Veiled Truth

Sara Grace O'Connell

Sara Grace O'Connell
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SF Bay Area, California,
Birthday
April 03
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Salon.com
Editor’s Pick
NOVEMBER 6, 2008 8:49PM

Growing Up O'Muslim

Rate: 32 Flag

I wrote this piece about two years ago...

I am 6 feet tall.

I have blonde hair and green eyes.

I have freckles.

I was born Muslim.

I am a third-generation Irish-American daughter of converts.

My parents converted over 30 years ago, before they met each other. My mother whose family is agnostic, converted through Muslim friends of hers. My father whose family is Catholic, also converted through Muslim friends but he also had an experience which brought him closer to making the decision to do so.

My father was driving his friend's camper on a trip they were taking. Inside of his friend's camper was a sign which had the Muslim declaration of faith: "There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is His messenger. My father's friend was not Muslim, but he was appreciative of the teachings of Islam. My father fell asleep at the wheel and crashed the camper. He was ejected through the front windshield and ended up breaking both of his ankles. As soon as he made his way back to the camper wreckage, everything had fallen off of the walls, all but the sign which he had seen was still affixed to the wall.

On hijab, I had been going through difficulties in my personal life and during that time God was the only consistency in my life- when I felt I had no one else to turn to, He was there. In Islam, modesty is commended in women (as well as men)- not only in appearance, but also in demeanor. Regardless of images that are shown daily on television, one of the key points of Islam, which is also written in chapter two of the Quran, is that there is no compulsion in Islam. Meaning whether a person wants to follow the guidelines of Islam or not, from an Islamic perspective, people cannot force religion upon each other, it is strictly between each individual and God.

Although some do, Muslim women should not cover to please the men in their life. On the contrary, it has to do with their own self-respect, their own sense of self-worth and independence. When you see a Muslim woman on the street she stands out. In today's society where anorexia is rampant and plastic surgery is the norm, hijab is a form of liberation from these pressures. In Islam, we are told that each woman in her individuality is beautiful, there is no standard for physical beauty. God values inner beauty far more than outer beauty, and we do it for Him.

What many forget is that other women of the book, both Jews and Christians, were also instructed to cover their hair out of modesty, all one has to do is look at the statues and paintings of the Virgin Mary to better understand the historical aspect of hijab. 

Before wearing the hijab, people were shocked to find out that I am Muslim and their first reaction was usually that they thought I converted for a man. When I began to cover, the conversations I have had with people because of it have become quite interesting. It is such a nice feeling to be told by a stranger that they think you are beautiful in your hijab because they genuinely mean it, it's not just some guy trying to get into your pants- or should I say.. hijab?

One day I was at the cosmetics department of Macy's where I used to work, getting my makeup done. The girl who was doing it was asking me about my hijab since she had never seen me wearing it when we worked together. I explained to her my reasons for wearing it and she was fascinated by the whole idea of it. She then told me how proud she was of me for doing it, Her exact words were: "You have balls, I could never do what you do." We then got into a whole discussion about the way she feels when she sees a Muslim at the airport as well as society's overall view of Muslims. I left the makeup counter that night not only looking a helluva lot better but also with a new perspective of how some people view Muslims and she told me she also learned a lot and had more of an understanding of Muslims.

I also used to work in a hotel, which brought about interesting interactions. I have been asked if I am Iranian, Mormon, whether I am cold, or the gentleman who feigned shock when he found out that Muslim women can wear makeup, bless his heart. There was a woman who, in the middle of check-in, said "So you are Muslim. But you couldn't possibly have been born Muslim, so when did you convert?"

When people make comments to me like that, it can definitely be trying. However, I would rather a random person ask me whatever questions they have about my beliefs than that they remain in ignorance.

No, we are not pagans. We follow the same pattern of other Abrahamic faiths. One God. Many Prophets. One final messenger. We are taught the same basic tenets of other religions: do not steal, do not lie, do not cheat, no sex outside of marriage, do good, give to the poor, help the weak. One of the five pillars of Islam which include faith, prayer, fasting during Ramadan, performing hajj at least once if financially able, is giving to the poor and those less fortunate than you if you have the money to do so.

I look to my Mother who wears the hijab as my example. When we were younger and people would stare at her, she would just smile and wave at them. She taught me to never judge people for their ignorance, for we all remain ignorant to some degree. 

Before I started wearing the hijab I took my sister who lives in Saudi Arabia, and also wears the hijab, and her kids to Disneyland. People would stare at her, talk about her and even point. My sister did not even notice, but at that point I had to unleash this Irish temper of mine and I would ask them what they were looking at or say something to that effect. Now that I have put on the hijab, I understand my mother's and sister's reactions. Do not get me wrong; I have no problem checking someone who insults me or my faith, but if a person is ignorant or does not understand why I do what I do, I am happy to talk with them about it.

Although it can painful to be so blatantly judged based on my appearance, I try to make light of a situation- what else can I do but laugh? I was on an airplane once, sitting in the front row, prime location. Over half of the plane loaded and not one person sat next to me, meanwhile the rows surrounding me filled up. Finally a black man came and sat down next to me. I turned to him and motioning to my hijab, told him that it was smart of him to sit next to me because on the full flight it was likely that the seat between us would remain empty. At first he seemed surprised to hear me say that but then he laughed and said, "Between your scarf and my blackness that seat is guaranteed to stay empty!" 

We get uncomfortable and do not want to talk about prejudices, but the fact is, they exist and we all are prejudiced to some degree. The only way to address it and completely erase it from society toward not only Muslims, but all marginalized minority groups, is through conversation.

During the Gulf War, my eldest sister's hijab was ripped off and trash was thrown on her by some boys on the school bus. Thankfully, such incidents are rare, but prejudices exist. In a post-9/11 world, it is rare to find Muslims in America who have not faced some sort of discrimination or threat. 

Growing up hearing Muslim women are abused, that they are not treated as equals, I thought to myself, that is not the Islam that I know. My father, in over 30 years of marriage to my mother, has never raised a hand to her. He treated her as his partner, as his equal and she has maintained her own identity, as an individual, mother, wife, daughter, and business owner.

Oftentimes culture and religion is mixed up and it is assumed that customs of a culture are part of a religion, when in fact they are not.

Islam was the first religion that afforded women the right to vote. Muslim women were given the right to hold property and the right to inheritance long before many of their European counterparts. Prophet Mohammed held women in a high regard and treated his wives as equals. Muslim women are not required to cook or clean for their husbands, in fact if they wish they can ask their husband for a maid or for money to clean and if a woman does it herself, than it is considered a charity act on her part toward her husband.

What happened along the way you ask? Culture. Arab and South Asian cultures are patriarchal by nature. Just as beauty and sex can be used in U.S. Western culture as a tool to subjugate women, so too can religion be used. When you hear these stories of honor killings and the abuse of women it is assumed that it is something from the religion. But it is not, it is people using religion to justify their cultural and personal values. 

One thing that I find frustrating is the media and political systems that are fixated on "liberating" Muslim women. What if we are happy in our hijabs? What if we are happy being Muslims? I find it ironic coming from a place where abuses against American women still occur. Where one in four women is raped by the time she finished college. Where domestic violence occurs. Where children dread going home for fear of abuse. Just because you hear of an American man abusing his wife, you are not going to say Christianity is a religion that abuses women. Abuse is abuse. It transcends culture, and is wrong no matter who does it.

I sit on the fence between the two worlds: holding onto my identity as an
Irish-American woman, while trying to maintain my identity as a Muslim
woman. Every day I walk the line between the two realms.

Christmas had to be the strangest day of the year when we were growing up because we knew that kids our age were waking up to gifts and festivities. My family and I joined the few people throughout the country who did not celebrate Christmas and went to one of the few places open on Christmas, the movie theater. The only holiday that we shared with our peers was Thanksgiving because it was secular, but no 8-year-old says the day after Thanksgiving, "So how about that turkey dinner?"

Thoughts of Christmas, Halloween and Easter vanished when the time came for our holidays: Ramadan, the sunrise to sunset fast that Muslims observe for one month and Eid which comes twice a year, once right after Ramadan and again two months later. As children, I still remember the anticipation we felt the night before Eid. On Eid morning we would shower, put on new dress clothes and go to the Eid prayer with thousands of other Muslims. After returning home my mom would make a breakfast with an endless supply of cookies and sweets and invite our friends over. And of course the gifts. Whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish, presents have the same meaning for kids all over the world. Yes, that is right, we get not one but two Christmases.

I have been explaining myself to people since I was a child. My non-Muslim friends never fully understood why my parents did not allow me to date, why I chose not to drink, why I had different holidays, etc.

People within the Muslim community would always assume that I converted. Often times I found myself the odd woman out at mosque gatherings and I have always had to explain myself to them. When they ask how long I have been Muslim, I usually answer their question with the same.

I have also been put on the "white Muslim" pedestal where Muslims want to show me off. As much as I am flattered by their opinion of me, I want to be judged as any other Muslim, or human for that matter, based on my actions and what kind of person I am, not on the color of my skin or religion. 
Like any other group of people, you have the good ones and the bad ones. One of the things I love about Islam is the sense of sister and brotherhood that it brings followers. If you meet a Muslim randomly you can almost always connect on that and it would not be surprising if they invite you to dinner, or to visit their family.

Through all of this, I would not want it any other way. I love Islam. My
religion and connection to God brings me a sense of peace that I have not found elsewhere.

I am not Muslim because my parents are. I have made the conscious decision to follow Islam. 

When Muslims are preparing for their five-time daily prayer, they must wash themselves properly before. The calmness that comes to me when doing that and performing prayer is like nothing else. It is that time of the day that you take out for just yourself and God. In a way it can be compared to the time that a Buddhist takes to meditate, it is when you just focus on something that lead to the same goal of inner peace.

Every Friday is the Juma'a Prayer which is held at the mosque. Men are required to go and while women are not required to go, it is good if they can. Before the prayer starts you listen to what could be compared to a sermon. The religious leader, talks about verses from the Quran and how they relate to people nowadays, or events that are happening in the world. After the prayer everyone usually stands around and socializes. Traditionally, the mosque is more than a house of worship, it has been the meeting place for people to gather and socialize.

In 2007, I visited Saudi Arabia where two of Islam's
holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, are located. We grew up looking at
pictures of the Kaaba, the black square house built by the prophet Abraham, but when I was there it was so surreal. The moment I saw the minarets on high walls surrounding the Kaaba, my tears would not stop. Each step I took toward the Kaaba, the anticipation built. As you walk toward the Kaaba you are supposed to keep your eyes down and the moment it is within view, you look up and make a prayer thanking God and asking him for whatever it is you want. In Mecca, I performed the Umrah, or the lesser pilgrimage. It was an amazing experience, I joined thousands of Muslims from all over the world, in the sole purpose of worshipping God. After circling the Kaaba seven times, I offered a prayer. I then walked between two mountains, Safa and Marwa, seven times. The story behind Safa and Marwa is that Hagar, Abraham's second wife, ran between the two mountains seven times looking for water for her son, on the seventh time, God brought forth water from the ground, it is called the spring of Zam Zam and the water still flows today. After that, men shave their heads and women cut a small piece from their hair. And there you have it, the Cliffs notes version of Umrah.

Although Mecca is the center of Islam, Medina is where my heart is. Medina is called the city of the Prophet. It is where the first mosque was built by Prophet Mohammed, and where he and many of his companions are buried. There are certain rules you have to follow while in Medina, not hurting anyone physically or verbally and not killing anything-not even a fly, that apply to both Mecca and Medina. I wish that everyone could go to Medina and just experience the kindness of the people, and the tranquility of the city.

