Connect with us

#Life

Hijab Fixation: Deciding Our Heaven And Hell

Hijab itself is not the issue, rather it is the forceful approach that starts the damage. Sometimes a girl is not convinced of her faith yet. She may have questions that she is afraid to ask. She may have doubts that need to be addressed and discussed wisely. But, while she’s struggling with internal conflicts and confusions, she’s forced to wear something that’s not only spiritually symbolic but takes a lot of strength to put on.

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One day my 18-year-old son, messaged me:

Then the next day, he sent me screen shots of a conversation that took place between him and his friends on Twitter.

Before I share those tweets, I just want the readers to know that these young men’s ages range between 18-21. They are raised in practicing Muslim families by parents whose second home is the masjid.

They are well-mannered, polite and the kind of boys you would want your son to be friends with.

girls who dont wear hijab tweet

Girl who don't wear hijab hell

Hijab in Islamic School

A few more comments from different young men.

Boys commenting on hijab

My daughter chimed in.


The conversation continued, diving head-first into the complex connections between faith, free agency, external modesty and internal righteousness, but this is not an article about any of those things. Nor is this about the obligation of hijab. Hijab is an obligation— that is not up for discussion.

Rather, this piece is about how forcing hijab on our girls is a damaging mistake that fails to meet its end goal- a woman’s ownership of her spiritual submission to Allah. From west to east, I have seen girls suffering spiritual damage when they are forced to wear hijab.

We’ve probably all met a girl or two who was forced to wear hijab and consequently resented it. When I was in high school, there were only two students who wore hijab. One was myself, the other was a girl would take off her hijab in school and would wear shorts, mini skirts. That was my first interaction with a girl who was forced to wear hijab.

Since then I have met countless others, and most of them remove it at their first opportunity. I live in the Middle East now, and while hijab is not mandated by the government in Qatar, it is still a symbol of family honor. When enforced by family members, the result is the same. Girls I have spoken with hate covering and not only remove hijab as soon as they get their first opportunity to do so, but also dress less modestly than the girls who are not forced into it.

There are also girls who are certain about their faith and are convinced that wearing hijab is the right thing to do, but tackling inner temptations can take time. It is not easy to wear hijab, especially in this time of so much emphasis on physical beauty and appearance. Many of  us can identify with the constant social media bombardment.

In either case, when a girl resists, she is judged and looked down upon. Hijab is forced. She may wear it to school but she ends up resenting it. A girl in doubt, becomes even more doubtful as she starts to perceive the whole religion of Islam from the lens of “being forced” with no room for questions or discussions. Consequently her conflicts intensify and her confusion turns into bitterness and resentment towards the faith.

Hijab itself is not the issue, rather it is the forceful approach that starts the damage. Sometimes a girl is not convinced of her faith yet. She may have questions that she is afraid to ask. She may have doubts that need to be addressed and discussed wisely. But, while she’s struggling with internal conflicts and confusions, she’s forced to wear something that’s not only spiritually symbolic but takes a lot of strength to put on.

Islam or Islamic rulings should not and must not be shoved down someone’s throat. The ideal “sunnah way” of spreading this faith is through teachings, and patience and wisdom. The girls need to understand their religion first, build a connection with their Lord first, love their faith and their Creator, only then they will be ready to “hear and obey”.

Our youth, including preteens, are struggling to hold on to their faith, even the ones in Islamic schools. Some of them are even secretly atheist or agnostic, grappling with basic theology while we debate dress code.

Perhaps it’s because absence of hijab is obvious, but absence of faith is not.

There is so much emphasis on the ritual of hijab that we totally forget: every ritual starts with spiritual submission, and that spiritual submission stems from conviction. Conviction is the root of submission, and submission is the basis for ritual. When we have not nurtured the roots, and we instead focus on the branches, how are we expecting a healthy tree to be sustained?

Islamic Schools and Hijab

The whole point of Islamic Schools is to have a platform for our future generations to learn their religion and become proud Muslims, not “suppressed” Muslims. Islamic schools should instill proud Muslim identity in students first, and that for sure cannot be achieved by forcing them to do something they don’t fully understand or may not be ready to adhere to.

We send our children to Islamic school to gain the knowledge that they need to develop conviction. In order for hijab to be the long-term, it must be the manifestation of belief in Allah and complete conviction of His rulings, and not just “because we said so.”

