Lessons in Misguided Attempts at Solidarity

Photo on 1-23-14 at 5.28 PM

For many Women of Color (WoC), Twitter allows them a platform to engage with thoughts and ideas. It is also a platform for activism, allowing people who would have been marginalized to bring certain issues to the fore, to respond to media coverage, and to engage with people who they might not reach otherwise. Twitter has allowed WoC and other marginalized women opportunities to call out their more privileged sisters. There has even been intense push back against elite White women and feminists because of their exclusion of different voices and perspectives.

I believe that people start out with the best intentions. Most people want to believe that they are inherently good. Most people want to believe that they are not exerted power in a way that has oppressed another. And most people who say the most racist stuff will preface it with, “I’m not racist, but…” Part of this has to do with our own biases about ourselves as people. The vast majority of people will do everything they can to protect their interests and maintain whatever advantages they earned or were given to them in life. When confronted with our privileges, most of us are defensive because we all want to believe that we are good, we are worthy, we are deserving, etc. Often people will wield their unequal advantage against those who may call to question their efforts or stances. And with that in mind, it is important for those in a position of authority,  influence, or power to be even more reflective about how they deal with others.

For awhile, I wondered why so many WoC were railing about White Feminists. Mistakenly, I thought that in the realm of ideas we were all equal. It just mattered who could present their ideas better, who had more articulate positions, and warrants to connect their facts to their argument. But, oh was I wrong. I witnessed power wielded in ways to silence dissenting marginalized women. I saw this happen over the past three days with the online discourse surrounding World Hijab Day (WHD 2014), founded by Nazma Khan. There are many beautiful and thoughtful accounts from non-Muslim participants.

My post is not about  WHD 2014. There are pros and cons to the event, and the jury was still out for me. I largely agreed that Muslim women’s experiences can’t be reduced to wearing a scarf on their head. At the same time, I do applaud their efforts at mobilizing support from non-Muslim women. I feel that others have been done better unpacking some of the problematic aspects of the campaign such as Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Ms. Muslamic, and NoorulannShahid  But what is important is that we, as Muslim women,  should have a  discussion and exploring what it means to be a Muslim woman. We should also think about solidarity and how to build bridges without becoming reductionist.

Today, I jumped into a debate the broadcaster and theologian, Vicky Beeching, a non-Muslim participant of World Hijab Day 2014.  What I found most troubling with her discussion was that she was completely oblivious to how she wielded her power and privilege to silence dissent about her participation. And she did this all the while claiming empathy for Muslim women and even going so far as to speak for us. In several discussions, she said that dissenters made libelous statements. She even told me that based on my curating the tweets on Storify was , that she would seek legal counsel. There was an uproar on Twitter and some of Vicky’s Muslim friends pointed out that our discussion was not benefitting anyone.

Please see the highlights of the exchange, reaction, and background readings in my first ever Storify

Even if we all were wrong, how can you claim to speak for Muslim women but threaten to use your litigious might and sue us? You would sue someone who observed your gas lighting techniques of argumentation? My little bit of research said that according to US law, that would be a difficult case to prove in US courts. Observation about uncited sources is grounds for libel?  Is this how you show solidarity? No, this is how you intimidate those who don’t have the same platform, who lack the financial resources, who don’t have access to five news sources, and who don’t carry as much symbolic capital.   Is this not an example of good will gone bad? Had the dissent just been dismissed or had she even addressed the Muslim women who were offended by hijab tourism with some iota of respect, I would assume good will. But instead, it just reeks of another opportunity to propel a career and become a victim at the hands of aggressive and angry brown women. The call of friendship and threat of litigation was a bit much to bear. In past discussions, some have argued that interfaith/intercultural conflicts like this are learning opportunities. So, what is the lesson we want to walk away from? No, not all elite White feminists are like this. But when they are, it is deeply hurtful and leaves a lasting impact on many of us who have had to experience these types of erasures throughout our lives
over and over again.

My Muslim Woman Owned Business Showcase: Mohajababes

Margari Hill talks to sisters and Mohajababes founders Afra and Eiman Ahmed about their colourful kaftan creations.

small business showcase

MH: Tell us about the day you decided to turn your own personal fashion sense into a business. What went into the decision-making process?