When I arrived in Medina, it was about four in the morning and we had just enough time to shower and get ready for the morning prayer. I remember looking at the Prophet's mosque and just being in awe of its magnificence. After the prayer, my mom, my sister, her kids and I were sitting on the cool white Marble that surround the outside of the mosque. As I laid down and looked at the almost lavender sky above me, I felt the most at peace I ever had in my 21 years.

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I had to use a magnifying glass to read this, but it was worthy.

(rated)
Lovely essay and lovely perspective.
Very worthy. Well-written explanation from an American Irish young woman who is Muslim. I hope you tell us more. WE need ot get to know you and yoru unique perspective on life.

I have heard Muslim women say that their hijab is their freedom because it forces men to treat them as people with respect, as you say, and not as sex objects.

rated and looking forward to more.
Congratulations for your first post not only going editor's pick but on the cover--and the lead story.

We are all ears!
This is a really wonderful essay. Thanks so much for your unique perspective. Your story reminds of Malcolm X's account of his visit to Mecca. He was so surprised to see people who would fit your or your parents' descriptions there. We need more people like you speaking out and holding a mirror up to people and their prejudices. I look forward to reading more of your work.
It is unfortunate that you have to explain yourself to people; but important that you do. If the election of Barack Obama is going to signal a new era in racial attitudes in this country, certainly we need to work simultaneously for a new era of religious tolerance.

This is why I am in favor of totally secular government. When we talk about public prayer, it's always Christian prayer. In God We Trust implies a certain perspective. The Founding Fathers intent was that there be no national religion. It's time for America to fulfill this intent and embrace, privately, faith of all kinds.
At the risk of being redundant this is worthy, lovely, and you educated me. Thanks.
Another airhead bimbo pseudo intellectual trying to get attention.
by doing something different. How you seek spiritual
motivation/inspiration and closure is your problem. If you dont find it, so be it. If you want to wear hejab and kneel and fling/submit your ass to your god allah 5 times a day so be it, i am not interested.
salon editors, why do you entertain such crap ?
Very interesting story and I want to learn more about Islam but at the same time you still avoid some issues. Though we have domestic violence in America, it is not as systematic as it is in Muslim countries. Non-Muslim countries surrounding the middle east do not have the same sort of violence against women that Muslim countries have. Such as Israel, the Christian parts of Jordan and Syria and other central Asian countries. Well at least I don't think these areas do. From my knowledge, you have to put some blame on Islam in these countries for the lack of female rights. Also I would love to go to Mecca and Medina but I thought you have to be a Muslim to enter these cities.

Finally, I don't want to act you personally, but if you say your hijab makes you less objectified by men then why would you wear make up? I see make up as deepening the divide between men and women and the use of make up as just something completely superficial.
What is really wonderful is that one of the most vilified names on the planet, "Hussein" is now attached to the most powerful position in the world.

Hussein is truly looks and sounds like a name of royalty and I'm glad that that the paid propagandists couldn't affect destiny this time.
I strongly suggest that you delete the comment by Dan Phatak who adds nothing to the conversation and is a troll to boot. (You can do this from your manage comments button in your account.) It is just simple house cleaning. His comment is not worthy.

Michael, separation of church and state is an American value. One I like for us, don't get me wrong but many indigenous peoples see no divide in the divine and the everyday. Balance is everything.

Allan, it is the Arab culture which degrades women not Islam. African countries have misused Islam to support women's gential mutilation--an entirely cultural practice. Think of how many times that christianity has been misused to hurt people.

Thanks again for posting O'Muslim.
"I was born Muslim"

Really? No kidding, I was born not knowing wtf was going on and wanting milk. Ahhh, religion, the only ideology you can be "born with".

Anyway, I really dont see what the big deal with the hijad is. Personally, a really hot girl in a hijab over her hair...still looks like a really hot girl in a hijab. I dont really get the "hair fetish", personally I'm a leg man.

Anyway, more to the point. I know slutty trurkish, Iraqi, and Indonesian girls that all wear hijabs now and again. Plastic surgery and general bimboism is pretty rampant in the "muslimworld" as well,just because you want to pretend like it isnt...dont make it so.
Kuwaiti women cover their hair...then put on 4 pounds of makeup, so whatever....Trying like a fashion statement says something about you as a person is silly in the extreme.
I am one of those who believe that the headcoverings are about power, despite your well articulated position to the contrary--why else is it that the men are not expected to wear it? Nevertheless, I understand all women are free to choose...at least, they do in most western nation have this choice.

However, just as conventions of other nations and cultures abroad must be respected when we visit or reside in them, our conventions must be respected also. I am thinking in particular of a recent incident in NYC where a muslim woman was made to take off the headcovering for a drivers liscense photo. She was appalled and complained. Since it is our custom here that all applicants submit to a photo as a requirement for documention-- a visual component -- I really don't understand the objections. I am equally offended that anyone demand special consideration. I would not expect reletive exemption to be applied to me if I were in, say, Saudi Arabia. "When in Rome..." and all that. You might even call my feminism an attribute of my religion--I wouldn't ever expect the Saudis to care--it is counter to their culture.

Wear a headscarf--I would never wear one myself or encourage any other woman to do so because I believe it to be a clear symbol of domination by men, but I respect the choice. And yet, do not expect us to indulge in the way I just described in the example. Can you, as a headcovering wearing muslim woman, understand this position?

P.S. I mean you no disrespect. I hope you can accept the sincerity of my questions (and my assertions). Peace.
Unfortunately, your lovely and worthy post has been attracting more trolls. The last two have no picture and no posts of their own and yours is their first comment. Won't even respond to their ignorance since they appear not to even have read your post.

I remember an Algerian girl in middle school who wore purdah but her feet were marvelous. She wore cute strappy high-heeled shoes and her toenails were a work of art. Being Muslim does not make a woman plain.
Hello all- Thank you for taking the time to read my article as well as the valuable feedback both positive and negative. I have an insanely busy day today, but I will definitely get back to you all with responses.
O'Stephanie, I'm curious why you've taken it upon yourself to silence dissenting voices here, to call for the deletion of comments, labeling people trolls who are critical of this post, which is, ironically, quite trollish behavior. Are we only allowed to comment about how great this post is? I think the author is this piece is suffering from a kind of cultural/religious Stockholm syndrome. Would you like to have this comment banned now?
I'm deeply, deeply ashamed reading this. I can't even say how much it hurts to know that there is a young woman who had the privilege to grow up in a world of choices. Who has had not to live the life of the Somali woman that is blogged about here too, who was sentenced to the law of the Sharia and stoned to death because she had been raped. Or the girl I went to school with who was stabbed 16 times to death by her own brother because she refused to wear a veil.

I'm shocked by a young woman losing every connection to ratio she might have had.

I'm shocked by a young woman telling me that the deep misogyny in Islamic societies is actually "self-empowering" and a sign of pious modesty and if we criticize it, we should rather look at sexism in western society. Yes, women in the western world are clearly much, much worse off than the majority of women in Islamic societies. It sure is self-empowering to cast out half of the population because they accidentally happen to be born with a vagina and make them vanish. It's ridiculous that women should veil themselves in order not to be an object. A veiled woman is NOTHING but an object. She seizes to be an INDIVIDUAL, she seizes to be a human being. She is objected to make herself invisible because she has a vagina? She is reduced to being nothing but a visible sign.Look at the photos you see of official celebrations in Islam. You don’t see human beings. You see a massive wall of black cloth. Is this “empowering”. Is it really that god is worried about women looking just like they were created by him, with hair and skin and all? If so, why didn’t he just create them including the veil? That would have been easier. Now he has to let war be war, because shameless women are more important.

Subjecting human beings to follow rules because they have a vagina and to be veiled is just the core of misogyny. It’s where it starts.

Islamic religioun like all religions was made by men. Not woman. Yes, extremely orthodox Jewish women are not in a much better situation than women in Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi-Arbai or other Islamic countries. Places in which a being born a woman is living hell. I don’t know why that is an excuse for the way women are treated in Islamic societies. Yes, sexism is a virulent part in western society. I doubt you want to choose Afghanistan over the Us though. It doesn’t diminish the reality for women in Islam one bit. Western women have overcome many obstacles. Some hundred years ago we were not able to vote, work, control our own bodies, have our own bank accounts. But we freed ourselves of religious dogmas, enlightened our society and allowed discourse to enter religion and thus had the power to overcome. And to get the record straight, I disdain Playboy just as much as I disdain the misogyny of Islam. A Playboy Bunny and a veiled woman are just in the exact same situation.

Wome have come a long way in this world and we are still fighting. Women like you are a shame for any woman who believes in human rights, vagina or not and who belives in women. And they are a shame and insult to the millions of women trying to escape what you chose for yourself. Women I know personally who would just shake her their heads in despair hearing you talking. Women who suffered a lot to flee from Iran because they wanted to be human beings. Women who are daughters of an Iman by the way who did everything to get them out of there. Because Islam can be a beautiful thing as can all religions when you turn them into something elevating and not something dividing, very different from what you think it to be. But you are a convert, which are known to be fanatics.

I’m not opposed to Muslims, as in the same way I’m not opposed to Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus. I have many friends who are Muslims as I have Jewish friends, Christian friends….there is a big difference though.

In order to be a Christian, you don’t have to be a fanatical evangelical trying to take human rights away from gays and lesbians, trying to take the right to control their own bodies from women. In order to be a Jew you don’t have to be a member of the Neturei Karta. And in order to be a Muslim, you don’t have to take away human rights from women. Did you ever hear the name Kemal Atatürk?

Maybe you should read Murathan Mungan’s book Chador. It’s not about women. It’s a literary narration about the suppression and freedom.Women do not exist in Islamic society as human beings. As he says “How do the invisibles of this world see the world that forbids them to be seen?”.
It's a nice piece of writing and I've read such explanations before. Of course, you should be free to wear your hijab, but you know that it is not a choice for all women. Therefore, for many of us, it is a symbol of oppression. While I know that most of the veiled women I see in my town (there are not many) choose to wear the hijab, I cannot help but look at them and think of those women who are forced to do so.
This lovely post struck a very personal chord with me, as I drifted from a liberal, non-docrinaire Christian sect to an American-born hybrid of Sufi Islam and primitive Christianity, something many otherwise moderate Muslims, Jews and Christians find abhorrent and heretical. Being of mostly Irish descent, I find the attraction to Islam and its variants (such as the one I embrace currently) a far more common occurrence than one might think. I've also influenced at least one of my children toward this end as well -- and without concious intent to do so.

My youngest daughter, who speaks Arabic fluently (as well as passable Farsi, some Hindi, Spanish and even the usual, limited English prevalent among typical Americans), takes a great deal of pride not only in her Irish heritiage but also in her peripheral connection with Islam. In many ways, while reading this most worthy and worthwhile post, I could hear echoes of my daughter, who is about to marry an Indian fellow, a Christian as it turns out, and we are looking forward to one of the largest and most diverse wedding parties I will ever have attended.

While my take on God, the need for religion, the human condition and many other things is probably considered heretical by many, I see the cross-breeding of cultures, religions and belief systems as a potentially positive and hopeful thing, especially coming, as this article does, on the heels of seven years of Islamophobia here in the US of A. Thanks for being Sarah O'Connell, the one wearing the hijab, and for touching us with your personal story. It is, indeed, a new day in America, at long last, and the few idiot comments here posted only underline how far we've come and how suddenly. Peace on you. God bless everybody -- at least those who can accept such an idea.
First, let me begin by welcoming Sara. Thanks for your piece. It is very well written and it's a point of view most people in America never encounter.

