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?

Friday Links | September 2, 2011

It’s been a busy Eid week, readers. We’re sorry to divert from the normal Friday links, but are presenting a shortened version this week. We’ll be back to our regular programming next week!

A Latina fights stereotypes in her own community about what happens when a woman converts to Islam:

“As soon as I started wearing [the hijab] I got a lot of stares,” said Fikri, 27, who was raised as a Christian in East Harlem’s Thomas Jefferson Houses and became a Muslim seven years ago.

“Even my own Latino people feel like I betrayed them,” she siad. “They see me veiled and they think ‘she’s under [her husband's] grasp’ and that’s not the case. “This is not a bad thing. I’m not oppressed. I’m very comfortable. I just want people to know that I’m the same person.”


Sixteen-year-old Arriza Ann Sahi Nocum is the first Filipina Muslim to win the prestigious Zonta International Young Women for Public Affairs Award. And she’s donating part of her $4,000 prize money to help educate other Muslim women:
“Amid the celebration of the Eid’l Fitr, I lament and continue to be disturbed by the problems affecting the Muslim society in the Philippines, especially the sad plight of Muslim women and children. I am donating part of the US$4,000 prize from Zonta Foundation, which was given to me for my educational advancement, to the Kristiyano-Islam Peace Library (Kris) to finance its literacy programs.”


An Eid celebration turns ugly in a New York amusement park:

Fifteen people were arrested Tuesday at an amusement park in Westchester County over a fight that started after a group of Muslim women wearing hijabs werent allowed on a ride restricting any head gear.

At one point, a small group of women upset they couldn’t ride a rollercoaster went to park managers to ask for a refund. According to officials from the park, the patrons were offered refunds, but then some men and women started arguing with each other, the statement said, “to the point that park security had to intervene.”

Feel free to leave links to stories about Muslim women from this week in the comments!

Friday Links | August 26, 2011

If we’ve missed news about Muslim women from this week, feel free to leave links in the comments!

Friday Links | August 19, 2011

Okay, so our readers have spoken! Our original Friday link format is back! We’ll do our best to keep it this way!

Feel free to leave links in the comments to news about Muslim women from this week that we’ve missed !

Muslim Women Reflect on Ramadan

As most people reading this probably know, it’s Ramadan, which brings some combination of fasting, iftars, overeating, praying, partying, and so on.  In the world of online media, many of us have come to expect the yearly collections of photographs (such as those from the Washington Post and the Boston Globe), as well as written reflections on the meanings and practices of Ramadan.  Below are some selections of Ramadan writing from the blog world, for your reading pleasure.

Chinese Hui Muslim girls read the Qur'an (AP photo, via the Boston Globe)

Over at Beliefnet, MMW‘s own Samya shares her thoughts on the commercialization of Ramadan.  She writes:

When we were children, we used to play outside our houses one hour before Iftar, just to be able to hear the thunderous boom of the Ramadan canon. Every one of us wanted to hear it first to be the first to deliver the news to the family inside the house. We used to wake up for Suhoor on the voice of the “Msahharati”; a man with a drum and a stick who used to wake up people to have their Suhoor, recite some Quran, and then head for the Fajr prayers.

If the 24/7 grinding commercialization machine is to blame for us going off the true Ramadan track, it is television that stands at the center of that machine. I remember in the past, production was meant to entertain Muslims fasting in Ramadan until Iftar time. Today, production aims at “distracting” Muslims from doing their religious duties, by keeping them awake late at night to watch soap operas that are exclusively produced for Ramadan.

Baraka reflects on lessons learned from not being able to fast:

When I started practicing again ten years ago, I picked up fasting too, but it was a chore to get up, to force myself to eat before stumbling back into bed for a brief, bloated sleep before dragging myself into work. I didn’t grumble verbally, but spiritually I most certainly did.

And then I was diagnosed with an auto-immune condition and fasting was no longer an option.

