Victim-blaming: Was she “asking for it”?

In response to Bikini vs. Burqa, I was asked the following question:

          “In the context of Islam, are women who do not choose to dress modestly “asking for it”?  Who gets the

           blame when a woman is sexually harassed or assaulted?”

Here’s my response:

I believe this question is referring to the wording of the translation of Qur-an 33.59:

“O Prophet, say to your wives and your daughters, and the women of the believers to draw part of their outer garments over themselves.  It is likelier that they will be recognized and not molested.”

I supposed this could be taken as implying- or at least allowing- that women who do not dress this way will be molested (or harassed) and that it’s their fault.

This is absolutely not the case, however.  I base that on my understanding of other verses in the Qur-an, the primary source of Islamic information, including moral and legal information.

(1)    Qur-an 53.36-38

“Hasn’t he been informed of what is in the scrolls of Moses

And of Abraham, the one who fulfilled (his covenant)?:

That no bearer of a burden shall bear the burden of another…”

No one can bear the blame for someone else’s actions.  That’s clear.  If someone does wrong, he or she alone is to blame.  It should be pointed out that Muslims believe this concept to also be in the lost books of Moses and Abraham, so we don’t believe that Allah has ever allowed a person to be blamed for another’s actions.

(2)   Qur-an 24.30

“Say to the believing men to lower their gazes and to guard their private parts…”

Islaam has a practical approach to sexual harassment and assault.

The same directive is addressed to the believing women, followed by instructions about modest dress.  In the explanation given by scholars, this refers to lowering their gaze from women, other people’s private parts (i.e. those which are supposed to be covered) and at obscene objects.  The term “lower the gaze” is explained in narrations reported from the Prophet as not following the first (unintentional) look with a second (intentional) look or stares.

So regardless of how a woman is dressed (and she is allowed to dress in a way considered “immodest” in Islamic values) a man is not supposed to look at her.  If he’s not supposed to be ‘ogling’ her, or ‘checking her out’, then of course he is not allowed to go further than that.

 

(3)   Qur-an 17.32

“And do not approach zinaa…”

The word zinaa means sexual intercourse with someone to whom you are not legally married.  So it includes fornication (sex outside of wedlock) and adultery (sex with someone married to someone else), among others.

Now, look carefully at the wording.  In the original Arabic, the wording is not “wa laa taznuu”, which would mean ‘and do not commit fornication, etc.’.  It is “wa laa taqrabu az-zinaa”, which means “and do not APPROACH fornication, etc.”  So, regarding your question, regardless of how a man feels about a woman (or about how she is “making” him feel) he is already not supposed to be looking at her, as discussed above.  Further, he is not to, in any way, do anything that brings him close to sex with her.  No catcalls.  No advances.  No smiles.  No come-ons.  No touching.  No introductions.  NOTHING.  If he does any of these things, never mind surpassing all of them to grope or sexually assault her, he is clearly in the wrong.

(4)   Qur-an 23.1,3

“The believers have surely succeeded…

who turn away from laghw,…”

I think this relates more to the issue of sexual harassment than sexual assault.  Laghw is translated as, among other things “futile and/or indecent speech”, depending on the translator and context.  So the kinds of things that men harass women with are forbidden, regardless of the context.  In fact, there is no context in which futile, indecent speech is allowed.  Therefore, considering that such speech is wrong, and considering that, as above, no one can be blamed for what another person does, if a man harasses a woman, it is his fault, not hers.

That’s a brief review of what I think the Qur-an contains on the subject.  Now, turning to the secondary source of Islamic law and morals, the guided lifestyle of the Prophet, these are things that the Prophet either:

(1)   did,

(2)   said,

(3)   commanded, or

(4)   allowed (by staying silent about in its presence)

This, the sunna, is not in the Qur-an, but has been compiled in books of narrations or ahadeeth (singular:  hadeeth).  Every hadeeth goes through a scientific process of scrutiny where the reputation of every individual narrator is graded, and the entire chain of narration is also graded for authenticity.  Here is an example:

Narrated Wa’il ibn Hujr:

When a woman went out in the time of the Prophet for prayer, a man attacked her and overpowered [raped] her. She shouted and he went off, and when a man came by, she said: “That [man] did such and such to me”. And when a company of the Emigrants came by, she said: “That man did such and such to me”. They went and seized the man whom they thought had had intercourse with her and brought him to her.