AA & EA: Mohajababes was launched in November 2011 by two sisters based in California and London. Ever since we started wearing kaftans in 2007, people kept asking us where we got our outfits from – every time we were at a wedding or a party! Usually, you’d either see women in traditional outfits or about five or six women in identical dresses that you knew they got from the same store. Buying a Mohajababes kaftan means you know you’ll be wearing a garment you can feel special in and be the only one at a party dressed that way.

All the ladies in our family (mums, aunts, girls) jumped on the trend and attended events in kaftans. We become so well known for it that we started to get orders from family and friends abroad. It was then, in early 2011, that we recognised that there was a gap in the market. One day, Afra decided to source beautiful, handmade, modest kaftans in a variety of colours and designs, each hand-embroidered with beads, sequins and jewels. We did this with the intention of bringing kaftans to the US, Canada, the UK and Europe, so Muslim women could have other options for evening wear. As a family we sat down, developed our brand and launched in November 2011. The response was overwhelming and this encouraged us to develop an online shopping experience and take it further.

MH: You handpick your special collection from Dubai every few months. What goes into your selection process?

AA & EA: We do take into consideration current fashion trends, but ensure our kaftans adhere to what our customers love most about them – that you can dress them up or down, that they are suitable for hijab wearers and non-hijab wearers, and that they are unique one-off pieces. We love working with high quality chiffon – it falls beautifully on the body, is an incredibly forgiving fabric and is easy to dry clean. We started by working with classic colours: blacks, reds and deep purples; but we pushed the boat out and have gotten people buying royal blue, green, yellow, teal, turquoise and peach kaftans too! Our colour choices change depending on the season, so we have a lot of bright colours for our spring/summer collection, but bring in more muted colours for our autumn/ winter collection. Most importantly, we make sure our pieces are affordable, which we know our customers really appreciate.

MH: The models on your website look like real women with real shapes and sizes. They are also diverse, so it is easy for women from various ethnic backgrounds to imagine themselves in your kaftans. How do you select your models?

AA & EA: We think it’s very important to showcase what the kaftans will look like on women with varying shapes, body sizes and skin tones. We don’t think we would be doing our brand, kaftans or customers any justice if all our kaftans were modelled on the same 6 foot 2 inch slim model – the reality is that most of our customers and most women simply do not look like that. We work very hard at ensuring our models represent our customers and are happy that so far this has made their online shopping experience with us easier. Our models are from the US to as far as the Middle East, Africa and Indonesia!

MH: What trends do you see being big for Muslim fashionistas this spring/summer?

AA & EA: Long shirt dresses, maxi skirts, tops with uneven hemlines at the back, slim short jackets of various fabrics that work well with anything! We also see an immensely popular trend in studded clothing, shoes and bags. We love it – Afra is so crazy about it – she has been looking for the perfect studded iPhone case!

MH: What are some must haves for Muslim women in evening wear?

AA & EA: We like to keep it simple and let the outfit stand out. Always wear a plain hijab or one with a pattern that compliments the outfit – not competes with it – and a fairly simple hairstyle (if you don’t wear hijab). Jewelled hijab headbands, which we sell, can be used to dress up an outfit too. A pair of black flats in whichever style (pointy, round, studded) and a belt to shape the outfit. Chunky bracelets with some neutral coloured necklaces and rings are great accessories!

MH: You have a blog on your website. How have blogs and social media impacted your business?

AA & EA: Social media has been absolutely crucial to the growth of Mohajababes. Being an online business means reaching out to your customers primarily through social media, and it has been a steady uphill climb garnering followers and fans on various social media platforms. We recognise the importance of blogging too and the additional reach that this gives us, as well as an outlet to express more of who we are. We are about to hire a blogger to meet the growth in demand and intend to blog more regularly and reach out to the community much more by blogging on issues that are important to our followers.

MH: How do you feel about online fashion collage tools such as Polyvore for the newly minted Muslim fashionista?

