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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Online Comments

ugh. i've been reading too many of those comments that people write online after viewing (or not viewing) items on YOUTUBE about Islam, Muslims, and/or hijab. ugh. some people are so ugly with their bigotry and hateful insults. it disturbs and disheartens me that they are in the world walking around or typing things on their computers. enough of that. maybe i'll never open this blog up to comments. i do want it to be open to whoever has the inclination to read it because i think it has the chance to broaden some people's view of certain things, but i do not want to open myself up to hear the hate. still, i wish there was a way i could know how many times my blog has been viewed, like a counting ticker. there probably is a way, but i'm too discomblogulated to figure it out. (i know discomblogulated is not a real word...:-)

Beauty, Modesty, Dignity, Piety








i've seen several PRO-Hijab videos online which intend to educate and spread the message of hijab/headscarf. one thing i've noticed is that i don't like that whole "i wear it so you won't judge me by my beauty" thing cuz that seems sort of...vain...and plus...there are plenty of all-covered-up beautiful/attractive women out there (photo). and i'm not too enthusiastic about the "it preserves my dignity/modesty" thing either. i think it is possible to do that without having to cover you head, ears, and neck (emily dickinson's portrait is very dignified and modest--don't you think?). and many women of other religions (photos) dress modestly and with dignity as well, so the muslim dress doesn't own those two concepts. and to focus only on the modest/dignity aspect of the headscarf/hijab implies that those women in today's world who show their hair, neck, and ears (photo) are not modest/dignified...which seems judgemental to me.

so to focus mainly on "do it to stop sexual harassment" takes the emphasis off the simplicity of the idea that it is (most likely) part of the CODE of God. and if means following God's Code...i want that one to apply to me too. i say "most likely" because there's still a percentage of me that doesn't fully accept the perfection of anything, other than the true existence and nature of God. and anyway, let's assume that covering everything except face, hands, and feet--IS the PERFECT dress code for women prescribed by God--that doesn't mean that we has humans can understand and know the exact reason for it. we just need faith that it's a perfect prescription...the idea i do like is the "mark of piety" one. i think that works for me. i understand that one, and i want that one to apply to me. hmm...so that means i need to start working on being more pious instead of letting my other thoughts bog me down. i should just call this my bog blog and let it all go on here. send it all out into cyberspace...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Little Mosque on the Prairie




"LITTLE MOSQUE ON THE PRAIRIE is a new comedy from CBC Television about a small Muslim community in the prairie town of Mercy, many of whose residents are wary of their new, more “exotic” neighbors. The series takes an unabashedly funny look at the congregation of a rural mosque and their attempt to live in harmony with the often skeptical, even down right suspicious, residents of their little prairie town. The sitcom reveals that, although different, we are all surprisingly similar when it comes to family, love, the generation gap and our attempts to balance our secular and religious lives."

There are some Muslims who are against this show. They say that it is a show "against" Muslims and Islam because it takes some aspects of Islamic living "lightly" [and depicts Muslims and Islam as something other than perfect].

Other Muslims appreciate this show. They think that it is refreshing to see Muslim characters (including an outspoken and intelligent--albiet often rude--Canadian Muslim woman wearing a headscarf!) discuss and "act out" Islamic anecdotes. Of course the show is not perfect (there is often dialogue and plots that makes me squirm, and I wish it wasn't so over-the-top), but in general, I am glad it's on the air somewhere.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

It's Lonely at the Top (of my head).






I have been wearing a big floppy hat and a scarf around my head, ears, and neck. I think I look like a slightly odd version of those sophisticated women at the Kentucky Derby. I know it may even look stranger than a typical pinned or (amira type) scarf, but I just feel more comfy with my hatscarf.

When I went to Wal-mart the greeting guy said "welcome. welcome to our store" as if I was an immigrant and he was saying, "welcome to our country." Hmm...ok, ok, I'll admit it might have been my imagination. But I've noticed some stares and glances at my headgear.

The more I look at myself the way that (I assume) other non-Muslim people look at me when they see a typical amira style or pin under chin triangle shaped headscarf, the more lonely I feel.

I was watching my favorite show, "Everybody Loves Raymond," and imagining the wife character wearing a scarf on her head. It seemed impossible and down right uneccessary (from their view).