Let me say that this is a topic I would normally cheerfully not touch with a 10 foot pole. However, I think there are some points on both sides which are being missed. As the self-appointed Pollyanna of OS, I'll slide them into the smoldering wreckage then be on my merry way.

Most (even liberal!) Americans are outraged by the treatment of women in the Islamic religion and see the hijab as symbolic of that oppression. The chief difference between Playboy and Islam is that bunnies can walk away. Women in Islamic countries don't have the choice that Sara does and that tends to anger some of us.

Women shouldn't be set on fire with stove oil when they get raped. Then again, they shouldn't have to pay for their own rape kits at the hospital, either. There's enough of that train wreck to go around.

For those of you who think that Sara is buying into repression, maybe that's true. But she has a choice. Many women see the hijab as a protection of their personal value. Their hair/face/body is a special treasure to only be shared with their husbands. That's pretty admirable. But to western eyes, it looks like an endorsement of oppression.

Both sides should talk to each other about that.

Personally, I think unless you're walking around stark naked all the time, you're buying into SOME kind of repression. If you don't believe me, think of it this way... If you're breast feeding your baby in public, you may get some dirty looks, but you won't be arrested. If you show your whole breast for no good reason, you're going to jail. Why? What's so bad about the breast that isn't serving a function? What's so moral about wearing a t-shirt?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I would urge everyone to remember that we all buy into some form of modesty as dictated by our society.

Take some long, deep breaths.
Be excellent to each other.
I appreciate the perspective and the author's writing style. I would expect that all those who applaud this piece for its content also applaud those individuals who sport Jesus fish bumper stickers on their cars—as many of the same sentiments and motives (closeness to God, respect, identification, the willingness to educate others) apply to many of those people. If not, I would suggest that those people examine their own motives—why is one affirmation and praise of the tenets of one religious faith more worthy than another?

Also, I think it is a bit disingenuous to on the one hand decry stereotypes about Islam and on the other hand broadly paint Arab and South Asian society as "male-dominated" with "proud and controlling" individuals. I would suggest that if one demands that others take a nuanced look at your identity, one should afford others the same courtesy.

Finally, since Islam arose in the context of Arab culture, I also think it somewhat naive to assume that it was not informed and shaped by the tenets of the culture. However, this is taking a secular view of religion--assuming that humanity has a role in its shaping. For those who assume that religions spring fully formed ab initio like Aphrodite from the ocean, I can see how they would draw a distinction between a particular religion and the surrounding culture.
Jodi,
I love you. Your comments were excellent and I second you in all respects. The discussions here by the real people are excellent.

Jason,
I would never want to delete you. You are real. The posters who I have mentioned? I don't think so. I have had enough experience here with troll teams to identify a bunch of brand new members with no picture, no posts and only this one comment. How did they find this? When have you seen another post which has drawn so many first time anythings? I am suspicious of this. Especially since they are so negative and often anti-Muslim.
I will exit and hope that Sara does post again. And then we will see. Right now I am suspicious. I am a stauch supporter of discourse but not trolls.
Your post is well-spoken Jodi and you makes some really good points.

But some of your points are (pardon the pun) veiling what this is about. Pointing out that there are consensual norms of how to behave in western society is absolutely true. However, western people wearing clothes cannot really be equaled with the situation we’re talking about.

(What you mention also in some way is an American specialty. I don’t live in the US and it’s perfectly fine to breast-feed your child in public here, as are nude beaches, people sunbathing in the nude in parks or mixed naked saunas. The only ones who would be arrested for exposing themselves in public would be charged for apodysophilia in connection to sexual harassment. Thanks to the Puritans, Americans have a rather special relationship to their bodies and especially to natural female bodies if they do not fit the expected norm or are not displayed in another context than pornography.I never understood what could be possibly offensive about nurturing your child if a woman is ok with it. It’s life.)

Yes, the Bunny can walk away theoretically. However, we live in a patriarchal society that invented the whole concept of calling a woman a “bunny” thus dehumanizing her. Sexism is so deeply ingrained in our society that we barely notice and take it for normality. What in the world would millions of perfectly healthy young women cause to subject themselves to very painful, dangerous and expensive surgery to fit a norm that forces women to obey to the male gaze?

Just like Sara the Bunny can choose. The question is how much of that choice is really made independently and how much is influenced by the patriarchal structures of our society?

So seeing “Bunnies” making their “choice” makes me just as sad as Sara’s “choice” to subject herself to patriarchal repression and be filled with joy about it. For thousands of years women have always been the best companions in making their own misery.

The practice of purdah whether traditionally as an Arabic custom or religiously as an Islamic order are very simply violations of human rights.

When you start subjecting a person because it has come to this world with certain organs, in this case a vagina, to special rules because of that, it’s nothing but the expression of suppression.

Every human being has the absolute right to be treated with the deepest respect, regardless of their gender, their skin color, their nationality, their sexual orientation and so on.

What does Islamic society make out of people who are not sure of their gender by the way? It doesn’t know the concept of gender, it just knows the concept of biological sex. So what to do with transgenders? What rules do they have to obey? Do the have to follow the rules for females or do they get the freedom that men get??


We could just as well say that red-haired people have to obey certain rules. They stand out, everybody looks at them so they are objectified aren’t they? We should protect them from the stares and it’s consequences by making them cover themselves up.They induce certain associations and reactions in people, they are evil, seductive, passionate so they should be controlled, shouldn’t they?

In Africa we have some horrible cases of Albinos being killed. Why don’t we chose Purdah for them to protect them? Why is it instead that the people murdering them are the ones who are made responsible and have to bear the consequences?

It’s very simple. Purdah is the expression of patriarchy, power and domination and nothing else. A woman suffering from cancer and covering her bare head, a woman protecting her hair working on a field, that is a very different form of veiling. It has none of the connotations that the Islamic purdah has.

Women’s sexuality, their mere existence is a dangerous thing that has to be controlled

What is when a woman chooses to shave her head by the way? Oh, I forgot, depending on how strict you are there is absolutely no trace of a woman to be seen in the world. Exactly what it means.

The very notion of women being protected from sexism by this is ridiculous. In my world, it’s still the person who objectifies you that has to be responsible.

I really liked another comments though. Why then aren’t men supposed to veil themselves too? They are sexual beings just like women. They may be objectified by women looking at them (which in strict Islam women aren’t allowed, true) so they should be protected from that and be proud of it. There really seems to be no reason why human beings with penises shouldn’t have to obey the exact same rules as human beings with vaginas. Period.
O'Stephanie, did it you mind that somebody like me for example regularly reads here but to this point hasn't felt the need or found the time to actually comment? Read this post, was interested, was really interested in saying about it and did so, and wasn't particularly interested in choosing a photo or setting a complete profile for that sense? And might post to other topics too but still won't do that because she thinks it's time consuming and superfluous?

I don't know whom you exactly accuse to be a troll, but in general, I'm opposed to them too. But not everybody that posts for the first time on a subject (saying things you don't agree with) is guilty of being a troll.

Just my point.
That first sentence made no sense at all but it's still understandable.
O' Stephanie,

I have to say I am offended by your swift labeling of those without photos "trolls" (I, for one, do not have the luxury of time to build a profile...however, working anonymously shouldn't negate a dissenting voice). Namecalling does nothing to advance a conversation. Furthermore, I believe I was polite in my disagreement. If you have a problem with that, then you perhaps should reconsider your professed spirit of tolerance.
Btw, cheers to Marie Witte!
like so many people who cling to their religions you make the mistake of thinking your religion is you. you are not born a muslim the same way you are not born a catholic or a scientologist. you chose your religion even though you might have done it as a child and you are in no way particularly interesting for being a white muslim.
you're free to make your choices and free to wear your headscarf as you wish, but please, please don't expect me to think you are in any way special or specially interesting. you are living in the same self righteous world of people who believe in astrology, ghosts or the bad luck of a black cat crossing their paths.
good luck to you in your life, but please please spare the world your own pats on your own back.
and if you're wondering about me being a troll or whatever, i am "metropolitannyc" in the regular salon letters. you can look my other comments if you so wish.
I don't know if you're aware of it, but it's very common for people "of faith" to change from one to another, either consciously or unconsciously, and for those with "no faith" at all to become the most fervent if not fanatical followers in their search for structure in their lives.

Having a way to express that publicly with clothing or some other display of their commitment can have great meaning. I think often of the Jehovah Witness's standing on the corner with their literature, or canvassing the streets of the neighborhood.
To me, it doesn't make that much difference what the faith is as long as it is practiced with intention.

I appreciate your idealism, and wish you well spanning the great divides. (I wish the print was larger. It was like you were hiding out a little.)
Welcome, Sara. "Princess!"

Heed O'Stephanie's words, and delete troll comments. Attention is their oxygen. Cut off the supply.

Dissenting opinions, unique points of view, a new way to look at something -- all these are welcome, in my opinion. Ad hominem (or ad feminam) attacks, vitriolic spewings that contain not a scintilla of wit, originality or plain old humanity do not deserve to occupy the same space as the comments of thoughtful dissenters, or of those who, like yourself, take the risk here of exposing your honest, hard-earned thoughts and emotions. Delete, or house-clean, as o'stephanie puts it, without reservation or regret! (I'm glad for the intermediary effect of internet technology, otherwise the rest of us would be covered with the spittle that usually flies from the lips of these deranged ranters when encountering them in "real life.")

I understand your reasons for wearing the hijab after reading this. It's good to know that we are not our bodies. Some very spiritual OS members express this concept through nudity! Others, like yourself, do it by obscuring the body. Tomato, tomahto.

Peace and love,

H
While this may be a declaration that you are happy to be Muslim, it isn't a persuasive, objective, or even a well thought out argument. Islam is not a country. America is not a religion.

The way I understand it, Islam states that Jews and Christians have gone out of their way to distort the word of God, and that Mohammed's way is the true way. How is this tolerant?

Covering or uncovering your head is a sign of social respect, religious respect, a fashion statement, and a matter of common sense. Covering your head is something that many women do outside of America in their places of worship. Within America, there are many women who have their "Sunday hat". Mary was a Jew - of course her head was covered. Taking off your hat when entering a building is a sign of respect and humility in the western world - one women do not have to obey, btw. And then there is the common sense of wearing a head covering in hot climes - regardless of religion, going without is a matter of survival. Many laws are made out of self-preservation.

You have certain privileges being American, that most Muslim women in the world do not. The religious right to vote doesn't equal a political right to vote. Many women have had various religious rights for thousands of years, (longer than Islam has been around).
You say: "Prophet Mohammed held women in a high regard and treated his wives as equals. Muslim women are not required to cook or clean for their husbands, in fact if they wish they can ask their husband for a maid or for money to clean and if a woman does it herself, than it is considered a charity act on her part toward her husband." Can a Muslim woman have more than one husband? Can her cleaning servant be male?

As far as political rights of women are concerned, it's a little more complicated than you present. Historically, the only people who had the right to vote were those who owned land, or in nomadic tribes, animals, slaves, gold, etc. Not many people owned land, not even a hundred years ago. In 1800's America, this would have been less than 20% of the population. Roman women, 2000 years ago, owned land and usually inherited all their father's money, (the men usually inherited the land - it was equal division of property that united the family). When Roman men wanted to run for office, they need the support of the mothers, sisters, wives. Roman women didn't have to hold political office but it was quite easy for them to control it. Also, Roman women spent time away from their husbands each year to insure their equality and freedom.

You only share Thanksgiving? What happened to Fourth of July? New Years?
Very interesting point of view. I learned a lot. Thanks for your honesty. I'm disappointed that some readers responded in hurtful ways, especially since this was your first posting. I think on OS we should be able to have a lively discussion without disrepect.
Sorry for Dan's comment.

