Category Archives: islam
A feeling of connectedness to home, spiritually speaking, would appear to make sense as a reason for wearing the veil and subsequently make it all the more dreadful to those seeking to police an othered citizenry. The veil constitutes a marker of divinely ordained and radically differentiated space, which is collapsed through the premise that one is always under God’s law from the ultra-orthodox Islamic perspective, but it is also the case that the veil actually can and might be liberating for those seeking spiritual solace in police states, both literally and figuratively. Coupled with the fact that the veil does not have to be worn inside the space of one’s home, it becomes evident that the symbolic value and meaning of the veil is an affirmation of the radical division of space requisite to Allah’s law, which is itself an interpretation as the Koran offers little guidance as to how women are to dress in public space aside from the injunction in Sura 4 to cover their “ornaments” and to dress “modestly.” The varieties of hijab derive primarily from the Hadith, an extensive collection of secondary writings attributed primarly to the prophet Muhammed and his followers, which actually challenges the clear distinction between the sacred and the profane evident within fundamentalist Islamic theologies. In other words, the diagnosis for hijab is Koranic, but the prescription derives from other sources, which thwarts any attempt to locate various forms of hijab as divinely ordained or, at the very least, Koranically-based. However, the radical division between the sacred and the profane within Islamic theology, which is shared amongst the foundational narratives of all Abrahamic traditions, is precisely what the veil is meant to overcome from the insider’s perspective, even if the veil differs according to the spatiality of its cultural capital, which is only part of the issue at stake in the French veil ban. Summarizing the findings from a qualitative analysis of veil-wearers in contemporary France, Hussain notes, “[…] in most cases, the women interviewed said they adopted the full-face veil as part of a spiritual journey. Many desired to deepen their relationship with God and draw on the actions of the Prophet Mohammed’s wives for guidance. They recalled their feelings of extreme joy and well-being on the first day of wearing a niqab/seetar.”(31) Building on this sentiment, Afshar’s work comments on the relational tensions brought about by the veil for women wearing it in non-Muslim countries and for converts. She observes:
For Muslim converts the decision to wear hijab in the West is a public political assertion of the right to belong to the community of Muslims, but, particularly for convert women, it is not a rejection of home and hearth and kinship relations with their non-Muslim families and parents. Within liberal democratic states and feminist contexts their decision to wear the hijab is a matter of faith and identity and a political act of solidarity, but not one that alienates them from their kin and communities.(32)
The multiple allegiances that Afshar maintains are critical for making sense of the veil-wearer’s sense of self are exactly what have drawn such sharp theological and political attacks from all sides, even if the purported intent of the veil-wearer is spiritual, and it is problematic to divorce the cultural capital invested within its varieties. On the other hand, critics remain skeptical of the collusion between politics and religion that are embedded within the veil and see such spiritual justifications as a sign of the institutional interpellation that is a necessary component of a totalizing Islamic identity, which is also seen as transforming public space into a theo-national space—one where women are inhrently second-class citizens. Arguing against the theological homogenization of identity, Berger contends that “the contemporary use of the hijab seems to ignore or negate sexual difference in the theological order by helping to define and assert a single, overarching Islamic identity, while at the same time firmly establishing women’s specific role in the process: it is as though the particular invisibility of the hijabwearers enabled Islam to stand: in their place.”(33) Berger’s combative assault on the ideology underlying the veil alludes to Žižek’s take on the veil within ultra-orthodox Islamic theology while raising the fundamental question at the heart of the veil debate: have the particularities of female identity been thrown out with the veiled bathwater of having one’s identity always-already mediated within the (public) space of Islam? How might these contending perspectives be reconciled?
Every few months a new headline entitled “Honor Killing” emerges with a picture of a beautiful brown-skinned woman who was horrifically killed by her husband or by some other male-member of her family. Looking through the comments on the article, one can easily find statements such as, “Those barbaric Muslim men,” “glad I’m an infidel,” or the sarcastic “This is Islam – the religion of ‘peace.'” From then on we are led to believe that all around the world women suffer at the hands of Muslim men who have every right to beat and kill them in the name of this term ‘honor.’ (It doesn’t help when some random bookstore decides to sell a book that apparently has a passage saying it’s ok for Muslims to beat their wife.) But why is this crime of honor something only South Asians or Arab men commit? What does it mean to kill someone for honor? What’s the difference between murder and honor killing?