Dare I say, I would rather our Islamic schools produce die-hard Muslimahs who are completely convinced of their faith – with or without hijab –  rather than girls who wear hijab but are doubtful of Allah and Islam. I have counseled both type of girls. And the ones who resent their faith are the ones who were almost always forced to wear hijab.

As a youth counselor, I’ve seen the type of spiritual crisis that fixation from others on hijab causes. Hijab in of itself may not even be the problem, if we can learn to handle this issue wisely and patiently, giving our girls room to question, to learn, to understand and then to absorb.

It doesn’t help that the Muslim culture seems to have an unhealthy fixation on hijab, making it equivalent to the foundation of Islam. Girls in hijab are automatically assumed to be pious and righteous, and girls without it are automatically assumed to be failing in their faith. There are copious amounts of memes that perpetuate this.

Hijab and Faith

The status of her hijab doesn’t make a woman fall in or out of Islam or its core beliefs. Faith is built on six principles- belief in Allah, the angels, holy revelation, the messengers, the Day of Judgment, and the Qadr of Allah. For whatever reason, a Muslim woman can believe in all of these things, and yet not be wearing a hijab. Conversely, a woman can wear hijab while believing in none of these things as well.

It’s the same for the five pillars of Islam – Declaration of Faith, Hajj, Charity, Prayer, and Fasting. A Muslim woman can be actively practicing all of these without wearing hijab on a daily basis – and while she absolutely should be wearing a hijab, her failure to do so does not cancel out her faith or her practices that stem from that faith.

Hijab is a manifestation of faith, not the sole indicator, and certainly not a replacement for it. Forcing a girl into hijab doesn’t mean she’s a “good Muslim girl” and parents can call it a day.  The sooner we understand this, the sooner we can start focusing on the inside of our girls, so their faith can shine through to the outside.

This obsession and fixation on hijab has left many of our Muslim sisters handicapped in spiritual development, as well as socially isolated from and within the Muslim community. We have all experienced it. I was once a part of it– “The Niqaabi Cult”, who felt entitled to judge any sister who wasn’t covered or wasn’t “covered enough”. We excluded them. There is a “Hijabi Cult” too, and while not every Muslim woman in hijab or niqab is guilty of discriminating against those who don’t, the cultural fixation on a woman’s dress-code being an indicator of her social worth is certainly a contributing factor in its existence.

Islamic School Hijab Dilemma

Some may argue that if Hijab is not mandatory in Islamic schools and some girls don’t wear it, then it could encourage the girls who do wear it, to remove it. I would say that our teachers should be trained to handle such situations wisely. They must focus on building and celebrating the strength of those girls who choose to wear hijab, and encouraging and building the strength in those who feel too weak to wear it yet.

If teachers know which girls aren’t ready yet, they have the opportunity to discover why. Is the issue with her belief and conviction? Is the issue with her understanding of this ritual? Is she convinced, but just needs some time and room for spiritual growth? Being able to identify and remedy such problems is a more sensible approach to helping girls grow into hijab, versus assuming there is no problem because they’re all mandated to wear one with the uniform anyway.

Teachers can take the an opportunity to prepare our girls to step into the real world, where many Muslim women don’t wear hijab. Our girls will be challenged from all fronts to keep their hijabs on from both Muslim and non-Muslim influence. All the more reason for an Islamic school to be the training ground for our girls to grow into, and solidify their commitment to hijab so that they’re better prepared for the real world. Compare this to a situation where hijab is worn without meaning, and taken off with the rest of the uniform once the school day is done.

Wearing hijab is not easy for many women, no matter how early one starts to wear it or how late. It doesn’t get easier with age and time either. For some it is harder than the others, and this does NOT reflect a person’s state of iman. In fact, the harder it is for one to wear hijab, the more rewarding it will be for them to do so.

I pray to Allah that we become the believers who help one another with right knowledge, patience, wisdom, sincerity; and not the ones who judge other believers and feel entitled in their religious-superiority.