And of course there are NO headscarf wearing women seen regularly on American TV at all. The Oprah Winfrey show has had 2 or 3 shows featuring a headscarf wearing woman, but even then Oprah seemed mystified by the concept. And The Tyra Banks show has had 2 or 3 shows featuring the headscarf issue, one in particular included a Muslim teen explaining why she does NOT wear it, and a Muslim teen explaining why she DOES wear it-- that was cool. "Sesame Street" has a girl with a headscarf run across the screen with other children in its opening credits. I like that. And there was one episode of "Seventh Heaven," about a Muslim girl in a headscarf being bullied at school--another good one. And there is a Canadian television show called "Little Mosque on the Prairie," which features life-like, funny, flawed, and intelligent Muslim characters--but that's way up in Canada.

And still, the lack of headscarves on American TV and in its culture reminds me of how different Muslims are from mainstream America...just in terms of values. The dress code value is a BIG one, I think. Then there's the praying 5 times a day, no alcohol or pork consumption, and the no dating thing. Muslim Americans are Americans, but our daily lives are quite different in their emphasis and priorities. Of course, that is a good thing, it's a diverse thing, it's a true thing. But I think it's a lonely thing too, which makes it difficult and explains why many born-Muslims have stopped valuing those things as well.

Oh, and it'd be great if some female celebrity became a Muslim and started wearing the headscarf. I mean, the guys have boxer Mohammad Ali, and basketball greats Kareem Abdul Jabar and Hakeem Olijawon. But just think of all the cool publicity Muslims would get if Julia Roberts or Gwenyth Paltrow became Muslims. Ok, Ok, I'll admit I waste a lot of time with my imagination.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Another Day, Another Bother

A few phrases have swirled around in my conversations and thoughts the past few days. "Fear of God," "Fear of other people," "Faith in Islam," "Obedience to God," "Obedience to husband," and "Proper hijab," just to name a few.

And I've discovered another bother that I have in regards to the headscarf. I discovered (again) that I have a big fear of what my own family, immediate and extended, would think about the style of headscarf I wear and even my reasons for doing so. It's interesting to note that hardly anyone in my own Muslim family does wear it. In fact it's interesting to note that hardly (relative to the entire population of identified Muslims) many Muslims in America wear it.

Anyhow, I've been wearing a Pakistani dupatta wrapped around my head, ears, and neck. It does require some re-adjusting when I move out and about, which is a place I don't go very often--out and about.

I suppose the next posts I have will involve encounters, discussions, and other moments in regards to the good and bad experience of wearing the Muslim headscarf.

Here's hoping for more good than bad! :-)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Baby Steps

Day 3.
I know now that doing this full-on is going to be very difficult for me. My two main limitations are my own view of the headscarf and my anxiety issues. I'm not just concerned that others will see me and think, "she is odd," I myself think IT IS ODD! And my way of dealing with this idea is to be very self-conscious and feel very trapped.

No one in my immediate family wears it. Only one or two of my friends do. And I am an extremely shy person (I don't talk very much, especially in groups of 3 or more). And I am SO NOT the life of a party. I'm a wallflower.

So there it is. I think the headscarf is odd. And I'm embarassed by it. That's just me. Those are my faults.

If I'm going to continue this without chucking the whole thing, I've got to start further away from the full-on pin it under your chin style. My style might not meet all the requirements of the hijab, but I have to start somewhere. A loose scarf over my head. A large hat with maybe a scarf around my neck or one of those fake turtle neck things. I'm making it complicated. But unfortunately, for me, it is.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Foreigner



When I wore the headscarf in high school, someone asked me sincerely and without insult, "Do you wear that to keep bad spirits from getting into your head?" Um...no. Where the heck did that come from?

...I may have said this before, but I wanted to discuss what I meant by feeling "too foreign" in regards to the scarf. I think to most Americans, many Muslims included, the headscarf is a totally FOREIGN concept. It's totally irrelavant to their daily and lifelong concerns and priorities; it serves no significant purpose to anyone, to society; and is associated with negative stereotypes. And it's associated with a CULTURAL identity of people from other countries, foreigners. So it's a foreign concept reserved for foreigners. And when I put on that scarf, that's what makes me cringe.

And even if we could explain to America the reasons for wearing it, it still seems strange. Reasons like, "God commands it," "to preserve my dignity," "to protect myself from sexual harrassment," stand out as way over the top to them, and I think...even to me.