AA & EA: Polyvore is a valuable collage tool that we haven’t taken advantage of much as we only put together kaftan looks. However, it is absolutely brilliant for the Muslim fashion blogger and her readers – it allows the individual to creatively express and put together a combination of looks without having to purchase the items or model them herself, and readers can then take inspiration from that. One of our favourite bloggers that uses Polyvore is www. hijabiestyle.com.

MH: What is the future of Mohajababes?

AA & EA: We’re looking forward to continuing to provide beautiful kaftans to our customers and are looking at increasing our hijab collection and accessories that complement the kaftans. We’d also like to be able to offer custom-made kaftans to suit our customers and God-willing, we will be able to offer our customers this soon!

You can read this and other great articles in the May issue of SISTERS magazine.

The Problem with Muslim Greetings

وَإِذَا حُيِّيْتُم بِتَحِيَّةٍ فَحَيُّواْ بِأَحْسَنَ مِنْهَا أَوْ رُدُّوهَا إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ حَسِيبًا
4:86 But when you are greeted with a greeting [of peace], answer with an even better greeting, or [at least] with the like thereof. Verily, God keeps count indeed of all things.

I’ve had the experience of traveling abroad, living in Arab societies, and staying in Arab homes both abroad and in America. I am particularly fond of three families that played important roles in the formation of the community that grew from masjid an-noor to the MCA. The Arab Americans I came to know in the Bay Area are some of the most hospitable and honorable people I know. Over the years I developed friendships and bonds with Arab, Black American, African, South Asian, Indonesian, Pacific Island, Eastern European, Vietnamese, Chinese, Latino/Chicano, and White American Muslim women with the start of a simple greeting. That greeting is the universal greeting that Muslims exchange by saying, “Salaam alaikum!” (Peace be upon you) and the return, “Wa ‘alaikum salaam” (And upon you be Peace).

As a religious minority in America, everyone I know who wears hijab, including myself, gets excited when someone greets them with respect and honor. It especially means a lot in this society where you get a lot of Americans cutting their eyes, looking at you with pity or apprehension because your outer garments displays your religion. Some ethnic groups are more enthusiastic about their salaams, while other times it is really about the fervor of an individual Muslim.

Arabs are known for elaborate and long personal greetings and farewells. They are also very polite in their speech, with honorific terms denoting class and gender. In Muslim societies, people don’t salaam everybody they encounter on the street. If they did, you wouldn’t get anywhere. Maybe it is possible in the village, but in large cities, you go about your business and only give greetings in personal encounters. But often, a person arriving into a small store, shop, class, or gathering will give salaams, and everyone returns it. Everyone returns it because they have at least the requisite knowledge that the return of the greeting is their religious duty.

In Philadelphia, and especially in the area where I live there are a lot of Muslims. Black American Muslim men occasionally greet me on the street. Muslim men don’t always greet each other and vice versa because it may seem inappropriate to talk to the opposite gender. But that problem doesn’t exist whenever I see Black American Muslim women, where they often give me warm enthusiastic salaams. The White American Muslim women I encounter within stores will break a small and offer salaams. I’ve seen women from South East Asia whose faces have brightened with wide smiles as gave me the universal greetings of peace. But there is a big problem with Muslim greetings in one high profile group, immigrant Arab women who happen to wear hijab. Perhaps it is a Philadelphia thing, but I have heard of similar things in places like Chicago and Detroit. I’d further this by saying that the problem is not with Arab men. I may be wrong, but I haven’t heard of Arab men refusing to greet Black men in this city. The other day, I was walking with my husband and an Arab cab driver honked, waved, and gave us the fist. I see this problem as gender specific. Nor do I don’t think it is is an immigrant women versus Black American women thing. Little South Asian aunties will return salaams too. And on college campuses, such as UPenn and Temple, Muslim girls from all backgrounds are all happy to give salaams and even break out in a smile when they see a Muslim. I’ve experienced it and have spoken with some Black American Muslim women in Philadelphia who have noticed the reluctance of some Arab women to give greetings and the refusal of some to even return someones greetings and salutations.