'Darned stubborn truth...always gettin' into lib'rals' heads and stuff. Get outtta ma way and let me hate...ya dam Marks-ist!'

*Two-headed cretan ostrich* (one's in the sand, the other up they're [sic] ...)

Sorry too if I offended your grammatical sensibilities with my not so profound misuse of the English language. Some of the counter-intellectual drivel posted here just goes to show you that any fool can dutifully go to school and get a degree. It takes a real woman or man to actually get an education.

Islam is a beautiful religion that is unfortunately just as perverted as its message and the *truth* - just like Christianity and Judaism - institutionalized religions I might add.

Believe on and ignore the numb....
LT: next time you have to reach for a magnifying glass to read small fonts, try this -- hold down the control key and tap the + key, it should increase the print size a little bit at a time. Ditto the other way with the minus key. Of course it increases the size of everything on the screen so you'll have to tap down when you are done.

Anyway, I went back and reread Sara's post and I saw nothing there saying that she was trying to convert anybody. She did say that her career hope is to be "...an American Muslim journalist who will bridge the gap between east and west, who will take her own life
experiences and use them to promote education and understanding between America and Islam." That won't be an easy task as witnessed by the tenor of some of the comments here.

I guess what I am trying to say is that she wanted to share her PERSONAL experience with her faith with the OS family. Nowhere does she say that what she does, or what she thinks her faith means, is a microcosm of Islam. Some of her joy with her religion and her clothing habits may well be possible because she lives in this country where some of the oppressive aspects of Islam as practiced elsewhere are not practiced here. Likewise, her parents were raised in a religious culture that helped form them before them converted to Islam. So her parents might not be a very good guide to how Muslim families would operate in a different country.

That being said I see nothing wrong with her sharing a bit of her understanding of her faith with us. If it does nothing more than help her reinforce her choices by articulating them to a larger audience I see some good in that.

Having read her brave sharing of what is an intimate part of any person's faith -- if they have a faith -- I imagine that I will continue to be a retired Christian pastor and scholar. Nothing she said takes anything away from what I believe. And even had she been proslitizing that wouldn't have worked either. I have no interest in trying to convert her to what I believe; but I do have an interest in respecting her right to believe as she will, or not believe at all if that is her decision.

And, Sara, you need to grow a pretty tough skin if you are really going to try to "promote education and understanding between America and Islam." That is a tough row to hoe.

Monte
Hallo Sara

I too am between two worlds; brought up in a Chrisitan country (England) I now live in a Muslim one (Indonesia). My wife is Indonesian and all the family, of whom I am the senior member, the father figure in Javanese culture, are Muslim.

You are right that misconceptions about your religion are rife. Misconceptions about all religions are rife! I particularly like your point that those ignorant of the Islamic faith, or the Christian or any other for that matter, tend to elide cultural traditions and mores, including some off the wall superstition, with the dominant religion in the country in which these things occur.

I have written a piece on unmarried motherhood in Indonesia, which alludes to this problem. This piece is my first post on my Open Salon site and is also, with other essays and articles on Islam and life in Britain and Indonesia, on my website http://cphyllis.jatimber.com

I would be very grateful if you took a few moments to read my article and another I wrote on the misconception by many non Muslims that the religion is a kind of homogenous block of belief in terms of style and interpretation of the Qu'ran. Further to that if you have any thoughts on my views I would very much appreciate hearing them.

My website is very new and is a project specifically designed to bring a bit of enlightenment in both directions between Indonesia and my birth country of Britain.; not just on religious beliefs but also the wider cultural environment. If I can spread the debate further into all English speaking countries so much the better.

I enjoyed your piece and look forward to more.
What an interesting story. My Mother's family is Muslim and, while I'm agnostic humanist, I always feel a need to stomp on people who make idiotic comments about Islam.
Sara,

Please, answer these two questions?

1. Where, exactly, does it say in the Koran that women should wear a Hijab?

2. From the spirit of the Koran, is the idea that a woman should appear modest and send no sexual signals or that she covers all her body? Can she wear a tight dress or jeans as long as it covers all her body?

Thank you.
Great Post, Sara,

Having read some of the comments, I had to go back and say that you wrote is very moving, honest, clean, and human.

Do not worry about the negative comments. Most of what I read stems from extreme ignorance and religious hatred and tribalism. You have seen some of it on TV during the election.

I am so sorry. Again, inspiring post.
Marcelleqb,

Where did you read your Roman history, in the National Enquirer?
The Roman Senate was a bunch of low-life thieves, murderers and pedophiles. Yes, all your Roman senators walked around with young boys.

Can you tell us what was the Romans favorite passtime? Your Romans watched people getting slaughtered and enjoyed it so much and asked for more. Your Romans were nothing but a savage mob. I wonder why you admire them so much? Incidentally, what happened to all your Roman emperors? Did they die in their sleep?

And why did you skip the Roman Catholic Church. Do you know how they treated women?

Sara's post is spiritual, clean, humane and kind. These are things you obviously know nothing about.

I am an expert on history and theology, so do not come back with something stupid. Next time I will not be so kind.
Good stuff. However, let me share something hijab-related that I found unreasonable. I just saw this depressing as hell movie about a young pakistani woman in Britain caught impossibly between her Muslim background and desire to fit in and change the unjustices from within, and getting screwed both by her family, from whom she has to hide that she has a black bf, and the post 9-11, post 7-7 reality in Britain, where any Muslim speaking up for anything is a target (some really kafkaesque stuff going on there as well).

Anyway, there was a scene where she (a medical student) tries to insist on wearing the hijab to a surgery rather than medical cap and mask. I found this unnecessarily insistent. What, the cap and mask are less chaste than the hijab? The Quran specifies the exact cut of a woman's head-dress? No, to my knowledge it does not. So it mutates from the original religious edict (which is satisfied equally by the school-required attire) to something more. Well, I don't find that this something more is something society MUST entertain under all circumstances. Want to wear a hijab in the classroom? Absolutely your right. In the OR you wear what all the doctors wear. In the movie it wasn't reasoned out like that, they were just like "take off the hijab or you can't be in the surgery".

o'stephanie - I've heard that feminist defense of the hijab too. As long as the woman herself chooses to wear it, I don't think it's my business why. In John Varley's Steel Beach, set in a future where people can switch back and forth between physical sexes and the protagonist does so too and fucks like a bunny as both, she ends up choosing to transform to sexless for a while at the end of the book. Her choice.

My only problem with the hijab or anything is when it's used to enforce conformity. When a woman faces violence simply because she'd rather not wear it - that I oppose, same as I oppose any adversity visited upon someone because they choose to wear it.

But that hospital bit was a bit much, I thought - and it was depicted in the film as yet another injustice by society at large in GB against its Muslims, which is a problem that definitely exists, but not in this example.
Just consider OS another classroom. Lesson #1 is a winner. Thanks
Having the choice to wear or not to wear hijab is the most crucial point here. But as we all know, a lot of Muslim women do not have that choice and the reasons for that vary greatly.
And where women are free to choose, their opinions come in many shades of gray - not simply black and white as it's often suggested.

In shameless self-promotion, here is a link to my contribution to the ongoing discussion: http://www.der.org/films/unveiled.html
Please check it out if you are interested in the subject matter and want to hear what a diverse group of Muslim women (including an American convert) have to say about wearing, or not wearing, hijab.
I'm more than a little disturbed by the discourse this article has brought up.

For what it's worth, I see Sara's choice to wear the hijab as the conscious acceptance of the holdover of a centuries-old socioreligious cultural expression, much like any prescriptive religious practice in any other religion. To my mind, her choice represents a buy-in to a patriarchal system of discrimination against women.

That said, Sara's choice is entirely her own-- she has obviously thought it out, and the hijab means something to her that is sacred, profound, and dear. She finds personal value in it, and has no reason whatsoever to feel any kind of shame about it. Self-expression and freedom to pursue happiness in the way she sees fit are her birthrights as an American. She may glorify her lifestyle however she chooses, and we all may exercise the right to do the same in our own lives with our own choices.

So what disturbs me is, what's the point in telling her she's wrong? She's no more "wrong" to choose the hijab (which she explains as an option she has indeed chosen, not a costume that someone is making her wear) than a Pentecostal woman who doesn't wear pants, or a Hassidic Jew who grows out his payot?

Furthermore, why are so many respondents saying Sara is wrong in so vehement and hateful a fashion? So what if she's holding onto a tradition that I no longer find relevant? If she finds it relevant, that's all that matters.

So Sara-- rock your hijab as long as you continue to receive joy from it. The moment it doesn't feel right, you can take it off as easily as you put it on. I wish you peace, love, and happiness.

Respect her, folks. And respect each other.
I am really depressed about this discussion and I was advised to not hide my opinion. My basic opinion of the world would be that there are a lot of people on this earth but only very few Mensches. I wanted to resign from reading any more depressing posts but I will follow the advice and will not hide for one last time and publish this.


I always thought Salon readers are educated, informed people. Now I see many of them are just ignorant. There are millions of people who are Muslims but would be strongly opposed to her. To one of the posters here:In Turkey, a country based on Islam (when France is based on Christianity) veils are officially not allowed by law because of female suppression, the same rule applies for France (alas, this is a western country so in your opinion it’s racist. Furthermore Germany prohibits women to wear a veil as soon as they enter a place that is affiliated to the state, such as teachers and professors, judges etc).

I'm just talking about how dangerous it is when ignorant people feel "informed". It means that they have no knowledge of the topic and therefore take everything you tell them for something "beautiful".

I was struck by that comment about how heartwarming seeing Jehova's Witnesses is. They are not heartwarming, they are classified as a cult and destroy lives. I have a friend who after growing up there decided to leave. In consequence (to her already destroyed life by growing up in a cult) she was cut out of her family, isolated and chastised by the community. This girl has a very hard time and I'm sure would have felt insulted by that comment about just how beautiful it is to be a Jehova’s Witness by a person who arguably does not have really great insight into what that means. I believe that you should be fully aware of all the diverse, complex aspects of a topic you are talking about, so I personally feel insulted by people "thanking” for that. It would have been their duty to know about the complexities of the topic and not make typical American comments in praise of something. I'm not American and a certain use of very affirmative, positive "love language", is characteristic for Americans.

What applies here was dubbed "Stockholm syndrome" and I think it's a form of good-doer Stockholm syndrome that I have encountered so often I can't count. It's people who believe that they are the most liberal, "tolerant" people in the world and in consequence make everything worse. They will attack everyone who brings reason into a discussion because they are "hateful racists", or in this case "Muslim hating trolls". They feel very entitled in their position.

I never understood how it is possible that the simple notion "This is a violation of human rights" doesn't seem to faze them one bit. It's the basic argument I keep saying, but all these oh so liberal people who fought for a world free of racism turn blind at this moment.

I have been protesting homophobic Dancehall music and was shocked by the reactions. Jamaica is literally the worst place for gays and lesbians and transgenders etc. on earth (apart from the Islamic countries where homosexuality is sentenced by the death row). They get regularly lynched. It's a horrible situation. Jamaican Dancehall artists include a great part of extremely homophobic lyrics. These lyrics celebrate the brutal murder and torture of homosexuals very, very aggressively. In trying to protest it, I can't tell you how bitterly disappointed I was by the white seemingly so liberal good-doers. When I kept to explain them that murdering someone and celebrating that in lyrics and thus supporting it is a violation of human rights they called me a racist in turn. Over and over. I kept asking them what about the black Jamaican gays and lesbians who are fighting for their lives, are they racists too because they don't want to be killed? They just kept on calling me a racist who didn't respect Jamaican culture.