It was then, of course, that I began to fall in love with God and to finally realize how dear each fast is, how precious each Ramadan is. The thought of all those Ramadans that I had voluntarily let slip away horrified me. Every time I read stories of the sahaba and others who fasted well into old age and infirmity because they understood that each fast was a priceless gift, it made me cringe at my own stupidity.

And an oldie but goodie, Mohja Kahf’s Soccer Mom Ramadan:

So sometime when the moon is high, you catch a few winks. Then you wake up, not before sunrise but before dawn which, in case you’ve never been up then, folks, is a whole lot earlier. That’s when you grope groggily for something to sustain you through the fasting day. Some annoyingly chipper Muslims buzz about bright-eyed, making an actual four-square meal in the ghastly dark.  At the other end, some lazy bums skip it, which I don’t allow my husband to do at our house. Somebody’s got to hydrate the teenager.

On the other hand, the man is on his own when I and my teenager are on our periods.  Waking up to make pre-dawn meals for others during the one week when you get a break from fasting is beyond-the-pale Suzy Homemaker behavior, in my book. My period always comes right after I’ve finished indoctrinating the department staff about all the challenges of Ramadan, but haven’t thought to explain the exemption for menstruating women. Chad, the office manager, is shielding me bodily from the brownies, bless his heart any other day, but today I’m trying to reach around him for them. They’re walnut.

“No really, I can eat this week,” I insist.
“Sure, Mohja.” Chad raises an eyebrow. “Riiight. Listen, I won’t tell if you want to cheat.”
Why isn’t this stuff in a sitcom?

What else have you all been writing and reading this Ramadan?

Friday Links | August 12, 2011

NPR looks at how religious leaders in Pakistan are misleading women about birth control and family planning:

Zakaria says being poor should in no way limit having babies. Referencing the Quran, he says, “God will provide the resources and no one will starve.”

“There are clear instructions in the Holy Quran, in which Allah says, ‘We give you food, and we will also give food to your children. Food is not your responsibility, but God’s,’ ” he says.

The mufti says the Quran also instructs that children must not be deprived of a proper upbringing. However, in Pakistan 38 percent of all children under 5 are underweight, and according to government data, malnutrition is widespread among mothers. The lack of resources in Pakistan today invites the question whether the mufti and his teachings are not consigning millions of people to misery.

The West Australian reports that Hanan Anwan’s dispute with local soccer authorities about an opposing player attempting to remove Anwan’s hijab during a game has become a larger issue about insensitivity toward Muslims:

But Football West’s insistence the appeal be heard at the Inglewood Hotel has touched off claims of insensitivity towards the religious belief of Ms Anwan, who has never been to a hotel or consumed alcohol.

“It’s turned from a red card into a completely different issue,” Ms Anwan said. “Something as simple as me just wanting to appeal against my red card so I don’t have to miss games has turned into, I don’t know what you would call it … racist issue? A discrimination issue? I don’t know.”

Mr Doutre said the decision flew in the face of international body FIFA’s programs to promote tolerance and diversity.

“I think FIFA, the (international) governing body, would be absolutely ropable about this, to find that a governing body that is representing them in WA is behaving like this.”

On Monday, Noranda club secretary Erika Blake tried to have the hearing shifted to another venue on the grounds of cultural insensitivity.

The reply from Football West general manager of competitions and operations Keith Wood said in part: “(W)e understand your point but we live in a country and society in which the consumption of alcohol is permitted and part of Australian culture.”

The Washington Post discusses Muslim women’s shopping habits in the summertime. What’s interesting about this is NewsBusters’ compare-and-contrast piece on how WaPo views “modest fashion:”

Overall, the tone of Lake’s piece was clear: Muslims can be fashionable while being modest and faithful to religious tradition, but it’s a shame that mainstream retail shops don’t carry clothing that caters to them.

By contrast, the 2006 column by then-Post fashion critic Robin Givhan derided the notion of women choosing modest swimwear, singling out the Wholesome Wear line.

Feel free to post links to news stories from this week about Muslim women in the comments!