.  But they don’t need to.

We can choose.  We can think.  We can feel.  We can make decisions for ourselves.  If we find hijab liberating, we’ll wear it.  If we feel it is an important part of our religious identity and that it brings us closer to God (even if you don’t believe in one), we’ll wear it.  Don’t assume that your culture knows how to liberate women better than us.  Feminism in the West has had a long struggle, and still has a long way to go.  Muslim feminists are facing the same struggles, and we’ll do it our way, sensitive to our cultures and spirituality, and it may look quite a bit different from the Western feminist movements.  It’s no worse.  It’s no better.  But it’s our movement to make, they’re our bodies to clothe.  If Western feminists want to be involved, it should be in a role of support and attempted understanding, not of ethnocentric arrogance.  We do not need a schoolmaster to come teach us how it’s done.

Muslim women are fighting for change and equality in their own ways, ways which are appropriate within their own cultural and spiritual contexts, ways that differ from the feminist movements in the West. You’re not going to see women in Saudi Arabia burning their bras in public, but you do see them driving cars in protests. Our feminism is no less valid than western feminism. It just looks a little different.

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Farah Dogar Honour Killing

The Chief Justice of Pakistan Abdul Hameed Dogar has killed his own daughter Farah Dogar in the name of Honour. And right now he is roaming freely on the streets of Islamabad in his bullet proof BMW with the full support and backing of his long time friend and ally, Asif Ali Zardari. The President of Pakistan has assured him that no harm would come to him and has proved this by ensuring a total media blackout of the news. But the most surprising thing is that even the Western media is not running the story. WHY? Even when a small village girl in the remotest valleys of Swat or barren lands of Choolistan is harmed the news becomes an overnight sensation on both local and international media. But now when the upholders of the law and justice have flauntingly ravaged the life of poor Farah Dogar, there is absolutely…

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My survey on Islam’s role within feminism and feminism’s role within Islam

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Please take a moment to complete my survey?  I’m planning on blogging on this topic, and I would love a vast variety of people to take the survey.  If you feel that the survey needs more work/I didn’t provide you with (an) accurate option(s), let me know in the last question’s box.

Click here to take survey

International Women’s Day!

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I haven’t written in over a month.  Not that I’ve not had things to say, on the contrary, I’ve had a hard time keeping my mouth shut.  I did, however, want to write a little something dedicated to my top 3 childhood (and admittedly, my adulthood) heroines on International Women’s day.

 

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was probably the single most influential historical figure in my young life.  I adored her.  I watched cartoons, read books, and role-played about her life story.  I was so entranced by her undying strength.  Her quiet and determined selflessness.  What many people overlook is that Harriet was not a force.  She was a woman.  We don’t always consider how hard for her it must have been to return after each trip.  How heart breaking it was for her to leave her own freedom – indeed her human rights – at the door and go back.  She risked not only her life, but torture – brutal, unbearable torture.  She didn’t have to return.  She could have stayed safe.  Free.  She sacrificed that safety and freedom to help others.  Others who were probably often times ungrateful.  The journey was long, difficult, fraught with danger and fear.  People complained.  She bore it.  Time and time again she made that miserable, terrifying trip.  Not only for slaves, not only for her people.  For humanity.  Harriet Tubman carried the world on her back during each trip.  As Muslims, we believe that saving one life is like saving every life.  She saved the world over, and over, and over again.

 


Boudica

If you don’t know who Boudica is, you’re not alone.  I’ll give you a synopsis from her Wikipedia page (this is, actually, accurate).

Boudica was queen of the British Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.

Boudica’s husband Prasutagus, ruler of the Iceni tribe who had ruled as a nominally independent ally of Rome, left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman Emperor in his will. However, when he died, his will was ignored — the kingdom was annexed as if conquered, Boudica was flogged, her daughters were raped, and Roman financiers called in their loans. In AD 60 or 61, while the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign on the island of Anglesey in northern Wales, Boudica led the Iceni people, along with the Trinovantes and others, in revolt.

Basically she was a badass.  She didn’t accept her fate as a victim of brutal Roman cruelty.  She got her queen on and led a revolt.  We all can learn a lesson from Boudica.  She never stood down, she never gave in.  She never valued herself as better – or worse – than the men she fought along side, the men who fought under her command.  She was fierce, loyal, determined.

