Love in a Headscarf. A book by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed

This book got a warm recommendation by one of the biggest Danish news papers.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed blogs at spirit21, and she is the winner of brass crescent awards for best blog and best female blog.She writes:

I took the book to a number of publishers whose commissioning editors loved the story, but couldn’t see it fitting with the existing mould of books about Muslim women. “We need an ‘alias’ of a book that is already out there so people understand how it relates to previous books,” they explained, meaning it should be either a forced marriage story or one of escape from Islam.

With such black and white views about the stories that Muslim women are permitted to tell, how can it ever be possible to create an understanding of our diversity and complexity?

I hope my book brings a fresh perspective to the discussion about Muslim women. But there is a serious question to be asked – will it provoke the Muslim community to look into itself and wonder why these lazy stereotypes exist? Sometimes as Muslims we lack an intellectual honesty about ourselves, and are not brave enough to tell our stories as human beings on a journey, with all our flaws. If publishers are guilty of monolithic misery memoirs, then Muslims must also take some of the blame for not sharing our universal experiences in a language and context that everyone can relate to.

To find out more, click here.

Niqab (Face Veiling) Is Islamic

Dervish on the recent order for a Muslim woman in Canada to remove her niqab during her testimony in court, and she tells you that the Niqab  is Islamic whether you like it or not.

To quote:

For someone like myself (an Anglo-Celtic convert), the veil is also a manifestation of Muslim identity where skin-colour, ethnicity and language do not link me to Muslim identity. I do not wear the face-veil much in the West (I have from time-to-time) only because it is often interpreted as threatening to non-Muslims who misunderstand it. But I have to confess I do like the privacy that the face-veil offers me, and I am comfortable in drawing on a long history of Islamicity of face-veiling as a manifestation of the positive virtue of haya’ (bashfulness). As a feminist, I completely reject that any man has a right to tell me I cannot wear it, or that my wearing it is
not Islamic. It may not be particular interpretation of the religion, but he does not have the right to tell me how to interpret my religion for myself.

The Veil

I have heard so many times how some Muslim Male scholars referred to the Hijab/ veil or Niqaab as a 30 g cloth. It reveals indeed their disdain and prejudice for Muslim women and how much deep the Western Orientalists grasped their way of thinking without realising it.

John Borneman reviews The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore and Politics ed by Jennifer Heath [LRB Vol. 30 No. 24] I have chosen the book review because it got quite a lot publicity in press media, and I’ll will quote only this passage from John Borneman:

The veil, in whatever form, is not and never will be just a scrap of cloth, as Taylor wishes the hijab to be thought of, because it is worn in order to symbolise something, or many things. Veils are not, as many of the contributors to The Veil want to think, merely a diversion or distraction from issues of more substance to more women, such as poverty, the distribution of rights, the allocation of resources, sociopolitical disenfranchisement and violence. Attending to these issues, important as they are, will not necessarily affect the ways in which the veil’s meanings are made.

John Borneman, who teaches anthropology at Princeton, is the author of Syrian Episodes: Sons, Fathers and an Anthropologist in Aleppo.

King Abdullah is My Hero


 This morning while waiting at a stop light in the back of my car, I happened to notice that the car in front of mine had a sticker on its bumper that was a ban sign going across a woman driving. It just got to me. Isn’t it enough that we are not allowed to drive but to have someone rub our noses in it with this sort of thing! What difference does it make to that ignorant fool with a sticker if the driver in the car next to him has a female or male anatomy? And to people who say it’s a matter of freedom of speech, I say grow up. Freedom of speech has limits when it infringes on the rights of others. Would it be OK if he had an anti Muslim driving sticker?

Talking in the masjid – Women

Inner Reflections Transcribed writes about a consequence of segregation and audio/video feeds to the women’s area of masajid:

But over at the women’s side – whoa, it was a proper melee! The women were sitting in their own wee huddles, nattering away about everything and anything. The children were making music of their own in their wee corners. And it made me wonder why this was the case?

If the Imam was in sight, would these women sit and talk as they were? Most probably not. They’d even tell their children off for making a racket

I would MUCH prefer to be able to SEE the speaker when he is speaking rather than have audio projected into a room. The voice which fills the room acts like background noise and when there isn’t any chance you can offend the speaker (since he can’t see you anyway) by actively tuning out, then talking over him isn’t given a second thought. Ruining the speech/talk for other members of the congregation?

