Proving Muslim Women Are (wait for it) Normal

The Huffington Post’s coverage of Islam and Muslims has sometimes missed the mark, and at other times has made some good points. This is due in part to the utilization of op-ed writers in various sections, including the Religion and Science section, which leaves coverage and conversations open to the inspiration of a wide variety of beliefs and opinions.

In an op-ed piece posted earlier this month in the Religion section, the HuffPost once again missed the mark, unfortunately falling into the clichéd need to explain the behaviors of Muslim women.

Shockingly, the headscarf also doesn't prevent women from eating. (Image via Deutsche Welle)

The piece, titled “What Do Muslim Women Do for Fun?” was written by Engy Abdelkader, a human rights activist, lawyer, and co-founder president of the New Jersey Muslim Lawyers Association (NJMLA). Despite Ms. Abdelkader’s clearly noble endeavors in working to secure human rights, and civil rights and liberties for members of the American-Muslim community, this article had me less than enthusiastic of its insinuations.

The article is essentially an answer to the question, “What do headscarf-donning Muslim women do for fun?” In the article, Ms. Abdelkader lists email responses to this question, which she received from “practicing Muslims in America.” The women, ranging in age from 24-32, basically gave two-lined responses, naming activities that any other American woman—and even some non-American women—might list, such as going to the movies or out to dinner with friends, and reading novels or playing with their children.

At first I thought this article was a joke, intended to be a satirical response to similar “othering” questions and discussions. I quickly found out that this was for real; yes, we actually went to task explaining how the “headscarf” does not inhibit a Muslim woman’s ability to have fun. By posing this question, and even by making the response article-worthy, Ms. Abdelkader plays into pre-conceived notions about Muslim women, which suppose some element of mystery or exoticness, by implying that their actions do, in fact, need explaining.

The specific emphasis on “particularly those who wear the headscarf” is even more bizarre. If faith informs our actions, then why does the placement of a piece of fabric on our heads, or lack thereof, automatically imply a shift in behaviors or actions?

You can even talk on the phone while wearing hijab! Who knew? (Image via Religion Link)

Furthermore, if we constantly reiterate that Muslim women are not a homogenous group then how can such lines even be drawn—isn’t it already assumed that notions of fun will differ from person to person, not because of what they wear or don’t wear, but because of different personality types?

Ms. AbdelKader’s closing line, “I guess girls do just want to have fun (headscarf notwithstanding),” contains in it a tone of revelation, once again, reiterating this idea that “headscarf wearing” American Muslim women are expected to be markedly different from non-Muslim American women or non-headscarf-wearing American Muslim women, even in their notions of fun.

While it is not news that a “headscarf-wearing” American Muslim woman might not likely be seen tanning in a bikini on the beach, more often than not, notions of fun are informed by culture and we are, after all, talking about American women here. Surprise, surprise, even “headscarf wearing” American Muslim women can be seen participating in activities which are considered popular American pastimes!

I can appreciate the intention to portray to the American public that Muslim women are in fact “normal,” but I have to ask, why do Muslim women even have to prove it?

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