Friday, April 29, 2011

Finding Dignity in Hijab

I wear a hijab now. Hijabs are cool.

That's a line that should ring familiar to Doctor Who fans--the Eleventh Doctor (played by Matt Smith) likes to justify his odd clothing choices in this fashion. For instance:

Yeah, it's cool, bow ties are cool. (The Eleventh Hour)
It's a fez. I wear a Fez now, Fezes are cool. (The Big Bang)
I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool. (The Impossible Astronaut.)

And the hijab line? It's been making its way around Twitter recently, apparently showing that even hijabis think Doctor Who is cool. But with recent headlines about the hijab, maybe it's time to give the iconic Muslim headscarf a PR makeover, of sorts.

We've heard France banning face veils, thinking to save women from male oppression. We've read NPR's story about some women's choice to remove the hijab, patting them on the back for fighting against what is still seen as male oppression. An article by Leila Ahmed appeared this week at challenging the idea that hijab represents patriarchy. And last week I had to monitor a chatroom discussion about hijab, and listen to women from a variety of backgrounds parrot the same idea they've been fed--that hijab is about male domination, a symbol of suppression.

And I recall the quirky wisdom of a local sister who once remarked that if men were really setting the dress code, women wouldn't be veiled, they'd be wearing bikinis. Some men feel possessive about their female relatives and might want them to be dressed modestly, sure, but the rest of womankind? Ever hear of a place called Hooter's?

Now if a woman understands this about men, that they are generally attracted to women and given the option would like to see whatever bits they can, then she has two options, as I see it. First, she can give men the responsibility and control over her body when she decides to freely display her flesh. She can say that they're responsible for what they see, what they think of her because of what they see. Some might be responsible, then--they might do as the Qur'an says, and avert their gaze. Or they might hoot, holler, and harass her when she walks by.

Some might say it's the man's responsibility anyway--he's responsible for looking, or not. And I won't argue with that. But frankly, if the woman doesn't want to be looked at, then she has a responsibility too. And the second option is to take that responsibility, to take charge of her dignity and cover whatever she doesn't want any passerby to see.

One of the first feelings I had when wearing full hijab for the first time was dignity. Covering didn't make me feel cowardly, or weak, but strong and dignified. And I think this word--the one I've used three times in the past three sentences--should be the new word to associate with hijab: dignity.

If we see a picture of an impoverished young woman in a war-torn country wearing dirty clothes and fraying fabric to just cover the top of her head as well, does she symbolize the oppression of patriarchy? Or a symbol of preserving the last vestiges of dignity, despite oppression?

Many of the arguments I have heard from hijabis in defense of covering relate to dignity. Have you heard the sisters with advanced degrees tell how covering forces coworkers and peers to treat them based on their competence instead of their appearance? Dignity. Or have you heard some college students frame it as their form of feminism, representing the strength of their character against social pressures to conform? Dignity. Or ladies who insist on reserving their beauty exclusively for their beloved? Dignity. And what does it take to choose to dress differently than everyone on the street, to explicitly identify with a maligned minority (in non-Muslim countries), to be prepared to take a stand on faith, while anyone else is free to keep quiet? Dignity.

That's what hijab is. Dignity.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Qur'an Goals

Last Ramadan I listened to a webinar (or maybe two) about making personal goals in regards to studying the Qur'an. And despite seeming to have been studying it for the last seven months, I haven't done a good job of setting clear goals and consequently, haven't accomplished them.

Last Ramadan, for instance, I wanted to finish reading the Qur'an in Arabic, for the first time. Turns out that I bit off more than I could chew with that one. Which is fine, I think--so what if it took longer, as long as I did eventually finish it, right? Well the problem was that after Ramadan I came to Texas and as I started learning Arabic, I found a whole new set of goals--daily, and weekly, but not long-term precisely. And I found myself with trouble deciding which path I wanted to take--for instance, should I work on memorizing, or maybe trying to get a tajweed ijazah. For me, there was just too much going on, and I think I was behind other students in just general familiarity with the Qur'an.

So, after seven months, I'm starting fresh with my Qur'an goals, and renewing my intentions. I'll be concentrating on just one for now, and that is finishing it in Arabic. I have the benefit of understanding quite a lot of it right now, so it's more beneficial reading than before, but I'm not reading for depth right now, but to accomplish two things. First, I want to get into the habit of reading new material (what I haven't memorized or gotten used to reciting) daily, out loud. I've been weak about this before, spending personal time with the Qur'an, but I think it's important for me before I move back to memorizing. And I want to finish going through the Qur'an entirely, and get into the habit of completing its reading on a regular basis.

