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Sunday, July 29, 2007


The world population is 6,602,224,175 (July 2007 est.). As I stated in a previous post (Common Ground...) there are billions of people in the world. WOW. And though I share common ground with many of them, I am also different from many of them. Obviously, I know.
I watch the local news.
I watch the national news.
Heck, I even watch BBC news.
I know a bit about what's happening to the people of the world.
All the seemingly endless suffering is incomprehensible.
I know that this "hijab blog" is just a speck of dust in the entire universe of things that matter. So that's why I feel silly for updating this blog when I do, as if this topic isn't settled yet. I hear a voice (or voices) saying, "Ok. Wear your headscarf. Cover up your body. Just stop yapping about it! There's a world with problems out there--Think about them!"

So, okay. I know. Just wanted you to know.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

At Face Value

I'd like to give a brief opinion on the practice of wearing Niqab or Burqah in Islam.
Niqab is the veil that covers a Muslim woman's face, usually leaving only her forehead and eyes visible. Burqah is an even more conservative type of veil, which has only a grid-like gauze for visibility.

I personally do not like this form of Islamic dress, the covering of the face. It is not an obligation in Islam, and I think it does more harm than good, especially in the West because it creates an image of Islam that is inaccurate and downright confusing to both non-Muslims and Muslims alike. Indeed, if I were to see a woman in Niqab, I would feel uncomfortable and shy away from her--this is despite the fact that I know at least two down-to-earth, funny, educated, Muslim women who have worn the Niqab in the USA of their own choice, and happily so. They want to do it. They think it will bring them protection in this life and a reward in the next. Still, I simply can not agree with them.

I mentioned in a very early post that I do not think that the purpose of external hijab is to A.) HIDE BEAUTY. I think that is impossible. I think it is to B.) PROTECT MODESTY / DEMONSTRATE PIETY & DIGNITY. To me, those are two very different concepts. Take a look at the third photo above of the woman who is showing only her eyes and hand---She is gorgeous, MashaaAllah (by God's Grace) and even the Niqab can not HIDE that. Yes, if you wear the more conservative Burqah, with just the gauze strip to see, you can hide your entire identity. But how does this fit in with Islam? And the face is the main source of human communication: emotion, age, gender, intention, etc...all come from the face.

If women choose to wear it, they probably do so based on their own conservative values and issues and statements and causes and culture and environment, not the Law of Islam. If they believe it is required, then they follow an interpretation of Islam that the vast majority of Muslim and Islamic scholars reject. If they are forced to wear it, then I completely understand their rebellion against it, if given a choice.

Here are some excerpts from articles and the links to their entire text:

"Niqab is different from hijab. Hijab refers to covering everything except the hands and face. Niqab is the term used to refer to the piece of cloth which covers the face and women who wear it usually cover their hands also...proponents of the niqab use this Qur'anic verse for evidence for the niqab.

...And when ye ask (the Prophet's wives) for anything ye want, ask them from before a screen: that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs.
Qur'an 33:53

The wives of the Prophet were indeed required to wear the niqab by this Qur'anic verse. This is because the special status they had meant they had to be kept clear from all gossip and slander. Scholars say that if the wives of the Prophet, as the best of feminine examples, were required to wear niqab, then the ruling falls on all women.

However, earlier on in the same chapter, the Qur'an also very clearly states that the Prophet's wives were not similar to other women.

O Wives of the Prophet! You are not like any of the other women.

Most scholars are in agreement that the verse about the screen, or concealing of the face, is only obligatory on the wives of the Prophet. They say the verses are a clear indication that the wives of the Prophet are much more restricted in their movement due to their political position, and that their code of conduct does not constitute a code of conduct for women in general."

"In my experience, whereas a growing number of westerners are coming to accept and even respect the simple hijab (headscarf/hair-covering) as a symbol of modesty and good character in Muslim women, almost universally westerners find niqaab (the face veil) and the head to toe black garb that usually accompanies it sinister, frightening and repulsive. It makes them recoil from Islam.

