notice.

I’ve taken up a lot, and I’m not as flexible these days. I’ll come and go in terms of posting, but I won’t be back entirely until May. Please don’t miss me =) the archives are here for your perusal. And, as always, my inbox is open.

Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment

Alright, fine, let’s talk about Selena Gomez’s ankle.

I honest to God was not going to write a post about this, but since I have begrudgingly begun, I’m going to make this as brief as possible.

I don’t expect celebrities, like Katy Perry, or Madonna, or Lady Gaga–or, as much as I actually do like her–Angelina Jolie, to understand what they’re doing when they appropriate from cultures that are not theirs; in an ideal world, celebrities would have a clue and could subsequently be held accountable, and their apologies wouldn’t be seen as “giving in to the evils of the Muslim world and their horrible hatred of women’s ankles.” I do, however, expect celebrities to understand the simple concept of not being an asshole. And Selena Gomez was being an asshole. And she knows it.

The fact that Selena Gomez walked into a mosque in what I’m sure she’d call “one of those long back robe thingies” and decided to flash her ankle is demonstrative enough that she knows what she’s doing, even if she doesn’t register that it’s offensive because she’s playing off the stereotypical Western harem fantasy and not because she’s a woman flashing her ankle. You know who gets to flash her ankle at a mosque? ME. I get to do it. And when it’s a mosque that is not in a country where I live and legally affected–even that is questionable. I wouldn’t go to Saudi and start driving there just for the sake of the world being horrified when I’m categorized as a terrorist, because I can leave the country, come back to the US with my convenient US citizenship, and have pretended to have done something to “save” Saudi women while actually having no effect at all and possibly having made their lives harder, because now they have to hear sexist Saudi men rebuking this struggle for liberation with criticisms about the “influence of Western women.” It’s easy to be a rebel when you can escape, when you’re in a position in which the world is watching you, and, in the case of Selena Gomez, when you’re someone the West actually cares about.

Selena Gomez, of course, wasn’t trying to make that statement. She’s not championing the cause of freeing Muslim women; she’s not misguided into thinking it’s her place to do so. She is, however, trying to be scandalous. And she’s perpetuating the idea that all it takes to be scandalous is a little bit of ankle, and since Muslim men–and women–have reacted with the degree of outrage that white people expected, Selena’s achieved her goal while skewing the reason behind that outrage to one that fits the Western agenda. Conveniently, we can all now believe that what we thought of Muslims is confirmed–that they hate women, liberation, and ankles–while pretending we don’t understand the real reason: Gomez wasn’t looking to practice her rights; she was looking for people to offend. She relied on a context in which Muslim women are depicted as sexually enticing and rebellious with a single flash of an ankle, when that context exists no where except in the West. You know who doesn’t care if Muslim women flash their ankles? Everyone. All Muslim men. Literally, they don’t care. They don’t fetishize our ankles.

I’m sure someone could make the argument that this based solely off the context in which I live, and that maybe Muslim men in different regions do fetishize ankles. Undoubtedly, there’s someone somewhere with an ankle fetish. Good for him. What I’m saying is that although there are hadith cited in which women are advised to cover everything between their hair and their ankles (including those two things) no one actually enforces the latter. There’s a lot of hijab policing from Muslim men, but the only person who’s ever told me to cover my ankles was one of the infamous masjid aunties. What was offensive was the flashing ankle in conjunction with the abaya, in the context of Muslim women being fetishized by the West and Muslim beliefs misconstrued. Had Gomez worn only the outfit she donned beneath her abaya, which included ankle-revealing capris, she wouldn’t have been seen as being deliberately disrespectful, and there wouldn’t have been outrage. She wouldn’t have been seen as someone trying to modify a culture that isn’t hers of something it doesn’t even have. One might point out that she might have not been allowed to enter that masjid if her ankle weren’t covered–but the fact that she was not made to wear it elsewhere only proves that the ankle isn’t inherently offensive. What’s offensive is she thought it would be cute to pretend that Muslims do find ankles inherently offensive, and operated on that bizarre misconception, while simultaneously showing blatant disrespect for their actual beliefs and for the criteria for respect within a mosque. She not only misattributed the scandal to showing women’s ankles, but operated on that misattribution.