Muslimmatters welcomes your opinion on these issues. Send your submissions here

 

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Saba Syed (aka Umm Reem) is the author of International award winning novel, "An Acquaintance."Saba has a BA degree in Islamic Studies. She studied Arabic Language & Literature at Qatar University and at Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi.She had been actively involved with Islamic community since 1995 through her MSA, and then as a founding member of TDC, and other community organizations. in 2002, she organized and hosted the very first "Musim Women's Conference" in Houston, TX. Since then, she's been passionately working towards empowering Muslim women through the correct and untainted teachings of Islam.She is a pastoral counselor for marriage & family, women and youth issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities all over U.S and overseas, also hosted special workshops regarding parenting, Islamic sex-ed, female sexuality, and marital intimacy.

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Rida

    January 28, 2019 at 11:19 AM

    While it is very important that one should choose the hijab herself due to her own religious conviction and submission to please God alone, Islamic schools are trying to create an Islamic environment for All the students there and thus the dress code.

    Also, where do you draw the line? what if someone doesn’t have enough conviction to be wearing modest clothing? Should he/she be allowed to dress as they feel comfortable until they themselves want to dress modestly?

    From my personal experience (I went to public school), it is definitely very hard to be the only one practicing the hijab. I tried to do so in middle school initially at my parents encouragement but I wasn’t able to. My hesitation was mainly rooted in not seeing anyone of my age practicing it, so it was hard for me to take the first step.

    Eventually my parents took me to ladies halaqa circles where I saw many Muslim girls (they homeschooled) and they were practicing the hijab. Just hanging out with them once a week and reading the religious literature together gave me the encouragement I needed to start my hijab journey which I started in 9th grade.

    So, considering that, I’d think seeing many girls doing hijab in Islamic school should make it actually easier to do.

    Maybe the reason girls who don’t want to do it have more to do with the rest of their environment? Maybe they see their peers not doing it and they see their guardian figures not doing it and thus they consider it “optional”? So when they are told to do so while attending an Islamic school it feels like a burden to them?

    Needless to say, this is a very important discussion of our times. There are many instances where kids have simply lost belief and need their concerns and questions answered. I think ones’ home environment and the peers circle has the MOST influence on these types of issues. Some parents think that sending kids to Islamic school is enough to teach them everything of religion. They don’t realize they need to talk openly to their children about beliefs and doubts and clarify them. Schools can only do so much…

    • Umm Reem (Saba Syed)

      Umm Reem (Saba Syed)

      January 29, 2019 at 4:26 AM

      Dressing modestly and wearing hijab (particularly head covering) is not necessarily the same thing. Hijab is religiously sumbolic whereas dressing modestly is required on many different occasions even from people/organizations/schools without any religious reasons.

      Besides, what worked for you doesn’t work for everyone else. We need to stop taking our personal experiences and using it to draw general rules for everyone else.

      • Avatar

        Rida

        January 29, 2019 at 1:59 PM

        Sister I feel your concerns absolutely but as Parents and Teachers, we ARE supposed to enforce morals and modesty upon the Muslim children whether they fully grasp the meaning behind it or not. We are supposed to explain the why and reasoning behind it too. That is the point of Islamic schools to begin with. To provide the knowledge and the environment to actually practice the morals and teachings of Islam.

        The “modest” dressing can be interpreted in many ways. I have been a former teacher at an Islamic school and so I have also witnessed the issues quite closely. There were some students who didn’t like to be forced to wear loose fitting uniforms. They thought wearing fitted clothing as long as it covered skin was completely fine and the biggest reason for that was the role models in their life and their many peers dressed in that manner, and not because they wanted to rebel the school policies.

        The school policies didn’t drive these people away from hijab it was the rest of the environment that did that. The videos they watched on YouTube, the people they socialized with on social media and trying to impress them are the biggest factors in driving someone away from hijab, not school uniforms.

        I have seen girls leave from Islamic school and take off hijab immediately as they entered their cars where their moms or female gaurdians were also not practicing it. These girls always saw this as an “optional” headwear due to all the other environment, and thus even making it “optional” in an Islamic school will actually only serve to solidify that false belief.

        “Hijab must not be THAT mandatory that it isn’t even required in an Islamic school” will be the next argument.

        Moreover, I don’t understand why all this talking to the girls and clearing their doubts regarding beliefs and hijabs cannot be done simultaneously. They need to learn that certain things like practice of public morality and modesty aren’t up for debate, but that they may ask questions and clear any and all doubts regarding it.

