This originally appeared on Safiya’s blog Outlines.
A lot of the discourse of Muslim women both here and elsewhere concerns the battle to speak for ourselves. To define our religion, our beliefs on our terms, without the headpatting and correcting of outsiders. Fatemeh’s post at Altmuslimah gives a thorough outline of the usual mistakes made by those who seek to defend Muslim women, without actually listening to them.
How disappointing to view an article on The Guardian website, Rahila Gupta headed, ‘The Burka is a cloth soaked in blood’.
I have to admit, that my initial response to such a statement was to think, “Only if you’re not wearing enough sanitary protection and that could apply to any item of clothing”.
Sadly, the article did not go on to tackle laundry issues, instead it focused on the narcoleptic topic of Muslim Women are Suffering in Their Scarves and I Care About Them More Then You Do.
First, Muslim women are told what their identity priorities should be. Gender should come before, race or communal identity. As for religious identity, Gupta does not mention that, so presumably is is not a valid option.
Then comes the bold statement that, “This is a cloth that comes soaked in blood”. At this point one feels like patting Gupta gently on the hand and explaining that however savage she’s heard Muslims are, we don’t like to wear our clothes soaked with blood, in fact we view blood as a rather unclean substance.
Gupta choses to back up this bold statement by invoking the three countries which must be named whenever talking about Muslim women: Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan. According to Gupta, no discussion of the burqa or hijab is possible without mentioning these three countries. This is despite the fact that the majority of Muslim women do not live in either of those countries.
In fact, to her, it is we Western Muslim sisters who are the silencers: by talking about our own experiences of hijab, we are dismissing the suffering of our Afghan, Iranian and Saudi sisters. This is despite the all charity work, awareness-raising and many articles, both in new and old media written by Muslim women concerning this very subject. Again, in her rush to save the Muslim women, she actually ignores the work and dialogue of Muslim women, implying that we cannot help ourselves.
After listing and dismissing what she feels are common reasons Western Muslim women might wear the hijab, she then jumps to the conclusion that women are raped, even when covered, so why bother covering?
Well, because if we believe that a women is raped because a rapist raped her, rather then because she was wearing X, Y or Z, then this means that women’s clothing is immaterial in any discussion of violence and rape against women. So therefore, just because a hijab or burqa does not provide protection against rape, does not mean a women cannot choose to wear it.
The clear problem with this article is that Gupta feels she knows what is best for Muslim women. Her final statement is that women should not have to bear the brunt of men’s lust. She might actually find that Muslim women agree with her, but she would have to listen to us first.