As a western convert to Islam, I see first hand only too well among my family, western colleagues and old circle of friends the extreme harm face veiling does to the image of Islam and to the efforts to spread Islam in the west. The tragedy is that this phenomenon is so unrepresentative of Islam. The vast majority of Muslims do not consider this form of attire compulsory. Most contend that face veiling was, in fact, exclusively the preserve of the wives of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) who, we are told in the Quran 33:33, "are not like other women" in order to give them privacy and protection in Madinah where they lived at the main mosque, not in private compounds."

Feel free to comment please.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Wrong Impression

At yet another wedding, I met a couple of friends (that do not wear the headscarf) that I had not seen in many months. One of my mom's friends saw me and said with surprise, "You're wearing hijab!" I smiled but was flooded with a sudden self-consciousness and blurted out, "My husband made me do it." Then we all had a big laugh. Hahaha. Then I think there was some mention of hijab being a good thing, and how I have a good husband.

Later...I came home and was thinking, "Why oh why in the world did I say that?"

First of all, it's so not true. My husband just encouraged me and said I would not regret it if I tried wearing the headscarf--and he was right. But he did not force me or "make me" do it at all. And secondly, 'why oh why oh why' did I--someone who is supposed to be somewhat intelligent in her awareness of stereotypes and prejudice and who is adamantly against perpetuating such falsehoods--especially the one that women who wear the hijab/headscarf are submissive to and oppressed by their husbands blurt out such a silly comment? What was I thinking? And what was I not thinking?!

I think the reasons were, as I've mentioned in a previous post (re: I'm Nobody)...
1) some kind of resistance to wanting to seem self-righteous or 'better' than those who do not cover up. So I "blamed" it on my husband, something that in itself works for me with other Muslim people because then they get the (very true) impression that my husband is a religious man. And I think I want the world to know how devout he is, especially the Muslim world of my little community, because my husband is a convert/revert to Islam, and both my family and I want the community to know that yes, my husband is a true follower of Islam, which somehow validates my controversial, rare, and curious marriage to an American.
2) Part of it was my insecurity about choosing an "old-fashioned" (stereotype) and "unfashionable" (stereotype) way of dress and lifestyle amid a crowd of the glitz and glamour and pain-staking beauty that surrounded me. I think I felt plain and out-of-the-fashion-loop when I walked into the sea of lovely fabrics and glittering stones and iron-pressed, lovely hair.

Still, I regret saying what I did. And will try not to do that anymore. Because even though those people were Muslim, and even though they left with the good impression of my pious husband, somewhere in their minds is the idea that I, a Muslim woman, was forced to cover her hair by her husband--something that might possibly be a reason they do not want to cover up in hijab, as it was a reason for me--that association with being oppressed or dictated too. I regret saying it, even if it was a joke.

My husband didn't make me. He helped me. And I thank him for that. And I'm still surprised at how such a simple scarf can be attached to such complicated feelings.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Common Ground--Various (Non-Muslim) Religious Views on Modesty

I was intrigued by a religious, conservative, Pentecostal American family shown on a TV program. It was mentioned that the females followed a dress code, which really interested me. They described their modesty as dressing with feminity, meaning no pants and displaying long hair. This seemed different than the Islamic dress code, I thought to myself, since Muslim women are taught to cover their hair, not grow it long for all to see. And I think Muslim women can wear pants, although, some would disagree, still, the pants-vs-skirts issue is not so clear-cut in Islamic dress. It reminded me how the definition of modesty can vary not only from person to person, but from religion to religion. Still, I admired that family very much for their dedication to their religous values. I felt a common ground with them. I did a quick internet search on the internet and found:

1. "Our church teaches us the value of modest, appropriate dress. Men should dress like men and women must dress like women! The girls and I do not wear makeup, jewelry or nail polish. Pants are for men, so the girls and I only wear skirts to the knee and dresses. We wear our hair long and uncut because it represents modesty and shows our respect for both God and for Steve [the husband]. The rest of the world might call this strict or old-fashioned. To us, it is our way of life…Women should dress modestly! Girls must wear full length skirts and never pants. Shirts must cover the shoulder and not reveal their neckline. We never cut our hair because we believe that long hair for women shows respect for our husband and God."

