Five myths about hijab

From hijabi Barbie to the hijabi emoji, the Muslim headscarf is now ubiquitous. For some, a woman with her hair covered or her face veiled evokes victimhood and a system of domination, or perhaps exoticism (think of the real-life and theatrical versions of “Not Without My Daughter”). Fox News host Jeanine Pirro stoked those fears this month when she said the “hee-jab” worn by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) is “antithetical” to the Constitution. That’s one of many myths that persist about wearing hijab.

MYTH NO. 1
‘Hijab’ means’headscarf.’

This month, Army Times reported on an alleged incident in which an Army sergeant was ordered to remove her headscarf by a senior noncommissioned officer, even though the sergeant had “an approved exemption from her brigade commander to wear a hijab in uniform.” In a story about first lady Melania Trump covering her head for a 2017 audience with the pope but eschewing a scarf for a visit to Saudi Arabia, NBC News reported that the Saudi government “did not request that Mrs. Trump wear a head covering known as a hijab, or a headscarf.”

“Hijab” means “curtain” or “partition,” not “headscarf.” The Koran uses forms of the words “khimar” and “jilbab,” but not “hijab,” when describing women’s dress. “Khimar” means “cover” and corresponds to what we would call a scarf; “jilbab” is an outer garment.

“Hijab” has become a common way of describing a Muslim woman’s head covering, but sharia rules on modesty are about more than covering one’s hair — they deal with a range of attire and conduct, applicable to both men and women, intended to protect interactions between men and women from sexual innuendo. It’s not necessarily offensive to use “hijab” as a synonym for “headscarf.” (It’s a lot closer than other terms, as long as you say “wearing hijab” rather than “wearing a/the hijab.”) But either way, fixating on one piece of cloth misses the point of sharia’s holistic rules for modest behavior.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST

Two Muslim Women, Heroes for Our Age

merlin_152022699_7e2af0e3-c8ce-4aed-b297-ddda9e57b419-superJumboThis is a dispiriting epoch of strongmen and bullies, yet side by side with the worst you find the best. So today let’s find inspiration in two heroes.

They are women who bravely challenged misogyny and dictatorship, one in Iran, the other in Saudi Arabia. Those two nations may be enemies, but they find common cause in their barbaric treatment of women — and since they are trying to squelch and smother these two women, we should shout their names from the mountaintops.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, 55, is a writer and human rights lawyer who for decades has been fighting for women and children in Iran. Her family reports that this week she was sentenced to another 33 years in prison, on top of a five-year sentence she is now serving, plus 148 lashes.

Loujain al-Hathloul, 29, a leader of the Saudi women’s rights movement, went on trial Wednesday after months of imprisonment and torture, including floggings, sexual harassment, waterboarding and electric shocks.

 

Her sister Alia al-Hathloul told me that Loujain was finally presented with the charges against her, which included communicating with human rights organizations and criticizing the Saudi “guardianship” system for women.

Loujain al-Hathloul, a leader of the Saudi women’s rights movement, in an undated handout photo. She went on trial Wednesday after months of imprisonment and torture.CreditReuters
Loujain al-Hathloul, a leader of the Saudi women’s rights movement, in an undated handout photo. She went on trial Wednesday after months of imprisonment and torture.CreditReuters

I previously suggested that Hathloul should get the Nobel Peace Prize, and she has now been nominated for it. So let me revise my proposal: Hathloul and Sotoudeh should win the Nobel together for their courageous advocacy of women’s rights before rival dictators who share one thing: a cruel misogyny.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

Do men have the exclusive right to interpret the Qur’an?

ASMA BARLAS 25 February 2019

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Several years ago, Muslim students of the Avicenna Society of Rotterdam organized a debate between Tariq Ramadan and myself about the status of Muslims in the West. In speaking about the discrimination and violence Muslim women have suffered in the name of Islam, I pointed out that the Qur’an actually affirms their equality with men. It does so by teaching that God created both from the same self (nafs), made them viceregents (khalifa) on earth and appointed them one another’s guides and guardians (awliya) with the mutual obligation to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong. Yet, there is no trace of these verses in dominant interpretations of the Qur’an or in Muslim law. Instead, both law and exegesis foreground a handful of verses/lines (less than six out of more than 6,000 verses) that they take as advocating male supremacy over women.’

My larger point was to question why Muslims invest only men with the authority to interpret the Qur’an and why they are averse to interpreting it differently than they do. I have read it as an egalitarian and anti-patriarchal text in Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an. At the end of the debate, several women in the audience asked Ramadan what he thought about women’s readings of the Qur’an. Women, he eventually said, had to achieve a certain mastery in order to be able to comment on it knowledgeably. All these years later, I can still recall the incensed face of a young woman in hijab who was repeatedly pushing him to clarify just how many more centuries he felt women had to wait before men would regard them as being knowledgeable. He didn’t say.

The truth is that the Qur’an doesn’t authorize only men or a scholarly community to interpret it and nor is there an ordained clergy or church in Islam. Nor does the Qur’an say it came only for the literate. To the contrary it says it is meant also for the “unlettered” Bedouins in the deserts of Arabia. In a remarkably post-Reformation vein, it insists that believers should have a direct relationship with God and should rely on our own reason and intelligence to decipher its verses (ayat, or “signs” of God).