Frida Kahlo

This isn’t going to surprise anyone who knows me.  I love me some Frida.  She wasn’t very important to me as a girl, but as I grew up I appreciated her more and more.  Now, I don’t think I could admire her less.
Frida suffered chronic, often debilitating pain for most of her life.  She was the victim of a tragic accident in which she was impaled.  She’d suffered from Polio as a child, and one leg was less developed than the other.
Despite her pain and limitations, she took that energy and made something positive.  Something that has spoken to so many souls across the world.  You cannot look at a Frida Kahlo painting (or indeed, in my opinion, a photograph of her) and not see raw, bare, pure determination.  Through the weakness she felt while battling pain, she exuded strength.  She made something – something beautiful – from her pain and illness.  That speaks more to me today than it ever has, and she’s still one of my greatest inspirations.

Clarification Regarding Reports of Dr. Aafia’s Medical Condition

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Article from The Justice for Aafia Coalition

(If you are interested in activism for Dr. Aafia and are in London, please contact me)

The Justice for Aafia Coalition are issuing the following clarification in light of recent statements circulating in the Pakistani media that Dr. Aafia Siddiqui has contracted cancer and is pregnant, as a result of sexual abuse whilst in custody.

In early November 2011, Aafia’s family received disturbing reports that Dr. Siddiqui had become pregnant whilst imprisoned in FMC Carswell and that she had undergone a forced abortion and was subsequently haemorrhaging profusely.

It now appears that according to information provided by the Pakistan Consul General in Houston that Aafia is not pregnant. However there is sufficient evidence to suggest she has cancer.  After informing Aafia’s family of a letter from the prison regarding her condition, former Pakistan ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani was recalled to Pakistan.  Since then the embassy has neither confirmed nor denied the reports.

Whilst a request has been made by the Pakistan Consul General Aqil Nadeem to the governor of FMC Carswell to provide medical facilities to Dr Aafia, it provides little guarantee that Dr Siddiqui will receive adequate treatment, given the prison’s notoriety in its treatment of detainees. Over a hundred inmates have reportedly died under ‘questionable circumstances’ at the facility, with numerous cases of sexual abuse and rape perpetrated by prison staff – amongst them, the guards, chaplains and physicians. Gross medical negligence has been noted particularly with reference to several cancer patients in the past; one of whom died after being left untreated for a year.

We join Aafia’s family in their call for an independent and impartial medical team to be allowed full and immediate access to Dr Aafia Siddiqui in FMC Carswell to evaluate her condition.

Further guidance for campaigners will be published in due course.

Where the Jahannam Did We Go Wrong?

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Many of us may wonder “where did it all go wrong?”.  We used to be such a force in the Islamic world.  We were respected, admired, loved, cherished, and we had every single opportunity to better ourselves that men did.  And then some.

As Muslim women, we were thriving with education, business, property, and faith.  Those were the golden days of Islam, the days in which the Ummah actually practiced what the Prophet (saws) preached.  I miss those days.

We were scholars, warriors, business women, religious teachers.

Today we don’t have many of these opportunities throughout the Muslim world.  We hear story after story of backwards and sick-minded men abusing, torturing, or killing their wives and daughters.  We see so many of our sisters in Islam being prevented from not only Islamic education, but basic education.  Why?

We as an Ummah have forgotten who we are – who we were – in the world.  We used to be a thriving, healthy, well functioning society that spanned the globe.  Now, we’re a conglomerate of home-culture practice and thoughtless mimicry.

African, Desi, Arab, Asian, Western, and every other culture has strong undertones of misogyny.  When we managed to weed this out and practice Islam, we were an amazing force to be reckoned with.

Today not so much.

Our problems lie with choosing culture over Islam.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Islam does NOT need to change.  It’s not a matter of interpretation.  It’s a matter of practice or negligence.  If we practice Islam despite every cultural, societal, or mental block we have to it, we can then return to the glory that the Muslim world once was.

What will you do to help?

Help Build the Largest English Library in Iraq – Complete With a Feminist Book Collection!

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http://futuresvision.org/ and http://www.libraryvision.org.

Please donate any books you can to the library – for a full list and the ability to donate directly online, visit the Amazon Wishlist.

 

Education is the key to the future, cliche but true.  Women in Iraq are some of the biggest victims of the invasion and backwards anti-women cultural ideologies.  Promoting the concepts of feminism, equality, and justice – all of which are huge elements of Islam, is so important in changing the future.

Educate a woman, and you educate a nation.