I have to break it down like this. I am a Muslim. I believe in Islam. I am a Shia Muslim. And I NEED TO TRUST in Islamic scholars to interpret the specifics of the laws of prayer, diet, relationships, and DRESS CODE. The majority scholarly interpretation of the Holy Quran and hadith (sayings of the Prophet (pbuh and his family) agree that only the face and hands of Muslims women should be shown. It's that need to trust their interpretations that keeps tripping me up. Part of me doubts that they are absolutely right. But do I listen to my doubts? Or do I trust their interpretations and trust the hadiths and follow their answers? Isn't that blind faith? Or maybe it's just faith. Gotta have faith. And it's better to be safe than sorry, right? So it's gotta end up being about my Islamic Identity. But what about those other Muslims that say Islamic identity is evolving and adapting and changing? Who do I trust here? Oh, my head. Scarf.

All or Nothing?

2nd day continued.
Ok, so I had to go back to the store I went to yesterday to return something. I had to think about the headscarf again. This time I was a lot more self-conscious than yesterday. I tried different styles of the scarf before I left. I felt I looked "too foreign." I finally settled on one. It was a light gray pakistani dubatta that i put on my head and through over one shoulder. My hair was up in a bun and totally covered in the back, but my bangs were clearly visible. And the scarf itself was slightly transparent. I knew that would not meet the requirements of full-on hijab, but I felt most comfortable that way. And when I say most comfortable, I mean really really self-conscious and uptight. Right before I entered the store, I had an impulse just to pull the whole thing off. But I didn't.

So I was thinking, if I can't do it the full-on way, then why should I do it at all? Is it counting for anything if I don't pin it and cover all the hair bits and ears and neck? And if it doesn't count, then maybe I should just chuck the whole thing. Why am I doing this again? What is the purpose of this again? Oh, my head. scarf.

Fear of Commitment

Day 2. I went to bed last night feeling a bit of dread when I thought about the headscarf. I thought about those bad days I get a lot when I just want to withdraw and retreat from everyone and the fact that I wouldn't really be able to do that when wearing the scarf in public. I mean, it draws attention usually. Real or imagined stares, to me it's the same at this point.

It's not really understandable to other Muslims for someone to seem to COMMIT to hijab but then some days not wear the headscarf. Unlike most other practices of Islam, wearing a headscarf is a very public practice of Islam. For example, I usually am too lazy to wake up in time to perform the morning prayer. I ask for God's forgiveness and promise myself to try better once my babies sleep through the night. A lot of Muslims, including my dear hubby, would say that sleep deprivation is not a good enough reason to miss the dawn prayer. But when they actually tell me that to my face with whatever intentions they have, my rebellious spirit rebels even more. But at least when it comes to prayer, it's just between me and my household...not the public.

So that's another reason I feared wearing the headscarf. I mean, I didn't want to be committed to doing it the exact right way every single day for the rest of my life. But the thing about the scarf is, once you start wearing it and people (especially the Muslims) around you expect you to wear it, it'd difficult to just have a bad day and decide not to wear it. Why is that? Because then they will think 'she's lost her belief in it. she doesn't "do hijab" anymore'. That pressure of the headscarf practice really scares me.

But I know that some muslims sincerely feel it is their duty to remind me of my ignorance in efforts to get me back on the "right path." But I think they should lead by example, and let me evolve at my own pace. I believe that I am not ignorant of what is expected or required of me, so their comments turn into a form of criticism, nagging, and/or judgements.

But it's ok. If there's any chance that God is pleased to have women cover up, I'll do it. And if it'll keep my dear husband off my back, I'll do it. Just kidding. But honestly, if he will respect me for it, then that's another reason I'll do it. And if I want my daughters to "be" Muslim, which I do, then wearing it will make more sense to them. Explaining the reasons why I wear it is more admirable than explaining why I don't. So that's another reason I'll do it.

But maybe I'll just do it the modern Pakistani way for awhile, which is usually loosely wrapping a long scarf around the head, without pinning it under the chin so that it doesn't sometimes slip off to expose hair or neck or ears. Hmm...but then if I do that...is it really hijab? I know the answer that others will have, but what's my answer? I don't know yet.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Brief History of "Veiling"

This is an article about the history of veiling in different religions.

Women in Islam Versus Women in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition
The Myth and The Reality
By: Sherif Abdel Azim, Ph.D.- Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

PART 15 - THE VEIL ?

