Islam & women piece: Seeking questions from my readers

“Why do you cover your hair? Do you have to?”

“You’ve never had a boyfriend. Will you ever date before you get married?”

“Why do you and the other girls stand behind men when you pray?  Why don’t women lead Friday prayers?”

“Muhammad had several wives.  Is polygamy still ok in Islam?”

Before coming to Georgetown, these are some of the questions that I had for Muslim women, but I didn’t have any way to get real and thoughtful answers.  I knew of a few women in my community, but not well enough that I felt I could talk to them about these deep and complex topics.

Sadly, for many Americans, this image defines their understanding of the relationship between Islam and women.

Despite the fact that we as Americans hear so much about “Islam” in the news, good resources about Islam and its female followers are hard to come by.  The only resources we have to guide our understanding about Muslim women are books like A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (the author of The Kite Runner) and news articles like TIME’s recent cover story about abused Afghan women—accounts which are not representative of the lives lived by many American Muslim women.  The most important means for understanding—daily interaction with real people, in this case, Muslim women—is not something that most people have.  I didn’t have it either.

Since coming to Georgetown, I have fortunately had those daily connections that have helped me answer my questions about Islam and women.  Spending classroom time my Arabic professor and TA; meeting female leaders and mothers affiliated with the campus; and forming friendships with students have provided me with a perspective of Islam and women that I wouldn’t have possibly received by simply watching the news or reading popular fiction.

However, many other Americans still have many of the questions I did, and they lack the daily interactions that can help provide answers.

In order to remedy this in the smallest way, this winter a Muslim friend and I will be writing a joint piece for my blog about women and Islam.

Finn (left) and Sam (right) from Glee

It is this friend* who initially provided me with this interaction. During my first semester, we became instant friends and she is now one of the closest friends I’ve ever had.  In between watching hilarious Youtube clips and arguing over whether Sam from Glee has an awkwardly big mouth, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about what it means for her to be a Muslim women in America today.   She and I both think that her first person accounts can help give non-Muslim Americans a new, much-needed look into the lives and perspectives of Muslim women.

The piece (which will probably turn into a series of smaller pieces) will look like this:  I will organize a series of questions that my friend will respond to based on her personal experiences.  I will add any context that may be useful to a non-Muslim or Christian audience.

Because of our deep immersion in these topics, it is difficult for her and I to step back and identify what specific questions should drive the piece.  We don’t know what many Americans want and need to hear about.

This is where my readers come in.  What questions do you have?  Is there something you’ve heard relating to women and Islam that discomforts you or makes you curious?

I will be happy to receive any and all questions you may have.  To encourage you to ask whatever is on your mind, I will keep your questions anonymous when I use them in my piece.  Even my friend, who will be responding to the questions, will not know their origin.

So please do not worry about sounding insensitive, uninformed, or politically incorrect—all questions expressed respectfully are valid.  Meaningful and productive discussions require that we address all of our thoughts and questions.

If you know of a family member or friend who may have questions but who doesn’t read the blog, send them the link so they can submit a question.

My friend and I greatly appreciate your questions and support of this project.

My email address is jed56@georgetown.edu.  You can send me your questions there, or post them in the comments section of the blog.

*You probably noticed that I did not use my friend’s name in this post.  Because she doesn’t want her name floating around in the blogosphere, she has decided to work on this project under a pseudonym (we haven’t picked it yet).  Also, given the nature of this honest discussion and the increased hostility we’ve recently seen directed toward Muslims in America and Europe, this will allow her to respond without worrying whether her statements will be taken out of context and used against her later.

Illustrations of Islamophobia

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the proposed bans on the niqab and other Islamic religious clothing in many European countries.  The case I’ve been following most closely is in France, where the law is expected to pass soon.  It would ban the few thousand women who wear the niqab (face veil) in public from doing so, and if women refuse to comply, they will be fined or be required to attend a “citizenship” class.

http://ekramibrahim.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/niqab-2.jpg

These European cases, along with the campaign to halt the building of an Islamic center in downtown Manhattan near Ground Zero, are, to me, illustrations of the ever-growing and irrational Islamophobia in the Western world.  Here is an example of the irrationality that surrounds this issue: In an interview with Al Jazeera English, a French parliamentarian claimed that he was made a “victim” by women who choose to wear the niqab because he cannot see their faces.

I recognize, of course, that many Westerners cannot be blamed for their phobic behavior when confronted with the people and symbols of Islam.  The portrayal of Muslims in mainstream T.V. news, especially on cable news channels, leaves Americans with an uninformed and fear-based view of Islam—a view that is hard to shake if a person has no access to other information about the religion and its people.  Only when the media changes its ways in its coverage of Islam will people realize that these campaigns in Europe and in the U.S. are misguided and are driven by fear, as opposed to true concern.

Al Jazeera English has done some good reports about the proposed niqab ban in France, and here’s the most recent report.

Also, guests on the Diane Rehm Show yesterday discussed this issue. I haven’t listened to the whole piece yet but I will post it here, too.

Please respond with comments if you have any!