On the topic of speaker, if you do happen to be in the same room, then to be able to SEE the speaker helps a lot. Having designated seating for women at the back of the hall, where everybody infront resembles ants, or the only view is the back of peoples heads does nothing for me.  On top of which, from such an angle the speaker looks like a fat blur distracts and causes my concentration and attention span to dwindle and deteriorate fast. Yes I used to sit near the front of the lecture hall at Uni for exactly the same reasons.

Are mosques, and MSA’s going to change things around so women have a clear and equal view of the speaker? Or are we to be relegated to spots where a pair of binocular’s and/or a good pair of ears are required?

This is a situation that’s unique to Western Muslim societies, and it will be a mark of maturity of the community to actively address it and solve it to the satisfaction of all parties.

Single, Muslim, and female

It is hard to choose one paragraph that sums up Shabana Mir ‘s article, since she talks about various and important subjects.

In traditional faith communities, single women are usually looked upon with fear and desire. They are objects of desire because they hold out the promise of a traditional religious home complete with traditional wife and progeny to perpetuate the lineage and community. The unfulfilled promise they seem to hold out is ripe for the plucking. But they are also feared, and as objects of fear, they inspire often intense monitoring behaviors. In traditional communities, single women are watched and judged far more intensely than are single men. Single women’s main marketable commodity – virginity – is guarded and desired – and feared because it is capable of being spent – and with this spending, the honor of the collective may also be metaphorically dissipated. Men’s honor does not have far-reaching implications for the community; men are the community and the arbiters of its honor. Women’s honor is guarded and watched as well as cherished and honored.
When single women become numerous in a faith community, leaders and gatekeepers worry. Or should worry. First, because single women, unlike men, may not seek sexual fulfillment (legitimately) outside of wedlock. Second, because they, in fact, can.

And the issue of the “surplus” of single women in the Western community:

Traditional Muslims hold that Muslim women may not marry outside the faith and that Muslim men may marry Muslims, Christians or Jews, but there the choices end. So is there a smaller pool of Muslim men available for Muslim women because some of them are marrying non-Muslims? There is little by way of lifestyle-related statistics for American Muslims, so it is hard to tell whether there are just more Muslim women than men, whether Muslim men’s marriages outside the faith impacts numbers significantly, or because some men do marry abroad, traveling abroad to their parents’ birthplaces to enter arranged marriages. The last-mentioned is neither here nor there because some Muslim women also marry abroad. However, since cultural patterns of gender norms affect women intimately, Muslim women are often heard loudly protesting against the idea of marrying a man from the motherland. For many Muslim men, on the other hand, marrying a woman from the motherland means marrying a momma-replica who looks pretty and is “sweet.” (The reality may or may not be so).

Koonji insists that the dearth of eligible men is not the only reason for marriage outside the faith:

Part of the problem is what I discussed earlier in this article, modes of courtship or the lack thereof. Traditional Muslim organizations and contexts have often insisted on forms of gender segregation that sometimes make it extremely difficult to meet and identify spouses. Under the motto “God will provide,” conservative Muslims have frowned upon single men and women talking to each other. Much “talking,” I found in my research on college campuses, therefore takes place on the internet and the phone, because it is less visible and, in fact, not really happening.

“Courting” is rejected by the more traditional circles, though many have come to realize that they have to give way. But this grudging “look-away” acceptance will have to develop into something more concrete and theorized if Muslim men and women are to find mates within the community.

Svend once spoke of an Islamic Society of North America convention matrimonial event that took place about a decade ago. Single men and women were chatting with each other, under the eye of organizers. Suddenly an elderly gentleman entered, observed, and reprimanded them, “Brothers, this is not permissible. You should not be doing this.” Svend says, “I wanted to tell him, ‘Uncle, you should be grateful they’re here, and not at the bar across the street from the convention center.’” Because the bar is indeed there, and if Uncle doesn’t go there, many of the kids do.

Shabana Mir is an assistant Professor at Oklahoma State University, and runs the
Koonj blog

Via Wajahat Ali