2. "I cut my hair ! Big deal, it really is. In plain churches the Bible means what it says. Simple as that. And long hair is said to be a womans glory in 1 Cor.11:15. So in the world I walk in I just cut off my glory. It will grow and so its not the end of the world for me, but now my fickle mindedness will be remembered every time I look in the mirror. For those not walking in this "plain" world, this stuff must seem to silly and so strict. And there are things that when your heart is not right, and spoken about in a bad tone, seems so old fashioned and so old world. Dark ages type behavior, but it isn't...I am part of the United Pentecostal Church, so I also believe that your hair is your glory. I am 27 years old and have never cut my hair in my life. Believe it or not, I have never been tempted, but I know that others struggle with this."

3. "I live near the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama. The Shrine is rightly strict about modesty in dress. But I see an unhealthy number even of elderly women who visit here wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes. As a young person I was exposed to this all my life. I thought nothing of it until I started reading books on femininity and masculinity and experienced what a good Catholic family should be. I married into such a Catholic family.
Not only women but children are dressing immodestly today, both in public and often at Mass where our Lord is present in the Holy Eucharist. It is difficult for a young man to stay focused and pure even at Mass when a young woman walks into church wearing immodest clothing. They have lost the sense of modesty. Both young and older parents need to monitor at all times what their children wear. Men and boys should also dress modestly when attending Mass. Sundays should reveal our best dress of the week. Dressing modestly and well for Mass reflects our faith that Jesus is present in the Eucharist and that He perpetuates His Sacrifice of the Cross.
If the President of the United States was coming to town and speaking at a convention dinner, to which you were invited, would you wear shorts, a T-shirt or a mini-skirt? I don't think so. Yet, in the house of God many ignore His Real Presence by the way they dress. Why do people act this way? It is because faith in the Real Presence of Jesus and the perpetuation of His Sacrifice of the Cross at every Holy Mass has been lost, or has been seriously weakened. G.K. Chesterton would say to this: "What's wrong with the world!"

4. "The 23-year-old author first heard of "modestyniks"--Orthodox Jewish women who withhold physical contact from men until marriage--while a freshman at Williams College. She was initially fascinated by the way in which they cleave to old ideals, especially amid a sexually saturated contemporary world. But more so, Wendy Shalit was aghast at how modestyniks are dismissed as sick, delusional, or repressed by the secular community. "Why," asks the author, "is sexual modesty so threatening to some that they can only respond to it with charges of abuse or delusion?"
In her thoughtful three-part essay, the author reveals an impressive reading list as she probes the cultural history of sexual modesty for women and considers whether this virtue may be beneficial in today's world--if not an antidote to misogyny. In an age when women are embarrassed by sexual inexperience, when sex education is introduced as early as primary school, and when women suffer more than ever from eating disorders, stalking, sexual harassment, and date rape, Shalit believes a return to modesty may place women on equal footing with men. She yearns for a time when conservatives can believe the claims of feminists and feminists can differentiate between patriarchy and misogyny and share in the dialectic of female sexuality."

5. "Nancy Leigh DeMoss challenges Christians to ask themselves tough questions: Who decides what I will wear, and why? What message does my clothing communicate? And, how can I reflect the glory of God in my wardrobe?
Biblical, practical and motivating, "The Look" challenges women (young or older), parents, and teens to discover the Truth about clothing and modesty, and to make choices based on God's eternal perspective."

In a vast majority of Christian churches - Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox - common sense prevails. Something a little nicer than jeans and sneakers is the norm, and a nice suit for men or dress for women is quite tasteful, but even something a little more casual is perfectly fine. Some churches are intentional about "come as you are" worship, jeans, sneakers and all; some affluent congregations "dress to the nines." But otherwise, assume anything from casual dress to a suit or skirt is acceptable.
Having said that, however, there are some kinds of churches with a more stringent "dress code":
Men - In Conservative and Orthodox Jewish congregations, men are expected to wear a yarmulke (skullcap) and prayer shawl. These are often available for use in the synagogue itself.
- In United Pentecostal Churches, men are expected to wear long sleeves, and no jewelry - not even a wedding ring.
Women - In some very tradititional Catholic and Orthodox churches (these are few, outside the mainstream of their own tradition), women are expected to wear dresses with skirts below the knees; heads are to be veiled (hats can be worn instead; veils are sometimes available for use in the narthex, or entryway, of the church); shoulders are not to be bare. In Mormon churches, women are expected to wear very conservative dresses with ankle-length skirts.
Again, these stricter guidelines are exceptions. In the vast majority of Christian churches, common sense is the prevailing guideline. It is best not to look slovenly, and one should avoid clothing with offensive or suggestive messages; beyond that, don't sweat the dress code."