Finally, let us shed some light on what is considered in the West as the greatest symbol of women's oppression and servitude, the veil or the head cover. Is it true that there is no such thing as the veil in the Judaeo-Christian tradition? Let us set the record straight. According to Rabbi Dr. Menachem M. Brayer (Professor of Biblical Literature at Yeshiva University) in his book, The Jewish woman in Rabbinic literature, it was the custom of Jewish women to go out in public with a head covering which, sometimes, even covered the whole face leaving one eye free. 76 He quotes some famous ancient Rabbis saying," It is not like the daughters of Israel to walk out with heads uncovered" and "Cursed be the man who lets the hair of his wife be seen....a woman who exposes her hair for self-adornment brings poverty." Rabbinic law forbids the recitation of blessings or prayers in the presence of a bareheaded married woman since uncovering the woman's hair is considered "nudity". 77 Dr. Brayer also mentions that "During the Tannaitic period the Jewish woman's failure to cover her head was considered an affront to her modesty. When her head was uncovered she might be fined four hundred zuzim for this offense." Dr. Brayer also explains that veil of the Jewish woman was not always considered a sign of modesty. Sometimes, the veil symbolized a state of distinction and luxury rather than modesty. The veil personified the dignity and superiority of noble women. It also represented a woman's inaccessibility as a sanctified possession of her husband. 78
The veil signified a woman's self-respect and social status. Women of lower classes would often wear the veil to give the impression of a higher standing. The fact that the veil was the sign of nobility was the reason why prostitutes were not permitted to cover their hair in the old Jewish society. However, prostitutes often wore a special headscarf in order to look respectable. 79 Jewish women in Europe continued to wear veils until the nineteenth century when their lives became more intermingled with the surrounding secular culture. The external pressures of the European life in the nineteenth century forced many of them to go out bare-headed. Some Jewish women found it more convenient to replace their traditional veil with a wig as another form of hair covering. Today, most pious Jewish women do not cover their hair except in the synagogue. 80 Some of them, such as the Hasidic sects, still use the wig. 81

What about the Christian tradition? It is well known that Catholic Nuns have been covering their heads for hundreds of years, but that is not all. St. Paul in the New Testament made some very interesting statements about the veil:

"Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head - it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head" (I Corinthians 11:3-10).

St. Paul's rationale for veiling women is that the veil represents a sign of the authority of the man, who is the image and glory of God, over the woman who was created from and for man. St. Tertullian in his famous treatise 'On The Veiling Of Virgins' wrote, "Young women, you wear your veils out on the streets, so you should wear them in the church, you wear them when you are among strangers, then wear them among your brothers..." Among the Canon laws of the Catholic church today, there is a law that requires women to cover their heads in church. 82 Some Christian denominations, such as the Amish and the Mennonites for example, keep their women veiled to the present day. The reason for the veil, as offered by their Church leaders, is that "The head covering is a symbol of woman's subjection to the man and to God", which is the same logic introduced by St. Paul in the New Testament. 83

From all the above evidence, it is obvious that Islam did not invent the head cover. However, Islam did endorse it. The Quran urges the believing men and women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty and then urges the believing women to extend their head covers to cover the neck and the bosom:

"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty......And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms...." (Quran 24:30,31).

The Quran is quite clear that the veil is essential for modesty, but why is modesty important? The Quran is still clear:

"O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their bodies (when abroad) so that they should be known and not molested" (Quran 33:59)...

IslamiCity

A Different View

I want to post this interview because I think Ms. Hasan represents well a large proportion of Muslims in America. I personally, and obviously, do not agree with all of her views, but that's not really the point.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun
This American Muslim won't wear a head cover but will wear tight jeans. Modesty, she says, comes from within.

Interview by Deborah Caldwell

Asma Gull Hasan, 31, is a lawyer in San Francisco, an author, and a speaker. She's also a self-described "Muslim Feminist Cowgirl" who grew up in Colorado and went to prep school on the East Coast. The daughter of Pakistani immigrants and born in Chicago, she considers herself an all-American girl. Hasan, who writes often for Beliefnet, published her latest book, "Why I Am a Muslim." Beliefnet spoke with her in 2004.

