The Western Muslim Woman, Part III

The last installment. This little series has felt quite tentative, possibly because I’d attempted to discuss an expansive subject in three parts. An appreciative ‘thank you’ to anyone who tolerated the disorganized writing and disheveled thoughts between essays and finals. I hope that somewhere in the midst of it all I managed to make some sort of sense.

One of the most remarkable things—which admittedly, is not very remarkable, and should never have caught me by surprise—is the perspective that the hi’jab isn’t Western. This alone is sufficient example of how destructively white culture functions.

Western women wear the hi’jab: therefore, it is also Western. This is how logic works in my head. So imagine how taken aback I am when someone expresses a sentiment along the lines of, “Well, you’re Western, like, you don’t wear the headscarf…” as though not wearing hi’jab is a qualifier to being Western.

You see, I had made the terribly silly mistake of failing to recognize that mostly the wrong kind of woman wears the hi’jab. The non-white kind. And unless it’s appropriated as some sort of fetishized fashion statement by white women who are non-Muslim who easily and conveniently rip it away from its origin and significance (because they don’t practice the religion) and glamorize the stigmatism associated with the veil, it will remain not Western.

This year’s Halloween campaign, and the reactions to it, is a perfect demonstration of how hateful this process is: because white culture is not defined and depends solely on the existence of the Other, in order to be accepted as Western, you must allow for the mockery and fetishization of another culture. Liberals (the faux activist hipster type) and Conservatives (yeah, even the hypocrites who pretend they’re more tasteful than everyone else—surprise!) alike resented the campaign, because it inevitably threatened the way white culture works, by daring to make non-white narratives Normal, by daring to respect other cultures by not fetishizing or belittling them, by daring to suggest that people of color should have as much influence in deciding what is Western—what is American—as white people do.

And hi’jab will be forced through the same racist process before it is accepted as Western. I have this rising hope that it won’t; but realistically, it’s much more probable.

At this intersection, we are wedged between the racist and imperialist processes and narratives in the West that erase us and perceive us as less Western and the racist and purist processes and narratives in the Muslim community that invalidate us and perceive us as less Muslim—no matter how strongly we are both these things. That from both sides we are perceived as “more white” every time we are less violent or advocating equality is highly disturbing: white culture has consumed and defined even universal principles that have roots in all regions (obnoxious) as white so that essentially if something is “humane” it must be white, or if it isn’t white it must be inhumane and violence is tied to foreign culture rather than being its own culture (like rape culture) that infects society, and only white women can be fearless and passionate (because all women are tropes now), and Muslims (who have contributed a great deal to civilization, some of which has been incorrectly attributed to white people [Ibn Mafis to William Harvey]) have bought this colonialist bullshit and use it (inexcusably) in oppressive and sexist ways.

What is left is to assert that both these identities are strongly valid, that only we retain the final right to define ourselves, that our interpretations are Islamic because they are revivalist and sound and just as correct, that our Islamic practices are Western because as citizens of Western nations we have as much right to influence Western culture, and that just because white people in their entitlement to your practices and to universal principles decide to make something white and convince you that without them you’d be violent and inhumane with that century-old imperialism doesn’t mean it is, white or only white, or that we must alienate ourselves and fetishize other cultures to fit a white narrative.

Practice Islam knowing that you are practicing it right, in peace the way it was meant to be practiced, regardless of what these people who have wrongfully assigned themselves as intermediaries between you and God and ramble on about the evils of living in a Western society (like Islam hasn’t already spread to hundreds of other countries—what makes it suddenly invalid in the West?!) will claim as they fear gender equality. This is revivalism, and it is easily distinguishable as Islamically authorized with centuries of history. Assert your identity in itself matter-of-factly, with a sense of entitlement, because it has the right to exist.

5 thoughts on “The Western Muslim Woman, Part III

  1. Em

    My professor had us do an activity where we wrote about ourselves. Then she drew on the board and showed us that white people tend to talk about their interests, activities, and pretty much about themselves. PoC talk about their families and communities and need these things to define them because their identities were erased. Every single point was true for me for what I wrote. After that, I always write about my hobbies and about me as an individual.


    1. Yeah, there’s this lie that in order to be raceless you MUST ‘become white’: the white-by-default mentality, as though white people “own” individuality when really they’re just defining whatever the hell they want as “getting” to be white. What entitled prick says that should be the only way? I don’t need anyone’s approval.


  2. Sabrina

    like Islam hasn’t already spread to hundreds of other countries—what makes it suddenly invalid in the West?!

    Yes, THANK YOU.

    Islam in non-Arab parts of the world is still considered “inferior.” I think there’s more resentment toward the West from “purists” because there’s a lot of fear of it, which is understandable.


  3. You know, I really did think that Hijab = Not Western thing before, and you’re quite right. Anything is Western if it’s a Western person who’s doing it, just like anything is American if Americans are doing it. I don’t know why I didn’t think of something so obvious: blame the detritus of our racist society. :)


  4. Pingback: Linksplosion! Inverting thinking edition « Zero at the Bone


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