Though no one would ever think of using the term honor violence (we reserve that descriptor for brown people who live somewhere else, motivated by religious something-or-other or tribal something-or-other), one-third of women murdered every year in the United States are killed by their intimate partners. In 2005 that amounted to 1,181 women, or three women every day. To put that in perspective, the UN estimates there are 5,000 honor killings every year in the entire world. 5,000 in a world of 6 billion versus nearly 1,200 in a single country of 300 million. In other words, a woman in America runs a greater risk of being killed by her husband or boyfriend than a woman in Pakistan.
I believe the term ‘honor killing’ has been exotified to group Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men in a different inferior type of category, the ‘other.’ By utilizing this term, South Asian/Muslim/Arab are stereotyped with this ‘inherent’ trait of patriarchy and violence. For example, if your average American (white-skinned) man was found to beat his children, people would collectively abhor this man, but would not categorize all white men as people who beat their children. Perhaps one will find that the man himself came from a ‘troubled past’ – whether it be alcoholism, abuse that he suffered, or other personal experiences that have led him to be a terrible parent. However, if a South Asian man was found to beat his child, suddenly all South Asian men are categorized as oppressive by nature. There is no look into his past to understand what made him become the person he is; it’s because he was born South Asian that there is a belief that he comes from a ‘barbaric/other/inferior/uncouth’ culture that permits this kind of behavior.
This is what the term ‘honor killing’ does for what should be labeled ‘murder’. Suddenly, only South Asian/Muslim/Arab men are capable of murdering their wives, daughters, etc., and suddenly their religious views will be all that matters. Being a Muslim means you somehow were given a God-given right to beat your wife, to kill her for disobeying you. All Muslim men are suspect, for they all have some underlying, dormant ability to murder their loved ones. Can you imagine – as a brown-skinned Muslim, if I’m walking on the street and my father decides to yell at me for doing something wrong, everyone will believe that my father is an oppressive, nasty man, and that all other South Asian men are terrible? It is somehow their proof that all Muslims are untrustworthy. People are led to believe that we come from an ‘inferior/uncouth’ culture that accepts this behavior, the behavior that would claim that the men in my family are capable of murder! And yet, there are no international headlines when your average white man kills his wife, because there is no collective belief that all white men are capable of murder. It is simply the incident of a crazed man who was upset that his wife cheated on her, which led him to do the unspeakable. He wasn’t protecting his ‘honor’ here. He’s crazy.
This is not to delegitimize the very real concerns of domestic violence in Muslim communities, but it is to say that we shouldn’t exotify murder. Murder is murder. Honor killing is murder. It should be labeled as murder. By labeling this crime properly we may be able to ensure that the overwhelming majority of Muslim/South Asian/Arab men are not given this unique status of patriarchal douchebags capable of killing people. And that the overwhelming majority of Muslim/South Asian/Arab women are not oppressed beings that sit around waiting to be freed by the white savior.
Note: This is a post I wrote in 2009. I don’t still agree with everything I wrote (such as the very simple explanation of the ayat provided or implied assumption that men from America are ‘better’), but I thought I needed to add a post.
Just read today an article about a niqabi who defends her right to veil in Al-Azhar University:
Like her mother and two younger sisters, she covers everything including her hands. Dressed that way, “I feel respect. I don’t have anyone looking at me,” she said. “Islam says all the woman’s body is a temptation.”
It is true that one of the reasons the ayats requiring women to veil was revealed was to prevent women from being sexually harassed. But the reasoning behind that was that otherwise there was no distinction between female slaves and Muslims. Hence, the ayat from the Qur’an:
O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognized and not annoyed. [33:59]
(Depending on the translation, this ayat has also been used to promote the niqab by inferring that to draw cloaks around a body means to cover the entire body.)
Yet, many feminist scholars use this same ayat and exegesis to say that the veil is NOT necessary in today’s society. Feminists such as Asma Barlas and Fatma Mernissi state that in today’s society there is no fear of being distinguished incorrectly, and there is less of a fear for being sexually harassed in modern countries than there was in the seventh and eighth centuries.