Why do you call yourself a feminist?
Muhammad was a feminist. He stood for equal rights for women. To many people, feminist means something negative. And so when I am called a feminist, they think that's derogatory--but by feminism, I mean equal rights for men and women. When I was at the Islamic Society of North America convention last year selling my first book, there were a lot of women who wanted to buy the book. Many of them wore the head cover, and it wasn't an issue to them that I don't. But there were also young, traditional men and some older traditional men--they were a minority for sure--but they would come up and say, "Why aren't you wearing a cover? And how can you expect me to buy a book when there's a picture of you on the front and you're not wearing a cover?" And I would say, "Look, you don't have to buy the book." Meanwhile, a rumor got spread around that on a certain page of my book I wrote that the head cover is not required. So throughout the convention, young men would come up in groups of two or three and pick up the book and go right to this one page. Don't they have something better to do then to be skulking around the ISNA bazaar and gossiping to each other, "Oh my God. That author says the hijab is not required"?

Are most Muslim women covered in America?
No. Most Muslim women are not covered. I was doing an interview about hijab and the head scarf on CNN once, and they said that about 10 percent of Muslim women in America wear the head cover. I have no idea where they got that number. But based on what I've seen, I would say that statistic is pretty accurate. But when you go to an event like ISNA, there's a lot of peer pressure to wear the head cover, because literally every woman is wearing the head cover. Probably out of all the women wearing the head cover there, less than half actually wear it every day. But it's an unspoken thing among Muslim women that when you're going to an Islamic event, you cover your head because everyone else there is going to be covered, and the men are going to expect you to be covered. Now certainly in a mosque, when you're praying, both men and women are supposed to cover their hair. Men are supposed to wear a prayer cap and women are supposed to wear a scarf, so in the mosque I cover my hair, no question about that. But I don't think in daily life it's required. It's more of an Arab custom. But there are South Asian women (like me) who do wear it. And South Asia's had phases back and forth, wearing it, not wearing it. Here in America, the young women who wear it, say, in college, feel that it's their way of protest. Some of them feel that it's a feminist thing. It's their way of protesting judgment based on their appearance--which I really respect. If I were to wear it, it would be for that reason.

Why do you so firmly believe Muslim women don't have to wear hijab?
I don't feel the Qur'an is asking us to. I think the Qur'an asks us to be modest in our appearance, and I think you can be modest wearing regular clothes, Western clothes. I think this is pretty modest [looking down at her shirt and jeans]. But I think it's also stylish.

One could argue you're wearing tight jeans.
I don't think they're that tight. I have tighter. [Laughs.] Modesty comes from within. I have been to ISNA conventions where all the women except me and my sister are wearing the head cover, but we're the only ones wearing loose clothes. All the ones wearing the head cover in our age group are wearing tight pants and showing cleavage in their blouses. For women to wear the hijab and then say, "OK, we're covered, we're fine" is a bit disingenuous. Women aren't that dumb. If we want to be stylish and want to wear tight clothing, then we'll just cover our hair and still wear whatever we want to wear. But I think if you're going to do it, you should be doing it to show devotion to God, not to just satisfy the local imam or the elders at the ISNA convention because of peer pressure. You could have your hair covered and still be flirting with somebody. A lot of flirtation is talking, eyes, hand motions, and the way you walk. All those things are more important than whether your hair is covered or not.

Do you flirt?
Actually, I do. But I think my way of flirting is how I relate to people, and of course I stay within reasonable boundaries. In the end, the Qur'an says Allah is the final judge and I'm responsible for everything I do. And I feel that the choices I've made are good ones.