In perfect unison with many of the posters here I was told by a gay man that he personally loves dancing to music that encourages to murder him because he loves the music. Yes, we have a lot of women singing along to lyrics too that encourage to rape them too. Clearly that indicates that we have to immediately stop opposing it because if some people choose that willingly that is their personal decision, right?

In contrast to the most American posters here, I live in a country with a high population of immigrants from Islamic countries. I know what I'm talking about since this topic is very virulent here for years and years. In contrast to them, I am well informed about Islam, about all the complexities and diversities of the topic, of the discourse that is going on about it. I know about what is going on in western countries with a big population of Muslim origin, I know what the situation is in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Saudi-Arabia, Syria, Indonesia... I also speak from very personal experience.



I feel insulted by the people thanking her when she gives an extremely one-sided sort of information and they are unable to see the traps in that.

As they would have to know that especially westerners converted to Islam have very special characteristics and often a very fundamentalist attitude to which many growing up in Muslim families are strongly opposed to.

There is a typical group of good-doers who are great, great people but suddenly will call you a "racist" and tell you that the suppression of women is Islam is part of the "culture" and expression of such instead of suppression. I never understood that. You keep explaining to them what human rights mean and what it is all about, but they have double standards. Suppression is not suppression when it belongs to a somewhat "exotic" culture and by protesting it you become a "Muslim Hater" and racist. Suppression is not suppression but personal choice when the suppressed person embraces it. I always thought it is a form of positive racism. They turn blind to analyze the basic characteristics of suppression and fall prey to "This way, I am not just a sexualized object, this is the real emancipation", "Being modest and pious is admirable" and so on and so on and all what I said in my posts. They are blind to the basic principles of women's suppression as the virgin/whore dichotomy played out there.


IT DEPRESSES ME THAT WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE ALWAYS SACRIFICED TO DOUBLE STANDARDS.


It also depresses me because Muslim women are fighting very hard for their rights and they don't need western converts to chime in and convince bystanders that it is all a question of "personal choice" and not suppression.



It's very simple. I'm opposed when human rights are violated. Completely, no exceptions at all. NADA. NIENTE.NUNCA. Period.

I'm sure if I told them that I just as much oppose the violation of women's right in extreme Jewish orthodox confessions they would call me anti-semitic or a "Nazi". I always try to tell them what if I am a Jewish woman in that community demanding rights, what do they call me then? What do they say to gay Jamaicans fighting for their rights? What do they say to Muslim women fighting for their rights?

I also sense another American problem here. Many Americans are very religious and spiritual in contrast to Europeans, so as a European in these discussions you always encounter a certain form of contempt to understand your viewpoint. It will be brushed aside by the "beauty" of the religion something a "hater" will not understand.

All religions are institutionalized systems that are MAN-made, all serve the function of distributing power, domination and patriarchy (there might be matriarchal suppressive religions but I haven't encountered one yet) and have done so since a long time. Christianity was used to defend slavery, Hinduism was used to support an economical system of slavery: the caste system and all of them were used to enslave women. There is no doubt that the core element of Islam, Judaism and Christianity is domination and suppression of a part of its followers, mostly women. That is just the way it is. Even Buddhism, what most people don't know, is a misogynist religion. Females were not worthy of being monks and pray, they were as women in all religions are "dirty" by definition.

I enjoy religious traditions but only to a certain point. I know that the ritual washing of women either in Mikweh or in other religious tradition is because women are by definition because of their menstruation "dirty". I do not feel comfortable with that traditions even though religious reforms and enlightenment have changed that and we do not see it anymore that way it is still the background of the custom and thus I don’t feel comfortable with it. I have a vagina, I menstruate. That doesn't make me unworthy of prayer. That does in no way whatsoever make me “dirty”. But we all bow down to that. Oh, it’s religion. Well then.

I despise religion (and I know this will cause passionate posts, call me infidel) because it always has put god before people and certain people before others, but that doesn't mean in any way that I am a "Muslim hater". Religion has devastating roots but it doesn't mean that I can't get along with people. I’m a descendant of these people as well, aren’t we all? Quakers are deeply religious, and they are wonderful people. Jews are wonderful people. Muslims are wonderful people.

I just wish all those tolerant good-doers would be able to spot the difference between tolerance and delusion, between sexism and sexuality, between religion and suppression. Alas, they don't.

It's too easy to label others as racists instead of really indulging deeply into the topic from a rational humanistic viewpoint and not a gushy "your choice and religion are beautiful" blind eye.

It’s pure hypocrisy. We did not fight for women’s rights, against misogyny embedded in Christianity and Judaism to now be told that suppression of women in Islam is something we shouldn’t touch.

Maybe we should have kept the separate but equal dogma in certain areas when people expressed that personally they prefer that system. Maybe we should have kept the right to vote from a woman when she can legally declare that she doesn’t see it as her personal right to vote and demands it to be forbidden. Just as an individual decision in her special case because it is an individual choice.


What are people thinking???


That if a Jew thinks that antisemitism is a really great thing and it’s their personal choice, why not embrace it???

That if an African-American thinks Racism and slavery might be suppressive systems, but personally they are really great aspects about it that are worth while so they should be allowed to experience them personally if they may wish so??

That if a gay person thinks homophobia is really great and enriches their life why opposing it???

It’s only a personal decision isn’t it? And society structures don’t have any say in that a person buys into something, right?


FUCK NO

(I’m European, I’m allowed to say the bad words. Don’t be offended. You can keep effing and f**cking)

Female Genital Mutilation was forced out on women by a patriarchal society. It was acted out by women though. Doctors had a hard time to convince the mothers and grandmothers and “doctors” performing it, that no, it is not a beautiful tradition and what is wrong about it when a girl agrees to it

Suppression is suppression is suppression and it doesn’t get any less suppressive if the suppressed person buys into that.

It doesn’t get less suppressive when we have a Bible or Quran or Thora providing explanations for why we have to follow the rules.


A violation of human rights is a violation of human rights.

Women have too long been willfully companions in creating their own misery.

I’m so damn sick of it that when it comes to women there immediately comes a plethora of double standards which make women’s human rights something a little different than human rights in general and always set them free to be discussed.

Yes, we might not be okay with it, but…

First, just a question. That story about the woman in Somalia is one of the worst things you ever heard? It’s not the first time at all that happened and it’s not the first time that practice hasn’t been in the news either. If I remember right, the last case played out by the media was Amina Lawal though that lacks the tragedy of the rape, but I remember those cases as well.

Pointing out that the reality for women in Islamic theocracies is horrible, but that the practice of purdah especially when being followed willingly by a woman in the US has really nothing whatsoever at all to do with any possible notion of misogyny you could in any way imagine or treating women different is an extremely helpful and diplomatic and well-informed thing to say. Especially when you can back it up since you excelled with summa cum laude in women’s studies and the Sharia.

Yes, I AM aware that “Islam” doesn’t mean all those horrible things. This is what I’m trying to point out here the entire time.

I personally despise religion and oppose it for many reasons, but that doesn’t mean I “lump Sara together” with all the horrible aspects of Islamic theocracies. just as not every Christian is an obsessed born again. I know many people of all religions who are very happy and proud to be religious and I have no problem with their choice. I personally would never convert to any of those religions because I do not agree with organized religion that is a system designed to make me an inferior being no matter how altered and developed and reformed it might be now. If I were to search for a spiritual path I would do that outside of those organized set ups. However, it is indeed possible to belong to these religions that are based on misogyny and not obey to it (as I already pointed out, remember, you don't have to belong to the Neturei Karta to be a Jew but I'm talking to a wall). Making a conscious choice to accept such a blatant sign of misogyny, as the practice of purdah, and doing whatever mental calisthenics that are needed to be able to accept it is something that my female Muslim friends who never would wear a veil would despise. They are fighting for being able to simply being Muslims and are offended if they are lumped together with people who lack the ability to reform.They are proud, strong women and although I don’t agree with their choice to stay within a faith like this at all I understand them. Christianity’s roots are just as deeply misogynistic as the ones of Islam are but I still enjoy celebrating Christmas. I do not accept though that apparently women are inferior to men because they were created out of Adam’s rib and that the reason why contractions at birth hurt is because women are evil seductive human beings who ate apples and thus had to be punished and be kept under control as the scripture tells us.




I don’t really understand that comment about Ayaan Hirsi Ali and if you “had made similar experiences” you might be an atheist. So to be opposed to something you have to experience it yourself? I really don’t get that at all. I mean that, I’m not being a smartass here

We should not care about human rights, right?


There is no need to be an atheist if I personally haven’t directly suffered because of religion?

There is no need to fight antisemitism if I have not been to a concentration camp?

There is no need to fight racism if my father hasn’t been lynched by a mob?

There is no need to oppose Proposition 8 if I am not gay and have actual rights taken away?

There is no need to fight discrimination against disabled people if I am not disabled?

There is no need to fight our societies treatment of transgenders if I don’t happen to be one?

There is no need to fight capitalism if I’m not starving?

There is no need to fight misogyny in religion if I haven’t suffered personally?

If I however have suffered from the way human beings perverted a system like Ayaan Hirsi Ali personally has, then I am allowed to oppose what is wrong with it?? Then it’s understandable?? If I however haven’t gone through that and had the fortune of not being born into a theocracy of whatever religion (and had the fortune of being born to people that oppose such things, just being born here doesn’t spare you anything if you happen to have picked the wrong family) I don’t have to oppose such things (because they can’t happen to me) and because in my society enlightenment has taught people to understand religion differently and to not follow it’s basic elements but only it’s defined, developed forms I don’t have to worry about other human beings being hurt by it and don’t have to oppose the cause of it?

Huh?

I’m honestly confused by this. I really don’t get it. That’s like saying I understand it if Jews fight the slightest notion of antisemitism if they have personally suffered and been in a concentration camp and I might do they same if I had gone through what they are going through. But since I haven’t and you can’t compare a little salon antisemitism and a little Rischis to that and certainly can’t lump together everything to that we really shouldn’t need to fight antisemitism and reveal the elements it is based on and the reasons it became successful and disdain them.

Huh?

I have fought all my life for human rights because I deeply care and I simply do not accept it when human rights are violated for the simple fact that a person accidentally happens to have a vagina. I’m sick after already laying out why people still didn’t understand that simple fact. Just this behavior is why it has taken women thousands of years (and we only had some tiny victories since about a hundred years) to fight the obstacles that Christianity and Judaism have put in our ways and we still would be there if this little thing called enlightenment wouldn’t have happened.

I already pointed out sufficently the misogyny behind this tool of suppression as well as the tactics used to defend it and I’m more than sick to my stomach that women and men to this day find their ways to accuse the ones who are fighting for humanity in this world and fuck it up for women even more. I’m sick sick sick of it and I do not agree with any “rationalization” or “intellectual discourse” about why misogyny really isn’t misogyny but something great that I’m too blind and too stubborn to see.




I really wonder at this point though. If there apparently is nothing misogynistic at all in Islam, no elements hidden anywhere that could possibly be the cause why women in Islamic theocracies are no human beings so that we should not fight against anything we might identify as being a reason for that and thus being able to destroy it and live a reformed elevating form of it, if in contrast Islam actually came to emancipate women from the archaic tribal traditions which must be prevalent in every scripture in every Hadith, then why is it that in literally all places that are based on Islam women are no human beings, except (officially but not really) countries like Turkey which are based on Laïcité?