Last year, the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights did a study on street sexual harassment in the country. They found that 98% of foreign visitors and 83% of Egyptian women experienced sexual harassment from men when walking on the street. The study found that women who wear the hijab or niqab are more likely to be sexually harassed than women who do not observe the hijab. During Eid-ul-Adha alone this year, there were 300 reported cases of sexual harassment in the country.
Therefore, in the case of Egypt it can be said that women who practice Islam and wear the hijab are treated with less respect, and can suffer from sexual harassment. Although, I can say it isn’t as bad in Pakistan, I also was sexually harassed on the street by men even when wearing the hijab in Karachi. Yet here in America, I have absolute no fear of being sexually harassed because of my hijab (A friend of mine told me how a few hijabis in NYC were publicly raped the week after 9/11, but Alhamdulillah, I live in a region that detests hate crimes).
Could this mean that the hijab has permitted Muslim men to act in sexually deviant ways? In the name of modesty or hijab, have men assumed a sort of right to sex over women? By making the argument that a woman’s entire body is a temptation has that reduced us to sexual objects that can be harassed if we don’t wear the hijab properly, or does the hijab inflame men’s desires because we are leaving more to the imagination?
And among His Signs is this that He created for you mates from among yourselves that ye may dwell in tranquility with them and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts); verily in that are Signs for those who reflect. [Qur’an 30.21]
I first reflected on this ayat when, years ago, I read Amina Wadud’s Qur’an and Women. In the book Wadud spent time explaining certain terms in this verse, including azwaj, sukoon, and nafs to get a better understanding of what Qur’anic soulmates really are. For instance, the verb litaskunū (that you may find tranquility) comes from the trilateral root sīn kāf nūn. (In this post I will focus on sukoon.) According to Project Root List the root translates to:
to be quiet, rest/repose/dwell/lodge, inhabit, stop/still, subside. Tranquility, security, mercy, blessing
This idea of tranquility made me wonder what kind of feeling of rest does one obtain upon finding their mate in life? The kind I felt when I was sitting at Al-Masjid al-Nabawi as close to Riaz-Ul-Jannah as possible? An inexplicable tranquility that made one’s soul feel at rest. Is it the idea that one can come to rest after having ascertained who their partner in jannat will be? Or the kind of spiritual tranquility that I felt after climbing to the top of a mountain in Ourika Valley, Morocco in sweltering heat to have discovered a pool of ice cold water? I.e. A materialized metaphor of the completion of the human struggle to reach their goal. Or a completely different feeling?
Wadud seems to say it’s upon reuniting with the last part of your soul that one feels at rest:
In the Qur’an, the essential contingent male/female pairs in humankind function on a physical, social, and moral level. Just as the essential male/female is contingency, so, too are the physical beings; there is a tranquil link between the human pair, man and woman: ‘Among His signs is this: that he created azwaj for you from your own anfus so that you may find rest in them’ (30:21). Man is intended as a comfort to woman; woman is intended as a comfort to man. This statement does not make it a reality. However, the Qur’an clearly depicts a necessary link between the functional members of each gender, like an echo of the contingency between the essential pairs of all created things.
How wonderful would it be to find this necessary link, this comfort, this last part of your soul! Besides Wadud’s explanation, one can simply romantically contemplate this ayat for hours. The Qur’an tells us that The-One exists, and this promise is so beautiful that God states that it is a Sign that we can reflect upon as a proof of His message.
So, after reflecting on what this verse means, how does this ayat apply to those who have yet to get married? An ayat, i.e. a sign, that has become ubiquitous to single, 20-something year old women’s ears when one speaks about marriage or simply attends a wedding. The ayat that perhaps causes many women at my age to secretly lament for they have not seen the beatific promise by God come to reality. An ayat that makes one wonder if it applies to all of humankind when studies have shown that the divorce rate amongst American Muslims has increased dramatically. When so many other Muslimahs don’t seem to be getting married, and after looking at potential suitors one gets dismayed that there aren’t many men that seem to understand how to treat a woman. We all know of the horror stories of domestic violence (which includes the often ignored, due to lack of legitimization perhaps, verbal/emotional abuse) and that many who do seek divorce from terrible husbands are shunned by their community.