My personal experience brought it home. On our way back home from errands in Center City a few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to stop by the Trader Joe’s which was right by the trolley stop. As we walked to get the front door, an Arab women in hijab came out and I said out loud, “Salaam alaikum.” She just walked straight past me without acknowledging we existed. My husband said maybe she didn’t hear me. As he went to get a cart he repeated the greeting. She acted like he was invisible. We are supposed to make seventy-something excuses, right? Let me think of some: 1. she was deaf, 2. she was blind, 3. she was mentally disabled, 4. she never read the Qur’an all the way through, 5. she never read a book about how to be a Muslim, 6. she never picked up a hadith book in her life, 7. we scared her by saying salaam alaikum too loud, 8. she must have saw me and thought I was one of those hijabi bandits 9. ummmm, I am running out of legitimate excuses… The reality is, my cousin who is Muslim and has lived in Philly all her life has had several occasions where Arab women have refused to return the greeting. One woman in a halal store refused on three separate occasions. One time, the woman saw my cousin from behind and mistook her for someone else and said, “Salaam alaikum!” When my cousin turned around and returned the greeting the woman looked in disgust that a Black woman gave her the greeting.

As I run my social experiment, I am still waiting for my hypothesis to be verified or falsified. But for the most part, whenever I’ve encountered immigrant Arab women–no matter how piously dressed–rarely initiate greetings. Since I’m trying to avoid confrontation or feelings of anger, I tend to pass them by without giving them salutations and greetings. I have either two options, to woman up and nurse my wounded feelings as I get dissed on a regular. Or I can tighten up my Arabic so I can give them a mini khutbah on the rights of their brothers and sisters.

The irony of this is that the above mentioned verse in the Qur’an states that you are required to return greetings in kind, but it is better to extend them. The reality is, even if you had a major dispute with another Muslim if they were to give the greeting, you return it because it is their right. The refusal to return greetings is a sheer sign of arrogance and prejudice. To me, it is a major sign of hypocrisy. It also sows seeds of discord and mistrust within our community. I think it should be addressed by the imams and religious leaders because this is not a way for any Muslim woman to conduct herself. This is why I hope that this post trickles up, that people read it, that they remind their moms, wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, and friends that this is their brothers’ and sisters’ right.

Am I Just a Muslim?

While my heart is at home, some things right now seem more real to me than some of the things that are preoccupying my friends and loved ones.   I am not saying that I’m not interested in this historic moment. There is something amazing about a Black man making it this far in a presidential election.  But, the lack of nuance in media representations of race and gender in the presidential election is not as real to me as making sense of being a Black woman in the Middle East. I know everyone is a buzz in the US. But being in a predominately Muslim society puts a lot of Muslim issues to the forefront. I am constantly wondering if there is a spot for me in this imagined community of ours, as a Black American Muslim woman.

There are times when I felt like there wasn’t room for me and that my experiences were dismissed. Two recent pieces have reminded me of the pressures I experienced as an early Muslim. But at the time of the articles, the country’s internet was either down or I was in transition. Since these pieces were published, I have had some time to reflect on how a Black American Muslim identity causes a lot of dissonance in an Arab Muslim society. Abdur Rahman wrote a very insightful and historically grounded piece called, I’m Just A Muslim Muslim Tariq Nelson also contributed to the discussion with his take on, Just A Muslim. He wrote:

It is this understanding of being “just a Muslim” that I reject. You must – like the brother in the meat store – become a pseudo-foreigner of some type and adopt a hodge-podge of immigrant cultures rather than adopting Islamic values. Being “just a Muslim” has essentially come to mean running away from one’s family, and history in some attempt to “pass” into “non-blackness”. In addition they adopt a parochial and reactionary attitude and a paralyzing suspicion of all things American or Western.

