Getting Serious About Our Islam – More Thoughts on Tradition

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.


2 Replies to “Getting Serious About Our Islam – More Thoughts on Tradition”

  1. As Salaamu Alaikum;

    With all due respect to Dr. Abd-Allah and Ms. Chaudhry, I don’t agree that the entire point of hijab is to become invisible in society.

    Quran-(33:59)—“ O Prophet ! Tell Thy wives and daughters. And the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (face) when abroad, that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And God is oft-Forgiving, most merciful.”

    We are supposed to cover ourselves so that we are *known* and identified as believing women, not so that nobody sees us. I would not be willing to remove or alter my hijab just because the society that I live in find my modesty curious enough to look at me more.

    As for brothers helping to carry the load, I agree with Dr. Abd-Allah that it would help if they also dressed and identified themselves as being Muslim. Muslim women are often looked at as being opressed because they(we) are the ones wearing our deen on our sleeve(literally). While brothers can fit in and don’t often stand out as “MUSLIM!!!” lol If more brothers CHOSE to dress in a way that identified them as Muslim(kufi, salwar kameez, thobe, etc.) and refused to change it for anyone then we as sisters would have visible support as well as moral support.

    What “modernity needs” is to see more representations of Muslim men as something other than terrorists. There’s a reason why the widespread image of Muslim women is an opressed woman in hijab/niqab and the widespread image of a Muslim man is a gun/bomb toting terrorist. Many Muslim brothers have been going incognito so that many don’t know if he is Muslim or not. With sisters it’s visibly obvious. If it’s visibly obvious of brothers as well, then society will see that their doctors, teachers, bus drivers, accountants, etc. are Muslim and the social burden will no longer be the sole responsibility of the Muslim woman.

    May Allah Subhana Wa Ta’Ala reward all of the Muslim men and women for their efforts.

  2. Amin, I completely agree with the previous comment.

    As a convert who spent most of my life not in hijab in America, and the past 6 years wearing hijab in America, I can assure you Dr Abdullah is wrong. My hijab has made me invisible — I am no longer fair game to non-Muslim men. I noticed an immediate difference when I started to wear hijab — no getting hit on, no getting whistled at on the street, no random requests for a date, a cup of coffee, or a “drink” from men. Alhamdullila, I felt the protection of hijab immediately! Yes I understand in some areas of America (middle, rural Tea Party America?) wearing a hijab may result in harrassment – but in most of America hijab serves the purpose of allowing a Muslim woman to go about her daily business without being ogled and treated as a piece of meat.

    I will also add that the hijab I speak of involves not just the scarf on the head but also wearing loose clothing so that the shape of ones body cannot be seen (at all). I do know sisters who wear the scarf on their head and tight clothes at the same time — they become an exotic piece of fascination for some non-Muslim men and do get “asked-out”, “hit-on”, requests for dates etc.

    I always find it interesting that the former hijabi or sister whose excuse to not wear hijab is that she is being unfairly targeted as a Muslimah, will THEN NOT ONLY NOT wear hijab, but she seems to have completely forgotten the spirit of hijab. These sisters take off the hijab and proceed to let their hair flow loosely, wear tight clothes and make-up. It makes me ask myself what happened to their self-respect, their dignity? You see this is what hijab is for the woman – self-respect and dignity. And if the sister makes the excuse she is being unfairly targeted as a Muslim when she is in hijab, and then takes it off — why not still attempt to maintain its spirit and avoid unwanted male attention by wearing loose clothes, no make-up, and tying one’s hair back, in ponytail etc.??

    My advice to the scholars who are trying to “modernize” Islam, would be to first be honest about the culture you are trying to modernize Islam to fit into. In our American culture what Muslim women face on a daily basis is the challenge of living in a hyper-sexualized society where free mingling, dating, one-night stands, drinking, and the objectification of women are the norm. How modernizing scholars do you protect your women from that? Are the few racists a real reason to make such a bold statement that in America it may be permitted for a woman to remove her hijab? O scholars, fear Allah as he should be feared. And be grateful to Allah for what he has given us here in America, where for the most part, Muslims freely practice and study our faith, are generally respected, and are free to do as much dawah as we want toward the non-Muslims. The same cannot be said about most Muslim countries today.

    And then to take the argument that a Muslim woman should not bear the burden of “wearing” Muslim identity, and make a call to the brothers to “carry that mark” — makes no sense whatsoever. Dr Abdullah mentions the ways men and women are equal, but fails to mention men and women are different in terms of obligations. A male Muslim is REQUIRED to bring in income, required [ fardh ] to go out into society and make a living, an income to support his family. There is no equal equivalent for the Male muslim of wearing his Islamic identity, for when a brother dons a kufi, long beard, izhar etc — this can affect his ability to hold a job and earn income. Muslim males in America already face the restriction of having to earn a halal income in a society where some jobs are not permissible to them — those involving interest, alcohol, pork etc. So how does it make sense to enforce something that could be detrimental to the financial standing of all Muslims in America as a whole? Yes Muslim men must nonetheless maintain hijab by wearing loose clothing and lowering their gaze, and perhaps their Muslim identity can be further expressed in the workplace by lobbying to have a prayer room and by requesting time off on Fridays for Jumuah prayer or even organizing a jamaat for Jumuah at the workplace. But remember Quran 2:177 “It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteous is the one who believes in Allah, and the Last Day….” . Do we not face this problem especially in Philadelphia where the worst of thugs and criminals sport long beards and pants cut off below the knee? And generally doesn’t it make more sense for scholars to advise male Muslims in America to BIRR, examples: organizing a canned food drive for the homeless at their workplace, leading an Islam 101 course for non-Muslims, passing out free Qurans, to give in charity etc? is this not BIRR?

    My advice to these scholars trying to modernize Islam would be to do a real cost-benefit analysis of the sort of modernizations you are recommending — does it make sense to say removing the hijab is permissable for all women or just for the few living in rural areas where a headscarf may result in targeting — does it make sense to advise brothers to “dress as Muslims” at the cost of them not being able to earn fardh income?

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