And once I do finish, after focusing for a while on just the one goal, then I'll shift to another specific goal, and I can focus on it. And then, hopefully and inshaaAllaah, achieve it.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Summer 2011 Programs for Muslims

Just a list, in case anyone is looking for something to do this summer. These are all pretty much based in the USA or open to Americans, even if they take place in another country. I don't have any information about programs from other countries. (Edited to Add: Global Section added at the bottom in case anyone wants to add more on in comments)

SunniPath Qibla Summer Intensive in Amman, Jordan
Term 1: June 18-July16, 2011
Term 2: July 20-August 20, 2011

Zaytuna Summer Arabic Intensive in Berkely, California
June 20-August 12, 2011

Bayyinah Qur'an Intensive in Dallas, Texas
June 3-July 1, 2011

Rihla 2011 Deen Intensive in Bursa, Turkey
June 30-July 21, 2011

Ilm Summit in Houston, Texas
July 8-17, 2011

Reviving the Islamic Spirit-USA in Long Beach, California
May 28-30, 2011

ICNA-MAS Convention in Hartford, Connecticut
May 28-30, 2011

ISNA Convention in Chicago, Illinois
July 1-4, 2011

World Conference on Riba in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
July 26-27, 2011

Anything missing? Leave a note in the comments and I'll try to add it to the list.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Memorizing Translation

I once knew a boy who has made to memorize some surahs from the Qur'an from listening to Yusuf Ali's translation on audio tape. And he was made to recite what he had memorized in a tajweed class (of all places, right?) to an imam who was shocked and tried to explain to the boy's parent why this was not a good idea.

Presumably, the intention was that the boy would learn the text in meaning this way, rather than "just" a text which he wouldn't be able to fully understand. But a translation is not equivalent to the Qur'an. Having spent the last few weeks reading the Qur'an in Arabic and trying to discern the meaning from it without relying on an English translation has taught me to appreciate the difference, and what is lost through translation.

But think of a community that doesn't have the ability to understand to Arabic. Without it, they might lose even the appreciation of the Arabic and place more value on the translation, even to the point that they would memorize it as though it were the words of Allah.

We're supposed to have a relationship with the Qur'an but how can we if we can't even understand it? We shouldn't let children grow up without at least a basic understanding of Arabic. Because without Arabic, as a community we lose the Qur'an.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Wrong to Call Out Bigotry?

One of my favorite books is Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. I'm surprised I didn't bring it with me to Texas, but a summary is available online if I ever want a quick review. (

Because my recent post about political correctness and bigotry got a little popular, I've been giving more thought to the idea. I do think that "political incorrectness" serves as a mask for all kinds of bigotry--racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and more. But I doubt that the purveyors of it think of themselves as bigots. With the exception of some elites who might be deliberately "stirring the pot" I think most people probably believe their grievances are valid. Their irrational hatred, fear, or disdain seems to them to be sensible and obvious, though unpopular.

It is very easy for a person to insulate himself among similar ideas and points of view, perpetuating his belief system. For instance, I can choose to read only articles and blogs that I already agree with, and only discuss these issues with people who share my perspective. But if I do that, then I'm just stunting my own growth in understanding.

Although, this doesn't mean that by conversing with people of opposing opinions I necessarily enhance my understanding--a lot of people can talk and argue without listening or absorbing the arguments of their opponent. The key, I think, is to deliberately keep an open mind.

And that's where the Carnegie book comes in. A few of his points are especially relevant here. When "handling people," we shouldn't criticize. If you're trying to explain, for instance, that calling Islam a cult is stupid, saying that the majority of Muslims sympathize with terrorism is a lie, if you get straight to the point and call your opponent a stupid liar, you've pretty much closed the door to his understanding your point of view.

Another key strategy to "win people to your way of thinking" is to "show respect for the other person's opinions." Yep. Even if they are stupid lies. (Bad Amy!)

Granted, these techniques are for one-on-one interaction. Personal interaction can be extremely powerful, so it's important for Muslims to articulate their beliefs to their neighbors and communities. But in the public sphere, the impersonal world of media and blogs and punditry, perhaps other strategies are more appropriate.

I would be interested in learning the Real reasons that an individual has to oppose building a mosque, for instance, especially if it's not anywhere near him. I wonder if most people would maintain such acerbic criticism if someone sat down with them and listened to their concerns with an open mind, and let them offer solutions to ameliorate those concerns.

The Good, the Bad, and the Facebook

Seeing some tweets recently about canceling and renewing Facebook accounts, I thought I finally wanted to make a post about it.

I am at the particular age which enables me to have seen Facebook from its much earlier days. I first heard of it my junior year in college from a girl who was "pledging" my sorority with me. Then, it was only for college students--you had to have a .edu email address--and mostly relevant for just your own university. And I thought it's greatest usefulness was being able to select my class schedule and find other students in the class. That function, of course, no longer exists.

In fact, Facebook is completely different. Things started getting strange, I thought, when it became open to other than college students--high schoolers, even middle schoolers. Then their parents. I started getting "friend requests" from all sorts of people and Facebook in general only became less interesting to me, and seldom useful.

So I guess I don't really understand how people find it burdensome and time-wasting, that they feel the need to completely cut it off, since it isn't really a part of my life. See, I only log in about twice a week on average, and almost never for more than 5 minutes.

So when I hear people discussing the evils or the benefits of Facebook, I just wonder why it's so important in the first place. I know some people are able to use it successfully for marketing, for announcements about events in the community, or to keep in touch with friends. But personally I hate having to rely on Facebook to hear about programs. (Whereas I really love subscribing to RSS feeds, which I can easily filter.) In fact, I actually hardly ever hear about activities through Facebook--usually through email or occasionally through Twitter.

Then I wonder--if I feel this way, why is it such a big deal for everyone else? Or is it?