What about the mixed signals one gets from society itself? Tranquility comes along with the idea of permanence, but so many love songs today seem to speak of love as an ephemeral quality. They often speak of love in terms of sex (which gets less exciting the less mysterious one is), physical beauty (which fades away upon time), or simply speaking of loving a young woman. Even in Sufi poetry when one speaks of finding God through metaphors of women they speak not of tranquility but of the ecstasy of loving a virgin-women (i.e. someone who they have not spent too much time with such as wife) or sexual pleasure.
There are still a plethora of Sufi poems that deal with yearning for one’s love (as a metaphor for yearning for God’s love):
Hearken to the reed, how it tells its tale
and bemoans the pain of separation:
“Ever since I was cut from my native reed-bed
all the world weeps when it hears my song.”
Trans. Annemarie Schimmel
Are these poems supposed to help those who were unable to find the promised tranquility upon obtaining a divinely sanctioned mate? I am still in my infancy of understanding Sufi poetry, so this is nothing more than a note to myself.) What about the various degrees of love? Which kind of ‘love’ ensures tranquility?
Reason, religion and shame –
love has conquered all three!
-Shah ‘Abdul Latif
Trans. Annemarie Schimmel
Clearly, this is not the kind of love being discussed in the Qur’anic ayat. This madness that compels one not to think rationally is not the kind of love that will bring about tranquility. Yet, it is the kind of love that is frequently discussed in today’s society. Are we being deceived into seeking the wrong kind of love? However, it is undeniably true that upon initially meeting that-someone-special euphoria erupts from acknowledging the existence of the unknown, the facets of a human being that we have yet to understand, and only time (or risky actions) will lead us to the exciting discovery. But once everything is discovered why should we stay? Is that why so many believe that marriage is nothing more than an [patriarchal] archaic institution?
The idea of two people changing together and—more importantly— accepting each others changes over a 50-year span is delusional unless that person is undeniably your best friend in the whole world. Ever. [via. Many more articles can be found on this, I’m only posting this one]
Must we return to the idea of tranquility to be able to approach marriage in a manner that allows permanance, so that we don’t have to be nervous that the person we sign a nikah contract with is the one we’ll inshaAllah be spending eternity with in heaven?
I’m not sure, I haven’t made my mind on this issue, and wonder constantly whether signing a nikah contract would result in the fulfillment of this promise made by God, or will be nothing more than a test of patience. [Off to a tangent– the ‘love’ I can relate to is from the Sufi poetry on Zulaikha and Yusuf, in which their story is really about Zulaikha finding Prophet Yusuf (AS) beautiful for the reason that he exudes the Beauty of God, and as such she is truly seeking God. “People always look at Yusuf’s torn garment-/But who saw Zulaikha’s torn and broken heart?” – Asad Bilgrami. As Annemarie Schimmel writes, Zulaikha is an ” indefatigably seeking, unspeakably suffering, loving woman.”]
Perhaps I should give up on seeking this tranquility, ecstasy, or euphoria. I’m already at the age that one starts seeing a hijabi girl as an old maid. The risk of marriage turning into a test of patience is difficult, and I wonder if someone like I can handle such emotional turmoil. Or perhaps I should pray that I end up with someone like the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam):
Once as he ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam was sitting in a room with ‘Aisha raḍyAllāhu ‘anha fixing his shoes, ‘Aisha happened to look to his blessed forehead and noticed that there were beads of sweat on it. Mesmerized by the majesty of that sight she remained transfixed staring at him long enough for him to notice.
The Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “What’s the matter?” She replied, “If Abu Bukair Al-Huthali, the poet, saw you, he would know that his poem was written for you.” The Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam asked, “What did he say?” She replied,
“Abu Bukair said that if you looked to the majesty of the moon, it twinkles and lights up the world for everybody to see.”
So the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam got up, walked to Aisha, kissed her between the eyes, and said,
“Wallahi ya Aisha, you are like that to me and more.”
[Two things to notice: First, he kissed her on her forehead, a place I consider one usually kisses when someone truly loves another (as per example from my own family.) Second, he said Wallahi. As we know the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam does not lie, so the term Wallahi must only be used to stress his statement. ]
This is not a very well-written or even thought out first post. Oh well.