Does that mean that all over in different places of the world men independently of each other perverted a system and laid out exactly similar principles out of scriptures ( meaning specific rules not the ones that are similar to the basic ideas of control that all women have to obey) that actually didn’t give them a single hint on being that way and was in contrast an extremely egalitarian system based on absolutely exceptionally equal rights that the world hadn’t seen before in this way ever for human beings with vaginas, human beings with penises and everyone in-between?

That was one hell of a mix up then.

I really liked this blog here though, which sparked the same reactions I got, please read:

http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=37327

And one question: if there is such a difference between Islamic theocracies and the “first world” than why is this woman who was living in a first world country is dead because she refused to wear a veil? If so why did we have to hide my classmate in a western country in elementary school because her father literally wanted to kill her because she had gone to swimming class (which is mandatory in elementary school in this country)?

In many countries in Europe the government has accepted misogyny because it hid under the veil of religions for a long time. You didn’t want your daughters to take part in swimming class, sexual education, class trips because it was against your religion? Fine. Forced marriages are not suppression but religious customs? Fine. Civil Rights being taken from women because their religion doesn’t agree with them having it? Fine.

There is quite an interesting parallelism in a classic text about misogyny and religious hypocrisy by the way that Americans should hold dear to their hears. Wasn’t Hester Prynne forced to mark and stigmatize herself with a certain cloth because she had the misfortune of being a woman in a time in which that meant being subjected to others ( or god) controlling your life?

Now you will think I am a hysterical madwoman because that was far more than any person should read on this topic while I said everything I wanted to say basically with "If it's a violation of human rights I don't care what your explanation for it is" which in this world doesn't count much (the violation, not the explanation).

I really do hope that Sara one day is able to find her spiritual path if she needs that for her life without buying into patriarchy and in the meantime I will spend my time in the real world trying make the world a better place for women which all of you should do too.

Have a good life
Sara could do worse in her start here at OS! All these thumbs and interesting comments are a testimony to her provocative topic. :)

I don't mind the disagreement and hope that Sara doesn't either. It can feel hurtful, but at the end of the day I think we all learn something, even if it's about human nature. I don't know a lot about this topic, but will venture in just this far: It seems to me that we all "cover" ourselves to some degree when we wear clothing, right? We are all the products of our cultures, and to the extent that most modern cultures have been dominated by men, then I suppose we are all subject to the same criticism that Sara is receiving by Marie and others here. Teenage girls wearing bikinis might be similarly representative of denigration, might it not? Much depends on context, and to the extent we can remove ourselves from such context, it's always good when we can make independent choices. Many might say that there really is no "choice" because we can't entirely get outside our cultures, and I think I might agree with that, but there are degrees of it, I think, and the more we can move toward independence the better. Welcome to OS, Sara. Keep 'em coming.
Great essay....i love the issues it brings up,i love how she maintains her irish pride,and love for her faith!im sure this one will cause lots of debats about culture......but i learned a few things about the muslim perspective on the female side.thanks Sara for the inside veiw!
First of all, to all the angy folks:
If few of you can SEPARATE the personal from the political, then my hope is that at least Sara can. Sara is probably a sweet, thoughtful, and wonderful young woman, but she has brought up an issue with POLITICAL underpinnings. And all you religious/pious/uber-"tolerant" folk will just have to accept the results.

"...other women of the book, both Jews and
Christians, were also instructed to cover their hair out of modesty. All one has to do is look at the statues and paintings of the Virgin Mary. She is always depicted with long loose clothing and a head covering just like the hijab."

Exactly the point. I am coming around more and more to understand that organized religion is indeed antithetical to human interests. I imagine that a devout person will answer: It isn't human interests we are concerned with; its God's interests. My response to that is I cannot believe in such a god. Such a god is inspired my MAN's special interest and transcribed by MEN (those books to which she refers). I didn't struggle in my own life to overcome the burden of mysogeny embedded within my own culture's Christian traditions just to nod my head in acquiescence to Islam's. Inequality is inequality. No amount of cultural relativity will change that for me. No matter how you look at it, disparity is represented by that hijab (remember: men do not wear it!).

I am very interested in this particular bit by Sara:
"When you see a Muslim woman on the street she stands out. The hijab is worn so that we are respected. "

Well, many muslim women walk the streets without the hijab, and so they do not necessarily stand out. That part is rather incorrect, or imprecise at best. And the second part is really funny. Somehow, the hijab has assumed the role of good-luck charm, to ward off bad mojo, "so that we are respected."

The irony is so profound, I don't know where to begin or if I will be able to get to all points of here in this brief (I hope) post.

OK, lets try this: Is it not possible, as a woman, to walk down the street without the hijab and be respected?

Here is where I think we get to the heart of the matter for us all.

I believe that all women (and men!) deserve respect when they are walking down the street or otherwise no matter their attire, religious affiliation, skin tone, or country of origin (as long as he/she is not republican...just kidding...a little!!). As far as I'm concerned, that hijab could be hiding any of a number of things that veils, metaphorical or otherwise, tend to hide (child abuse, incest, adultery, theft, etc. ..). Garments do not make the man. Just because you look pious don't mean you act it!

Sara says:
"In today's society where anorexia is rampant and plastic surgery is the norm, hijab is a form of liberation from these pressures. In Islam, we are told that each woman in her individuality is beautiful, there is no standard for physical beauty. We value inner beauty far more than outer beauty."

Did you all realize that some of the most highly paid and eagerly sought plastic surgeons in the world reside in Iran? As it turns out, the veils don't do all that Sara implies. It turns out that women over there have come to value the face above all, since it is the only pysical feature publicly visible. And therefore, they want to put their "best face forward." Iranian women are leaders in the world for purchaces of facelifts and nosejobs.

A recent comment (didn't get the name) noted that many of us westernes still wear various kinds "veils", and so she didn't really understand the difference. I think she was refering to various kinds of metaphorical veils. Maybe we should call them "trappings." Like trappings of subcultures: preppy, gothic, slutty, scholarly, populist, etc...I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment. I think maybe this explains the "liberation" Sara speaks of. I can understand how it might seem liberating to say, "Oh fuck it!" And sort of throw off the burden of the attempt to negotiate this sea of swarming emptiness. Religion can offer some standards, some constancy through the inconstancy of life. Life is, afterall, always changing. It can be quite frightening. I don't deny this tremendous gift that religion can offer towards alieviating that burden.

I think that it is important, however, for someone like Sara to remember that this (the hijab, the text, everything) is still part of existence, it is inseparable from the empty world, so it is as empty an experience as everything else. This is our only constancy. Enjoy it. We are all the same in that regard.



But that doesn't mean that I condone a wholehearted embraceing of extreme

Additionaly, everyone should realize that we too in the West value inner beauty.
I would say that the personal acceptance of a religion for a choice of one's own choosing is part of our basic freedom. It might even be a bad choice for some people in some cases, but to quote Mahatma Gandhi “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”

That said, though, I think it's important to separate two basic things being said here.

Insofar as Sara offers personal remarks about what is the choice for her, she is the unambiguously correct person to speak on that and I found her remarks interesting and informative. As a personal story, there is much of interest here.

However, insofar as Sara might allege that her personal experience is an appropriate base case for the inductive leap that all people are treated with the respectful treatment that she has thankfully enjoyed, that's a shakier claim. One of the problems of racial and gender prejudice is that people tend to reason by faulty logic to deny the presence of legitimate problems. In plain terms, in a sea of examples, a positive example cannot disprove the presence of negative examples. So if a person claims to have been mugged, for example, another cannot say “Surely that's false, for I have not been mugged.” This, I think, is the basis of Marie's remarks.

It would be great if all there was to a religion was just a bunch of voluntarily accepted principles that one could opt out of at any moment if they decided to. It would be great if all there was to a world full of people of varying beliefs (and beliefs vary even within a religion, incidentally) there was no risk that people treated each other badly. But the world is more complex than that.

There's a danger in allowing any one person's story to be seen as the entire point of view. Lazy people will grab quickly at it as Sen. Inhofe did in relying on Michael Crichton's fiction discounting Global Warming (just a random example of a related problem I recently blogged about so the example is fresh in my mind— there were facts in Crichton's book, but that didn't make the entire tapestry he painted as a conclusion also a fact). Inhofe wanted a reason not to believe there were problems and it was easy for him to rely on the opinion of one vocal individual who sounded like he had the facts. We all need to be careful not to confuse personal truth with societal truth.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is also quoted as saying, “The myths that are created about the South, about the way we grew up, about black people, are wrong.” That's either a broad claim or a meaningless claim; all myths are false. But if he means all stories, it's already arrogant even to claim he knows all the stories, much less that he knows the truth of them. He may have much to tell us about the life of a black man, but he does not have the expertise to answer for a whole culture.
Sara, great post! My family doctor is Muslim and wears a hijab; she's one of best, most intuitive doctor I've ever known.

My father worked in Saudi Arabia and Jordan for a few years, so my family lived there. But I was in my last year of high school and only got to spend a summer there. That was in 1979. I still remember my parents telling me the story about three men whose bodies were still hanging in the Amman city square. Their crime? They raped a child.

I was young, but learned then that many Arabic countries have most respect for life than American does. Here, a child molester is often freed to repeat his crime. In Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East, that isn't permitted.

Jordan is where I also learned the truth about head and face coverings for women: they are a sign of respect. Personally, I think American women would learn from that, and show a little more self-respect for themselves. In today's world of reality shows where young women bare (almost) all, we have little self-respect, and modesty, left.

Having studied Christianity and having learned about Muslim during my journalism work, I have come to believe--as you point out--they are very similar. More similar than different. If people would open their eyes and allow themselves to be impartial, they could see that.

Asra Nomani is a fellow Morgantown resident, author, former WSJ reporter (whose friends, Daniel Pearl and his wife, were staying with her in her home when he disappeared) and friend of mine. She has done a lot of work to help people understand about the Muslim faith, and has set a fine example for female Muslim journalists.
One other point in response to a specific element of the article: Sara, you wrote: “Just because you hear of an American man abusing his wife, you are not going to say Christianity is a religion that abuses women. Abuse is abuse. It transcends culture, it is wrong no matter who does it.”

Indeed, in most cases, if a Christian commits a crime, that doesn't make it a Christian crime. It's just a crime. Sometimes, to quote Freud, “a cigar is just a cigar.” But if a Christian commits a crime and says it's because the Bible told him to do it, the situation is murkier than you acknowledge. (This was the case with 9/11, for example. It wasn't just the act of individuals who happened to have a particular religion, it was said to have been done for reasons relating to that religion.) That is really a different situation. Consider an abortion clinic bombing, which some speak of as justified by the Bible. I think many of us do call this a religiously-motivated crime if the offered justification is religious. When that happens, it is appropriate to speak of Christian terrorism. That doesn't automatically mean that Christianity is full of terrorists; but it does place a burden on Christians as a larger whole to speak out loudly and clearly saying that they do not condone the practice.

Similar issues came up with the practice of child abuse within the Catholic church. The individuals performing the abuse were not the entirety of the Catholic church. But once the Catholic church heard the charges and chose not to be outraged, and instead to cover it up, they voluntarily became part of the problem and it was entirely reasonable for people to speak of this problem at that point as a problem of the church, not just of those lone individuals.

Sara, I hear you as effectively saying, “I am peaceful. My participation is voluntary. People have been nice to me.” That's a great message. But when 9/11 happened, or more recently when there was a stoning of a thirteen-year-old girl for being raped (discussed here at Open Salon), where are the outcries not just from isolated individuals like yourself, but from the the leadership? I would expect them to cry loudly to those who did these deeds, “Wait a minute. This is not our way. You must not do that.” and I'd expect them to say equally loudly to the rest of the world, “Don't judge us by this. It is not our way. We'll handle it. This situation is under control. It won't happen again.” Did that happen? I didn't see it.

