Saturday, October 04, 2008

Fashion Fatwas

Not sure if this purports to be a treatise on Muslim feminism, or a Robin Givhan knock-off.

Tassled turquoise cotton and flowered peach crepe flutter as I pull out a black-and-ivory striped headscarf for the day. When I was 22 and balked at buying a $30 paisley scarf, my best friend told me, "I never scrimp on scarves. If people are going to make a big deal of it, it may as well look good."

I embraced that principle, too, even when I was a scratch-poor graduate student. Today I sort my scarves, always looking to replace the frayed ones and to find missing colors, my collection shrinking and expanding, dynamic, bright: The blue-and-yellow daisy print is good with jeans, the incandescent purple voile for a night on the town, the gray houndstooth solidly professional, the white chambray anytime.

As beautiful as veils are, they are not the best part of being a Muslim woman -- and many Muslim women in Islamic countries don't veil. The central blessing of Islam to women is that it affirms their spiritual equality with men, a principle stated over and over in the Quran, on a plane believers hold to be untouched by the social or legalistic "women in Islam" concerns raised by other parts of the Scripture, in verses parsed endlessly by patriarchal interpreters as well as Muslim feminists and used by Islamophobes to "prove" Islam's sexism. This is how most believing Muslim women experience God: as the Friend who is beyond gender, not as the Father, not as the Son, not inhabiting a male form, or any form.

Of course she is saying all this from the safety of America, not Saudi Arabia, where she would be forbidden to drive, and forbidden to leave the house without her "tent of tranquility". Does she not understand the difference between being allowed to practice her religion as she sees fit, and being treated like a third-class citizen because of her gender? She seems oblivious to the fact if she decides to go to the store sans scarf one day, nobody cares here, but if she did it in Riyadh, or was seen talking to man who was not her husband, the mutawwa would come up and beat her ass in the middle of the street.

So spare us the sermon, sister. Women are treated like animals in many -- not all, but many -- Islamic societies, kept illiterate and pregnant and economically dependent, and constantly under threat of violence, death, honor-killing, etc., usually from their own families. I've never claimed to be Phil Donahue or Alan Alda, but even I recognize the strong correlation between disempowering women and poor, regressive societies. Only a damned fool would claim that women in Pakistan or Saudi have just as much freedom to live their lives as they would in Europe or America.

I'm glad that America has provided a free and open society of laws, which allows Ms. Kahf to observe the contemplative fashionista side of her religion to her hearts' content. No doubt Christianity is a backwards religion in many ways, but in no Christian country is a man allowed to beat the fuck out of his wife or kill her because she didn't feel like wearing her tent one day. This seems to be as much about her scarf collection as anything else.


Sharkbabe said...

This buncha new posts, just damn. Awesome freakin writing. I could count the ways but I don't have all night. So just the usual thx, kudos, and rock on for sanity!

thedevilzone said...

I remember hearing a college girl on NPR several years ago talking about being a "feminist Muslim cowgirl" - that was her capsule summary of herself - and I thought the same thing: go tell it to the Saudi Arabians.

No doubt Christianity is a backwards religion in many ways, but in no Christian country is a man allowed to beat the fuck out of his wife or kill her because she didn't feel like wearing her tent one day.

I always say that it's not about the Christianity, but the fact that secularism took hold enough in those societies to eventually inculcate the idea that killing people over religious belief is unthinkably stupid. The Talibangelicals would just as happily and quickly start lighting up heretics at the stake again if they could find a way to overcome that restraint, no doubt about it.

Which is why it's especially ironic to see the right wingers who have wholeheartedly embraced the "we're better than Mooslims!" theme do their damnedest to eliminate the secularism here that allows them to feel superior to those who bury women up to their neck in the sand and stone them.

Speaking of which, I recently read Tony Horwitz' (Confederates in the Attic) 1991 book, Baghdad without a Map, detailing his freelance journalist travels around the Middle East and North Africa. Let me just say...jesus effing christ. Has Kahf actually ever been there?

Amaryllis said...

I liked the author's writing style, but the message has been heard once too many times. Why do Muslim women living in the West and wearing the hijab feel they need to continuously explain their dress choice to non-Muslim skeptics? Explaining the religion's treatment of women itself is all fine, but what does that have to do with dress codes? Dress codes are but one small part of the religion. Such non-Muslims will just have to accept it as an individual's right to express their freedom of being.

I did not understand what the author meant when she said her cousin chose "4 times" did the cousin marry and divorce 4 times?

Divorce is permitted in Islam as a practical means of making life easier for those who really need it. Reconciliation is favored, and the Quran has listed steps to facilliate that. But if all fails, then divorce is permitted. Divorce is considered the most hated permitted act a Muslim can do. So no Muslim embarks on it unless she or he has no other choice.

I regret to read the flippant manner in which this author treated the process of picking a spouse, marriage and divorce. Just because it was done then, does not make it right. Many Muslims get married, and divorce within weeks on basis of some frivolous complaint. This is not in the spirit of what the Quran (God's literal words) has advocated - never mind what you learned in your history books about so and so.