        Also the argument you are making against the hijab policy can be made regarding any and all obligatory acts that the Muslim children don’t want to do. Kids don’t exactly love praying 5 times a day, are we to stop forcing them to do so by punishing them with grounding or taking away screen time etc? I am also pretty sure kids don’t like making the ritual ablution, so should we allow them to pray without it or touch Quran without it? Why is it okay to force them to pray whether with “conviction” or not, but not okay to enforce hijab as part of the Islamic uniform?

        • Avatar

          Mahmoud

          January 31, 2019 at 10:26 PM

          Sister Rida captures the issue very well. If we make Hijab optional until one grasps the spirituality behind it then by extension other acts of worship will also fall within this remit. Moreover, it is a man’s issue as much as it a woman’s for we are sons, brothers, fathers (parents) and husbands and to me the broader issue is the dress code which is applicable to both sexes

  2. Avatar

    Muhammad Hasan Khan

    January 28, 2019 at 1:22 PM

    Morality is a public issue not just a personal choice.

    Hijab is as public form of worship as it can get. A non Muslim woman not wearing hijab doesn’t mean anything but a Muslim woman not wearing it, does contribute to an environment where non compliance is an accepted norm.

    Hijab is difficult to wear because of the culture that celebrates immodesty. By us removing any environment where it is not celebrated, we contribute to the problem, not the solution.

    Islam regulates both personal and public affairs and specially those personal choices that impact societies.

    We don’t talk about conviction and iman when we obey secular laws but when it comes to religion, it becomes a danger to the faith.

    The problem is not Islamic having dress code, the problem is parents thinking sending kids to Islamic school is sufficient to give them proper identity and belief while they binge watch Netflix, listen to music and post selfies on Instagram.

    Insufficient Islamic upbringing causes doubt in faith, not just forcing hijab.

    It doesn’t have to be one or the other. We can’t reside kids glorifying their looks and tell them one day btw hijab was required and we also can’t say just putting on cloth on head and sending to Islamic school is sufficient.

    • Avatar

      Muhammad Hasan Khan

      January 28, 2019 at 1:30 PM

      * The problem is not Islamic schools having dress code
      * We can’t raise kids in non compliance and expect them to comply all of a sudden
      * We can’t just put on a piece of cloth on head and send them to islamic school thinking that should be sufficient.
      * It doesn’t have to be one or the other or one after the other.
      * Parenting is hard. Problem is in parenting, not forcing Hijab. Its lack of proper upbringing.

    • Umm Reem (Saba Syed)

      Umm Reem (Saba Syed)

      January 29, 2019 at 4:47 AM

      I would appreciate if you leave the difficulty of wearing hijab to be judged by women. You can’t speak about something you have never done.

      And yes we don’t need conviction to obey secular laws, but our conviction in matters of faith is pivotal because that decides our eternal destiny.

      • Avatar

        Arsal

        January 31, 2019 at 9:33 PM

        Very respectfully, the question & this article is revolving around is not about wearing Hijab by an independent women.
        It is about at the level of teeange and in Islamic Schools.
        So multiple parties can comes to discussion the girl, school administration & most importantly parents.

    • Avatar

      Ali

      July 10, 2019 at 6:42 PM

      I can’t believe these sick comments.
      Hijab in MANY Muslim civilizations was absent. You going to day those civilizations cebrated immodesty?

  3. Avatar

    RedCloakedGirl

    January 28, 2019 at 3:28 PM

    Wow. Jaza kaLlaah Khair Sister for this amazing article. I was genuinely scared by the boy’s way of thinking. Such colourful vocabulary. I ask Allah to open his heart to see that the world isn’t so black and white.

  4. Avatar

    Nora

    January 28, 2019 at 4:53 PM

    Whoo, here come the barrage of comments from well meaning brothers. This article hasn’t been published an hour, they’re here already. I look forward to the same amount of comments concerning genocide or even *gasp* domestic abuse, and how brothers will stop other brothers from abusing their families and catcalling women on the street.

    But nope, won’t happen.

    Let’s face folks, having an opinion on hijab is easy, that even the most moronic can produce. No man will ever understand the difficulty of hijab, and unless you’re a sheik, your opinion can only spread fitna.

    • Avatar

      Rida

      January 28, 2019 at 6:15 PM

      Did you even read the comments to their entirety? BTW I am a hijab practicing sister.

      The article is about hijab and you expect people to comment about domestic abuse and genocide? Yeh, that makes a LOT of sense ?