Years ago,  a young Arab American woman was pretty upset with me. She was mad because of the paper I wrote in a sociology class on inequality and social stratification. The paper was about multiple identities. Much to my suprise, the title upset her.  I had felt it was a pretty inocuous title. I don’t even think she really read too far into my paper. Besides at that time, I was still pretty new to the religion. I was naive and wet behind the ears. So, my paper definitely didn’t have the sharp critique you might find in my writing today. But still, the following bothered this young woman enough for her to tell me how much I sucked:

“My Multiple Identities as an African American Muslim Woman”

It got under her skin. To her, it showed where my loyalties were. “You didn’t put Muslim FIRST!” She said in a distressed and judgmental voice “The Most IMPORTANT thing is that we are MUSLIM!” This kind of bothered me. Because at the time, of almost all the Muslims in this little circle, I was the most identifiably Muslim Muslim. I wore hijab at the time. I participated in the Muslim Student Association, as well as the Black Student Association. Despite my efforts, my loyalty as a Muslim was constantly called into question by my Arab and Desi peers.

Someone called me a nationalist because I still participated in the Black Graduate Student Union. When I used to point out that they go to ethnic picnics, Lebanese iftar, Egyptian Day, Libyan picnic in the park, Bangladeshi dinner, Pakistani gathering, not to mention the ethnic after-eid-after parties. These were places I was never invited to. I pointed out that they all these ethnic functions. The argument someone made was that the people in their closed ethnic gatherings were all Muslim. For them, their ethnicity was intrinsicly tied to being Muslim. They were preserving their culture and language because one day, they hoped to go back home. Their functions or fundraisers could be completely secular and or for some nationalistic. But they were helping other Muslims.

Me, on the other hand, I was encouraged to divorce myself from the Black community. At the same time, I was told to give dawah. In fact, I was encouraged to give dawah. But dawah basically meant repesenting some Muslim issue overseas in some campus event. I’m not saying that no immigrant Muslims cared about African Americans. There was one who took an active interest in supporting the cause of a young Black man who happened to be Student Body president was arrested for showing up to a Senate meeting on campus.Many of the people who put those pressures have since changed their views. In many ways they too had utopian visions of what the Ummah looked like. Their own cultural practices were illegible to them, because for them they operated within an Islamic cultural matrix.

While some Muslims were mad because I didn’t claim I was just a Muslim-Muslim. I was never really allowed to be just a muslim-muslim. I was constantly referred to as “The Black” sister in a community that was diverse, but Black American were underrepresented. I was sort of relegated to Black things, like marrying ex-cons and being broke all the time. I was even told that I wasn’t just a Muslim indirectly in some not so nice ways.

Perhaps I felt pressures more intensely because of the relative isolation. But the pressure I experienced raised some important questions. Does participation in a community entail that you give up who you are? Should we end our participation in other communities, our ties with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, associates, sorority or fraternity brothers and sisters. Do we give up affiliations, inclinations, cultural tastes and affinities and adopt others? How do we talk about who we are? What are we? Can I be just a Muslim, while holding on to those descriptors that make me unique? I think my stance on some of these questions is quite clear. I also believe that these broad communities and categories do not make a human. But they are a part of who we are and our being in this world. At times I feel like a composite of many different things and experiences. Some of them intersect and and reinforce what I feel is the true person inside. At times my experiences and things conflict. But never once have I felt like a Muslim divorced from my cultural context as a Western woman of African descent who became Muslim as an adult. Once I become Just a Muslim, I lose my voice and am lost to some authoritarian dogma.

Modest Sexiness

I wrote a bit about it Abayas and ‘ho shoes in my entry, Hot Girls in Kuwait. While i was in Egypt, I noticed that nearly 90% of the women on the street wore hijab. But even with hijab, there were many levels of modest from sexy to completely niqab. As for the sexy women, they ranged in age. Many of them were young women who covered each inch of skin.  But they wore tight jeans, shirts, and figure revealing outfits. A lot of Muslims dismiss them outright. Media Watchers extensively discussed the negative attitudes and pejorative terms used to describe women who wear hijab and sexy outfits.

Speaking of words we call ourselves, I must mention the derogatory terms. “Hojabi” and “muhajababe” have worked their way into our vocabulary (hojabi even has its own entry in UrbanDictionary.com). And, they are pervasive enough that non-Muslims have begun to use them in reference to us. They exist because we ourselves have invented them and used them, and they are born out of words that describe what one wears on one’s head (I haven’t come across any derogatory terms for bihejabis, but feel free to enlighten me).