Religion poses a special problem because its rules are seen by many as more important even than the public laws. So if any religion's rules seem to call for violence, such rules effectively call for people to ignore the law. That's a difficulty that must be addressed somehow. When all of a group is speaking with one voice, and that voice is peaceful, that's good. When an allegedly small part of a larger group is speaking in a violent way and the other members stand silent, or speak in denial, rather than admitting and condemning the practice, that's something of a problem.

Again, it seems to me that you have some genuine intent to show yourself and your situation well. But to do so, you must first address the very different experiences others have had. “It works for me.” is a fine personal anecdot, but is not the basis of a substantive proof that all is well for everyone.
Oh, I guess I'm the "troll" you speak of O'Steph.
Not really, I post on salon a lot, just not in this section...

Look, sorry, but I find the whole "hijab" thing melodramatic.
So I put my 2 cents in...Exccccuuuuussssseeeee me

A) It doesnt make you any better a person, or more strong or whatever...It is a fashion accessory. As I said, I really dont buy the..so I'm not treated as a piece of meat stuff, when you are also wearing eyeshadow and lipstick.

CIP:
"The hijab is worn so that we are respected. In today's society where anorexia is rampant and plastic surgery is the norm"
As I said, It is the same in places where people do hijab. So, there goes that. It is not like woman are liberated from all kinds of self conciousness and superficial what not in the land of hijabs, just open a Kuwaiti magazine.

B) When people talk about oppression of woman, they are not talking about a cute little head scarf..la di da... There are places in Saudi Arabia or Central Asia where women are STONED to death for being "whores", if they dont wrap themselves in bedsheets.
The writer seems to trivialize that. As if peoples' outrages are directed at liberating her.
I dont care if she likes to wear a babushka, I care that last week a woman in Somalia was killed, by being PELTED to death with rocks, because she was raped.

C) "People often assume that backwards customs of a culture are part of a religion, when in fact they are not."
Problem is... it is. (same is basically true with all religions, so dont think I'm picking on muslims..I'm not fond of religion in general ). Muhammed lived in that culture, he followed many of those norms, and they are seen in the hadith. Islam instructs its followers to emulate muhammed and his guys, this leads to non arabs adopting arab cultural norms.
For instance..........The hijab

D) I never pass up a chance to argue about religion.

So, O'Steph..It really dont matter
If my chatter
turns your heart stings to tatters
I totally agree with Marie Witte. It's nice that Sara has a choice and I defend it but it is odd from an ethnocentric point of view. What isn't surprising is that she is following her parents choice of religions which is what most "true believers" do. I am still waiting for my daughters to decide which true religion they will choose and at 21 and 14 they seem to still be indecisive which I hope they will remain. You shouldn't mind the stares just as I wouldn't if I went around naked and painted blue, your garb is a deliberate and dramatic statement which most of the US population would find odd. But you do have the right.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the first thing that many women in Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Muslim countries do when allowed is discard their headscarves. Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the religious police in Iran and Saudi Arabia are deadset against women's rights and punish those who don't comply with this manmade restriction on freedom.
I am also Irish-American. Brought up Catholic. I will never again belong to a religion or be told what to do by men. Anyone can begin a religion but not surprisingly, they are created by men. If there are any by women, I am not aware of one. There is nothing more wonderful than to take a walk on a breezy day and feel the wind rush through your hair. Men even deny this -- you cover your head as do nuns. Just another form of control by men over women. Luckily, I had a father who taught me never to define myself by others' beliefs.
Thoth,

Please don't call people stupid or try to incite a fight on someone's blog. I simply stated facts that I hope would cause the writer to think harder and do better research. Her experience is fine to write about, but if she wants to be an ambassador, she needs to be better prepared.

I have a degree in Latin, so I have studied my Roman history from the Romans. The Roman history is vast and complicated and more than how you presented them. Just as Islam is vast and more complicated than how Sara presented it.

I didn't skip any church - I didn't reference any church - I responded to comments made by Sara. I didn't attack her, I questioned her and pointed out weak points in her statements. The Roman Catholic Church does not equal the Romans, any more than Islam is country or America is a religion. There is no bridge to gap.

I'm not "spiritual, clean, humane and kind"??? You know nothing about my faith, how I live my life, or even about me. If you want to get into a discussion about what I have said and what Sara has said, that's fine, but please don't turn this into a personal attack.
I posted a coment yesterday but it did not go through I suppose. Or may be it was deleted. If deleted my apologise for posting again.

EVERY SINGLE POST HERE IS SO GREAT IN EVERY ASPECT.
IN ONE WAY IT GAVE ME VISSION INSIDE THE MINDS OF SOME PEOPLE WHO ARE THERE TO MAKE THEIR CASE WITH IRRELEVENT AND BASELESS EVIDENCE.

I congradulate Sara for the good work.
I was born a muslim. None of the women in mine and my husband's family have ever worn a hijab. I find this essay interesting but I do not agree with it. Nowhere in the Qoran is it mentioned that muslim women must wear hijab. The Prophet's wives were directed to that but not ALL muslim women. I also believe there's too much emphasis on the 'outward' rathere than the 'internal' in modern muslim societies. The hijab has become the symbol of piety and being a 'good' muslim whereas we know that no one, weather religious or secular (muslim) can lay claim to such attributes. Sarah also must know that many strict muslims will find it abhoront to apply makeup and make yourself beatiful unless its only for one's husband. In my opinion, these are all very subjective, including the overt expression of wearing hijab. I hope the new generation of muslims in all societies would channel their energy in building a just and fair society, for women's rights and access to education and poverty reduction. Discussions of wearing or not wearing a hijab divert attention and focus from many more very important issues. I wish Salon (that I love!) would do an article on the efforts of people in Muslim societies in building a just society, the obstacles they face, the role of tradition opposed to the spirit of Quran, the progress they may be making and challenge of living in a modern society as a good Muslim.
HyderbinJameel has come to publicly announce his distain for some postings. Pity. I have read and reread the posts and see few direct attacks; the discussion is an honest one. What specifically do you take exception with, Hyder? Perhaps it is something for which I could supply documentation.
Dear Lyla,

If you should come across such an article for which you speak, please post the http. I would be delighted and eager to read.

Thank you for your comments.
I have always been curious about Islam and you have given an excellent explanation. It is sad that so many Americans can not get by their ignorance to other religions. I am happy to know a little more about you. Great post! Thank you for standing by your beliefs.
Marcelleqb,

OK, I am going to be nice one last time.

1. Sara's core discussion was spiritually subjective, a spiritual experience. She neither claimed an academic argument, nor compared civilizations.

2. You did not merely respond to Sara's comments. You think you were being subtle, but what you spewed was obvious. It was a malicious attack on Sara's beliefs.

3. I know Latin and so did my father before me. Yet saying that, "you have studied your Roman history from the Romans," is the same as taking a criminal's statement as fact.

4. Yes, there is more to the Roman history. Mostly foreign slaves did all Roman engineering and military feats. They were thieves, pedophiles, slave drivers, butchers, who had foreigners build their so called civilization. There is nothing to the Romans more than that. There is nothing decent about the Romans.

5. If you honestly wanted to rebut the "treatment of women" argument Sara made, you should have chosen the ancient Egyptians, the most civilized people ever lived (only between 4500 BC and 1300 BC, little after that Egypt was taken by the original pedophiles, the Greeks). Ancient Egyptian romantic and erotic poetry (a great read for women) showing how free Egyptian women were, was almost all written by women. Yet, I do not think your degree in "Latin" could help you fathom their civility or reach that far back.

6. You made a cheap jibe about Muslim men's polygamy. Now, this is not only for you, but also for Sara:

a. Old Muslim men like old Christian men have frequently misinterpreted their religion to serve their purposes.

b. In Islam, when there is doubt, the Koran is the only authority. It supersedes any other.

c. This is the quote from the Koran about polygamy:

"You can have two, three or four wives, if [and only if] you can treat [love] them all exactly the same and you shall not [be able to do that]."

It is obvious that the Muslim God is telling Muslims that polygamy does not work. Muslims ignore that just as we ignore that Jesus' message was mainly about helping the poor.

7. There is only one thing to rebut in Sara's story. The hijab is a cultural symbol that has nothing to do with Islam. The idea in the Koran is very simple: women should not send out sexual signals. A point that made a lot of sense back then in a culture that defined "honor" by the chastity of its women. You may attack these cultures, but not Sara's human spiritual journey.
Thoth, is there nothing admirable about Roman culture? Even Marcus Aurelius?
Thoth,

I actually view Sara’s choice to wear the hijab to be a personal one that neither needs defending nor explaining, which is why I’m not addressing it.

This isn’t merely an essay about her experience. She takes it upon herself to “educate” her readers. She makes several statements that she presents as fact without understanding the full implication of what she is saying. Pointing to Mohammed’s wives wasn’t the best choice for her to support her argument that Muslim women have equal rights. There are better ways. Again, Sara stated that she takes upon herself to educate others. Her words, not mine. I responded by questioning her facts as she presents them.

“I am an expert on history and theology, so do not come back with something stupid. Next time I will not be so kind.” You sound like a bully, insulting me by implying that I am not educated enough to have a legitimate thought and that my information comes from “the National Enquirer.” Your father knows Latin? What’s that supposed to mean? My Dad knows Latin, too, but I didn’t know it was important for the discussion. Why are you even talking about the Roman culture as if it was the crux of the conversation? I used the treatment of Roman women as an example of a culture before Islam that gave women rights. Nothing you’ve said takes away from my statement.

This should be a debate between Sara and me, but for some reason you have taken it upon yourself to speak for her. Kind of insulting, I think.

Finally, I'm not really interested in having this conversation with you, so if you want to go ahead and post a comment that "will not be nice", have at it. I won't be reading it.
Dear Lyla,

I, too, would like to see such an article. Maybe we should petition Salon.com?
While reading this post, I could not help wondering, what was the reasoning behind this desire to publicly justify the author's feelings about goodness of her faith? I have a suspicion, that subconsciously she needs to justify it to herself.
Few more thoughts.
Do you really need a scarf to feel respected? Your self-esteem and self-respect fall short without it? Or is it rather the desire to show it off, to show that for your scarf and for your faith you are better than the infidels and/or people of other faiths? See, this is the problem I have with religious people. And religion. It implies by definition that by obiding god's laws and earning free ticket to heaven they are better than others (cause obviously they are not getting a ticket into your haven). Proof? Easy, lots of people believe that without god you have no morals. Although statistics on crime and divorces among believers and non-nelievers beg to differ. Another fresh one, Libby Dole ran an infamous "Godless" ad against Kay Hagan in this election. Hagan retorted siting that allegations of her being "godless" were false. Which they were. But what really pi**ed me off, that NO ONE in the mainstream bothered to point out that godlessness is not a crime, and is in fact as much guaranteered by US constitution as the freedom of faith.
Another thing that bothered me about this discussion here is that any post reflecting negatively or even just questioning the original post was labeled as "hateful" and "trollish". It is really annoying, as it implies that religious feelings should deserve respect without questioning while atheist beleifs do not. The praise for the post was along the lines that the faith generally is so good and beautiful and inspiring. And only the fringe elements are responsible for the stonings, crusades and oppression of free will in the name of the power for religion. Guess what, it is the same thing about religion that produces your warm and fuzzy feeling and raises the hand with the stones. By believing these are different things you are being complacent to the crimes like stonings and such, you enable the faith to survive and hold on to the new generations. And enable future hate crimes in the name of religion. I will make few comparisons here. Nazi movement was eradicated, even though I am sure there were good nazis, who never hurt people and never sent anyone to the concentration camp. (The disclamer: I am not equating religion to nazis even despite the fact that the whole human history head tally would be in religion's favor) Nazis wanted the best for their nation. I know that comparing nazis to religion must feel sacrilegious, unless you consider them both to be powerful ideas people fought for. Then they do have something in common. All Nazi movement had to be eradicated to ensure nothing like WWII happens again. Even Germans mostly agreed on that. But questioning religion based on setting many people on fire, beheading them, stoning them? Nope, just fringe elements, not worthy of major discussion.
Another comparison sure to attract some attention. Religion makes you feel good. So does sugar, alcohol, drugs, falling in love, short term oxigen deprivation. I am not equating religion to them, I am just pointing out that what feels good is not neccessarily good for you. Which returns me to the original post.
I am glad you feel so good about Islam in your life. But it does not mean that it is good for you.
Lyla Agha,

Thank you for answering my question (I do not know if you read my question).