7. "The BYU Honor Code
Dress and Grooming Standards
The dress and grooming of both men and women should always be modest, neat, and clean consistent with the dignity adherent to representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and any of its institutions of higher learning.
Modesty and cleanliness are important values that reflect personal dignity and integrity, through which students, staff, and faculty represent the principles and standards of the Church. Members of the BYU community commit themselves to observe the standards, which reflect the direction given by the Board of Trustees and the Church publication For the Strength of Youth. The BYU Dress and Grooming Standards are as follows:
A clean and well-cared-for appearance should be maintained. Clothing is inappropriate when it is sleeveless, revealing, or form fitting. Shorts must be knee length or longer. Hairstyles should be clean and neat, avoiding extreme styles or colors, and trimmed above the collar leaving the ear uncovered. Sideburns should not extend below the earlobe or onto the cheek. If worn, moustaches should be neatly trimmed and may not extend beyond or below the corners of the mouth. Men are expected to be clean shaven; beards are not acceptable. Earrings and other body piercing are not acceptable. Shoes should be worn in all public campus areas.
A clean and well-cared-for appearance should be maintained. Clothing is inappropriate when it is sleeveless, strapless, backless, or revealing; has slits above the knee; or is form fitting. Dresses, skirts, and shorts must be knee length or longer. Hairstyles should be clean and neat, avoiding extremes in styles and colors. Excessive ear piercing (more than two per ear) and all other body piercing are not acceptable. Shoes should be worn in all public campus areas.

by W. John Walsh
What is immodest attire? Immodest attire is that state of dress (or undress) which flaunts a person's body and sexuality. There are four questions one can ask to determine if a particular outfit is immodest:
(1) Does the outfit create greater interest in the wearer by potential sexual partners? Most of us know that girls in two piece swimming suits (i.e., "bikinis") are more interesting to men than girls wearing modest suits. (See footnote 1) If more potential sexual partners pay attention to you because of your dress or undress, then you know you are being immodest. No one except a spouse has the right to arouse sexual feelings in someone.
(2) Does the outfit make members of the same sex more conscious of their physical inadequacies? If your dress causes feelings of inadequacy in others, then you know you are being immodest. It is not Christian conduct to make other people feel bad because they were not blessed with your physical bounties.
(3) Why are you wearing or buying the outfit? In reality, most of us know what is immodest attire. When we choose a two piece swimming suit over a modest one piece, we know why we are doing it. We want attention and appreciation for our body.
(4) Would the outfit cover temple garments, if you wore them? One of the purposes of the temple garment is to protect our modesty. If your outfit would not cover a temple garment, it is by definition immodest. Sometimes, it may be appropriate to wear such an outfit in special circumstances. On the other hand, wearing the exact same outfit outside of those special circumstances would be imodest. For example, it may be acceptable to wear a modest swim suit to swim, even though the swim suit would not cover temple garments. But it would be immodest to wear your swimming suit to go shopping at the mall or to a party.
(1) It should be noted that two piece swimming suits (i.e., "bikinis") are not allowed in the swimming areas of Church-sponsored colleges like Brigham Young University and Ricks College."