  5. Avatar

    Kathryn

    January 28, 2019 at 10:51 PM

    This whole argument is a strawman. Girls who are “forced to wear hijab” is defined How? Girls who vocally do not want it and clearly don’t have the moral groundwork to carry it?
    So bacisally: these same girls have clearly not been taught their deen on any deep level. And they aren’t being forced to observe hijab, they are being forced to put a scarf on their head, as true hijab requires intention.
    The reality of our deen is that as parents, and as fathers in particular, there is absolutely an obligation to enforce Islamic morals and behaviours.
    If our children refuse to pray at 10, we are to physically punish them until they do.
    We aren’t told to wait till they sort it out themselves.
    Now: the ground work should absolutely be laid long in advance. They should be taught the prayer for at least 3 years BEFORE it becomes mandatory, but it does still become mandatory regardless, as once they are baligh they must seek any information they lack themselves.
    A woman’s prayer is not in order without hijab. So how does one get a female child to pray at 10 without also “forcing” her to wear hijab? If she is attending an Islamic school in which salaat is held, how is she to participate? We know hijab is obligatory for salaat, and simply removing it after is hypocrisy, so there really is no other acceptable answer.
    The TRUTH is that Allah is the Turner of hearts, all we can do is remind.
    No amount of encouragement and educating will instill Islam into a heart Allah has hardened, but that doesn’t lift our duty to enforce the sharia where applicable, and hijab for all past puberty is one of those areas.

    • Umm Reem (Saba Syed)

      Umm Reem (Saba Syed)

      January 29, 2019 at 4:43 AM

      Wearing hijab during prayers is not the same as wearing hijab every time a girl steps outside her house/interacts with non-mahrem!

  6. Avatar

    KB

    January 29, 2019 at 2:10 AM

    This is really just….
    It’s an Islamic school. Wear it at school. Don’t wear it at home.or after school if you don’t want to. The only place Muslim girls will see other women wearing hijab, conforming to the rest of society’s standards, is making it that much harder for these girls to wear it then. This is making hijab too individualized. I also think the article overestimates young girls’ abilities to decide and have the willpower to start wearing hijab on their own with zero encouragement from a school/Muslim environment. I was 10 when I started and it was hard but at least I knew when I went to class my friends would be wearing it too. Eventually I got over it. Seriously, left to my own devices, raised here in Seattle, when would I have EVER started wearing hijab of my own will? I don’t think so!

    • Umm Reem (Saba Syed)

      Umm Reem (Saba Syed)

      January 29, 2019 at 4:33 AM

      If you read my article carefully, you would realize that I never said leave the girls on their own with “zero encouragement” from islamic school or teachers.
      I clearly stated that teachers should and must encourage girls to wear hijab, and talk about why they need to wear hijab. Teaching with wisdom and patience is what I emphasized on.

  7. Avatar

    KB

    January 29, 2019 at 2:14 AM

    By the way, I agree that kindergartens shouldn’t wear hijab . That is simply ridiculous and unfair. At my school girls began to wear it in 4th or 5th grade which I believe is a very appropriate age.

  8. Avatar

    Spirituality

    January 29, 2019 at 3:08 PM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Jazaki Allahu Khayran for this very thoughtful article.

    My understanding is that the ruling for khimar, the headscarf, came with the revelation of Sura Nur, or in 6 AH. Noting that the Prophet (s) was in Mecca for 13 years before hijra, the ruling for the khimar came a full 19 years after the initial revelation!

    Why? Perhaps its because Allah wanted to instill the roots of the religion – faith in Allah, establishing prayer, good character and conduct, into the Sahabiyya (RA) first?

    A related issue: Aisha RA said in Sahih Bukhari: “When the people embraced Islam, the Verses regarding legal and illegal things were revealed. If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘Do not drink alcoholic drinks.’ people would have said, ‘We will never leave alcoholic drinks,’ and if there had been revealed, ‘Do not commit illegal sexual intercourse, ‘they would have said, ‘We will never give up illegal sexual intercourse.”

    • Avatar

      Rida

      January 29, 2019 at 5:40 PM

      That is a good point and this is why legal and illegal laws become binding on a Muslim person only once they reach puberty, not before that, that’s 10-12 years for girls and 14-15 for boys on average.