Women who cover their hair while wearing flashy or figure revealing clothing are frequently looked down upon by both people who support hijab and those who don’t. That is the irony of it. Without looking into the contradictions that these women straddle, the pressure to affirm their Muslim identity through hijab and the pressure to be considered desirable and attractive. Both pressures exist in Muslim societies, as well as Muslim communities in the West. Pamela Windo recently weighed in with a very insightful about hijab in Morocco titled, Hijab and High Heels.

I returned to the States in 1997, but I continue to pop back to Morocco for my yearly nostalgic pilgrimage. I’ve just been on one of those trips and was surprised, alarmed even, to see how many more women are now wearing headscarves, most noticeably in the modern cities of Casablanca and Rabat. Not older women, but young ones; the same age group as the young women who had so exuberantly discarded them a decade before. And instead of scarves tied under the chin, they have now adopted the hijab, which is swathed closely around the head in the stricter Middle Eastern way.

Although they are made of colorful fabrics with pretty clips at the back, what most struck me was the blatant dichotomy between the hijab and their other clothes. While a few women wear it with a subdued djellaba, and others with their everyday modern suits, skirts and coats, a startling number of young Moroccan women combine the hijab with figure-revealing blue or black jeans, elaborate glittering belts, modern sexy tops and designer sunglasses. Equally striking is the glossy-magazine-style make-up, heavy on the lipstick and black kohl eye-liner.

For Muslim women, the hijab, worn for centuries by their forbears, is an essential part of their identity. Given that it is a symbol of modesty and sexual purity, and body-revealing clothes the hijab’s opposite, the alarm I had at first felt was quickly followed by empathy.

I really liked this article because it explores the realities of hijab without casting judgment. Because they explore the realities and pressures, their discussion of hijab is a lot more nuanced than the idealistic depictions of hijab. However, just many of the blog entries in  Muslimah Media Watch indicate, more and more Muslims are sensitive to the pressures that we face. I am also hopeful because there are some up and coming scholars. One such scholar wrote a masters thesis on the ideas of beauty in Arab societies. She argues that Arab Muslim women strategically navigate the seemingly conflicting Islamic ideal of feminine modesty and Arab society’s ideals of beauty. What I really enjoy about her work is that, while not being an Arab, she is a Muslim woman who wears hijab. She deals with those pressures and projections. Even those of us who don’t wear hijab are fully aware that our bodies are the subject of so much scrutiny. People in the West want to claim that we are liberated while Muslims want to liberate us by pressuring us to cover.  I believe that there is no compulsion in religion. However, I recognize the reality that we have many explicit and implicit pressures that tell us how to be, how to act, and how to dress as Muslims.

Why you all in my grill?

07_10_2006_1842.jpg
The majority of women wear hijab in Kuwait. And there is a significant portion of women who wear the face veil. I am often dazzled by hijab fashions in Kuwait. I try not to stare, but I am intrigued by the whole face veiling. I find that face veil does not preclude sexual attractiveness, since a lot of niqabis wear tons of eye make-up and are dowsed in so much perfume. Some of their abayas are form fitting and attention getting also. I’ve already mentioned the ‘ho shoes. Don’t get me started on designer bags and the cat-walking in the malls. Maybe niqab is not about modesty, but about anonymity.
I think this really hit home today. As we left the Friday Souq two stylishly dressed, and presumably young, niqabi ladies were sitting on a bench. They spotted us and broke their neck to follow us as we made our way out the market. It must have been the English, plus the group of seven brown people running amok. Normally staring people look away when you look back at them. I looked up and stared back at them. Neither one broke their gaze. I said in English, assuming a greater than 50% chance that they’d understand me. “I guess niqab allows you to stare at people.”