She said: “Yes, this is he”. Then they brought him to the Apostle of Allah.

When he [the Prophet] was about to pass sentence, the man who [actually] had assaulted her stood up and said: “Apostle of Allah, I am the man who did it to her”.

He [the Prophet] said to her: “Go away, for Allah has forgiven you”. But he told the man some good words [Abu Dawud said: “meaning the man who was seized”], and of the man who had had intercourse with her, he said: “Stone him to death.”  Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 38, #4366

So it is clear that the victim was not to blame.

Now, do people always judge by the book of Allah and the example of His Prophet?  No.  Of course, the majority of the people in the world are not Muslim, so they are unaware.  As for the Muslims, not all of them are knowledgeable, and not all of them are sincere.  If a person is insincere, his or her knowledge does not benefit, and much less their ignorance.  If a person is ignorant, her or his sincerity does not benefit them, and much less so their insincerity.  Somewhere in the fray, among other things, women may not get their rights.  If that is so, it is not Islam, but those individual Muslims- or hypocrites posing as Muslims- who are to blame.

Now, in what way can a woman be to blame?  If she dresses immodestly, she is wrong for doing so, but the matter is between her and Allah.  To my knowledge there is no legal penalty for immodest dress, so it is not a matter between her and the authorities.  (A general goal of the sharee’ah is to stop the spread of indecency, so I imagine there are measures that can be taken in extreme cases, though.)  In any case, as we have shown, it does not in any way excuse sexual harassment or assault.  We must recognize, though, that while it cannot be said that she has encouraged harassment or assault, neither can it be said that she has discouraged it.  This is one of the benefits and purposes of modesty, to discourage the men who are not fearful of Allah.  It is a pre-cautionary measure mandated by Allah long ago, whose relevancy is still being proven today (see here).

(Everything I’ve written here is subject to the limits of my knowledge and understanding.  The truth of it is from Allah, and any inaccuracies are only from my self.)

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Hijab Success Story: News Anchor

BBC NEWS
Fully-veiled presenters hit Saudi screens

Amani Fikri
BBC Arabic Service

Until recently you would never have seen women presenting television programmes dressed from head to toe in the niqab or burqa. But on the Saudi religious channel Awtan TV it has now become the norm.

"We don't introduce ourselves as beautiful women who put on layers of make-up. Our audience is focusing on...our ideas and our discourse."

Female broadcasters at the station are draped in the all-enveloping dresses, which are usually black and also cover their faces.

The work environment too is very different. Male technical assistants do not enter the studio while the women are presenting.

There are more than 60 religious channels across the Middle East. Some allow women to present programmes without being fully covered or dressed in black.

Others have no women presenters at all.

Relationship

Awtan TV decided to take a unique approach. The station was launched in 2008, and last month it set a precedent by allowing women to present, but only on the condition that they wear the niqab.

 

“ We report from the field in the niqab and it does not stop us from doing anything 
Ola al-Barqi Awtan TV presenter

Ola al-Barqi anchors a breakfast show, as well as a quiz show for girls called Mosabqat Banat.

A key element of the programme is the relationship built between presenter, contestants and the audience – something that might be more difficult if the presenter is totally covered up.

“The face is not the only way to build a relationship,” explains Ms Barqi, speaking to BBC Arabic.

“We’re always receiving calls from viewers in various countries encouraging us to keep doing what we do.”

And, as Ms Barqi points out, women are not just confined to the studio at Awtan TV.

“We report from the field in the niqab and it does not stop us from doing anything.”

‘Restrictive’

Wahhabism, the strain of Sunni Islam that is officially practised in Saudi Arabia, is considered one of the religion’s most conservative forms.