To conclude that everything there is to believe about Muslims from a non-Muslim perspective is confirmed from this incident Selena Gomez orchestrated is nothing short of unfair.

Posted in feminism, Muslims, privilege | 3 Comments

“Take care of your souls.” —Qur’an 5:105

I hope this post finds everyone well, happy, and looking forward to a new beginning, despite the reality that a new journey around the sun involves no indication that our old problems won’t continue. (They most certainly will.) With the acknowledgement that I am a little late, I’d like to begin the new year with a kind of post that I don’t normally write: a reminder.

As most of my (close) friends know, I detest “reminders”–which are usually just patriarchal disguises for slut-shaming, gender-shaming, you’re-not-practicing-your-religion-properly shaming, and all kinds of other shaming in the guise of “reminding” you to be their definition of a better Muslim. It’s the sign-off for every man politely bullying Muslim women to remain patient, kind, and hijabed: “And I remind myself before I remind anyone else.” (Except, of course, he doesn’t; that’s why he’s arrogant enough to regulate your modesty.)

So, I’m not the type to bestow an entire khutbah uninvited–oh, of course I am. Apparently, as evidenced by this post. But lately, I’ve noticed something in other people that I recognized because I do it myself as well, though hopefully not as often anymore. But I want you to know this is forbidden. Forbidden! Listen closely, because other than alcohol and sexual harassment (two unrelated things) and occasionally bananas, your author forbids things neither often nor easily.

It’s tempting, and I know firsthand, to believe that when an event devastates us, or hurts us, or otherwise doesn’t flower as planned, it’s because we don’t deserve the thing in question, or we deserve to be punished. I’ve done this with smaller things–hurting my ankle over my high heels, or catching my brush in my hair, or (cringe) the comb-to-earring phenomenon. I’d stop and wince at the pain and think, “Well, that was for a past or future sin.” I want everyone who does this–and I’ve seen it, so I know there’s quite a few of you, to stop and consider the enormity of what you’ve just done (to yourself.)

Verse 29:10, which I’ve cited on this website before, reads:

They treat men’s oppression
as if it were the Wrath
of God!

and I if it isn’t obvious from the hundreds (hundreds?) of posts I’ve already written, I tend to like to clip and magnify verses into brief bits of poetry like that, for the effect. I’ve used this verse to address systemic oppression, especially since patriarchal men behave as though their oppression is mandated by God. But since every ayah of the Quran can be applied in various colors, in shades and degrees of truth, let’s broaden the context of the lines to the entirety of the verse. “And of the people are some who say, ‘We believe in God,’ but when one (of them) is harmed, they consider the persecution as [if it were] the punishment of God. But if victory comes from God, they say, ‘Indeed, God is with us.’ Is not God most knowing of what is within the breasts of all creatures?”

It isn’t only detrimental to the health of your soul to believe that God is punishing you, this verse indicates that such an attitude is offensive to God. Whenever one reads the Qur’an, there is a feeling of peace with the reoccurring realization that God is hardly ever offended by the endless list of petty things men claim offends God, but that what is actually indicated as being offensive to God demonstrates even more deep compassion. It is a mark of the Feminine Divine, of Mercy and Graciousness, that is imbued in every verse encouraging us not to harm ourselves with hurtful thoughts exactly like these.

What’s astounding about the verse is how far it goes: the act of believing one is being punished by God with a misfortune is not only written as an act that is hurtful, but one that is hypocritical. The verse says it is hypocritical to believe “God is with us” when we face victory and not when we face harm, and the next line, “God knows what is in your heart,” often repeated when one is being disingenuous in her faith, confirms this reading. It also hints that true punishment means that God is not with us, by equating the belief that we are being punished with the belief that God is absent from us–the opposite of the mindset that God’s reign is to be associated with punishment. Pain isn’t beautiful, and it isn’t Divine.

