Interfaith solidarity is not about stripping Muslim women of their identity

Today, more than ever, anti-Islamic rhetoric has been widely accepted in the media and the result of this rhetoric has been violence and hatred against Muslims, primarily Muslim women who wear the hijab. The hijab, first and foremost, is a representation of Muslim identity. Many Muslim women in America have reported physical assaults and verbal abuse as a result of the popular Islamic bigotry expressed in the media. It is challenging for us Muslim women to come up on top and show our strength against these powerful figures who continue to belittle us, and it is articles like As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity that was recently published in The Washington Post that is backpedaling the progress Muslim women have been trying to make over the course of these troubling times.

There are many problematic assertions Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa make in this article. The purpose of this short piece is to address the badly concocted claims about the hijab Nomani and Arafa make by cherry picking quotes from the Quran and taking them out of context to fit their “modern-Muslim” agenda. More so, this is about the showing the disingenuous and condescending notes Nomani and Arafa made while writing this article.

The title of the article, As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity, indicates that taking off the hijab shows that women who are taking part of this campaign to get women to take off their hijabs is becoming one with all religions.

Let us just break this down for just a moment. Nomani and Arafa are asking Muslim women to strip their identity to be a part of an interfaith solidarity movement. The key words in this are interfaith solidarity. Essentially what is being asked in this interfaith solidarity movement is to adapt to their standards and essentially assimilate to their cultural values. That is not interfaith solidarity, that’s the exact opposite in fact. One would actually think that this campaign for interfaith solidarity would be more so about coming together, to learn about their religious backgrounds, understand the complexities of subjects, and learn to tolerate differences. Asking for Muslim women to take away a major part of who they are is not solidarity, it is sugarcoating stripping one of their identity.

The irony in all of that is comical—really, but it is also frustrating that these Muslim women are telling other Muslim women to take their hijab off. Nomani and Arafa were forced to wear the hijab in a time of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and the conservative Muslim movement that swept through Egypt. They have reasons to be upset at the coercion behind wearing the hijab, but that does not legitimize their ideas that the hijab is not essential in Islam. Their “modern-Muslim” views is not really initiating liberation for women, it is teaming up with anti-Islamic views that one should not outwardly practice their religion. This anti-hijab article also insinuates this idea that in order to obtain acceptance of Americans and Westerners, Muslim women need to take their hijab off.

Muslim women continue to get the brute of the punch because the media has linked wearing the hijab as being extreme. For Muslim women today, they must choose between being loyal to American values and assimilating to American culture—which also means taking off the hijab or being cast to the side as an outlier to society. Muslim women constantly have to win over approval of society to be seen as normal American citizens who enjoy American values like other non-hijabis are privileged with.

We also should consider the audience of this article. It is very unlikely that Nomani and Arafa were writing to women in countries like Saudi Arabia where women are forced to veil themselves. It is very unlikely that Nomani and Arafa were writing to these women to tell them to start a new liberation movement for women. Nomani and Arafa’s audience are Americans. There is no law that enforces the hijab on women here in the United States. The Muslim women who wear the hijab and are most likely women who chose to wear the hijab. Because the audience is primarily American women (the main picture also being an American Muslim at Starbucks) the point of the article is not about liberating the American Muslim woman, for I’m sure the pictured girl is studying for a university test, or preparing for work, or just working on a hobby. American Muslim women do not need other Muslim women to tell them what to do—we do what we want.

In my experience as an ex-hijabi, if you would like to refer to it as that, is that I took the hijab off because I wanted to—not because anyone told me to. I read the Quran, and I read Leila Ahmed’s brilliant works, and I read other Islamic and scholarly works on the hijab. It is condescending to tell Muslim women who wear and do not wear the hijab to take the hijab off. Nomani and Arafa should not be telling other Muslim women to take their hijab off to be part of this interfaith solidarity movement. Nomani and Arafa should be telling women to accept and tolerate Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab. Girls and women should be who they want to be, and if wearing the hijab is a part of who they are, they should not be discouraged from wearing it.