You are right: nowhere in the Koran does it say that women should wear a hijab. Right again, millions of Muslim women do not wear the hijab around the world.

I believe that wearing the hijab in a Western society is unnecessarily defiant, divisive and does not help Islam.
Marcelleqb,

I do not want to talk to you either, and to suggest that is an insult to me.

I did not attack you. I attacked the terrible Roman example you gave and still cannot defend.

And, yes I DESTROYED both your Roman example and the polygamy arguments. Do not be like that. Admit it, you learned a lot from my response.

You are the one who went personal. You did not rebut one argument of mine, because they are solid.

Do not go academic on us unless you can back it up.
Sara,

Come on, why do not you answer my questions about the hijab. As you can see, I got in trouble defending your post.

Some of us (Lyla Agha, for example) know that the Koran does not mandate the hijab or any other attire for that matter.

We can safely assume, as I successfully pointed out, that wearing a hijab is a cultural factor. Therefore, the questions remain:

Do you know that the Koran does not mandate wearing a hijab?
Why do you wear a hijab in Western society?
I can't seem to stop.

I will come back later to this, especially in revealing the whore/virgin dichotomy that Sara buys into.

In the meantime I would ask you to take a look at this movement. I was talking the whole time about how people like Sara and those who applaud her undermine. belittle and diminish and destroy the hard work (for nothing less than their lives!) of millions of MUSLIM women.

Please look at this, because it seems to me, that many of you Americans are not aware of these things happening because it is outside of your focus (hence why I get so angry about uninformed people blubbering about the "beauty" of it).

Also specifically note the criticism part, it includes valid points, but also reveals once again the "we have to respect this otherwise we are racist and islamophobic" yada yada yada

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ni_Putes_Ni_Soumises

and please note the wikipedia external info
What stands out and should be taken into consideration by all these people here is this. It's an angry cry for help and you turn your head and join sides with the ones they are fighting against.

"No more justifications of our oppression in the name of the right to be different and of respect toward those who force us to bow our heads."
Also especially note that all this is not even happening in all those "Islamic theocracies" but right in front of our doors.

She sums parts of it up well:

""The veil symbolises submission to male dominance," Fadela Amara explains. For this reason, she supports Chirac's hard line of banning the veil in schools. The veil says "I am not available" and should, in principle, buy the women some peace. But what results is a confirmation of the fatal alternative presented in the provocative name "Ni putes ni soumises"; either a woman gives in to her traditional role, or she is considered a whore and fair game."

"Amara emphasises the difference between those who talk about cultural relativism and her organisation, which is aimed at achieving universal human rights. "An exaggerated tolerance of supposed cultural differences which results in the maintenance of archaic traditions - that's just not acceptable."

http://www.signandsight.com/features/288.html
To Thoth and Lyla. Yes In quran it is ordered for the wives of the prophet peace be on to him, and to all the women, see chapter (Surat Ahzaab). Also from Noah/Abraham/Moses/David/Solomon/Jesus/Mohammad and others peace be on to them all, the faith (which we give it a registered brand name today for some as ISLAM) came for us with TEXT revelation (I call it a service manual) from GOD and those all messengers of God above came with it as an example for us, to teach us how to follow it, and that is Sunnah of everyone of them. For example if you are asking only for the evidence from quran or any of the four books i.e the book of
Moses/Jesus/David,Mohammad and exclude their sunnah =(their way of practicing). How would we even know how to worship or practice our daily life?.
Thoth I know what I am about to say to you will make, most of the women to jump on my head and not even leave, the little hair I have. The issue of multiple marriage in quran, which you had mentioned. I suggest you read it well to understand the language. It is not possible for quranic language to be played with or changed as some try the failed attempt, to do with this perticular quotation of yours. I see some Muslims just twisted it as they wanted it or maybe for the reason to escape this question, but in arabic it is not what you are saying, and it is so clear as the rest of the quran.
Kim I thank you for offering to present me the documentations. YES. Please do not come and tell me that the system of Pheroic/Masonic order lisence the women to be prostitutes if they wish. Well I am so sorry some of our human kind end up in such a mess because of the disgusting secular deception. The one behind such lisences is the system which we are made to understand as a very civilised one, and we blindly submit to it.
Your comment to Sara about respect for a women who wear hijab. You must see them from my eyes.
Dear Hyder,

I'm happy to offer some documentation as you request, but I am unclear about what you mean by this:

"Please do not come and tell me that the system of Pheroic/Masonic order lisence the women to be prostitutes if they wish."

I'm thinking that you may be refering to some other individual's post. I never mention prostitutes or anything else you say; what are you saying? Nevertheless, if you are interested in the case I made earlier about plastic surgery demand in Iran:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5391910.stm
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/05/02/eveningnews/main692495.shtml

As far as seeing the hijab and women who wear it "through your eyes," I think I do. I think I represent that in my (one of my) posts.

But do you have any interest in "seeing" the whole issue through OUR eyes (those like me in this debate)? This part is unclear. It is clear, however, that you feel passionate about your position. And it is clear to many of us that religion (ANY religion) tends to make people hardened towards diversity of ideas and unresponsive to reason. Do you understand why we think this? Can you sympathize with our concerns about women and suppression? Even if you don't agree?

Best,
Kim
The following statement by Sarah is simply a variation on a theme I have seen by many female (western) Muslims when defending their faith, and/or their scarves. It is standard fare now, the enumeration of all the forward thinking pro woman things that Islam stands for, excuse me stood for in ancient times.

Sarah wrote: "Often times culture and religion is mixed up and some people often assume that backwards customs of a culture are part of a religion, when in fact they are not.

Islam was the first religion to give women the right to vote. Muslim women were given the right to hold property and the right to inheritance long before many of their European counterparts. Prophet Mohammed held women in a high regard and treated his wives as equals. Muslim women are not required to cook or clean for their husbands, in fact if they wish they can ask their husband for a maid or for money to clean and if a woman does it herself, than it is considered a charity act on her part toward her husband."

What I know to be true is that women living in theocratic Muslim societies do not have the rights Sarah has enumerated above. This reminds me of an editorial in the WAPO called "Spare me the Sermon on Muslim Women", you can find it here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/03/AR2008100301968.html

Like Sarah, the WAPO author talks at length about what Islam says regarding women's rights but not what the practice actually is in most countries controlled by Islamic authorities. Sarah is a US citizen, so she has rights here she would not have in Saudi Arabia or most other Islamic controlled countries.

Sarah's beautific discourse on how wonderful Medina is and that she wishes we could all go there and experience the kindness in people there moves me. Will I be welcome if my female head is uncovered and I don't look down? I honestly wish to know the answer to this, is every one welcome in Medina?
"
Sarah's beautific discourse on how wonderful Medina is and that she wishes we could all go there and experience the kindness in people there moves me. Will I be welcome if my female head is uncovered and I don't look down? I honestly wish to know the answer to this, is every one welcome in Medina?"



I know that this is a rhetorical question, but technically, since Medina is in Saudi-Arabia, you will end up in jail, maybe stoned or tortured, sentenced and maybe lynched by pedestrians on the street...so..ehem..NO.

My favorite part of the enumeration of the rights the women of a tribal society received some thousand years ago (which are no real rights now anymore but when previously your testimonial as a witness in court didn't count at all, and now it counted half of that of two men counted, yay,) which since then have been entirely abolished (apart from the fact that this is not true, Islam also took a great deal of rights from them. There were other cultures conquered by Islam in which women had rights and were stripped entirely of them, famously the women of Hadramout whose hands and feet were cut off and teeth smashed because they did not want to bow down to that) is the part where she says

"Muslim women are not required to cook or clean for their husbands, in fact if they wish they can ask their husband for a maid or for money to clean"

Well, that's great. I'm going to convert and stop working so my husband can get a maid for me. Oh wait yeah....that rule only applies for rich people? Damnit!
It sure helped the women working on the fields and feeding their children to know that they just needed to ask their husbands for a maid. And what about the maid? Because she was working as a maid, could she ask her husband to get her a maid for her house (since she was working elsewhere)? And what about the economical system of making women "maids" house slaves in other words, should we support that? And does that imply, as it seems to me, that it was out of the question for men to clean. Or could the men ask their wives for a maid? Could there be male maids?

All these questions...

"Prophet Mohammed held women in a high regard and treated his wives as equals"

Muhammad was a conquerer and included the women of conquered tribes into his harem (where being held as sex slaves I suppose there were equal). When he was 51, he married the NINE year old Aisha (which in our society would be pedophilia, kidnapping, rape...). I often wonder if Radical Muslims today that buy underage girls to "marry" them refer to Muhammad and justify it, because he was married to a nine-year-old too??
Because that is what it happens if you don't contextualize what happened thousands years ago but transfer it exactly as it is into now as Hyder so nicely says

"It is not possible for quranic language to be played with or changed as some try the failed attempt, to do with this perticular quotation of yours. I see some Muslims just twisted it as they wanted it or maybe for the reason to escape this question, but in arabic it is not what you are saying, and it is so clear as the rest of the quran."

Women were currency, a product, a property, men-making machines thus their reprodcutive organs had to be controlled. I don't want to be one of several "wives". I want to be the love of my husbands life, is soulmate, his partner, his best friend, is respected counterpart, his companion.. I don't want to be one of "wives" which is treated equally well like the rest. Oh . were. Back in the days not now anymore. I want love, not an economical control system.
I greet you in the name of Peace,

Please do not judge Islam on the treatment of women in Muslim countries. There is NOT a single country that is ruled by Islam. Yes these countires are inhabited by Muslims, but the leaderships are generally corrupt and very far from Islam.

Ask any informed Muslim and he or she will tell you that while Arabia is the home of Islam, it's leadership and their ideologies are quite far from Islam. Please do not mistaken these self appointed Kings and Amirs to be representative of Islam. You want to see Islamic rule? Look back at Moorish Spain.

Please note that Islam and it's correct practice is based on Quran and Hadith. Quran is the revelation from God and hadith is a record of the Prophet's life. There is no following one without the other. Putting it very simply, Quran is the Theory and Hadith is the practical.

Muslim men might not have to wear the Hijab but is is obligatory to wear the fist length Sunnah beard. Not those designer stubble ones. The Beard is meant to hide a man's beauty and serves the same purpose as a female's Hijab.

Live and let live.
OK, Bearded One. Thank you for your post. It raises a lot more questions...Maybe start you own blog?
Salam Sara ! I am Muslim too . your article is so great. Iam proud of you
MashaAllah, very good article. I am a recent convert to Islam and I come from an Irish background as well..So sorry to see the comments from the Islam-phobics. May Allah guide them in the right direction..