Some critics say that Awtan TV is restricting women’s freedom by making it compulsory to wear the niqab if they want to be presenters.

The issue recently returned to prominence when a leading Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi, said he would issue an edict stating that the niqab was a “custom that has nothing to do with Islam”.

Many Muslim scholars take the position that the niqab is not obligatory.

But Ms Barqi says nobody “forced the niqab” on her and she does not intend to force it on her three daughters, who watch their mother on television and feel proud of her.

However, the presenter thinks that when the time comes, her girls will want to wear the niqab because that is how they were brought up and it is, she argues, part of Shariah – Islamic law.

Advantages

Ms Barqi says there are other good reasons why she wears the niqab.

It helps her to concentrate more on her work rather than anything else, and what she looks like is irrelevant.

“We don’t introduce ourselves as beautiful women who put on layers of make-up. Our audience is focusing on what we present to them, our ideas and our discourse.”

Ms Barqi believes some people work in the media to become famous. But that is not why she became a presenter.

“We don’t need fame,” she explains.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/8368242.stm

Published: 2009/12/09 10:29:55 GMT

© BBC 2011

Hijab Success Story: Olympic Sprinter

OLYMPIC RUNNER TO CUT A DASHING FIGURE IN

AUSSIE HIJOOD

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Austrade media release

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Bahrain’s Olympic short distance running champion, Ruqaya Al Ghasara will turn heads today at her first Beijing race (200 metres Tuesday 19/8/08 at 12:21 EST) stepping out in an Australian designed and manufactured body-covering top including the modern Hijab in accordance with Muslim tradition.

Ruqaya Al Ghasara of Bahrain #2013 celebrates winning the Women's 200m during the 15th Asian Games Doha 2006 at the Khalifa Stadium December 11, 2006 in Doha, Qatar.

Ms Al Ghasara, currently ranked number seven in the world, said that wearing the specially designed Hijood Sports Top from Australian company Ahiida had improved her performance.
“It’s great to finally have a high performance outfit that allows me to combine my need for modesty with a design made from breathable, moisture controlled fabric that allows freedom of movement and flexibility,” said Ms Al Ghasara.
“It’s definitely helped me to improve my times being able to wear something so comfortable and I’m sure it will help me to give my best performance at Beijing.
“I hope that my wearing the Hijood Sports Top will inspire other women to see that modesty or religious beliefs don’t have to be a barrier to participating in competitive sports.”
Ahiida Managing Director, Aheda Zanetti, said that although this outfit had been custom made for Ms Al Ghasara her company had been deluged with international orders from women wanting conservative sporting outfits since its inception five years ago.
“Since Ahiida first came to media attention with our special Burqini Swimsuit for Aussie Muslim lifesavers, we have had significant interest in our unique conservative sportswear,” said Ms Zanetti.
“Our sportswear supports women who want, for whatever reason, to wear things that are modestly cut and have useful functions like keeping their hair out of their eyes whilst enjoying an active sporty lifestyle.
“We are thrilled to be associated with Ruqaya who is a passionate and talented sportswoman and a great role model.
Ms Zanetti said that working with the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) had helped her to access many international markets.
“Austrade had helped me to be in places that I couldn’t get to and to speak on my behalf internationally,” she said.
Austrade’s Chief Economist, Tim Harcourt said that Ahiida was indicative of Australia’s unique business capability in servicing big sporting events.
“As a nation of sports fans, you’d expect Australia to know something about this sector. And fortunately, it’s true!,” said Mr Harcourt.
“Since putting on the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Australia has developed a world class reputation for sports infrastructure, sports marketing and merchandising as well as sports medicine and sports-related technology.
“Holding sporting events themselves has also helped Australian exporters in other sectors. For example Cleanevent which provided cleaning services to Sydney picked up the Athens contract, architects like PTW and Woodheads are helping to design architecture in Beijing in the Olympic precinct and elsewhere and Biograde are using the Olympics to showcase their environmental technologies.
“Since the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Australia has forged over $1.7 billion in trade and investment deals via sports related networking. It’s become part of our national brand and its shows that the sport exports do have lasting economic benefit.”