Understandably, we want to believe that God’s punishment translates to our closeness with God, because it must mean that our pain is meaningful, or that if we are punished it means God is near for the punishing. But the verse commands us to believe that God is near in the duration of the punishing, not as the source of the punishment. I’ve heard imams and hafizes and religious scholars alike make claims that, “If we could see how much sin God removes from us when we are sick, we would wish to be sick all our lives.” This, I think, is an unholy way of twisting what would have been an otherwise beautiful sentiment: that God is with us in pain, because God is with us always, but that pain isn’t something to uphold as desirable, or holy, or something to seek out, or–I emphasize–something to justify.

God does not want you to justify being “punished.”

Please remember that this year, and always. And be good to yourselves. Nothing distresses me like receiving emails and emails filled with women deprecating themselves, women who are convinced their misfortunes–and their oppressions–are punishments from God, who are frantic in “saving” their souls and redeeming themselves. This, this calamity, has nothing to do with God. God isn’t the source. Oppressors are. And, non-Muslims who happen to read this, if you don’t mind, consider it a religious lecture for you too. And be good to yourselves. Take care of your souls.

Posted in interpretation, Islam, morality, Muslims, Quran | 4 Comments

The Racism of Being Told to Keep Your Audience in Mind

When I was an undergrad about a year and a half ago, I had a professor whose class was such a frustrating experience that even the memory of it is discomforting. Aside from the horrifying discussion she entertained in the classroom about whether a student in a novel we were reading had actually been raped by her professor or whether the student in fact was the one taking advantage of him, I found myself tirelessly called over and over to explain the simplest things.

One of the assigned weekly readings happened to be about conservation. I can’t remember the author now—it might have been Aldo Leopold. The article, I recall clearly, cites Native American philosophies pertaining to the land and to land ethic, with specific mention of the Pueblo Indians. And yet, although the author cites indigenous approaches to land throughout the piece, he makes bizarre claims like “we have no land ethic yet.” The excerpt was published, I noted then, after the formation of the United States; it might have been as late as the 1950s. By then citizenship of marginalized races had been recognized, and Native Americans had certainly been forcibly assimilated.

To say that “we” have no land ethic while citing the very land ethic of a people who are forced to become “us” does a number of things: (1) it remarks on the lethal dynamics of a dual identity in which Native Americans are either assimilated or Othered depending on the convenience of what befits the author’s argument (2) it erases the contributions of indigenous tribes to ethics by implying that what the writer explains is unprecedented since “we” don’t have it yet and (3) it addresses one audience, a white audience, in a nation under the pretense that Native Americans are now seen as one of us and all has been made right, when the claim “we don’t have this yet” demonstrably excludes them from “us.”

Responding to the article, I wrote that it was clear who Leopold’s—or whoever this was—audience is. To my amazement, the professor returned the response with a comment along the lines of, “You mean he shouldn’t have been addressing people? He can’t talk to the environment.”

Really? She thought I wanted him to talk to plants? She needed me to explain this to her? How did this woman ever—

No. I mean his audience was white people during a time when the United States was supposed to include Native Americans, and he’s pretending his audience isn’t just white people. He’s pretending—like you—that it’s just “people.” I mean why the hell should I care what white people say to each other, especially when they’re just regurgitating things that’ve already been invented? Why aren’t we reading about land ethics from the Pueblos, whom he even admits were the source? This is so second-hand—and second rate. Don’t even try to tell me we can’t read land ethics from the Pueblos because the work isn’t in English ‘cause ya’ll went out of your way to translate the Greeks and feed me the bullshit that is the Odyssey.