What do Muslim women care about?
I was at an event at the Islamic Center of Southern California and there were two high school-age girls buying my book. I remember them because one of them was listening to an iPod, but she'd taken the headphones out. The music coming out of the headphones was "Milkshake," which is a hip-hop song. I thought it was so funny that here's this young Muslim girl and she's got "Milkshake" coming out of her iPod, and she said to me, "It's so great to see a Muslim woman. Every time we come to the mosque, it's always a lecture and it's always some old guy." Other Muslim women were saying they have nothing to give their daughters that's positive about Islam to read. Or nothing to take to school to show their teachers. When I was writing this book and listening to my own iPod, I heard "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper, which was a big hit when I was young. And I thought, you know, as Muslims we never get to have fun anymore. It's all serious. It's all business. Since 9/11 it's always talking about what the Administration is doing to us, what this law is doing to us, what this Islamic country is doing to us, what we're not doing for ourselves. We never get a chance to talk about what is really cool about being Muslim. I was lucky enough to grow up before 9/11. There were still misunderstandings and stereotypes about Islam, but there wasn't this seminal event in American life. I grew up at a time when people just said, "I don't know anything about your religion." They didn't say, "All I know about your religion is 9/11." And I was simply the kid who didn't have to go to Mass on Sundays and who got to sit out religion class. I think the number one issue for Muslim women, for my generation, in their 20s and even 30s, is how do we find a suitable Muslim mate. Some Muslim women have chaperones and they meet over the phone and email. They don't do American-style dating where there's premarital sex. But that's limited to conservative, traditional Muslims. The majority of Muslim women who don't wear the head cover are perplexed because while they're not free to date because they grew up in a culture and a religion that didn't encourage or allow dating, they don't really feel obligated to have their parents arrange their marriage. And in some cases, like my parents, they don't necessarily feel comfortable arranging my marriage. They don't want to tell me what to do. Even where my parents are from, even in Pakistan, it's changed. There are fewer arranged marriages. There's lot of dating, especially among the elite and educated classes. And so I guess you can't ever go home again. If I were to go out on a date with a Muslim man, and we would date for a couple months, that would almost give me a bad reputation in the South Asian community and the larger Muslim community. There's only a certain amount of finding a spouse that you could do that's within the parameters. It's very difficult for us to figure out how we go about this.Younger Muslim women who are in high school and the tweens and the teens are having a difficult time also, but it's more related to how they dress. Their style icons are Hilary Duff and Avril Lavigne, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. If you're a 12-year-old girl and you want to wear a shirt that shows your midriff, whether you're Muslim or not, your parents are going to have an issue with that. But if you're Muslim, they're not only going to have an issue with your dressing like that, but they'll also have an issue as Muslims. Because as we talked about, Muslims need to dress modestly--and it's such a change from the culture the Muslim parents grew up in.

Did you face those fashion issues at that age?
No, because we didn't have Hilary Duff wearing a tank top that stops above her belly button. You could easily as a young Muslim girl be wearing jeans and a T-shirt and fit right in with the crowd. But now there's a certain amount of skin you have to show. You have to wear high heels. You have to wear satiny pants with drawstring lace up the side.

....[discussion on Sufism]

What is the main reason you're a Muslim? You list a number of them in your book.
I would say the most important is because I was born Muslim. At first I thought, well, you can't say that--you can't say the reason you're Muslim is because you were born Muslim, but the Qur'an says we're all born Muslim. I don't mean that we are all born Sunni Muslim. I mean we're all born with the ability to do right and the ability to do wrong and to know the difference and choose between them. I wanted to say that actually being born Muslim and born into a Muslim family is important, because even if I converted to another religion there would still be parts of me that are Muslim. As a Muslim you grow up learning about Islamic history and the great Islamic warriors. Every Muslim child learns about the scientific achievements that Muslims have been behind. Paper wasn't created by Muslims, but the technology of paper was created by Muslims. And the number zero was invented by Arabs.

Copyright © 2006 Beliefnet, Inc.

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If You Got It, Flaunt It

Ok, it really confuses me now when I hear people saying that "veiling" is demeaning and oppressive to women. I think it comes from the fact that women in some countries are FORCED to dress a specific way. But still, I hear it all the time, even from so-called modern Muslims. So let me think about it... Well, wearing a scarf on one's head is literally more confining, I mean, covered means to put over. The most confining part of it to me is covering the neck because it just feels strange...But how this makes a headscarf automatically oppressive, I don't get.

The other day I saw a talk show of talking women hosts. One went on and on about how American women spend too much time worrying about being thin. Everyone clapped at her comments as if to say, "yeah, weight is not important, being thin is not important". Then, the next host said she'd "lost a pound." Then everyone clapped again as if to say "congratulations on losing weight." UM...what? Talk about confusing.

You know, in secular society, there is a "flaunt it if you've got it" attitude. It obsesses over beauty, youth, and sex appeal. It obsesses over weight. It has a million and one ways to color your hair, cut it, and style it. You can wear a million and one styles and pieces of clothing. And make-up. And anti-aging creams. And nail polish. And push-up bras. And plastic surgeries. ETC. Ok, so it's fun to dress up and look as fantastic as humanly possible. Yeah, that's fun. But is it really worth it to spend so much of our time, energy, and MONEY into all that stuff?
Are all those choices equal to freedom? Or am I more free when I can be free of those worries about appearance, that competition with all those other women who are getting older every day. Just like me. Who cares if Sophia Loren still looks sexy at age 60? How does that really matter?

