Sunday 26 December 2010

Conrad Koch on Muslim Women and Hijab

There is an interesting post on comedian and ventriloquist Conrad Koch's blog called "My response to @GarethCliff and his Eurocentric arrogance towards Muslim women".

The tweet that led to this article was from Gareth Cliff (no I have never heard of him either) and basically said:
“I feel dreadfully sorry for any woman who has to cover herself up for religious reasons in the heat of summer. Very cruel.”

Personally I didn't think this even merited a response it is so inane, but Koch's responsed by saying:

"You say you “feel dreadfully sorry for any woman who has to cover herself up”. The important points here are that you a) feel sorry for them, and b) see them as having to do this. I have never heard you feeling sorry for Western women who ‘have to’ pour hot wax on their genital area and legs to make themselves more socially acceptable, or feeling sorry for female Idols contestants who ‘have to’ have near anemic figures to fit into the tight clothing we prefer them to wear, or for African women who are forced into the cultural practice of genital mutilation, so I need to ask, why the special sorrow for poor suffering Muslim women?

The academics reckon the reason white guys like us are so obsessed with Muslim women is because they have come to occupy a special place in our symbolism. George Bush calls them ‘women of cover’ (at least his prejudice is mildly entertaining, Gareth). They form part of a discourse of how the West has justified its exploits in the Middle East… they are the primary example for how weird and oppressive these crazy Muslim men are, or in Chakravorty Spivak’s (1988 in Abu-Lughod, 2002: 784) words: “White men saving brown women from brown men”.

Your statement implies that these women would prefer to be uncovered. I think Abu-Lughod (2002: 788) says it best: “I have done fieldwork in Egypt over more than 20 years and I cannot think of a single woman I know, from the poorest rural to the most educated cosmopolitan, who has ever expressed envy of U.S. women, women they tend to perceive as bereft of community, vulnerable to sexual violence and social anomie [big word Gareth, get Fresh to explain it to you], driven by individual success rather than morality, or strangely disrespectful of god.”

As interesting as the article were the comments. One was from Nani-ma who wrote:

"I am a muslim woman. I write this letter from peace and to inform your readers why Islam is so beautiful and practical. Muslim woman do not wear hijaab(headscarf and modest clothing) for men but for themselves. It is their choice to wear hijaab to follow what God has instructed them to do, not their husbands, fathers or anyone else but God. My favourite story about modest dress was: One day a school girl asked a religious leader - Mufti Menk. Why are muslim women oppressed and wear a head scarf and dress like that and why do men have beards and wear robes? His answer was: "the same reason the mother of Jesus, Mary wears the head scarf in all your portraits and the same reason Jesus has a beard and wears robes in all your portraits, for the love of God." Why has God instructed women to dress modestly? At the time when Islam started women were treated the worst buried alive, etc. Islam came and liberated women. Many examples to numerous to mention here. A woman wears hijaab the same reason you lock away all your valuables in a safe. If you had the most precious stone in the world wouldn't you want to hide it from everyone and wrap it up safely. Hijaab is a women's security blanket. With her modest dress she feels safe to walk the streets without even being noticed and maybe even being respected for it. In these times where women are being sexually abused left, right and centre the hijaab is one of the best safety mechanisms she has, almost a shield of protection. With the hijaab all women are the same equal to each other and in retrospect equal to man. Fat, thin, tall, short. Woman are talking to each other, the person, not getting distracted by their assets or liabilities. The same goes with man communicating with woman. With the hijaab you are talking to HER not her looks. God is the most wise and knows best. I admire the father who is inculcating such beliefs in his children at such a young age. Religious freedom is a democratic right and one of the reasons I love South Africa and wouldn't choose to live in France wear the headscarf is banned. My only regret is I didn't ask permission to wear hijaab when I was the first muslim girl to attend my model c school in the eastern Transvaal way back then."

You can read the full article and comments here.

Muslim Women Do That

Yasmin Diallo Turk has created a short video called "Muslim Women Do That" to challenge some of the stereotypes about Muslim women. Sister Yasmin explains on her project website:

"This documentary film will highlight American Muslim women doing 10 Things you may not anticipate if you are among the 62% of Americans who claim they have never met a Muslim. More than 1 out of every 5 people on Earth identifies as Muslim. They do not have one look, personality, or passion. Following 5 Muslim women in their 20's, 30's and 40's as they take on adventures introduces you to them as people rather than impersonal stereotypes"

Sunday 19 December 2010

Muslim School Assists Neighbouring Ailing School

The Independent (10 November 2010) writes about how the Tauheedul Islam Girls' School in Blackburn,one of the country's first state-funded Muslim schools, is helping it's neighbouring secular school. Blakewater College has traditionally is in another part of the city and has been described as having a "chequered past", having problems with behaviour and exam performance:

"But now Tauheedul is helping Blakewater turn itself round. It is the first time that a Muslim school has been asked to perform a rescue act on a non-faith state school, but the experiment is already paying dividends.

After only eight months the percentage of pupils gaining five A* to C grade passes at Blakewater has risen from 11 per cent to 26 per cent.

Alan Chambers, head of Blakewater College for the past year, said the link with Tauheedul – led by its principal, Hamid Patel – had helped immeasurably. "Hamid is a Blackburn lad and there is no doubt that he wants to put something back into the wider community that both of us serve," Mr Chambers said.

The college now assesses the performance of pupils as soon as they arrive, giving them extra support if they fall short. It has also approached parents to get them more involved in the process – a tactic previously honed by their colleagues across the city."

You can read the full article here.

New York Times Feature: Muslims in America

The New York Times has an interesting series of features by Andrea Elliott grouped under the theme of "Muslims in America":

Tending to Muslim Hearts and Islam's Future
Explores the Journey of Imam Shata as he becomes an America Imam:
"The bookish Egyptian came to America in 2002 to lead prayers, not to dabble in matchmaking. He was far more conversant in Islamic jurisprudence than in matters of the heart. But American imams must wear many hats, none of which come tailor-made."

To Lead the Faithful in a Faith Under Fire
Looks at the way Imam Shata has had to deal with questions from the FBI as Islam becomes a "religion under watch":
"In the Islamic world, imams are defined as prayer leaders. But here, they become community leaders, essential intermediaries between their immigrant flocks and a new, Western land. When Islamic traditions clash with American culture, it is imams who step forward with improvised answers. Outside the mosque, many assume the public roles of other clergy, becoming diplomats for their faith."

A Muslim Leader in Brooklyn, Reconciling 2 Worlds
Explores the wide variety of roles an imam has to play in America and the challenges he might face:
"America transformed me from a person of rigidity to flexibility," said Mr. Shata, speaking through an Arabic translator. "I went from a country where a sheik would speak and the people listened to one where the sheik talks and the people talk back."

Islam in the Suburbs - Audio Slide Show
Sheikh Reda Shata discusses his move from a storefront mosque in Brooklyn to a palatial mosque in Middletown, N.J.

A Cleric’s Journey Leads to a Suburban Frontier
Catches up with Imam Shata in the suburbs:
"To be a successful suburban imam, he found, meant persuading doctors and lawyers not to rush from prayers to beat traffic. It meant connecting with teenagers who drove new cars, and who peppered their Arabic with “like” and “yeah.” It meant helping his daughter cope with mockery at school, in a predominantly white town that lost dozens of people on Sept. 11"

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