This guy even had the audacity to write something like, “Their civilization ended, but it wasn’t because their land expired.” No shit, it’s because you killed them. Did he go on to expand on this bizarre way of clarifying-but-not-really-clarifying how their civilization expired? Of course not. He just left it at that.

Perhaps white people should concern themselves with preserving people. I don’t think they’re quite advanced enough for land ethics yet.

This is one example of an aggravating phenomenon I’ve noticed throughout my entire academic career. Every professor is quick to say that a good writer is aware of her audience, and if her audience doesn’t understand her writing, it’s probably because she’s explained it poorly, or needs to explain further. But sometimes it’s because your audience is composed entirely of idiots. Or of white people. Who are also idiots. One of my classmates submitted an excerpt of her thesis for workshop once, and despite the fact that she referred to her cousin with the feminine pronoun about 50 times in the piece, people in the class (guess which race of people) were still confused as to whether the cousin was male or female, because the name was too ethnic for them to discern a gender. Consequently, this writer received terrible advice, like “All your names start with B, and that’s confusing in foreign names. I can’t tell who’s who so you need to change the names.”

No she doesn’t. You read the feminine pronoun over and over. You wouldn’t be confused if you actually knew how to read English. Your own language.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to explain what “hijab” means and its cultural and religious context. I can’t stop and do this every time. It distracts from the larger point of what I’m actually writing. I don’t have time to explain things to those who refuse to crawl outside the rocks they’re living under. If you don’t know what a word means, put down the book and look it up.

At this extent, “keep your audience in mind” becomes nothing short of racist advice. When directed at people of color, it means they should always remember the majority of their audience is white, and should therefore not only explain simple, “foreign” concepts until the writer is blue in the face, but cater to that whiteness with a tone it finds acceptable.

Posted in feminism, privilege, race | 5 Comments

I recognize no “founding fathers.”

“[…]we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses; we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us…”
–the words of Christopher Columbus, quoted from “El Requerimiento” in Wilcomb Washburn, ed. The Indian and the White Man

Many are under the wrongful impression that the United States of America not only embodies all the ideals of liberation and compassion required in a just nation, but that the formation of ideals in the creation of a utopic society is unprecedented. At best, the concepts of freedom and individual rights on which America was (supposedly) founded were borrowed, pre-established wisdom, appropriated from the Constitution drafted (unwritten) from the Iroquois by racist slave-owners (your beloved founding fathers) and imposed on an unsuspecting population, while modern-day white feminism championed by Abigail Adams and her like was in itself appropriated from Native women. None of the ideas of tolerance, acceptance, or freedom for which the United States are famous–and infamous–are unique or even attributable to the white patriarchal league of so-called “founding fathers.”

While non-Native recipients of the sneer, “Go back home if you hate it here so much” are accustomed to retorting with, “Go back to Europe,” a poignant response to the non-Native non-African circumstance is to draw attention to the fact that Europeans have illegally invaded, slaughtered, conquered, and raped populations in all but 22 countries and now fear the repercussions in “their” country. The reality that a white person would spew anything along the lines of, “Go back home,” to a person whose country he invaded, which includes not only Native American nations–though let’s not be mistaken, Natives should be the focus as we both unwillingly and willfully reap the benefits of stolen Native land–is nothing short of preposterous. I’ll get out of “your” country if you get out of mine.

In Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America, Juan Gonzalez has the same thought,

“If Latin America had not been pillaged by the U.S. capital since its independence, millions of desperate workers would not now be coming here in such numbers to reclaim a share of that wealth; and if the United States is today the world’s richest nation, it is in part because of the sweat and blood of the copper workers of Chile, the tin miners of Bolivia, the fruit pickers of Guatemala and Honduras, the cane cutters of Cuba, the oil workers of Venezuela and Mexico, the pharmaceutical workers of Puerto Rico, the ranch hands of Costa Rica and Argentina, the West Indians who died building the Panama Canal, and the Panamanians who maintained it.”