So yeah, covering up all your beautiful body parts is not as fun as showing them off...but you know what...it gives you a lot more FREE space in your mind and day to think about what really counts in life. For Muslims and many religious people, what counts is your soul. Your soul. But of course secular society doesn't even believe in the soul...so they need something to think about it, huh? How about weight, age, beauty, sex, clothes, dating, money, career, success, materials---and all those other fun things. So I guess that's part of it. If a woman doesn't care about those things, she's having less fun, right? Maybe that's why it seems so oppressive to cover up your body --and HUH?! your lovely hair-- in this "flaunt it if you've got it" world.

And I guess if you can't wear short sleeves, tank tops, or much less a bathing suit in the summer...well of course everyone who does must think you're oppressed, cause why would anyone cover up in the heat of summer, huh? Well you know, we CAN wear those things in our backyard or in our house or even at a party where there are no men...it's just not as convenient...so I guess in this secular open-to-all society, that inconvenience is oppressive. Oh well, I won't sweat it.

Just Do It

I didn't think I'd wear the headscarf again after high school. I wore my hair pulled back, but sometimes wore it down. I kept the usual modest dress I'd grown up with. No leg. No cleavage. No shoulders. I wore short sleeve t-shirts and jeans usually. Then after I got married, my husband brought up the idea that I could wear the headscarf in a family portrait. Hmmm...?

Then we started discussing why I should wear it and why I don't. I told him why I didn't want to wear it. Mostly, I didn't want any attention. And plus, is it really THAT important in Islam? What's the big deal?

Well, after daily and nightly thinking and learning, I had to declare that yes, according to Islam...wearing the headscarf is the way to go. "Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty......And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms...." (Quran 24:30,31). And Shia Muslims follow the interpretations of Muslim scholars who clearly states women should only show their faces and hands: "In the present time, the context of hijab is the modest covering of a Muslim woman. A woman should not show her beauty or adornments except what appears by uncontrolled factors such as the wind blowing her clothes, and the head covers should be drawn so as to cover the hair, the neck and the bosom. Islam has no fixed standard as to the style of dress or type of clothing that Muslims must wear. (www.sistani.org)."

But then I still thought...hmmm...how do they REALLY know what God wants? Does God really care if I cover my hair with a scarf? Then there's the question of why not just do it? I mean, Muslims do it. Islam is my religion. I love it. I admire it. I believe in it. So why not just wear the scarf? Nothing really convinced me to do it though. But the other night I saw a program on PBS.

THE MUSLIM AMERICANS segment of AMERICA AT A CROSSROADS series explored the diversity of Muslims in America, "contrasting life for Muslims here in the United States compared to Muslims in Britain and Europe." It was probably the first time I realized that as an American citizen, it's my right to practice my own religion...and it's my right to do it without being worried...and it made me feel confident. And it made me feel secure. Living in America and being an American citizen is in many ways a priveledge, including the freedom of religious practice. And I was being more "American" by doing it my own way. What do those terrorists know about being able to do it their own way and have their own place in a country? They don't. So why should I be afraid of being associated with them? And so what if I might experience more prejudice and racism? Other people have to live with that everyday. I should not worry; I should do. Just do it.

So then that night it just hit me that I should try wearing the scarf again. I had been thinking about not only hijab (headscarf) but of other issues regarding my personality and lifestyle and social network and friendships, etc. And I had a discussion with my dear hubby about listening to music (which I won't get into here) that sort of set in motion several thoughts...and perhaps one of those thoughts had to do with me having something to prove. But I'll leave it as vague as that. So all these thoughts led to where I am now. Let's see where my thoughts will lead me next.

Muslim Faces






Okay, so where are the muslim women in these pictures? They're all there. So many muslim faces. So many styles. So many differences. There is NOT ONE FACE (or scarf) of islam. And there is really not just one voice of Islam either. Although there is just ONE God, Muslims have several different sects (Sunni and Shia are the major ones, but even within those two are several more). And culture plays a part in how a Muslim lives his/her life as well. As does SES status and personal circumstances, etc. I think Non-Muslims would be surprised to know that there are different types of Muslims, with different beliefs and practices. And I think many Muslims would be surprised too! I think there is a tendency to say "WE MUSLIMS DO THIS AND THAT AND THAT'S THE RIGHT WAY TO DO IT!" Anyhow, this blog is about me. Born into a Shia Muslim family in Pakistan and raised since age 3 in Texas...married to an American convert to Islam...a mom of two daughters.

