Over this winter break I had a chance to engage in a number of good dialogs with my wife and friends about what’s going on right now with Muslims, American Muslims in particular (though, as it was recently pointed out, some of this is equally pertinent to Muslims living in Europe). From those talks sprang a reference to the article in which Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, from the Nawawi Foundation, was interviewed regarding Muslims, tradition, and dress. I read over the article again and thought I’d just point out a few brief points, as I felt they were relevant to the last post.
To be specific, Dr. Abd-Allah’s article highlights the dichotomy that exists between Muslims of so-called “Tradition” and its ever-increasing counterproductive results. Dr. Abd-Allah highlights a key issue facing Muslims, namely that of the burden that Muslim women are currently carrying: Identity. Abd-Allah points out this burden is “way too heavy”, and that it in effect reverses the very objective (Maqāsid al-Shari’ah/مقاسد الشريعة) that the Divine Law is trying to aim us towards:
When a Muslim woman in a scarf is coming out into public and she is totally exposed, the man is now in hijāb. He is in hijāb. She’s not in hijāb. She’s wearing a scarf yes, but if we know what hijāb really is, the man is in hijāb because he’s hidden. You can’t see him, you don’t know if he’s a Muslim or Hindu, you don’t know if he’s an Arab Muslim, an Arab Jew, an Arab Christian or just white. The man is in hijāb. That is what hijāb means – he is hidden from the public eye. She is not. She is the one who is absolutely out there, everybody knows it, so that’s hard for her to bear.
Abd-Allah reminds us of a very important fact that is lost in the current dialog about hijab, one which is being turned on its head at the moment with Muslim women being the main identifying targets of the Muslim community. For me, this highlights a very important disconnect between Muslims and “Tradition”. I ask again, is it possible to confer a level is Muslimness to a mode of dress (which has been done before), and if so, how will we go about it as a community? How will we solve this problem such that Muslim women can actually fulfill the role they are trying to do and maintain the barrier of seclusion from the public eye (i.e., “hijāb“); a role we as Muslim men should be taking the brunt: “to the degree that any type of distinctive dress is a mark of identity in society, whether we intend it to be or not, then men have to also carry that mark.”
Dr. Abd-Allah also makes a call to the scholastic community. When we do come to the table and discuss an appropriate method of action, one which will try to give to modernity what it needs and to God what God wants, we are nothing if we “[do] not look at these problems that are associated with it and the lived experiences of these women.” I hope we can ponder how we are distributing the weight of this social burden and see if we (as Muslim men) are carrying are due: “man is able to carry in public what he is supposed to carry. So if there is a burden you give me 90% and if you like you can carry 10%. But for me to put 90% on you and to carry 10% myself, what in the world is that? How undignified, how shameful.”
The interview was conducted by Rabea Chaudhry.