It is not practical nor is it intelligent to try to unravel Quranic verses in a limited space where the main focus is not even interpreting and understanding the Quran’s meaning of the hijab. Their strategy to getting their point across by cherry picking verses and giving quick, limited interpretations of it does not mean they have solved the hijab puzzle. Nomani and Arafa have left out a significant amount of information about the hijab, and claiming that the hijab is not required is irresponsible and disingenuous—especially to Muslim women who wear the hijab.

Equally disturbing is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, pseudo Muslim feminist, staunch Islamophobe, and self-proclaimed Muslim reformer endorses this belief. It is not shocking that she does. Following the publication of this article, Ayaan Hirsi Ali went on a twitter rant about how the hijab promotes rape culture and reduces a woman to her genitalia. I will not go into the obvious reason for why statements like these are troublesome and wrong. It is this narrative that not only stifles the progress Muslim women have made in society, but it also furthers this notion that Muslim women who choose to follow a certain way of Islam are seen as barbaric and uncivilized. This outrageous and inaccurate claim by Hirsi Ali not only demonizes women who choose to wear the hijab—it also sends a message to people that the hijab is dangerous, and girls and women who do wear the hijab need to be freed from it. Nomani and Arafa exposed a side of supposed feminist Islam that coincides with the anti-Islamic narrative the media wants to hear from Muslim women; and that practicing Islam and wearing the hijab disrupts American and Western values. To remedy this, Muslim women should take off their hijab.

The Washington Post article is not about interfaith solidarity, this article is to encourage Muslim women to take the hijab off and assimilate to American values so they can fix the wrongs extremist have done in the name of Islam. As an American Muslim woman, I do not need to be told what to believe. As an American Muslim woman, I need people to tolerate my religion and see Islam as a part of who I am.

Female Virtue Facade–How some Islamic communities push women to go to extremes

For many Arab Americans and Muslim Americans, gossiping communities keep us attached: they make us feel a sense of belonging, a sense of feeling connected to our heritage, religion, and even the countries where our parents originated from. But while these communities make us feel connected, they simultaneously push us further away from them. The next generation of Arab-Muslim Americans are defying these centuries old social constructs created by these gossip entrenched communities. Most importantly, women are defying virtue with reconstructive hymen surgery. It’s silly to think that today, in the twenty-first century, women still have to defend their sexual life or more surprisingly hide it. Female virtue in Arab-Muslim communities is a façade—a glaring one.

I’m not speaking for all Arab, or Muslim women or even just for Muslim and Arab women—for I’m sure there are still many communities who still frown upon premarital sex. I know Muslim communities aren’t the only ones obsessed with virginity. The Independent recently published an article featuring photos shedding light on the “purity balls” happening in conservative Christian communities like Colorado. According to The Independent, “purity balls” are when young girls and their fathers make pledges to each other and God. These fathers who partake in the “purity balls” are supposedly responsible for being an “example of purity and model integrity for their daughter’s lives.” But are these girls fully aware and sure of what exactly they’re pledging to? The majority of girls who decided to make these pledges are about 12 and 13 years old. Regardless, my point with that is to show that it isn’t just Muslim-Arab communities that are obsessed with their daughters’ virginity. Granted, my community isn’t the type to throw “purity balls,” they do celebrate the “bloody bed sheets” tradition—which is completely scary and medieval.

Today, premarital sex for women in Muslim-Arab communities, like mine, is still widely frowned upon. Why? When will women be able to have sex and not feel ashamed about it? Here’s a simple reason: marriage. Their families and their communities only institutionalize their daughters to believe that they are to be untouched before marriage. Shocked that men still wait for their wives to bleed? Don’t. In most communities like mine, men anticipate “breaking in” their new wives. Blood on the wedding night, for many women—not all—indicates virginity, and purity.

Surely, there are still non-religious mothers who emphasize the importance of virtue to their daughters. Common phrases like “don’t let a man deflower you” or “don’t let any man pop your cherry” are widespread and common in Arab-Muslim communities, too. However, it’s the severity of the consequence these Arab-Muslim women face that makes their situation a little more complex and frightening. More than ever today, Muslim women make up the majority of those who reconstruct their hymens. This surgery is called hymenoplasty. Many Muslim women take it upon themselves to go under the knife to restore the tissue that was penetrated to avoid any gossip that could ruin her marriage and reputation, or even worse, put her in harms way of her spouse and/or family.

