Women in Islam: An Inside Islam recap


Farah Pandith, a former radio guest on Inside Islam. Photo: www.state.gov

One of the most popular topics here on Inside Islam has been gender, primarily focusing on women. That’s no coincidence, given that Islam’s attitude towards women is generally portrayed in Western media as retrograde and repressive.

And there’s certainly plenty to criticize. Over our four years, we have highlighted cases like that of Amina Filali, a Moroccan girl who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist, and Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned for adultery. We have also addressed issues such as domestic abuse and how key texts have been interpreted to discriminate against women, to ban women drivers, and to justify practices like child marriage.

But while our goal has never been to whitewash problematic issues, at the same time the standard mainstream rhetoric regarding Muslim women oversimplifies things and only further disempowers them. There has been a general inability to look beyond the veil when discussing Muslim women. Non-Muslim women or men who preach to Muslim women because they choose to cover their heads or accept certain circumstances tend to fall into the trap of portraying all Muslim women as a single entity without agency. They miss the movement within Islam itself to empower women.

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Some women wear cloth on their heads. Why the obsession?

On Tuesday, guest writer Nausheen Pasha-Zaidi wrote about various perceptions of women wearing the headscarf, one of many times that we have looked at hijab and the various perceptions associated with it here on Inside Islam. Last spring, an Inside Islam radio show focused on the life experiences of three Muslim American female authors from the collection I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim. The show talked about a variety of issues, but almost every single caller to the show—(seemingly) both non-Muslim and Muslim—had comments or questions about the hijab. Reem wrote a post highlighting an NPR story on Muslim American women removing the veil, and she asked an important question: why are people so fascinated with women wearing the veil?

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Perceptions of the Head Scarf

Nausheen Pasha-Zaidi

As Reem pointed out yesterday, many see a connection between the beating death of Shaima Alawadi and the shooting of Trayvon Martin because both hate crimes are connected to the clothes the victims were wearing. In light of that connection, this is the first of two posts this week that will examine hijab and the various perceptions associated with it.

Nausheen Pasha-Zaidi is the author of The Color of Mehndi and a doctoral student of international psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Zaidi is studying the influence of the Muslim headscarf on perceptions of attractiveness, intelligence, and employability.

There is no argument among Muslim women that the headscarf is a necessary component of Islamic prayer; however, the incorporation of the hijab in public life continues to be an area of contention. Within the Muslim community, the hijab has often been used as a litmus test to determine the piety of Muslim women. Not surprisingly, women who wear the hijab are able to gain a higher level of social prestige within their Muslim communities, while the public display of their faith has made them more susceptible to discrimination in secular Western society. By publicly declaring their faith, those who adopt the hijab are often perceived as conveying a greater passion in their observation of Islamic practices than those who confine their religiosity to the private sphere. As a result, the decision to wear or not wear the hijab in public life has a profound influence on the identity and group affiliation of Muslim women.

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Are faith and fashion compatible?

A piece from Rabia Z.'s collection

One of the most persistent images of Muslim women is the veil, in its many forms. Whether it is hijab, niqab, or burqa, there is an assumption that Muslim women are not concerned with fashion and that they are defined by black clothing and an obsession to cover up. However, designers like Rabia Z. and the debut of Ala Dergi, a Turkish magazine dedicated to hijab fashion,  defy this stereotype and demonstrate that faith can be compatible with fashion.

Rabia Z., of Emirati and Afghani origin, designs with the idea that modesty can still be stylish. Her collections feature colorful long flowing garments that are stylish but are mindful of religious tenets. Rabia’s collections have received international acclaim with shows around the world. In the United States, her clothing was featured in Miami Fashion Week in 2010 and most recently at Casa La Femme in New York. Continue reading

There Is More to Muslim Women than Veiling

A participant with and without hijab

There always seems to be a fascination with how Muslim women cover. Whether they wear a hijab, a niqab, or the full-on burqa, the intrigue around it never seems to be abate. The interest goes beyond why they cover to why some Muslim women do not cover, and more specifically to why a Muslim woman would put on a hijab and then take it off.

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Muslim Hipsters

Environmental Activist Ibrahim Abdul-Matin

On the next Inside Islam Radio Show, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin will discuss his environmental jihad and the Islamic principles that influence his eco-conscious activism. Abdul-Matin will also speak at a public event held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Abdul-Matin, a New York City native and Brooklynite, in many ways represents a new wave of Muslim-Americans born and raised in the United States. Stylish, artistically inclined, and socially conscious, the 34-year-old Abdul-Matin represents a growing number of hip and influential Muslims. These Muslim “hipsters,” prominent in artistic, academic, and social justice movements, often come from urban middle- to upper-class backgrounds and have a strong interest in a particular subcategory of global pop culture. Continue reading

Hijab

Mariam Sobh Photo: isocko.com

Mariam Sobh is a broadcast journalist based in Chicago and founder/editor-in-chief of Hijabtrendz.com. She is also a contributor to a book of essays entitled, “I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim.” Sobh, and other authors from this collection will be talking on the UW-Madison campus on May 5th. look for more details soon on Inside Islam.

When most people hear the word hijab it conjures up images of Muslim women covered from head to toe without a spec of skin or eyes showing.

Hijab is a word in Arabic that translates into a type of “covering.”

When someone observes the rules of hijab, it typically consists of a headscarf and clothing that covers all of the body modestly, leaving only the face, hands and feet exposed.

To make things a little bit easier to remember, hijab is basically the dress code that Muslim women observe. It should be loose and not see-through. It should draw attention away from a woman’s body parts and get people to focus more on her intellect.

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Banning the Face Veil

This past month, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, shocked many by issuing a ban on students and teachers wearing the niqab, or face veil, in Al-Azhar University or its adjoining schools, specifically in all female settings. Tantawi’s decision to issue this ban stemmed from an interaction that he had with a secondary school student on one of his visits. According to many sources, Tantawi asked the girl why she was wearing the niqab in an all girl classroom and demanded she remove it. He added that niqab is not part of Islam, but is rather a cultural custom. His decree came soon after this interaction that was criticized by many in Egypt. There were then reports from female students who wear the niqab at Cairo University (not affiliated with Al-Azhar) that they were being prevented from entering the dormitories unless they removed their niqab. Continue reading

Oregon Act: No Religious Attire in Schools?

Oregon State Capitol, Photo by Bonnie King

Oregon State Capitol, Photo by Bonnie King

I wrote a post last week about a resolution to add the Muslim holidays to school calendars in New York. Today, I head over to the other coast of the United States where a new act intended to broaden religious freedoms has several groups, among them Muslims and Sikhs, worried over one of its clauses. The Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act (Senate Bill 786) requires employers to accommodate employees’ observance of religious holidays and wearing of religious apparel in the workplace place provided that it doesn’t pose significant difficulty or expense to the businesses. On its surface this seems like a positive and tolerant step towards religious diversity. Continue reading

Art and the Veil

The hijab—the veil—is one of the most visual signs of Islam. Many see the scarf and associate it with, well, oppression. Some within the Muslim communities perceive it as a way to determine a Muslim women’s adherence to faith. Amidst all these perceptions, wherever they may come from, are Muslim women who go beyond those discussions and use artistic expression to engage the question of the veil: What does it mean to those who wear it and those who do not?

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