Monthly Archives: October 2013

Hijab and Innocence (Part I)

Warning: This makes no sense. Slightly emotionally charged AND super awkward.

Note 2: This is a very individualized post and may not relate to too many people.

Women are native to Paradise: is this not the most underestimated disclosure of the Book?

Sh. Abdal Hakim Murad – Contentions(62)

Today, the above quote popped up in my life and it made me think about hijab and innocence (and sexuality?).  If I’m correct in that he’s speaking about hoors, I see the quote as recognition of the importance of women’s spirituality and maybe implying that women too have the right to be seen as sexual beings. (Side note – Besides hoors, we also have the story of Zuleikha in the Qur’an, who, interestingly enough her attraction to the beauty of Yusuf (AS) is seen by Rumi as really a spiritual desire to find God).

In contrast to this (I can’t phrase this correctly), depictions of hijab today involve describing women as diamonds that need to be protected or lollipops that men are able to respect. Recently, I read a study conducted that attempted to determine the relationship between hijab and sexuality, which concluded that hijabis are held to an idealized understanding of femininity as well as are seen as those who trounce sexual objectification with their rejection of Western-oxcitiy.  Rather than being in control of their sexuality, it’s almost as if hijabis are responsible for taming others. Hijabis seem to be held to an ideal standard where women are expected to be at this fantasized level of innocence and purity, and this brought about another question that I have on my list of questions I’m trying to answer:

  • Is the hijab and modern conceptions of  individualism incompatible?

In an awkward transition, all this comes back to labels that I’ve been given throughout my hijabi life – innocent, modest, cute, naive, etc. Ask my family and they’d disagree with all of these labels. However, when I won a game of Cards Against Humanity, played with friends, it was photographed to be displayed as a complete aberration to my seemingly ossified character.

Being a hijabi is difficult.

We’re the permanent virgin in the virgin/whore dichotomy. Without my hijab I feel as if I am permitted to express myself without fear of contaminating this image that every type of person, Muslim or member of other faith, holds against Muslimahs. Expressing my thoughts on something that is antithetical to my supposed innocent character is always shocking to people. Certainly there are a plethora of hijabis who regularly challenge these stereotypes, but, in my personal experience, there is this great fear of saying something that would violate the delicate and fragile symbol that the hijab holds for so many people (Also I already have a mental note to write a post on the ‘good hijabi vs. badass hijabi dichotomy’ that I’m not a fan of)

This week I posted a photo of myself at Times Square that garnered a lot of attention perhaps due to my expressive gait, and I had no understanding of how to react to this. I started to doubt myself. The night I took that picture people came up to me and asked if they could take a photo of me. I initially assumed it was because I was wearing shalwar kameez and it looked exotic, but after seeing the reaction from people both in offline and online life I’m starting to believe it may have been due more to my exotic appearance as a whole. It’s as if people have started to assume I’m going through some bizarre Muslim version of Edna Pontellier’s Awakening.  Suddenly, hijablessness has transformed my intransigent character to one that can assume more than innocence, and I have no idea how to react.

Looking at sources in the Qur’an and hadith (if you’re into hadith), In complete opposition to the innocent hijabi character, we have hoors. [Q: Is innocence the only way to heaven?] But besides that we have a queen, thinkers, warriors, and much more. We have women who are modest, but also women who stood up for themselves, women who stood up for their society, women who worked for what they believed in, women who would feel comfortable enough to ask the Prophet questions about the fiqh of sex, etc.. Basically, women who were individuals, who were more than a hijab (if they wore one).

Our tradition celebrates the diversity of various women’s thoughts and actions. Yet, in modern day society, I feel that hijabis are stereotyped as this singular character in communities, required to sacrifice her individuality in order be a paragon of Modesty. And I think as a result my new goal with this experiment is to prove this thought wrong. To prove that I can assert some level of individuality without feeling pressured into being this person that I am not, without having to be labeled ‘badass’ if I refuse to be the modest hijabi (Personally think the term ‘badass hijabi’ can be just as bad as being the stereotypical modest hijabi, since now women are forced to hide their vulnerabilities so as to be constantly ‘badass’.)

———-

Random thoughts for Post #2:

– Isn’t it odd that women in paradise are recognized all over Islamic literature as sexual beings, but Muslimahs find it difficult to even have a single discussion on sex?– I recently posted on MWIH a few papers on Islam and sexuality, and most of the reaction from Muslim women was a mixture of relief and surprise since they felt that these are conversations that people are too afraid to have. Is this another thing to blame on culture?

– Are we (the non-scholars) understanding Islamic modesty wrong?