Austrade will harness the excitement and energy of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games to showcase Australia in China. More than 3000 Australian and Chinese businesspeople are expected to attend events at Business Club Australia. Business Club Australia is the official business program for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, and will use the resources of Austrade’s Chinese network of 15 offices to bring together Australians and key Chinese officials and businesspeople. Over 40 Australian companies have won more than 50 Beijing Games related contracts, many with Austrade assistance.
Bahrain’s Olympic team are sponsored by Nike. As part of Ms Al Ghasara’s team contract she competes in Nike shoes and National Olympic Committee sleeveless Vest.

http://www.austrade.gov.au/Olympic-runner-to-cut-a-dashing-figure-in-Aussie-Hijood/default.aspx

Gallery

Hijab Success Story: Basketball Star

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Geoff Calkins: Muslim basketball player Bilqis Abdul- Qaadir prepares for first season with Memphis By Geoff Calkins Friday, October 15, 2010 At just before 5 p.m. in the Elma Roane Fieldhouse, the point guard signals to the head coach and … Continue reading

Bikini vs. Burqa: from my Facebook wall

Bikinis Make Men See Women as Objects, Scans Confirm

Sexy women in bikinis really do inspire some men to see them as objects, according to a new study of male behavior.

Brain scans revealed that when men are shown pictures of scantily clad women, the region of the brain associated with tool use lights up.

Men were also more likely to associate images of sexualized women with first-person action verbs such as “I push, I grasp, I handle,” said lead researcher Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University.

And in a “shocking” finding, Fiske noted, some of the men studied showed no activity in the part of the brain that usually responds when a person ponders another’s intentions.  (Read more here.)