8. "Much is added to Redekop's analysis throughout the valuable essay by Marlene Epp, "Nonconformity and Nonresistance: What Did it Mean to Mennonite Women," in Changing Roles. Epp notes that women carried much of the burden of Mennonite separateness and nonconformity. She points out that the Mennonite doctrine of non-resistance affected women very differently than men. Mennonite women were not conscripted into alternate service during the Second World War; they were left on the farms and in the villages, where they often had the sole responsibility for their families. They were compelled to enter the work force. The war began a process that encouraged Mennonite women to break down the traditional barriers of separation and become more fully integrated into Canadian society. The most often cited symbol of this acculturation was the increasing use of English in the Mennonite community. An equally visible symbol for women, according to Epp, was the decline of Mennonite women's symbolic dress. Women were required to wear a bonnet and plain dress. The bonnet, in particular, was a symbol of separation from the dominant culture. No such dress code was imposed on men. Resistance to traditional dress began in the 1950s. By the 1960s traditional dress was in decline. Epp links this rebellion from traditional Mennonite culture to the "gradual secularization," or acculturation, of Mennonite society after the war."

9. "Other scholars in this section examine women's resistance to patriarchy and the impact of shifting gender roles on Anabaptist communities. Taking restrictive dress codes as their focus (as many of the contributors do), these authors note that dress codes frequently serve as a source of conflict. Steven Reschly argues that anxiety about the "flood tide of American individualism" in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led male community leaders to tighten dress codes and familial roles for women, establishing what he calls "preservationist patriarchy." Kimberly Schmidt's study of a conservative Mennonite community in the 1930s and 1980s reveals how social anxiety over the Great Depression and Reagan-era farm crises challenged the community. While the economic hardship pushed Mennonite women into the public workforce, the move often led to an abandonment of the traditional cape dress and prayer covering. Women who worked "off-farm" found themselves at the center of a struggle between economic necessity and religious tradition and were often scapegoated as troublemakers. Both essays emphasize how communities invest their cultural identity and security in the plain dress of women."

So there you have a brief look into the religous views on dress from a few Non-Muslim individuals and groups. I'd welcome any comments from members of such religions.

And again, although our definitions and applications of modesty of dress differ for various reasons, I admire those groups that advocate modesty of dress, and I wish we could all see the common ground we stand on, instead of viewing each other as strange and alien and misguided. It's a big world full of billions of people. WOW.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Buckle Up, It's the Law

My husband and I were at a beach resort last year for his business trip. I walked around in jeans, sandals, and a long-sleeve white dress shirt (at the time, no headscarf). Still, I was self-conscious of the fact that most everyone else at the resort was in full summert-time-on-the-beach gear (e.g. shorts, tanks, bathing suits). But whenever me and my husband (who was also in jeans and dress shirt) spotted someone else with pants on, especially on the beach itself--we remarked: "Look, they're wearing pants too!" And it made me feel better. I am assuming that none of those people were Muslim, and I can not know if they were religious. All I know is that they chose to wear pants when they could have worn shorts like everyone else on the beach. For some reason, they were more modest than others.

Now, here are other examples of non-religious folks practicing modesty of dress:
1) A woman who loses a lot of weight but is still insecure about her body, so she covers up and dresses down by wearing loose, long, plain clothes.
2) A woman is against consumerism and the exploitation of women in society, so she covers up and dresses down by wearing loose, long, plain clothes.
3) A woman works in a male-dominated profession, so she chooses to wear conservative clothing to reduce any sexual discrimination or harrassment.

Ok, the question is...

Do you need a religion or God to dress modestly, i.e. to have values that dictate your choices in life? From the above examples, the answer is NO. I once heard an atheist say "Just because I don't believe in God doesn't mean I don't have any morals." I'm sure a lot of people feel that way. They don't need a religion, a god, or a set of rules to be "good, decent, moralistic, polite, law-abiding citizens." They believe human nature is pure/good and does not need an organized religion to dictate and monitor and supervise their choices in life--including dress. They don't need a book of God's Laws to tell them how to make good choices and practice good behavior--because being good is its own reward.

...But laws and codes are meant to keep the bad seed from ruining it for everyone, aren't they? For the flawed ones...and aren't we all a bit flawed? Easily tempted? Easily distracted and curious?