All countries contemporarily viewed as “backwards” or “depraved” have been made so by an influx of white illegals (the only kind), who ravaged the land and population of its resources. Based on the precedent–and divergent from the precedent–established by these war criminals, I claim the US against the wishes of white settlers as negatively incorporated into my identity, and I live within it with as much peace as I can muster considering the violence in the history of this nation, because those who rule it colonized and occupied the country of my birth. I recognize that the land on which I live rightfully belongs to the Ohlone, was built by slaves and immigrants, and is wrongly credited to white patriarchal and false founding fathers who should be stripped of all dignity. White violence continues to plague Native peoples as well as the descendants of African slaves, and the recent violence in Ferguson perpetuated by white supremacy can attest to this.

I am a settler, and I am prepared to undo this history.

The violence with which Native American nations and the women of which they were composed were tortured, imprisoned, and dehumanized is glossed over even despite clear documentation. A childhood friend of Columbus, Michele da Cuneo, recounts amusedly in his journal the rape of a Native woman,

While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked—as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. But—to cut a long story short—I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought that she had been brought up in a school for whores.

Native American girls as young as three were sold in slave markets by the colonists, trafficked for both labor and rape.

Much like the abstract concepts of freedom and protection are falsely attributed to the United States, so were many of the innovations invented by the Natives. Contrary to what is taught in history textbooks, Native Americans did not “live like animals”; in fact, while Europeans fetched drinking water from fetid rivers for centuries even after encountering the complex irrigation systems of the Natives, refused to bathe and never removed their clothes, and dumped the corpses of their dead into open pits, the white men were astounded by the Natives’ cleanliness and hygiene. The Natives of Tenochtitlan had a complex network of canals as well as gorgeous floating gardens. They attempted in vain to teach the white men how to bathe.

History books deliberately paint an inaccurate picture of how advanced and well-equipped the Native Americans were, and how strategic the organization of Native cities, because Europe was so shamefully backwards in comparison. In fact, the word “city” is rarely used, if ever, in history books to describe the living organizations of the Natives, relying instead on the connotations of the word–outrageously enough–“settlements.” Even the white colonialists, however, had referred to these places as “cities.”

When we entered the city of Iztapalapa, the appearance of the palaces in which they housed us! How spacious and well built they were, of beautiful stone work and cedar wood, and the wood of other sweet scented trees, with great rooms and courts, wonderful to behold, covered with awnings of cotton cloth […] we went to the orchard and garden, which was such a wonderful thing to see and walk in […] the paths full of roses and flowers, and the native fruit trees and native roses, and the pond fresh water. There was another thing to observe, that great canoes were able to pass into the garden from the lake through an opening that had been made so that there was no need for their occupants to land. And all was cemented and very splendid with many kinds of stone monuments with pictures on them, which gave much to think about. –journal of Bernal Diaz del Castillo

Instead of learning from the Natives, the white settlers dug random holes in search for gold, until they began to starve and dug up corpses of passed away indigenous persons to eat, at which point they captured some Native Americans to force them to teach the settlers how to farm. As Robert Beverley recounts in History and Present State of Virginia on what is known today as the “Thanksgiving” feast, “the colonists offered the Indians a toast to eternal friendship, whereupon the chief, his family, advisors, and two hundred followers dropped dead of poison.” The extermination of the Native American race was approved by the “founding fathers” including George Washington, who wrote, “The Indian country must be destroyed.”

Untold in most history books is the slavery of both Native Americans and Black Africans, so immense and horrifying that entire cities of Natives and Blacks would join to overthrow white settlers. Together, they had been a strong force and white settlers would face defeat over several years.

Settlers of color, these are the rightful founders. You owe the recognition of your rights not to the illegal confiscation of a nation by war criminals, but to the Native Americans who suffered to overthrow them, and later to the Black Power Movement that secured your rights.

Denounce the term “founding fathers” and all its associations; it is unacceptably patriarchal and devotes itself to a legacy of genocide, rape, and nonconsensual governance.

