I have a heretical admission to make, given that March Madness is underway.
Now that I no longer live in Boston and now that professional sports teams are gangs of spoiled prima donnas lacking any local roots and/or loyalty to their "hometowns", it’s pretty hard for me to identify enough with a team to get terribly worked about about its success or failure (of course, my indifference lifted briefly during the Red Sox’ historic triumph over the Curse of the Bambino at the 2004 World Series; to a Bostonian, that’s the next best thing to the arrival of the Mahdi).
But it took all my will power not to cheer in my cubicle when I watched this powerful, 7-minute segment on ESPN on the Lady Caliphs, a girl’s basketball team at the WD Muhammad High School in Atlanta. Watch it before the link gets taken down.
To my great surprise, I actually got choked up watching this. This, as Shabana can ruefully attest, is an exceedingly rare occurrence, cold, analytical northman that I am. But it really touched touched me. I found it inspiring on so many levels (i.e., race, gender, the indigenization of Islam in America).
In keeping with my penchant for being a party-pooper (see my sniping last year at Muslim pride at Iranian women who scaled Mt. Everest), as you watch the wonderful segment and find your bosom swelling with pride at these girls’ achievement, stop and ask yourself whether you would’ve supported them.
Would you have given these girls the emotional and political support they needed? Or would you joined the whisperers and critics whose neo-Victorian guilt trips about what is "proper" behavior for Muslimah prevent many Muslim women from participating freely in the world around them? Would you have made them obsess so much about the "immodesty" of them being physically active in public that they would’ve quit? (In most cases, only wealthy upper-class women have the luxury of exercising in private or fully segregated facilities; the rest must often choose between their health and their reputation thanks to our skewed priorities.)
This isn’t to bash immigrants–my wife is a quasi-FOB (shoot, in some things, she’s a straight-up auntie) and of course many of my bestest friends hail from other lands–but it has to be asked: Can can you even *imagine* a "normal" (read: immigrant-led) Islamic high school being supportive enough of women’s athletics to produce a team like this? I ask this as
(A case in point: The story of a friend of ours is is particularly apropos. A young, 2nd generation Muslim woman, as a girl she excelled at basketball and found it a pleasant means to make social inroads at in the mainstream community, but eventually gave it up because of all the grief she got from her foreign-born parents and the local Muslim community, even though she played with hijab, sweats, etc. )
Another example of the amazing things that can happen when American Muslims are allowed to shed many of these arbitrary taboos that are foisted upon us from abroad and lead normal, balanced lives that aren’t hamstrung by a constant fear of being culturally inauthentic.
This openness is a trait that I still find most often among African-American Muslims, who never had the luxury of deluding themselves with the pernicious fantasy that American Muslims can rely on norms developed on the other side of the globe without reference to American life to guide them through their lives here.