Tag Archives: Islam

Quick Take: Iranian Muslim Women Offer a Nuanced Way to Think about Hijab

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Debbie says:

In my experience, the argument about Muslim women wearing hijab can go to a very simplistic place: either the hijab (or other forms of modest dress) represent a woman’s right to express her own religious choices in her own way, or it is a form of oppression against women which should be combatted at all costs. Unless, of course, it’s an appropriate demand placed on women based on a thousand-year religious tradition which should not be questioned–but I don’t tend to be in spaces where that argument is presented.

Masih Alinejad and Roya Hakakian, writing in the Washington Post, have rethought this argument in a really useful way (this article is also available in Arabic at the link):

There are two vastly different kinds of hijabs: the democratic hijab, the head covering that a woman chooses to wear, and the tyrannical hijab, the one that a woman is forced to wear.

In the first kind, a woman has agency. She sets the terms of her hijab, appearing as ascetic or as appealing as she wishes. She can also wear makeup and fashionable clothing if she likes.

In the second kind of hijab, the woman has no agency. Where we lived, the terms were set by Iranian government authorities under a mandatory dress code that banned women from wearing makeup in public and forced them to wear a baggy, knee-length garment to fully disguise the shape of their bodies, over a pair of pants and closed-toed shoes. For a while, the authorities even decreed the colors that women could wear: gray, black, brown or navy.

Thinking this way moves the question from the hijab, which is just a scarf until it’s draped over a woman’s head, to the question of choice: are you wearing whatever you’re wearing because you want to, or because you are compelled to? What do you risk by not wearing something? (The article authors reference a Saudi activist, “Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes after defending the women who have defied the hijab laws”.) Who governs your choices?

Talking about Iran (and Afghanistan, which is facing a potential return of the hyper-misogynist Taliban), Alinejad and Hakakian say:

Women who live under these forms of hijab effectively live under a gender apartheid. The coverings mark women as lesser citizens, legally and socially unequal. In Iran, there are restrictions on women’s ability to travel, obtain a divorce or enter sports stadiums. A woman’s courtroom testimony is in most cases given half the weight of a man’s. The forced hijab honors neither tradition nor religion; it is a powerful tool of misogynist oppression.

They also imply (without discussing, since it isn’t their topic) that in the U.S. and other western countries, a hijab can be an act of not just choice but courage in the face of white nationalist violence.

Last week, I was in Sacramento lobbying at the California State Capitol. It was Muslim Day of Action, sponsored by the California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. Literally five hundred Muslim residents of California were there to engage with their elected representatives, and most of the women were wearing hijab.  I really appreciated seeing the people there.

I have certainly known for a long time about the importance of choice in all areas of life, including clothing and religious clothing; nonetheless, Alinejad and Hakakian have given me a clearer framework to recognize what I am seeing.

Just as Americans must distinguish between violent radicals and ordinary Muslims to successfully fight the former and honor the rights of the latter, so must they recognize that not all hijabs are created equal. [U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan] Omar and other Muslim women who benefit from the freedom that America has bestowed on them are especially well-positioned to speak up for women forced into hijab.

By itself, the hijab is a mere piece of cloth. Tyranny turns it into a symbol of oppression. It is democracy, with its embrace of diversity, that turns hijab into an emblem of power or beauty for those who choose to wear it.

LGBT and Muslim: Doubly Suppressed Intersectionality

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Debbie says:

Hannah Allam’s BuzzFeed article titled “It’s Pride. It’s Ramadan. And It Still Isn’t Easy To Be An LGBT Muslim” seems to me to have an extra word in the title. “Still.” Except in some bubbles, and special places, it isn’t easy to be LGBT (and of course it depends which of those initials apply to you, and how you live out that portion of your life). And today in America, it certainly isn’t easy to be Islamic.

Nothing we know about intersectionality tells us that having two challenged identities makes having either one of them easier. And if you have two (or more) challenged identities which actively disrespect or disdain another of your identities, that’s going to make everything harder still.

Here’s Allam:

When organizers of the Minneapolis [LGBT] iftar [the meal when Muslims break their daily fast during Ramadan] hit up clubs and cafés to pass out flyers for the event, they met resistance from both Muslim and LGBT invitees. One volunteer tried to give a flyer to a Pakistani man who was a regular at his favorite café; he said the man rejected the event and warned that no one would come. Other volunteers said they’d been similarly rebuffed at gay bars.

A Mexican-American activist from Caravan of Love, who asked that his name not be included, said he realized what Muslims were up against when he was passing out iftar flyers at a club, telling LGBT patrons that “right now, given the political climate, we have to unite.” A non-Muslim guy snapped at him.

“He’s like, ‘They just want to kill us all. Why would you ever want to volunteer for Muslim people when they want you dead?’” the activist said.

Earlier this month, seven protesters were arrested at the Minnesota State Capitol during so-called anti-Sharia marches. Gay critics of Islam were among the top organizers of the nationwide marches, which largely fizzled due to poor attendance.

I certainly knew that many Islamic people (but by no means all) are opposed to gay rights. I did not know until I read this article that a significant number of prominent gay Americans have allied themselves with anti-Muslim causes. Along with her Twin Cities examples, Allam also cites a gay organizer in Atlanta, Arch Kennedy, who has allied himself with “by far the leading anti-Muslim grassroots organization in America.”

So many people seem to gravitate to finding a group they can hate, or oppose, or try to shut down. Any gay activist should know that a statement as simple as “They want to kill us all,” is automatically and obviously wrong, because it simplifies all Muslims into one opinion, just as “they want to destroy heterosexual marriage” or “they want to convert our children into homosexuals” does.

While it’s chilling to see the opposition that LGBT Muslims face, I am also inspired by the work they are doing:

The groups have seen results when activists are on the same page. In May, for example, Trump’s pick for Army secretary, a Republican state senator from Tennessee named Mark Green, withdrew from consideration amid criticism of his anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT comments. News reports said that Green opposes same-sex marriage and has described being transgender as a disease. Green also has urged public schools to fight “the indoctrination of Islam” and has made reference to a “Muslim horde.”

I salute the bravery of these people who claim two identities both of which are targets of hate. And I hope more people notice that haters like Mark Green are, unintentionally, pushing all of us with such identities to draw together; when people work together, we learn how much individual differences there are in groups seen from the outside as one simple thing, and we also learn to keep our eyes on who the real enemies are.