Posted in feminism, privilege, rape culture, social justice | Tagged | 1 Comment

Black Hair

I used to teach at an Islamic school, situated within a masjid, when I was around 17. There was a lot that didn’t sit well with me; the mosque had a barrier–I also taught students who were about 8 years old, and I believed it to be ludicrous that I was expected to cover my hair around 8-year-old boys. Or that any of the 8-year-old girls were expected to do the same. But I followed the “rules” in terms of my appearance, if only to appease the parents, who I imagine must already have been suspicious of what on earth I might be teaching their children.

One day, for a school-wide event, though I can’t remember what, the boys were pulled out of class. I bid the last one goodbye, closed the door behind him, whirled around and exclaimed, “The boys are gone!” and threw off my hijab. The black waves leapt to the air with the blow of the rising fabric and then fell to my waist. The young girls laughed and did the same, pulling off their headscarves.

Except one.

“Can I leave my hijab on?” she asked me.

I gave her a funny look. “Of course!” I walked back to the front of the room, ready to continue the lesson, but the girls were talking excitedly amongst themselves, clearly distracted, and I thought it was unfair to expect them to study as long as the boys weren’t also in a stuffy classroom learning to read Arabic with them. And to be honest, I had a desire to know these girls. So I walked among them and we spoke while they braided each other’s hair and talked about faeries.

“I love your hair,” said the small hijabi. She ran her fingers through it. “It’s so pretty.” Then she added, “I wish I had hair like this. My hair’s not like other people’s hair.”

The child was black. Something hurtful burst inside me.

“Is this why you didn’t want to remove your hijab?” I gasped.

She nodded. “My hair’s not pretty like yours.”

“Darling, your hair is beautiful!” What else could I have said? I spoke what I knew, to her, must have been empty words.

She made a face. “You haven’t even seen it.”

“I can imagine it.”

She looked worried. “It’s not like you imagine.”

“No, love, it’s not like you imagine.” I sighed and sat on top of a desk. Was it too early to speak to her about white privilege? I looked around at the other girls, none white, but none of them black. Neither was I. I tried to form words but I couldn’t, not over the force of my heart breaking. I wanted to hold her and sob, an act I was certain would alarm her.

“Sometimes, when you help the other girls fix their hijabs, I feel bad,” she said.

“Why?”

“Because you do their hair. And you’re so nice. And no one knows how to do my hair.”

“Your hijab is always on so perfectly, it never needs to be fixed,” I remarked. It was true. The other girls’ hijabs would constantly slide off; they would struggle with it for a few minutes before complaining loudly, at which point I walked over to their desks, did their hair, and neatly fixed their hijabs over it while still teaching off the lesson plan. But this girl’s hijab was always firmly planted wrapped around her head, as though it were a protective second skin. “But if it ever slid off, of course I would help you fix it.”

“Do you want to see my hair?” she asked.

“Do you want me to see it?”

She pulled back the hijab. Her hair was sectioned into five different parts at various heights and braided.

“You see?” I said. “It’s lovely.”

She looked less sorrowful, though I was uncertain whether it was my imagination. She seemed to warm up. I began to align the hijab along her forehead again, and she grinned and tampered with my hair. “You think it’s pretty?”

“Yes.”

Maybe the words weren’t empty to her yet. Maybe she hadn’t yet gotten to the point where white beauty standards were so forcefully bombarded on her person that wouldn’t believe her hair was pretty matter how many times she heard it, to the point where your hair is lovely was just something people said to be kind or even dismissive.

Obviously, I was unequipped to deal with this. I don’t know if I did well at all. There was so much I wanted to say–but I was afraid of overwhelming the situation. My point is that I should have been prepared, that I should have known what to do; that we, as Muslims, majority non-white, ought to know how to handle circumstances pertaining to the comfort of black students in our classrooms, to the struggles of races that are not our own.

