Muslim Feminism: Women At Prayer

Photo by Reuters

The main question I’ve been asked since I became a Muslim has been, “How do you reconcile being a Muslim with being a feminist?” The answer is complex and I won’t go into all of it today. But one part of the answer is that any woman can be a feminist, if being one means that you want to see women find self-fulfillment on whatever path they choose to travel. That doesn’t mean that every journey is easy. Certainly if you come from a culture where women have been traditionally marginalized and you want to continue to be a part of that culture, you’re going to find the going tough. Does that mean that you shouldn’t try? No, but it might mean that you have to weigh your options carefully and be sure of your convictions before you proceed. [quote]

I decided to write about this today because of an article by Tracy Clark-Flory I ran across on Salon.com in its Broadsheet department: “Muslims protest sexism with prayer.” In it Clark-Flory recounts the story of Muslim women who dared to pray on the main floor of a mosque in Washington, D.C. Why is that a big deal? For one thing, they were praying with the men and not behind a partition in an area reserved for women. For another thing, they risked arrest to do so. I would say that this is Muslim feminism in action, whether or not these women would identify themselves as feminists.

Segregation during prayer

What is my take on their actions? While I haven’t prayed often in a mosque (yet), when I have, I’ve been relegated to the women’s room along with the other women. The main negative feeling I had was irritation, because it was sometimes hard to hear what was being said on the main floor (which of course is the men’s area) and as a result, it was also hard to feel that I was a part of what was going on, which after all, is supposed to be a communal act of prayer. At the same time, it didn’t bother me all that much because of the feeling of sisterhood I had from being there with the other women. Not to mention that I was more intent on getting my own prayers right than on where I was praying.

Women are too noisy

One Muslim man once told me that women make too much noise during prayer and that’s one reason why men don’t want them praying in the same room. But maybe women tend to be noisy because they don’t take what they’re doing as seriously as the men do, exactly because the men don’t take what the women do as seriously. What does it really matter if the women make a little noise if they’re not even supposed to be there? (There are a few mosques that don’t allow women to even enter the building.) Then there is the problem of children who are of course with the women (at least until the boys are considered old enough to pray with the men). Children tend to be noisy, too, but the men don’t have to and don’t want to deal with that. They don’t want anything to distract them from their prayers.

Women are distractions

Women are also considered to be distractions because they might cause the men to think impure thoughts when they’re supposed to be praying. I get that. Women can be distracted by men as well. If the goal is total concentration, then there is something to be said for the separation of the sexes during prayer. Having said that, I don’t see why adults can’t be trusted to try harder to keep their minds on Allah instead of on each other. Then again, one of the things that attracted me to Islam is that it is so pragmatic about human nature. We do tend to get distracted, pretty easily as a matter of fact. So why make it harder for us to concentrate?

I’m still a feminist, so now I’m a Muslim feminist. That doesn’t mean that I advocate crashing the men’s prayers. I don’t think at all badly of women who sincerely feel that their spiritual lives are made fuller by being able to pray in the main hall of the mosque. I may be one of them someday. But for now I’m content to follow my path to spiritual fulfillment. And to concentrate on my prayers, without distractions.

The Hijabi Monologues Are Coming!

Woman wearing a hijab

A hijabi is a term for a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, or headscarf. I believe that it is important to see the women beneath the headscarves and “The Hijabi Monologues” are one way to accomplish that.

The following announcement only applies to the Columbus, Ohio performances in April but I’m including it here because that’s where I’m from and because I wanted to alert my readers to the existence of “The Hijabi Monologues.” If you want to know more about “The Hijabi Monologues”—maybe even bring them to your area—see the information below.

ANNOUNCEMENT

Try-outs are being held on March 31, 2010 at the Ohio State University for performers to participate in “The Hijabi Monologues.” There is also a need for organizers, writers, photographers and so on. (See full list of positions available here.) Please note: You do not need to be Muslim to participate!

What are “The Hijabi Monologues”? They are a take-off on Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” The difference between them is that “The Vagina Monologues” takes something private and makes it public and “The Hijabi Monologues” take something public (the hijabs, or headcoverings) and show us the private lives of the women who wear them.

Go to the OSU website for more information about the Columbus, Ohio performances as well as links to other performances which have taken place elsewhere. Any questions or concerns should sent to the email address: HijabiMonologues.OSU@gmail.com

To RSVP go the the Hijabi Monologues at OSU page on Facebook. For more information about the Monologues themselves, there is another Facebook page here.

The video below is an interview with some of the people involved in “The Hijabi Monologues.”

