I Do Not Support the Burka/Niqab Ban

So France has banned the burqa/niqab. I blogged about showing some niqab solidarity way back in 2006. That post, which I had forgotten about is now trending on my blog so I decided to re-read it. So many promises made, ones that should be kept:

I promise not to judge people by their clothing. I promise to defend the right of women to decide for themselves how they wish to dress. I promise to not take any positive or negative experiences I have had with sisters dressed a certain way to extrapolate and make generalizations about them or others with similar fashion choices. I promise to not sit idly by while people try to force you to uncover or cover to fit their perceptions of modesty.

More than four years later, my views on niqab have shifted. At some point after my conversion, I flirted with the idea of wearing niqab but ultimately decided against it even though I had purchased several Saudi-style over-the-head abaya/niqab outfits. I never wore them outside of my house. I tried them on but found them completely unwieldy. My peripheral vision was diminished, it would have taken some getting used to the everyday walking, sitting, driving, and praying, especially getting up from prostration. And certainly, my family already not particularly enthused with my decision to wear hijab would not have been pleased. Oh, but isn’t it about pleasing God, first and foremost? Perhaps, and yes, ideally, but there’s often a great deal of people-pleasing that goes into our clothing choices, and this is true for Muslims and non-Muslims, both secular and religious.

I believe my decision to wear hijab and abaya was primarily motivated by a desire to increase in my God-consciousness. The decision wasn’t well-received by those closest to me and at that time my main contact with Muslims was through online forums. When I was thinking about wearing niqab, I asked some other niqabis for their advice and input, I was curious about their experience and feelings regarding their choice. One sister in particular, who no longer wears niqab, advised me not to wear it out of the communal pressure that sort of “niqab is better and more pious” talk that permeates many conservative communities.

In the end, I didn’t feel then and don’t feel now that niqab is obligatory or even preferable. I don’t think it would bring me closer to God nor do I think it’s necessary go to such an extreme (for me) level of covering in order to simply exist as Muslim woman in society. The struggle for some of us is to blend our cultural identities with our clothing choices. We want to dress modestly but  neither wish to look “weird” nor assume cultural practices alien to our own culture.

However, my personal feelings are beside the point. To force a woman to cover or uncover has nothing to do with justice and liberal values. Yes, women are forced to cover and they are also forced to uncover every single day by other Muslims and by non-Muslims and that’s really very sad and something we should all strive against. But the way to do it, is not by limiting choice and freedom, even if we disagree with those choices.

I’ve been in several situations (renewing my driver’s license, working in a hospital, working for TSA) where I was asked or rather told that I needed to take of my hijab. That’s never a pleasant feeling and if you’re not strong or you do not know or feel able to defend your rights, you may give in to that pressure. In a similar way, I’ve been in positions where women that may not wear hijab have asked me for advice about whether or not they have to or should wear hijab in specific social situations. I tend to say, “no, you do not have to wear it” and to emphasize that it is their own personal choice and comfort which is paramount. And that I will support them in whatever they decide.

It is this support that I think is critical and often missing. The support to choose for oneself despite the pressures, which seek to remove that choice. Nice clip on CNN of a debate between Hebah Ahmed, a niqabi,  and Mona Eltahawy. For me, seeing Hebah and Mona is a victory of sorts, two Muslim women with two different ideas about dress comfortably explaining for themselves why and what they believe. I find it disturbing for someone who believes in women’s rights to try to deny women the right to choose a manner of dress for themselves. And I also find it equally disturbing that some of those who claim to support the right of women to choose for themselves in this case would quite happily deny women the right of choice if empowered in other settings.

I know there are many women who continue to wear hijab or niqab simply out of the pressure to conform despite their wishes to not wear it. And I’ve seen women forced to take off their hijab or niqab for reasons of employment or safety or unjust laws like those in France or Turkey or elsewhere. I’m for choice, yours and mine.

Previously,

Hijabi Monologues Review

Drop-Top Convertible Hijab

Caryle Murphy, Yasir Qadhi, & the Headscarf

Ilm Summit | Behind the Scenes of the CNN Interview

In my earlier post on Deborah Feyerick’s story partially filmed at Ilm Summit this past August, I mentioned I would blog about some of the behind-the-scenes happenings. After interviewing the various instructors at Ilm Summit, counterterrorism expert and occasional Muslim Matters’ contributor Mohamed Elibiary helped arranged an interview with bloggers from Muslim Matters.

Meanwhile, I was eagerly awaiting the start of that night’s wild card session with Jamaludeen Zarabozo. A respected and self-taught convert to Islam with extensive knowledge of the Islamic sciences, his classes and books are popular in conservative Muslim circles. It was expected that he would share some of the key elements of his story of conversion and how he learned the Islamic sciences with us.

I was all set to learn something new and take notes and just as Zarabozo sat down to begin, someone came up to tell me or passed me a note (should have written this earlier, memory is now a bit hazy) that my presence was requested outside the banquet hall, which had been converted into our classroom. I was pretty disappointed to be leaving the session I had most looked forward to all day especially as I was not at all sure of what was in store for me outside. As it turned out there was a bit of a Muslim Matters huddle, preparing for an interview opportunity with CNN on a story about online efforts within the Muslim community to counter the message of extremism.

Courtesy of MM

So often in the media, Islam is represented through the voices of men so it was seen as desirable to have at least one woman join in the interview and that’s how I ended up there as the token Muslim woman. I was a bit anxious to return to the wild card session, now in progress, but was somewhat resigned to the fact that I would miss it. Perhaps, I could have caught the end of it had there not been some miscommunication. For what seemed like at least 20 minutes or more, both the MM team and the CNN team were sitting near each other at tables in the cavernous lobby. As it turned out, we were both waiting for the other group to signal readiness to commence the interview.

Once it was sorted out that both sides were ready, a few awkward moments soon followed. I didn’t intend to wear my black AlMaghrib hoodie but the videographer wasn’t sure where or how to clip on my microphone due to my hijab. So I quickly put my hoodie back on and he worked out the mic issue in a way that made me acutely uncomfortable threading the mic over my clothes and hijab but under the hoodie. I thought to myself, is this what I’m missing the wild card for? I then made a mental note to always do the microphone myself and most likely could have worked out clipping it to my hijab. Though, I must admit the CNN mics were nice.

Next bit of awkwardness, in order to fit all four of us on camera for a wide angle shot, we had to sit rather close together. Much closer than one might sit naturally in order to maintain a level of personal space. Not much that could be done about that.

As the interview progressed my colleagues made some excellent well-packaged talking points. I don’t think I said anything extraordinary. I rambled through my first response, distracted, I briefly lost my train of thought. A small crowd of students had gathered around us to watch the interview. I just hoped someone was taking good notes inside the hall. By the time we finished, it was pretty late and Deborah Feyerick, her producer, and the videographer had had a long day but were still very cordial and gracious.

After we wrapped up the interview, I headed back into the hall but the wild card had ended. I had missed the whole session despite being prepared for it and staking out my seat in the front row, which at Ilm Summit is no small feat. To get a front row seat, one has to come early, eat quickly, leave off sleep and socializing, and sometimes negotiate with the crew from California who would like to think they own first dibs on those seats.

I asked my trusted note-taking companions about the wild card session to see if any of them had notes but none did. Continue reading “Ilm Summit | Behind the Scenes of the CNN Interview”