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Muslim women redefine feminism

Hanan Salem

  • Issue date: 5/1/08


They speak in a heavily accented version of English, suffocating beneath tent-like cloaks. Voiceless and enslaved, these Muslim women wrap themselves up in head scarves in public.

While the rest of American women take the slightest sunray as a signal for baring flesh and flaunting assets, these fully covered women stand out as more than unfashionable but as victims of oppression.

Such are the tragic misconceptions of American Muslim women-barbaric, veiled housewives victimized by an Islamic lifestyle.

To about 10 million Muslim women, that lifestyle includes the female head covering, an Islamic dress code called Hijab and a symbol of modesty and freedom.

No, not of oppression but of true liberation. But how can restrictive dress be anything but suppressive?

According to the North American Council for Muslim Women, Hijab liberates females from the shackles of male scrutiny and sexual objectification. Muslim women who adhere to the Islamic dress code, as ordained by God in their holy book the Quran, are judged based on their minds and not on their physical appearance.

In a society where most women cannot walk in the presence of a man without being visually undressed and checked out like potential sex partners, the Hijab serves as a shield from such dehumanization.

Through loose coverage and modesty, Muslim women reassert their humanity, their worth as more than just another plunging neckline.
Islam says that every woman is a jewel and when she respects herself enough to preserve her beauty for herself and her loved ones, she rejects being objectified by a society that does not value her.

As a Muslim women and one who non-verbally proclaims it from a half mile away, I have been a target of pitiful double-takes, harassment, the "aren't you hot under the there" remarks that stem from those who assume a headscarf is drilled like a screw permanently into my skull.

Not only are these pathetic misconceptions, they are based on biased media. How dare they portray Islamic modesty as oppressive when, in our culture, 1 out of every 6 American women are rape victims?

If not rape, 1 out 3 American women have been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime, according to the U.S Department of Justice.

Consider our American lifestyle, women subjecting themselves to plastic surgery, drugs, and diet under societal pressures. Even at the age of 15, girls are sticking their fingers down their throats and retching three times day out of desperation to fit Kate Moss' jeans.

And they claim Muslim women are the oppressed ones? Just because we don't look like what Cosmo or Calvin Klein think we should?

By all means, we choose the Islamic way of liberation, one that doesn't sacrifice health and self esteem. Not mute or meek, a Muslim women is valued for her intellect and personality rather than curves or cleavage.

It's because Islam has raised their status that Muslim women are liberated at a whole new level, one high above any traffic-stopping Hooters billboard.

Viewing Comments 1 - 1 of 1

Janet Baker 

posted 5/01/08 @ 3:08 PM PST

I like very much the fact that Muslim women are helping make the world a place where spirit is honored over body, where chastity is the norm. There is something in me, though, that yearns more for the world that Jesus wanted, when he told men, 'Put the veil in your own heart,' I'm sorry I can't cite the exact spot.

I love that quote more. If only men would take up the challenge of chastity and let women circulate modestly in the public sphere, and men would let them. Without the need for covering completely up. It's a higher ideal, it seems to me. Christ meant that he would re-make mankind by the resurrection and that's why he postulated a society where men could be good, with the help of the Church and the sacraments, and prayer and fasting.

Whoever replies, 'It's impossible,' I hear you--and still I yearn. It's the most beautiful world, the most beautiful story, the most beautiful mind that conceived it, it's enchanting. It's socialism and medievalism and buddhism and everything fragrant rolled into one.

Myself, I dress modestly, and carry myself modestly, and men mostly leave me alone. Oh, I'm sixty four, guess that helps. But it was always true, throughout my life. 

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