bikini vs. burka
COLUMBIA ROOMMATE  The text is true but the picture is misguided. Women are nor forced to where bikinis in the US, whereas women are forced to cover their skin in certain Arabic countries. It’s a choice / human rights question.
FELLOW HIGH SCHOOL ALUM  And bikinis are awesome.
ACTIVIST  Women who wish to cover their faces are forced not to in certain ‘western’ countries. That’s an equally unfair restriction on personal freedom. The picture says everybody’s an idiot, which is pretty fair.
COLUMBIA ROOMMATE  Yeah, not in the US. I somehow doubt that al-Qãhırıï is making an anti-France point here.
ACTIVIST  That’s true, but he didn’t actually name the US so I’m looking at things in a more global sense since most of the world isn’t America. The point remains the same though – personal freedom does include the choice to be modest, and there are more countries than France restricting that now. It’s all childish anyway – how another human being dresses doesn’t change my life.
COLUMBIA ROOMMATE  I’m all for absolute freedom in how people dress. Including going naked.
ACTIVIST I’d like to limit being naked, mostly because a great majority of people are not people I’d want to see naked 🙂
RED CROSS  i feel sorry about you activist.
al-Qãhırıï  ‎@COLUMBIA ROOMMATE it’s complicated:  Sociology of Gender:  the Hijab
COLUMBIA ROOMMATE  Thanks for posting that paper, al-Qãhırıï. I agree that a snap judgment that women wear a hijab due to patriarchal oppression is not the most educated view. In fact, let’s say it is 100% incorrect and damaging.
If we agree on that point, I think it boils down to one’s view on the role of religion in a political state. If one believes that religion and state are inseparable, then the mandate to wear a hijab is practically consistent and appropriate – a law that encourages alignment with the religious text on which the government’s policies are based. Makes sense.
If one, on the other hand, believes that religion and state should be separated, then it is wrong to force a woman to wear a hijab.
Of course, things are never this simple. There are gray areas and questions much more difficult to answer, depending on one’s beliefs. For example, if one believes in a human being’s intrinsic right to free expression, then even a government based on religion, despite its innate drive to align law and faith, is alienating a right. It’s very structure, its very essence, alienates that right.
And then there are some purely theoretical angles to this question. For example, imagine Culture X which only allows its people to wear green hats. The people of Culture X only grow up wearing green hats and the idea of wearing any hat but a green one seems ridiculous, even alien. Now imagine Culture Y, which allows its people to wear any color hat. Certain colors may be more popular, but people grow up to pick the color they like best on their own. While a member of Culture X may not understand why anyone would want to wear a non-green hat, that same member may have potentially chosen a different color had he been born into Culture Y. This opens up another can of worms – whether the “purpose” of the individual should be the flexing of his individualism or the attempt to maintain harmony of the group.
I am not saying I believe or do not believe in any of these views. Just laying the groundwork for any kind of discussion that is to be had on this topic.
al-Qãhırıï  ‎@COLUMBIA ROOMMATE that’s an amazing comment!
Now here’s a pickle: I don’t believe that Islam and law are separable, meaning that Islam is the basis for what’s right, permissible, inadvisable and wrong in a Muslim’s life.
This is different than “church & state” in that there does not need to be an Islamic state for a Muslim to choose the Islamic legal framework.
NOW, whether or not there is a state, there is no legal basis for forcing a woman to cover herself. The wording of the Qur-an, as I showed in the paper you read, lists two reasons for covering: to be recognized and to not be molested. That’s usually said to mean to be recognized as a believer and to discourage unwanted advances.
There is no legal punishment for a woman to reveal her body in the shari’ah. There are numerous recorded instances when Muhammad saw a woman without her head or face covered and did not force her to cover them. These narrations are also a source of Islamic law. Since there is no legal precedent for punishing/enforcing the Islamic dress code, in my eyes this leaves the situation at the verse “There is no compulsion in the religion” (Qur-an 2.256). So if a woman is not a believer or doesn’t want to be recognized as one, and/or does not fear/mind advances, she is free.
So IF and, since we know, WHEN a government forces a woman to adopt the Islamic dress code, they have stepped beyond the bounds of their authority and onto her right of choice. You may as well know that the only government I know of which enforces the head-covering is Iran. I am in Saudi Arabia and I can see women with their heads and faces uncovered every day outside. There is a requirement to wear a cloak (abaya). I think this goes to your very relevant point about grey areas, in this instance the grey area between cultural norms and religious requirements. In Oman, for example, where the laws are much more lax, no one tells a woman what to wear, but she knows she would stick out like a sore thumb without long, loose clothing. It is a sort of peer pressure, and I believe this is the only valid way to expect people to change: by presenting so many examples that they either agree with or start to respect the point. No one should be forced to do what they don’t believe in, or prevented from doing what they believe, unless there is an established harm in it.
COLUMBIA ROOMMATE Awesome post. Thanks for writing it. I think we see eye to eye on this.
al-Qãhırıï  we been seein’ eye-to-eye a lot lately…
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Related Posts
Hijab (head), niqab (face), and jilbab (body)

Sociology of Gender: the Hijab

The following is a final exam paper I wrote on the practice of hijab (Islamic veil).  I was in a Sociology class called “Sociology of Gender” taught by Dr. Elizabeth Bernstein at Barnard College.  It presents the results of a survey I conducted at Columbia University that shows that non-Muslims and Westerners fail to understand this and other practices because they focus on forcing their assumptions on the situation rather than considering what Islam really means.  I got a B+…

_______

Daniel Nehemiah Oliver

Sociology of Gender Final Question 2

There is no god but ALLAH.  Muhammad (May the Peace and Blessings of ALLAH be upon him) is the Messenger of ALLAH.  Sincere belief in these statements makes one a Muslim.  They are the fundamental, guiding principles of Muslim life.  They, for instance, establish the Qur’an unquestionably as the word of ALLAH, brought to humanity by his Messenger.  Belief in ALLAH and His Messenger and the authority of the Qur’an figure importantly in the Muslim/Western

Dr. Homa Hoodfar

debate over veiling moreso than Hoodfar, in The Veil in their Minds and on their Heads*, realizes.  She rightly identifies the Qur’an as an influencing factor in Middle Eastern veiling practices, but her essay does not explore its implications.  Her argument is based mainly on historical and sociological sketches that illuminate truths about Middle Eastern society and Muslim culture, but by ignoring Islam as a faith, and failing to acknowledge Muslims as a distinct, diverse group, held together by and operating upon the dynamics of this faith, the discussion of veiling loses credibility and explanatory value.  This paper presents the findings of a study aimed at exploring and explaining this crucial and little understood aspect of veiling.