First Day Back on the Scarf Team

Ok, so I used to wear a headscarf in the Islamic dress code back in 1992, in high school of all places. Oh the hell I lived. I got picked on, poked at, and persecuted in a way only teenagers know how to do. Every day. I hated it. I never got used to it. So I quit wearing the scarf and transferred schools. I just wanted to be left alone. No attention please. Leave me the heck alone.

Then came September 11th, 2001. From then on, Islam and Muslims became known for it's tie to terrorism. Oh dang, I thought. That stinks for us Muslims. I just want peace. I don't want to be associated in any way with terrorism. But, hey, I'm scared. I don't want to wear the scarf, no way man. I don't want any haters hating me or poking me, or picking on me...

Now it's 2007. And I wanna give the headscarf another go. Let's see how it goes.

1st day.
My mom says I should wear a black headband under my black scarf so it will blend in better. I tell her I like the black and white polka dot headband cuz it adds more style.
My brother asks, "aren't you supposed to cover all that hair in the front?" He's talking about the micro-centimeter that is showing under the headband. Hey, I have a hairy face. I can't hide it all.
Ugh.
I'm already getting comments.

Ok, so I went out to the store with the scarf on. Went into Tom Thumb and felt as if people were giving me second looks. But then after 5 minutes, I didn't feel it anymore. It was fine. I was still the same. It was the usual. Then I went to the Dollar Store to buy my kids some goodies. I also got myself a Texas Longhorns t-shirt and an American flag ribbon to go on our car. I feel the need to express myself not only as a Muslim, but also an American.

One of my fears in wearing the scarf included the thought that non-Muslims would think I was either oppressed or a recent immigrant to the USA. I got these misconceptions a lot in high school. "Why doesn't she just take it off when she gets to school?" I heard people say, as if it was my family that forced me to put it on and since they weren't at the school then why should I keep the dang thing on? And as a brown kid growing up mostly around white kids, I guess I always had this perception I wanted to fight, the perception that I don't know America, that I just got here, that I'm foreign.

My scarf kept slipping off since I hadn't pinned it together. I felt like keeping it loose was a way to start this process again. Whenever it fell off my head and I had to put it back on, it brought back another fear I have in wearing the headscarf--judgements from other Muslims, especially those that wear the islamic hijab. These women judge each other, they say, "she's not wearing it the right way." And like my brother keeps noticing, "aren't you sopposed to wear it THAT way." The rule is to cover your hair, your ears, and your neck with the head scarf. You can only expose your face, hands, and feet (some disagree with the feet thing). Ok, I know that. But is it really all or nothing? I stuck with nothing for a long time because I am not ready to put on the full fledged pinned under the neck hijab and long flowing jacket called jilbab or ababya. I didn't want these Muslims, men or women, to look at me and think, "she's wrong." or come up to me and say "this scarf is on wrong." A Muslim guy came up to my friend who wears the scarf and told her that her jeans were too tight for hijab, and once when my mom and I met with the maulana (leader) of our muslim center, he later told us, "you don't even know how to wear hijab!" we had our salwar kameez and large chador (wide scarf) wrapped around us, but since our bangs showed or since we had not pinned the scarves under our chin---we were wrong and should be ashamed. Well that hurts my feelings. So picture this: I wear a turtleneck that covers my neck and a knit American hat that covers all my hair (in a bun) and my ears...to me, that is islamic hijab cause it meets the rules. But there are other Muslims who would say that it is NOT hijab because it is used in the "western" style and is not the usual traditional "symbol" of islamic hijab. I just don't think that way, at least not yet. Who knows how I may change my mind as time and experience go by. But my point is, even Muslims judge Muslims and even Muslims label Muslims and even Muslims misunderstand other Muslims. There is not just one face of Islam.

Anyway back to me buying the American flag bow for the car and the Texas Longhorns t-shirt. I told my brother that I want to express my American pride, but he thinks that it's a little too patriotic, like it's not our style. Oh well. The "funny" thing is, it's my identity as an American citizen was what inspired me to start wearing this scarf again. (I'll explain that later.) So my brother wants to make sure I'm not supporting the American governments foreign policy. No, I'm not. I just want to make sure the non-Muslims know I consider myself an American....because HELLO! I am.