To many men, virginity defines their spouse. That’s why so many women in Islamic communities who aren’t virgins before marriage decide to get “fixed”: to prove to their husbands that they’re pure.

Today, Muslim women are getting “fixed” before marriage so that their future husbands don’t find out that they’re not virgins anymore. As a young girl growing up in a conservative Islamic and Arab household, I was always told that premarital sex was “haram” for forbidden which, if done, is followed by severe consequences in the afterlife. So, growing up, I wasn’t focusing so much on sex because I was always scared of it. Well, not scared of sex itself, but being punished for having sex. But what also scared me more as a young girl was not the punishment by God in the afterlife, but more someone finding out; ie, my mom or dad and people in the community because word spreads like wildfire. All hell would break loose. It was not until I got older when I adopted the idea that virginity was a social construct to keep women in check—to give the male the upper hand in the relationship. Men have preemptive power over these women’s lives—before they even meet. Women in communities like mine, who choose to stay virgins until marriage adjust their whole lives and their sexual urges for their male partner’s satisfaction. Not theirs.

Most Muslim parents embed their daughter’s minds with the belief that premarital sex is a vile sin—one that is nearly unforgivable by God. Most parents will point out verses in the Quran, which indicate that fornication is forbidden and that the punishments are grave. So most girls either become so scared of fornication they stay virgins until marriage. There are some girls who are so scared of fornication that they do it for the hell of it—to get it out of their system—to fight the system—to fight God, and mostly their parents. Ironically, it’s those girls who go to the doctors to get “fixed.” My friend made a reference to this concept when I started ranting about it on Twitter. When I used the word “fixed” she responded with, “fixed like a domesticated animal.” And in a very surreal sense, she’s spot on. Muslim parents are so fixated on keeping their girls virgins until marriage they inadvertently make their girls want to have sex even more. Stubborn conservative Muslim parents are ignorant to today’s sex-centered society. They’re also ignorant to have sex talks with their daughters. Muslim parents would rather pretend the subject doesn’t exist in conversation than talk about sex, virginity, and purity and what it all actually means. My parents never gave me the “talk.” I just learned from my friends’ “sexperiences.” Clearly, preaching the scary, punishable, fundamental aspects of Islam are easier to talk about than having a conversation about sex.

Consequently, for a lot of girls who don’t want to face the gossip of the community, harm from their spouses and/or families endure the surgical operation to sew their hymens so that they’ll bleed again on their wedding night. Medieval shit, yes. But more importantly, women have to hide their sexual past—and these women vow to never bring the subject up to their spouse ever.

Too many girls in Muslim-Arab communities fear being shunned, punished, and gossiped about. These fears trump everything, so they resort to getting surgery. So while many of these girls are hiding their sex lives from their partners—the men virtually go unchecked. That’s almost the worst part of it all; the double standard. No one expects men to be virgins when they get married. That responsibility is solely left to the women to hold and value.

More importantly, while these parents were neglecting sex talks with their daughters, their daughters were actively having sex. The oppressive system, in hindsight, worked against the parents, not really the daughters. In the beginning the parents were so focused on Islam and gossip they forgot to remember their daughters were just girls, only humans. Ironically, the parents who were overly didactic about Islam and gossip forgot about what was really important—the safety of their daughters. These same parents take their daughters to get “fixed”  so they’re eligible for a proper consummation with their husbands, but more importantly, for also avoiding gossip that would erupt after the wedding night.

Although we’re not throwing “purity balls” for our girls for making a pledge to their fathers to stay untouched, many Arab-Muslim girls implicitly pledge to their parents that they’ll remain virgins, because, well, that’s what most their parents think is easier to believe. And the girls who don’t give a fuck what people say are slowly changing how the next generation of girls view sex and virtue. However, for some people, they prefer not to hear from your aunts sister’s brother’s father-in-law’s cousin’s friend that their daughter is not a virgin anymore because that would bring shame on to the family like a motherf*c&eR.