Palestinian Christians in headscarves

To this end, I selected a survey sample that could represent these unheard and ignored voices.  I picked 3 types of respondents, whom I coded as “Muslims”, “Muslimahs” and “Hijabis”.  The Muslims were two male Muslims, one born Muslim (Muslim B) and one revert to islam (Muslim R).  (Those who accept Islam from another faith are called reverts rather than converts, due to a belief that all things are born in, and some later corrupted from, fitrah, a natural state of submission to ALLAH.)  The Muslimahs were two Muslim women who do not veil;  one born Muslim (Muslimah B) and one revert (Muslimah R).  The Hijabis were two Muslim women who do veil, also known as wearing hijab;  one born Muslim (Hijabi B) and one revert (Hijabi R).  All six of these were affiliated with Columbia University or Barnard College either as undergraduates, graduate students, or staff.  Their ages ranged from 18-29, and their backgrounds and living experiences represent the diversity of the world’s Muslims to as great a degree as possible given the sample size.

Islam is the basis of a worldwide community united by belief in the Lordship of ALLAH and the messengership of Muhammad.  This community is diverse in every way that a community can be:  linguistically, culturally, economically,Hijab (head), niqab (face), and jilbab (body) geographically, economically, theologically, and so on.  Veiling and most other practices are not uniform.  These differences, however, are usually not based on belief, but on interpretation of belief.  Take the Qur’an, for example.  There are no versions.  The only variation lies in the rendering of Arabic terms different translators may choose.  So, in the original Árabic, every Muslim reads the same thing, but inevitably many individualized readings result.  Consider the following:

(With the Name of Allah, the Universally Merciful, the Discriminately Merciful)

And say to the believing women to lower their gaze, and protect their private parts, and not to show their ornaments except what is apparent, and two draw their veils over their bosoms and not to show their adornments except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands’ fathers, or their sons, or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women or what their right hands possess, or to their male servants who have no vigor, or children who are not yet aware of women’s private parts…

– Qur’an, Chapter 24 an-Nuur/“The Light”: 31

And

O Prophet, say to your wives, and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their outer garments over themselves.  As such it is likelier that they will be recognized and not molested.  ALLAH Is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.

– Qur’an, Chapter 33 al-Ahzab/“The Confederates”: 59

It must first be said that this paper is not gaging the accuracy of this translation from the original text.  In addition, the purpose of this paper is not to explain or interpret these verses.  These verses have been presented simply as evidence that the Qur’an contains mandates concerning the practicing of veiling or hijab.  (The word hijab means “screen or veil”, rather than, for example, for example, “headscarf” or “cloak”.  There are many words for Muslim womens’ outer garments, not all of which are found in Islamic literature.)  To Muslims, again, the words of the Qur’an are no less than the words of the One, True God.

All but one respondent, Muslimah B, agreed that hijab is legislated by the Qur’an.  In the words of Muslimah R, “It was prescribed in the Qur’an for women to cover themselves”.  Hijabi B simply answers “ALLAH Commanded it”.  These statements begin to answer one of the questions central to this study and the lager debate over veiling:  why do Muslim women veil themselves?

Hoodfar unduly emphasizes Arabian and Mediterranean traditions dating back to antiquity, but only presents the fact of veil-wearing:  its first recorded references, its changing role in societies over time, etc.  However, the reason for veiling is largely untouched in her essay.  Westerners and feminists have for some time defined their reasons for other women’s veiling customs:  patriarchy, notions of the harem, and extreme repression and domination by men.  This colonial method of assumption is prone to great misunderstandings because these “studies” of Muslims have mostly been unaccompanied by what makes them Muslim:  Islam.  This ignorance seemed apparent to Hoodfar at times, though she did fully address it or elude it.  It was not lost on Hijabi B, quoted here at length, who summarizes wonderfully how Muslims feel about the views of Westerners and academics whose conclusions about Muslims are formed without consideration of Islam.