What if there were no speeding laws? Some of us would drive slowly because we are "naturally" cautious, still most of us would get caught up in the power, freedom, thrill, independence, and the impatience to get where we want to go--or just go faster than the next guy--so we would go without care--without a seatbelt...And eventually hurt ourselves and others as we zip along and eventually meet disaster.

So yes, there are A LOT of people without a religion who practice excellent and productive human behavior. And I respect them for that.

Then there are those people who need a structured or organized religion to keep themselves "in check," because perhaps they're not so excellent or productive or decent in their "natural" state. And I respect their struggle.

I think all that is good comes from God. God is Good. And religion allows us to understand why and how that is.

So who decides what is "Good"? Is it just common sense? What is common sense?

**Common Sense
–noun sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence.
[Origin: 1525–35; trans. of L sénsus commūnis, itself trans. of Gk koin aísthésis]**

I think most of us would agree, it's "common sense" to follow the rules that most religions and civilizations follow (No killing, No prostituting, No stealing, No cheating, etc). But how does common sense turn into that "specialized knowledge or training"? I think it comes from understanding God. And religion can help you gain the knowledge and training to begin to attempt to do that. Of course, I personally believe that Islam, and Shia Islam specifically, is the best way.

What do you believe? How do you decide what is good? What is common sense?

I know a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf. A stranger approached her in a public mall and after some trivial dispute on proper play-area behavior for children, the stranger pointed at the Muslim woman's headscarf and said,
"You have no common sense."

I would ask that stranger woman why wearing a headscarf is against common sense. I would love to know what makes her believe that, and what makes her believe it was necessary to tell the Muslim woman that. The stranger woman claimed she was not being prejudice. I would love to know what makes her believe that, indeed.

I look in the mirror and say:
Be Good.
Know that all Good comes from God.
Keep learning.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

I'm Nobody

At one of the wedding festivities I recently attended, a female Muslim friend of mine who had not seen me in a long time (and does not wear a headscarf) asked me when I had started wearing the scarf. I was surprised that she asked because I forget that it wasn't long ago that I did not wear it. Anyway, I said, "About two months." And then I went on to tell her how religous my husband is and how he encouraged me to wear it, and how some other girls in the community wear it so that encouraged me as well, and how my husband is getting more involved in our local Muslim community, so I figured it was a good time to start wearing the scarf. As she answered me with phrases like, "Oh, yeah, we try to be more involved too, my husband..." I became aware that I might come across as "bragging" about my religiousness, or making her feel self-conscious---afterall, her hair was styled--no scarf. And I was surrounded by other Muslim-borm females in beautiful, flowing, curly, straight, colored, long, and short eye catching form figuring clothes. So I tried to regroup and say, "but it is very difficult...". And when she finally graciously ended the conversation by saying, "yea, it's a good thing," I felt aware that I need to be careful as to not come across as "holier than thou," because I am far far far from perfectly religious. This headscarf is sending a message, yet the message is received differently by each receiver.


Now that I wear the headscarf and now that I've attended a few parties where born-Muslims ladies are all dressed-up and have began to notice their attire in contrast to my new wardrobe, I sometimes feel embarassed for my old pre-headscarf self. And even though I have always been lazy about all that girly stuff (hair styles, make-up types, clothing trends, manicures, etc.)...I was still totally oblivious to the comformity of dressing-up for parties--totally wanting to look young and perky and beautiful (tight clothes usually did the trick). So now when I see those dolled-up girls...I see them as being foolish. So then I feel relieved and proud that I'm no longer a part of that "flaunt it" group. But then it does not add up...why should I feel proud? Afterall, I still desire to look pretty and put-together through my clothing...I still wear make-up to beautify my face...I am still them...I am still me...I am still vain.

"Pride defeats its own end, by bringing the man who seeks esteem and reverence into contempt."
Henry Bolingbroke

There were a few Muslim ladies at the wedding parties wearing headscaves and long, loose, plain-colored abayas/jackets/ lady wearing all black...and none of them wearing make-up. It's not like they were completely drab. Their fabrics might have been expensive, the jackets tailored well, the headscarf perfectly matching the rest of the outfit.


So I think there is something dignified in dressing-up...nicely...but who am I to judge what's naughty or nice? I'm nobody.