Recently after much anticipation I published a post on Muslim women and sexuality in aim to answer a few questions regarding Muslim women and their physical appearances proposed by Western secularists. However, the issue itself is highly controversial and profound therefore I decided to team up with the wonderful writer Saadia Haq from The Human Lens blog in an attempt to dissect and have a deeper look into Muslim women, sexuality and where the issues lie.
Firstly, I’ll begin by discussing Muslim women and their physical appearances based on the study “The Muslim “Veil” Post-9/11: Rethinking Women’s Rights and leadership” by American professor Sahar F. Aziz. In her complex study professor Aziz analyses how the veil or headscarf for Muslim women was seen from a whole different angle after the 9/11 attacks and how Muslim women are higher victims of discrimination than their male counterparts. Aziz noted how “In a matter of days, Islam went from a relatively obscure religion in the united States to the focal point of public anxiety” and this effected female followers. “The Muslim “veil” has become a stereotyped symbol of terror” the Muslim woman post 9/11 was and is still now viewed more negatively. She is either seen as a symbol of oppression thanks to Western feminists or she is seen as a connection to terrorism. Groups like Femen imply how strongly misunderstood Muslim women are by Western parties.
The irony is the very same radical feminists who preach Muslim women are “oppressed” create an even bigger oppression by not allowing a Muslim woman to dress how she wishes to. By taking away her right to have her own identity and voice. Aziz noted how particularly after the 9/11 attacks Western feminists began to present the headscarf as a symbol of subjugation “some Western feminists categorically denounced the headscarf as a symbol of patriarchy. They doubted that a Muslim woman could “choose” to wear it” in effect adding to more negative stereotypes and assumptions about Muslim women.
Furthermore, many presumed the headscarf to be an act of cruelty and even comparing it to female genital mutilation. Of course, Muslim feminists throughout time have argued that “the headscarf is not necessarily antithetical to feminist ideals. Many women choose to wear it as a feminist statement that rejects the hyper-sexualisation of women’s bodies by male-dominated societies in both the East and West”. I do wonder how different Muslims would be view if the 9/11 attack never took place. It’s almost like America didn’t even acknowledge us and if so we were just the foreigners, the immigrants and a bunch of nobodies, until the attack took place. Within a day Muslims were put under the spotlight, not just the 19 or whatever so men who were accountable for the attacks but the whole Muslim population was made famous for all the wrong reasons.
The positive effect of all this stereotyping and prejudice against Muslim women that it has encouraged many Muslim women to take action and speak out against these false theories so often fabricated by many Western feminists. Muslim women are stronger than ever, call it the act of resilience. The taboo of Muslim women discussing about their sexuality still does exist, however to not discuss such a strong issue we would only be giving into the cries of Western feminists labelling Muslim women as “oppressed”. To some culturally associated Muslims sexuality being discussed is a huge offence and especially if its women then its borderline blasphemy.
Therefore, it’s understandable to why so many Muslim women hesitate to speak or write on this issue. But to not speak on it at all allows open space for many commentators who already have a vendetta against Muslims to create their own incorrect concepts. After the 9/11 Aziz found “After 9/11, some headscarved women in the united States found themselves in a precarious position. No longer does the headscarf reflect an individual decision (or lack thereof) about personal faith and dress. Rather, it “marks” her as a member of the enemy and a legitimate target of aggression arising out of societal prejudices against a religion that has been recast as a hostile political ideology”. A Muslim woman was and is still judged more on her physical appearances than her male counterpart. Donning a headscarf which is so visibly exposed and different to how Westerners dress, she is in more danger of being discriminated. A woman wearing a headscarf is no doubt looked at more suspiciously, donning a headscarf myself the amount of stares I get now are more than ever before. Perhaps she is looked at differently as she has a piece of cloth on her head which many would find strange if they had no acknowledgment of religion practices.
However, the reality is the suspicious stares are given as professor Aziz accurately states “rather, it “marks” her as a member of the enemy and a legitimate target of aggression”. Rather, it “marks” her as a member of the enemy and a legitimate target of aggression”. The woman’s Islamic dress is disapproved as it marks her as an enemy. For my personal perspective, there’s many reason why so many frown upon the Islamic dress. The first being of course, the amount of negative stereotypes linked to how a Muslim woman dresses accusing her to be an “extremist” or disrespecting ethnocentric Western values. The second, many may feel uncomfortable sitting next to a fully burqa face and body covered woman. Not seeing someone’s face causes us an uneasy feeling, many argue the face and body is an asset to one’s identity therefore it should be on show. The third being, people may view the Islamic dress as a weapon to oppress women. To hide them away from society, make sure they are as unseen as possible. Finally, the Islamic dress is hugely alternative to modern day Western dresses, many may view it as prehistoric and a step back into history when even Western women were covered and not “keeping up with the times”.
Being a practising Muslim female in the West comes with many challenges. The objection of the Islamic dress could bruise many Muslim females self-esteem as for them this is a part of their identity. The Muslim woman has to deal with the negative and incredibly subjected stereotypes, being more likely to be rejected for employment as well as dealing with her own cultural heritage and paying the bills at the same time. For some this has even resulted in removing the Islamic dress such the headscarf in hope to have better employment opportunities. It does make me wonder how the Islamic dress was linked to terrorism in the first place. Perhaps the world was not too educated about Islam the religion and wasn’t sure what the headscarf even means. How can a piece of cloth on your head be linked to terrorism? What is so dangerous about a woman not revealing her hair, neck and hairs I wonder? However, the “oppression cry” from an ignorant angle is comprehensible. The West has always been highly liberated when it comes to sexuality so seeing Muslim women covering hair for some may be seen as offensive and a major slap in the face for these Western principles.
Nonetheless, this still doesn’t give the right to media giants and so called feminist movements to implement their own negative perception of Muslim women just because for them the Muslim woman is too alternative to comprehend. Regarding her sexuality this should also be entirely down to the female alone whether she wishes to discuss it or not. She shouldn’t be spoken for by groups like Femen and nor should be spoken by groups like Al’Qaeda. The Muslim woman should be given the platform to speak about issues effecting other Muslim women and woman in general without having her faith or character questioned.