Did you ever think to ask me?

“Responses to common misconceptions (even by [Columbia] professors teaching about Islam”  Hijab was not a left-over practice from pre-Islamic culture, it doesn’t mean our parents force us to marry our cousins, it’s not just a political statement, it doesn’t limit intellectual development…  it’s not a symbol of male domination, it doesn’t have to be black, it doesn’t make our heads that much warmer in the summer”

She finishes with a telling reflection:  “It can be some of those things, but often is not.”

Other respondents described hijab as:

– “the ultimate necessity for any woman (Muslim R)

– “unfair” (Hijabi R)

– “a chore” (Hijabi R)

– “a wonderful way to protect the modesty of a woman” (Muslimah R)

These are all things that wearing hijab or veiling can be, according to the respondents.  But in the end, they are largely the effects of hijab, not its causes.  For example it is doubtful that that Hijabi R, who feels that hijab is unfair, wears it because it’s unfair.

Regarding cause, interestingly, none of the stereotypical, Western/academic-assigned causes for veiling were quoted by the respondents.  Some were actually refuted, as in Hijabi B’s above quote.  Family pressure was mentioned once, but only as a discouragement against veiling.  All respondents were geographically and socially distant from the Middle East, negating it by default as a cultural explanation of the veiling practice.

To the Muslims of this survey, veiling has a meaning, and a power, that is lost on the minds of Western academia.  Just is in Hoodfar’s essay’s explanation of the veil carrying a sense of power, Hijabi R said that hijab was a way to “fight in the way of ALLAH’s Cause”.  To Muslimah R it was a statement of faith.  Muslimah B felt it “shows one’s inner strength”.  To these women, whether or not they chose to wear it, the hijab was a force, and a statement, as well as a shield and display of modesty.

Why has Western academia, with it sustained contact with Muslim population groups, failed to recognize the value of the practice of veiling?  It is not just because of the colonial/propagandist motivations that do too much to frame western discourse on Muslims.  The seemingly blind misunderstanding is one symptom of a larger problem:  willful ignorance of Islam and refusal to acknowledge faith.  One does not have to be a Muslim to study the practice of veiling, but how can studies of veiling ignore Islam when the practitioners list ALLAH, Islam and the Qur’an as the cause?  Western/non-Muslim perceptions, and to an extent Hoodfar’s essay, fail- refuse, in fact- to capture the reality of veiling as an extension of their refusal to acknowledge Islam.  Sympathizing Western feminists thus perpetuate the paternalism and repression that they suffer by re-inflicting it on Muslim women.  If Western men have historically treated women like objects, then that is all the less reason for them to do the same thing to Muslim women.  The feminist protest is against being treated like a docile, disenfranchised second class, yet feminism, out of ironic sympathy, approaches hundreds of millions across the globe as exactly that.  How can feminists insist on their voices being heard, when they drown the voices of Muslim women?  How can they, perhaps even more ironically, oppose being treated like sexual objects, while fighting for their right to look like one and belittling the women who refuse to?

Veiled Hindu women at a temple

This guise of objectivity is itself a veil, masking an academic and cultural arrogance that causes the scientific standards of Western academia to falter and the societies which it informs to suffer.  Some studies show American Muslims to live at a higher standard-of-living and education level than American non-Muslims.  The statistics of homicide and sexual violence in Western societies soar high above those of Muslim populations.  The tendency to criticize and patronize should be replaced with one to recognize.

The West, especially and perhaps because of its academics and feminists, succumbs to the subjectivity it is so wary of internally because it refuses to subjectively evaluate the meaning, or even acknowledge the statement that there is not deity besides ALLAH and Muhammad is His messenger.

* 1997. “The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads: The Persistence of Colonial Images of Muslim Women”, Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital, David Lloyd and Lisa Lowe (eds). Duke University Press, (reprint).