Conversation With Muslim Women About “Covering” (Hijab, Niqab, or Nothing)

I put this video on Facebook, but then decided that I wanted to comment on it more than I could in that venue. Watch it first and see what you think.

Before I watched this video, I was uncomfortable with the idea of the face veil (the niqab). But the woman who wears the niqab in this video is extremely articulate and persuaded me that there can be good reasons for covering the face, even if that is not a choice I would make.

I was also persuaded by the uncovered woman’s explanation for why she doesn’t cover. And that sums up my dilemma. I am a Muslim woman who has not made up her mind about covering. I have worn the headscarf  (the hijab) on many occasions, but haven’t made a total commitment to it. I’ve worn it to run errands, to visit my Muslim friends and go to Muslim celebrations, when I pray and to go to the masjid (mosque). But I don’t wear it to work or whenever I answer the door. And I don’t know if I would have enough courage to wear it on an airplane!

Continue reading “Conversation With Muslim Women About “Covering” (Hijab, Niqab, or Nothing)”

Tuesday Tidbits

Misogyny, Up Close and Personal” by Melissa McEwan in the guardian.co.uk. How we can love men while not liking everything they do.

Marcella Chester’s blog about being a rape survivor:  “Abyss2hope.” This particular article is about the incidence of sexual abuse among boys and girls.  Also check out her website, “Date Rape is Real Rape.”

Bitch Magazine blog post by Mandy Van Deven about the classist, sexist, racist, homophobic and just plain mean blog, People of WalMart. (I could find the Facebook page for PeopleofWalmart, but not the website.)

Feminists Naomi Wolfe and Phyllis Chesler “face off over the veil” at Salon Broadsheet. This one’s especially interesting to me because like Wolfe, I defend any woman’s right to wear a headcovering, but I identify with Chesler’s views since I am also a Second-Waver. Read the article by Wolfe that started the debate:  “Behind the veil lives a thriving Muslim sexuality.”

A Ramadan Invitation

I attended a Ramadan dinner last Wednesday night. I’d never been to one before and I was surprised and pleased to be invited. It was a woman-only party and was the first time I’d seen the women I already knew without their headscarves. Seeing their hair seemed almost as strange as seeing them in their hijabs had once seemed to me! But the biggest revelation to me was how normal the whole thing seemed.

Oh, I’m not used to eating on the floor (they had a table but it wasn’t large enough for all of us) or to the food (which was mostly Libyan). But it seemed natural to sit around chatting with these women even though our mother tongues and cultures are so different. Thankfully their English was very good since my Arabic is still limited to “Hello,” “How are you?,” “I’m fine,” and “Good-bye.”

My hostess introduced me to her two sisters (out of six), her mother who was visiting for a month, her friend from Saudi Arabia and her two nieces, aged 2 years and 3 months. A lot of our time was spent making over the baby and trying to coax the two-year-old out of the bedroom; she was shy around strangers (me). An Arabic movie was playing on a laptop, but no one paid it any attention. Later on they showed me a video of a Libyan wedding complete with traditional songs and dances. And right before we ate, three of the women performed their prayers while I sat quietly watching and listening. It was a moving experience.

After the dinner which was delicious and plentiful (I could hardly wait to unbuckle my belt when I got into the car to go home!), two more guests showed up for dessert and coffee with their little ones in tow as well. The baby was handed around and the toddler fell asleep on the couch. It was explained to me that children are the objects of much affection and attention in their culture and that they can’t get used to the American tendency to draw back when they fuss over American children. I admit that I had hesitated at first when a baby was summarily handed to me–because it’s not something that is done so matter-of-factly in American culture. But I soon warmed up to the atmosphere and was playing with the baby as much as anyone. I even got her to coo at me.

The party was still going on when I left at 11:30. I would have stayed longer but I wasn’t sure if it was polite to stay too long (or leave too early!). As I drove through the neighborhood, I passed people returning from or walking to the mosque which was just down the road from my hostess’ apartment. I wondered if they thought it was odd to see me there. But I didn’t care. Because I had been made to feel perfectly at home.

Tuesday Tidbits

Take Your Husband’s Name…Or Face Jail Time?” from Judy Berman of Broadsheet at Salon.com.

In a Newsweek Web Exclusive, Sarah Kliff recounts her reaction to watching an abortion.

Jonathan Alter says that Obama needs to reframe the debate in “Health Care as a Civil Right.”

Our children are at risk because “Americans Marry Too Much.”

The president of Fuller Theological Seminary writes a thoughtful essay on his views about same-sex marriage. (I still don’t agree with him.) The comments are worth reading as well.

Noble Savage writes an excellent post about “The Hypocrisy of Burqa Banning.”