And that is the purpose of a caring, giving, and supportive community. Not one that’s just preoccupied with going through the movements, preoccupied with merely discussing Islam with a reluctance to confront the anxieties that deter us from living it in its full compassionate capacity.

Posted in hi'jab, privilege | Tagged , | 4 Comments

On whether the hijab is mandatory

I’ve been avoiding this post. I’ve successfully avoided writing it for four years. As most of you know I’m conscious of the context to which I contribute exegesis (or anything), and whether or not hijab is mandatory is a question that is irrelevant in a context where women are harassed for wearing the hijab—and for not wearing it. Because of this context I have, reluctantly, written more posts here about hijab than I ever cared to write, and all about men minding their own business.

There is one verse that is used by male scholars to “encourage” women to cover their hair. Humorously (or not) enough, this verse does not explicitly make this command; it reads, instead,

And say
to the believing women
that they should lower their gaze and guard
their modesty; that they should not
display their beauty and
ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof;
that they should draw their veils
over their bosoms
(Qur’an 24:31)

In case you’re wondering how “bosoms” is understood as “hair” when they are pretty clearly distinct body parts (insert joke about judicial male “expertise” knowing nothing about female anatomy here) let’s look at the word “veil.” The verse already hints that a veil existed; it doesn’t command, for example to veil as though the action is revolutionary or unpracticed, but to draw their veils, as though the women already owned fabric they understood could be used as a veil. And that’s exactly correct. The area where male scholarship is wrong, however, is in arguing that the veil was already used to cover the hair, and that 24:31 merely commands the inclusion of the bosom with the hair, thus advising that both the hair and bosom are covered.

But there are problems with this—mainly that the assumption that the sole purpose of the veil was exclusively to cover the hair in pre-Islamic Arabia is an incorrect one.

As Lee Ann explains,

“The cloth was more utilitarian in purpose than just as a piece of clothing. It served to protect against weather, to carry babies, to haul such things as wood. It was tied around the waist and used like a tool belt of sorts, to stick things in it, etc. The “hijab” [before the Revelation] was never exclusive to be used as a head covering because it would have to be removed from the head in order to use it for those other purposes. The ayat in the Quran is basically telling women to use that piece of cloth, that they already have and are using (to make it easier on them, no need to get a special “hijab” so to speak) and use it to cover your chest/breast.”

If the line of argument for scholars is that hijab is commanded in the Qur’an because the cloth to which the Qur’an refers in advising women to cover their bosoms is the same cloth women used to exclusively cover their hair (which is the male scholarly line of argument) then it is an inadequate one. And it’s inadequate for the simple reason that hair-covering was not the exclusive purpose of this fabric. Would it have made sense to interpret that women should cover their bosoms and with the same fabric we use to hold tools? If our logical standards are that all previous purposes of the cloth have now become mandatory with the inclusion of covering the bosom, then it does. Otherwise, there is no reason for scholars to focus solely on the cloth’s purpose to cover hair as an extension of the command to conceal the bosom.

The command to conceal the bosom was given because non-Muslim men would harass Muslim women due to prejudice (you know, all too familiar) while knowing full well these women were Muslim, but since all Arab women exposed their chests, when confronted the men claim that they did not recognize that the woman was Muslim and couldn’t tell, and therefore had not been harassing her for her religion. The verse was revealed to blast away this poor excuse. Muslim women were defined clearly from non-Muslim women, so that, in Lee Ann’s words “those men had no excuse other than they were assholes.”

This is why the verse cites the reason “so that they will not be harassed” in advising the hijab—it’s not meant to be interpreted as the responsibility to avoid harassment is placed on the woman: it’s meant to be interpreted so that the excuse given by men (“I did not recognize her as Muslim and therefore was not committing the 7-century version of a hate crime.”) is rendered illegitimate.

Posted in feminism, hi'jab, misconceptions, Quran | Tagged | 8 Comments