Tag Archives: feminism

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

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.

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

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?

Challenge Accepted

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I got into a twitter war with (who I and others are assuming is the real) Robert Spencer.  Yes, little ol’ me got into it with one of the world’s most prolific Islamophobic side-walk preachers.  I’m not exactly patting myself on the back.  He agreed to a debate, but not a live one like I wanted.  Instead we agreed to go head-to-head, article-to-article on the topic of honour killings.  I know, why did I choose the most easily disprovable point out there?  He, and many other Christians, have made a bullet-point of the topic in nearly every talk, evangelical conference, and interview.  It’s such a prolific concept that Islam allows, if not outright promotes, honour killings.

He promised via twitter to respond personally to my article (which I have not finished yet but plan to have done by the end of the week).  Assuming his disingenuous nature and reputation don’t take the better of him, he’ll have to reference my article in doing so.  The only reason I’m wasting my time on Spencer is for this reason.  I’m hoping logic and truth can win out against hate and irrationality once more.

And so it starts, I’m debating Robert Spencer.  An incredible waste of time, probably, but possibly worth it.

Egypt: It’s Far From Over.

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The women in Egypt continue to be some of the most marginalized and disrespected women in the Muslim world.  Egypt has faced systematic misogyny for a very long time.  One of the most prolific events was the attack, groping, stripping, and humiliation of a small group of women during an Eid celebration.

A friend of mine who grew up in Cairo recalled how she wasn’t allowed to leave the house as a girl, an issue she’d not had in previous years growing up in the Emirates.  What is it about Egyptian culture that allows for the disintegration of Islamic values pertaining to the honour, respect, and adoration of women?  Certainly not all Egyptian men – or women – accept this as normal, healthy part of society.  So what can be done to stave off the depravity?

This video is difficult to watch, but important nonetheless.  The transitional military state is cracking down on everyone – including women.  Is this outrageous for Egypt which has had a history of disrespect towards women, or are the police simply operating within the norms that have been throbbing through Egyptian society for decades?

Am I Really Allowed To Be A Feminist?

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A few times this has been brought up to me.  I’ve had feminists and Muslims tell me I can’t be a feminist for one reason or the other.  They claim either that Islam is incompatible with feminism or that I, a hijabi/niqaabi, am incompatible with feminism.  I’ll address these both separately.

“If you were really liberated, you wouldn’t cover”.
Well if that isn’t the most anti-feminist statement I’ve ever heard.  Last time I checked, feminism is all about our right to choose.  Choice: what we do with, put on, and think about our bodies is up to us, not society.  If I want you to see only my hands and face – and sometimes as I see fit, my eyes, I get to be the one to make that decision, not someone else’s arbitrary definition of liberation.  I AM free beneath my hijab.  I AM free beneath my niqaab.  My freedom is not related to how little – or how much – clothing I have on.  It comes from myself.

“Islam and feminism are incompatible!”
Well if that isn’t the most anti-Islam statement I’ve ever heard.  Islam is women’s liberation.  It is women’s rights.  It is protection of women.  We are “equal halves of a pair”.   The Prophet (saws) enforced women’s rights, not only in marriage but in business, property ownership, religious scholarship, and even, as Aisha (ra) showed us, military leadership.  If that’s not feminism (and Islam), I’m not sure what definition you’re operating from.

“You don’t have to add the term feminism to Islam, it is complete as it is”.
Saying that Islam needs something extra to be complete or just is kufr, by any scholar’s definition.  That most certainly is not what I’m doing – on the contrary.  I’m simply stating that we as Muslims need to embrace and engage in the practices regarding women in the Quran.  They are, by definition, feminist.  Saying “Islamic Humanitarianism” is not met with the same reaction – why then is Islamic Feminism?