– How to become more grounded in an aspect of faith that is so public and to make it about a relationship with God, rather than other’s perceptions — is that possible — to make physical appearance solely a dedication to God?

– Is the hijab supposed to be tied directly to sexuality? Do we wear the hijab in reaction to men?

– Trying to find an overarching theme that involves more thinking rather than telling my personal story… right now my thoughts on this are too hazy to write something clear.

Advertisements

[Sunni] Hadith Studies

After reading a few books on the unreliability of hadith, having a long conversation on lack of authenticity of hadith, and interacting with many Quranists, I thought it might be time to make a list of some resources that discuss hadith that generally defend hadith. Not saying that I have strong convictions in defense of hadith, but being that the introduction to the lack of authenticity of hadith brought about an internal religious meltdown in undergrad, I thought it might be time to find things that permit a sense of balance.

To be updated.

Books

  1. Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence M.H Kamali (Chapter on Hadith)
  2. Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern Jonathan Brown (have yet to read)
  3. Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought David Brown (not really a defense, but a must read)

Lectures

  1. An Introduction to Hadith Jonathan Brown
  2. Hadith on Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medival and Modern Jonathan Brown (lecture)

Papers

  1. The authenticity of hadith a ‘Pseudo-problem’ Wael Hallaq
  2. On the authoritativeness of Sunni consensus Wael Hallaq

Bow down with those who bow down

Written a few years ago

I generally try to read one ayat a day to give myself time to reflect upon it. I haven’t gotten too far in the Qur’an with this process, so the ayat I read today is from the beginning of Surutul Baqara:

And be steadfast in prayer; practice regular charity; and bow down your heads with those who bow down. 2:43

Immediately upon reading this ayat I thought of the many lectures or khutbas I have attended on this subject on maintaining khushoo in prayer. The thought of ensuring that prayer is one that is made with attentiveness and spirituality has been inculcated into our minds since the very beginning of our religious education, and yet salah is nothing more than a perfunctory task for most of us. We can’t always perform salah with people who are God-conscious, to assist us with our own khushoo, right? I came up with a general reflection on this ayat, and thought that was all I was going to receive from it.

I began writing this essay in my mind while in class (and being that it’s been 12 hours since I was in class, this current blog post is not up to par with my original thoughts), as I started to think about what is considered the ideal goal in our society. We favor and strive to become the people who speak eloquently, the people who can purchase impressive items, or the people who know the names of things/ideas/processes. However, if we were to pray with those people, those people who we specifically and primarily attribute these qualities to, they surely would not be the ones who have attained the status of the Ar Raki’ûn mentioned in this ayat. They, therefore, would not be the ones that we are told to bow down with (this is in no way implying that we should pick and choose who we are going to pray salah with, just wondering who it is that would most likely help us in obtaining better humility, concentration in salah.) So who could it be?

At that moment an image of my father popped up in my head. And as a result of the many ephemeral realizations of seeing the importance of something we regularly take for granted, I knew I had to write a blog post about this. A reminder of the greatness and blessings of having a good family. My father, a highly educated man, but one who has an illuminating sense of humility and docility. I’m using the word docile, a typically negative word, but in a way that Shaykh Hamza Yusuf mentioned in a recent lecture I listened to. Docile in the sense that one is teachable, a positive word. Docile as in the complete opposite of one who becomes arrogant once they learn, utilizes information in pedantic manners. Docile as in something far from the ideal that society generally strives for.

Just recently I spoke to him about a fact I learned today about Malcolm X, and his expression of curiosity and amazement was the same that I see every time I mention any interesting thought to him. My father, a person who I would never doubt any fact he presents to me due to his own intelligence, finds even the smallest thought a person has as important and fascinating.

Lord, fill a Muslim’s heart
With a desire so fervent
That it will set his heart aflame
And stir his soul.

– Muhammad Iqbal (at least the Internet says so)

Hijab and Space

I remember a few years ago reading Yasmin Mogahed’s piece on being against “western” interpretations of feminism and how leading prayer isn’t a sign of equality but rather a hidden desire to be like men, and disliking it very much. And then Sana Saeed’s piece, which primarily focused on criticizing frameworks of Progressive Islam, but she did spend a bit of time saying that the question is not about a radical reinterpretation of Islam but really about space,

[T]he problem is about how we frame our discussion on equality. The problem is not about where women pray in relation to men, but rather what this position says about their space in the community. Space speaks – space has meaning not in and of itself but because it is given meaning by those who create it and those who inhabit it. The space created for Muslim women in the masajid of North America says more about their position in the community in terms of religious engagement than about a centuries old, outdated position of prayer. Praying next to each other or having a female Imam lead a mixed-sex congregation doesn’t, still, get at the root cause of the problem. It takes a rather stark and “radical” action and imposes it immediately, without allowing for natural evolution. Spatial restructuring requires mentality restructuring. Change the position of these women in their community and then you will create changes in space. This is how it is done organically as opposed to through sensationalism.