I have noticed that niqabis will just stare you down–hard. They had the advantage tonight. They were anonymous and we were not. I noticed that niqabis stare down men too. For me, niqab isn’t something new. I have friends who have worn niqab in the states for years. I’ve even tried it on for kicks. But I have not seen as many niqabis as I see here. Nor have I seen the levels flash that is often associated with khaliji style veiling. In my short stay in Egypt, I saw black enveloped and brightly robed niqabis, alongside the many veiled women. In Morocco, I saw the traditionally dressed women in jallabas, with their veils tucked just under their nose. During my stay in Fes, I came to dread encountering them on the street. No matter how smartly dressed, how neat their jallabas were, they’d hit us up for money. If we didn’t have that, they’d take our cokes, if we didn’t have that, they’d take our water. Nothing like a crowd of niqabis begging harrassing you. After awhile, I scoped out the street before heading down the block I saw a old school niqabi lady chillin on a stoop someqhere, I went to the next block. I’d cross the street sometimes.

As a non-niqabi, when I see a striking person, I tend to lower my gaze. I may look a few times just to gain an imprint in my mind. But as for looking at men, as a I follow the proper decorum. I tend to lower my gaze. One, I’m not trying to catch eye contact. Two, I tend to be kind of shy in public. I’ve never been one to stare down a man. Well, not on the street at least. And I won’t talk about the few times when I did try to those come hither looks. But that’s not going down in the Middle East. I lower my gaze. I know enough Arab men to know that one mistaken look and some random dude on the street may think I have the hots for him. I mean, I could have had something in my eye. Maybe his dishdash was blinded my vision in its crispy whiteness. I could have been trying to identify my surroundings or trying to judge the distance between me and him so I don’t run into a pole or something.

I was walking with a friend who wears niqab. After we passed by two Kuwaiti men, she murmured, “I see you two Kuwaiti men looking at me friend.” I told her I didn’t see them looking because I was staring at the ground. She said something like, “Hey I’m wearing niqab and I can look at them dead up in their face.” Maybe this niqab thing is not so bad after all. You can be a bit bolder in your use of public space. I might try this niqab thing. While donning it I can stare at who I want when I want. All the while I can pretend I’m the most beautiful girl in the world. Ahhhhhhhhh, next purchase Kuwait!!

On Pictures, Hijab, and Forbidding evil

I decided to make this a blog entry, as opposed to remaining in commentary on my main page:

Assalamalikum wa rahmatulahi wa barakatu,
Am trying not to be rude but I just have to forbid the evil you should be following the rules of hijab on the internet.We don’t know who might be looking at them
secondly I think you should read the views of the scholors on taking Picture you can try checking it out on http://www.islamqa.com
BintAbdullah

My response:

Perhaps you can find a scholarly opinion on spending idle time online on blogs, which can be nothing but idle talk and distract you from higher acts of ‘ibada like reciting Qur’an, making sunnah prayers, performing dhikr, or giving charity or volunteering. Muslims love to find blame in others who may have different levels of practice. If I felt compelled to wear hijab because of what other musims, whether scholars or not, that would be committing shirk. I dont wear hijab in pictures because that would be misrepresenting myself and quite insincere. I don’t wear hijab in the pictures because I have chosen not to wear hijab in daily life outside of the masjid or prayers.

I also believe there is no compulsion in religion. But there are societies that impose hijab, meaning that women who are forced receive no reward for intending to please Allah by wearing hijab. Rather than comply to the law of the land or to social pressure due to culture. I don’t argue matters of religion, but I see it like this, to me my way and to you yours. Thanks for your concern….

Last year I read Michael Cook’s book on Forbidding the wrong. Very interesting read. Book provides evidence to show that modern Muslims are more preoccupied with telling other Muslims what to do, as opposed to earlier texts on forbidding the wrong. While it is clear that we should command the good and forbid the wrong, it was never really clear how or who had the authority to forbid the wrong. But clearly, some communities give their members a permit allowing them to tell anyone else how much they suck. Apparently, me not wearing hijab is a evil. It is the most obvious evil that can quickly be eradicated, as opposed to “honor” killings, banditry, kidnapping, drug running, killing of civilians, corruption, bribery, rape, harrassment, defamation, assault, prostitution, forced marriages, and false testimony. Those will take a lot of work. It is less difficult to cover up a woman’s sexuality, now that is a real social evil that is destabilizing. Compared to the threat of a collapsing order due women in public spaces uncovered, the other drama we are faced with must be small cookies.