FULL ARTICLE FROM OPEN DEMOCRACY 

‘America has changed Islam’: A woman runs for the board of Houston’s largest Muslim organization

houstonIn a front room of the Masjid at Taqwa, a Sugar Land mosque, Sarah Alikhan watched M.J. Khan film a Facebook video endorsing her.

Khan, 68, isn’t super-fluent with Facebook, but as a former member of Houston City Council and the president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, he’s arguably the most powerful political figure in Houston’s Muslim community. It was Khan who recruited Alikhan, who’s in her early 40s, to become the first woman ever to run for the shura, or governing board, of ISGH, one of the largest Muslim organizations in the U.S.

If elected director of Southwest Zone on Sunday,Dec. 9 she’d be the first woman to have a vote on the 50-year-old organization’s board — and thus, a direct say in the big-picture strategic decisions that can involve millions of dollars. Amid the fierce campaign, Alikhan’s headscarfed presence is a very visible sign of change.

“Here,” she said, after Khan joined her at a table. She took his cell phone and, smiling — she always seems to be smiling — handled a Facebook friend request for him.

Faizan Atiq, the incumbent director of ISGH’s Southwest Zone: “We are still far from where we want to see our organization – BUT on the right track.”

Across the U.S., women have been moving into spots with actual power in Muslim organizations such as ISGH, not just working behind the scenes. In 2006, Ingrid Mattson became the first woman to serve as president — the very top leader — of the Islamic Society of North America, an umbrella group that includes ISGH.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE 

Why Christians Need to Support Women’s Rights and Religious Freedom in the Muslim World

MUSLIM BRITAlthough women’s rights and religious freedom are not commonly associated with one another in the world of the 1.6 billion Muslims, there is a correlation that must be uncovered.

According to Women and Religious Freedom by Nazila Ghanea, inherent in religious freedom is the right to believe or not believe as one’s conscience leads, and live out one’s beliefs openly, peacefully, and without fear.

Freedom of religion or belief is an expansive right that includes the freedoms of thought, conscience, expression, association, and assembly. For the Muslim world, the Quran reads in Sura 2:256, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”

Individuals must not be forced to follow a literal interpretation of religious teachings and traditions. Faith under force is invalid and ingenuine. Therefore, it is never in the public’s interest to force belief on individuals, regardless of gender, and restrict their right to question, explore and fulfill their purpose.

In fact, the research shows that women can contribute to greater peace and prosperity of a society when they are free to choose to exercise their own free will and belief (see here).

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY 

Lost legacy of female scholars of Islam

Islam empowered women in the Arabian Peninsula in a way that could never be imagined before the arrival of the Quran. The stories of the many female scholars who graced the Islamic world need to be remembered

645x344-lost-legacy-of-female-scholars-of-islam-1530735122342When Imam Zuhri, a famous scholar of the Sunna (the Prophet Muhammad’s prescriptions), indicated to Qasim ibn Muhammad, a scholar of the Quran, a desire to seek knowledge, Qasim advised him to join the assembly of a well-known woman jurist of the day, Amara bin Al-Rahman. Imam Zuhri attended her assembly and later described her as “a boundless ocean of knowledge.” In fact, Amra tutored a number of famous scholars, such as Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Hazama and Yahya Ibn Said. Amra was not an anomaly in Islamic history, it actually abounds with famous female narrators of jurisprudence, starting with Ai’sha, Muhammad’s wife. A conservative count would reveal at least 2,500 extraordinary women jurists, narrators of Muhammad’s sayings (hadith), and poets. Yet, their stories are not always well-known or widely acknowledged.

FULL ARTICLE FROM DAILY SABAH

Egypt fights Islamic extremism by allowing women leaders at mosques

_7961_A2CAIRO (RNS) – Four years ago, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi called on state-supported Muslim clerics “to improve the image of Islam in front of the world.”

In response, Islamic religious authorities are allowing Muslim women to be heard. Over the past three months, the clerics have announced that women can now serve as preachers in mosques and schools, serve on governing boards and sing in choirs dedicated to liturgical music.

“These measures show that Islam can grow in an open encounter with other faiths,” said Wafaa Abdelsalam, a 38-year-old female physician appointed by the government’s Ministry of Religious Endowments to give two sermons a week at a pair of influential mosques in the Cairo suburbs. “The audience for my Ramadan talks has been mostly upper-middle-class women who until recently have felt they have had nobody to talk to about how Islam fits into their lives.”

About 70 percent of mosques in Egypt have separate prayer areas for women, according to the Endowments Ministry. But the move to introduce women preachers – wa’ezzat in Arabic – marks the first time females have formally addressed worshippers in these spaces as officially sanctioned clergy.

“Religious education here is a chance for women to ask me questions about personal matters, including marriage problems, and to debate the merits and drawbacks of the choice to wear or not wear the (hijab) headscarf,” said Abdelsalam.

The wa’ezzat are following sermon guidelines set by the Endowments Ministry, she added.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGIOUS NEWS SERVICE