Then there’s that Sh. Hamza Yusuf sound clip that revolves around every few months and no one does anything about it after that.

And now there’s this viral Ali Gomaa article, ” if the Americans agree and feel satisfied with adopting the legal opinion which permit women to lead men in prayer then it is their own preference but we don’t issue such fatwa in our country because it goes directly against our cultural heritage which was established for centuries. The ultimate aim for any jurist is to look out for the interest of his people without contradicting a juristic consensus.”

All this brings me full circle back to a list of questions I drew up a while back before starting the hijab experiment. If we were to step back a little further from the women leading prayer topic and discuss gender and space in the context of religion two of my questions that I’m still trying to figure out are

  •  How does the hijab shape public/private space, and how does that affect our roles?
  • Is the hijab a community obligation? 

My main problem with Yasmin Mogahed’s article is her definition of Western feminism. Although I agree that I find certain aspects of Western understandings of feminism quite problematic and excluding, I don’t see her interpretation to be correct. She argues that Western feminism has adopted the framework of women imitating men, and that shouldn’t be the goal of women. To me, the goal of “Western” feminism is to give both men and women greater access to public and private space. This means that women should be able to have better access to the public sphere, where traditionally they are meant to be in the private, and men should be able to have greater access to the private sphere (greater paternal rights, emotional validation, etc.), where traditionally they are meant to focus on the public.

Among Islamic conversations, this form of feminism is validated through the hijab. There is a popular argument about how women who wear hijab can fully participate in society, as men will be able to respect them more. I remember learning as a child stories about how women during the Prophet’s time were harassed and the hijab was brought about as an identifier of their religion, and, as such, members of a larger community that will come to their defense if they were harassed. This sort of thinking has led me to believe the hijab is a form of spatial division (in the context of the Qur’an, the word ‘hijab’ is used to discuss spatial division but does not refer to women’s clothing as it literally means ‘curtain’).  The hijab, in theory, should give women greater access to the public sphere, and, in theory, the state of hijablessness is a state meant for privacy. It’s a physical marker of mental spatial division.

But that’s not really true. Women who wear the hijab are still harassed by men. Are the cases of women being harassed by men simply exceptions to the rule? Many Muslims seem to agree that they are exceptions, but that doesn’t explain the high level of sexual assault in Muslim countries that women have to face. Could it possibly be that the high levels of sexual assault we see in these regions is related to the idea disseminated through this argument of the purpose of hijab — that men are unable to control themselves, and it’s somehow women’s responsibility to quell men’s sexual desires? If the answer is yes, then that does indeed make hijab not an individual choice, but a community obligation. [This argument also leaves greater room for victim blaming as it seems to say that women who choose not to defend themselves with their clothes are deserving of sexual assault.]

A second question that comes about from this argument, is that if hijab is the solution to interaction in the public sphere why are gender roles still one of the most confusing topic for young practicing Muslims? (I follow this blog of this young imam that takes questions from teenage Muslims, and half of the questions are on the topic of proper gender interaction)  In a recent article Haroon Moghul wrote about the Muslim marriage problem a young man asked, “Can I ask a woman in a headscarf for her phone number?” Is this being asked because the topic of marriage belongs in the private sphere category and such a question interferes with the public/private division? Why are/should women be less approachable because of their hijab?

In my personal experience with the state of hijab and hijablessness, I’ve noticed that I get less attention when not wearing the hijab (which was initially surprising to me since I had a ridiculous belief about how the hijab relates to beauty — but that’s for another post). In fact, I feel I have received a greater amount of respect with my inconspicuousness, primarily due to the lack of attention I receive. I’ll just say that a friend once told me that I ‘attract [strangers who are] creepers,’ and without the hijab I no longer get that attention.

So going back to the Ali Gomaa article, where he states that the argument of whether or not women should lead prayers should consider cultural understandings, we could take into account about how here in America at least women’s participation in society is generally not affected by physical appearance. [Ok, that is a total lie but believe me for a second specifically in regards to the state of hijab or hijablessness and not the pressures of beauty placed on men and women (hijab and modesty — for another post).] As such, does that mean that we don’t necessarily need to make this physical division of space? This is where I get stuck since I think that I’m mixing too many thoughts in one idea and I lose my ability to explain things….

Anyway, basic conclusion that everyone already agrees with, clothing choices should not determine the level of respect a person receives nor should it determine their access to society. Is this reason enough to permanently take off the hijab – for right now, no.