      During this time teachers and parents are to instill the love of Allah and teachings of Islam in them so that when they reach puberty they are able to abide by the legal and illegal matters. The best ways are to show them by example and try your best to keep them in the company of the righteous people and in a sharia-compliant environment like an Islamic School or even homeschooling. May Allah help us all in achieving this monumentous task Ameen.

  9. Avatar

    Maryam

    January 29, 2019 at 10:11 PM

    SubhanAllah! Since when did the wearing of a head scarf became a determinant of going to Jannah?

    “Our youth, including preteens, are struggling to hold on to their faith, even the ones in Islamic schools. Some of them are even secretly atheist or agnostic, grappling with basic theology while we debate dress code.”

    When I started wearing hijab (out of choice) I remember being reminded by my parents that wearing the hijab doesn’t make me a better Muslim than someone who doesn’t wear it, and I still, will have to work on my character and imaan.

    Even during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) the hijab became an obligation (for both men and women) around the 9th or 10th year of hijrah, long after Salah, fasting or brotherhood among the Muslims was introduced. Why? because there are things more important than hijab, one of them is spirituality.

    There was a saying by our mother Aisha (RA) that if the rulings for Hijab and alcohol came in the early days, no one would have followed it because at that point no one even knew who Allah was and what it meant to be a Muslim.

    Our focus should be to teach our children how to be a good Muslim and have strong faith in Allah, the rest comes along naturally.

  10. Avatar

    @nony

    January 30, 2019 at 7:55 AM

    Every word of this article is, SubhaanAllah so true.
    There is so, much hijab shaming around. I am a hijabi myself. And i get bullied for not joining the so called hijab cult. I know the struggle because this didnt come easy forvme as well. BaarikAllah feek Umm. I hope this message gets far and wide.

  11. Avatar

    Sayeeda Shireen

    January 31, 2019 at 12:38 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Growing up in India, I started wearing the hijab in 11th grade, but I dont remember ever feeling out of place or finding it difficult. I have lived and worked in the US, traveled in Europe, attended international conferences in my line of work, all with my hijab on, and never felt any sense of discomfort.This article got me thinking. Why is hijab so easy for me? Of course, the foremost reason is it’s the Mercy and Grace of Allah.

    However, I feel self belief and self confidence also play a huge part in how comfortable we are in our modest clothing. It’s easier to buck the trend when you are self confident, when you are comfortable in your own skin. Perhaps parents and educators should look at ways of instilling self confidence in their kids along with the Islamic rulings. So that we raise a generation of confident Muslims who practice their Deen unselfconsciously.

  12. Avatar

    Siraaj

    January 31, 2019 at 5:33 PM

    My personal take, discussions of misogyny and being “forced” is more indicative of inability to process the world in our own terms rather than someone else’s framework, or in believing our own apologetics.

    As my son is growing older, I do “force” him to wear pants that cover his knees and shirts that cover his back while he prays. I don’t allow my kids to wear indecent clothes, even though prevailing norms pressure for this. Am I forcing my kids to dress in a way I think appropriate? Absolutely.

    Parents of all faiths (or without them) mandate their values on their kids all the time, including dress codes. Theres nothing new about this, and the hijab isn’t exceptional in this regard either. What is exceptional is how it’s viewed in society, and how it’s wearers about that.

    I would agree that hijab doesn’t take priority over the fundamentals of Islam and iman, and in order for hijab and other more fundamental behaviors to be practiced from the heart, a lot must be invested in developing ones relationship with Allah so it’s sincere and authentic. That is a major part of a parents duty, as well as keeping them away from the less salient areas of society and likewise leading by example. That is parenting.

    But so too is telling your children how to dress. For that matter, making your kids pray at 7 and beating them about it when their 10 doesn’t contradict that there is no compulsion in religion either. Kids are made to take on religion and religious behaviors and nonreligious behaviors because the duty of parents is to teach and as well enforce practices, manners, and habits until they are adults and can then make their own decisions as adults.

  13. Avatar

    Fritz

    January 31, 2019 at 7:18 PM

    A slightly muddled set of thought processes here.

    “I would appreciate if you leave the difficulty of wearing hijab to be judged by women. You can’t speak about something you have never done.”

    Ok this is complete emotional nonsense. So nobody can empathise with anyone else eh?

    The hijab is being utilised as a school uniform and should thus be considered as an entity along these lines. There are plenty of schools that “force” girls to wear skirts and tights to school. What about that?

    And this an Islamic school no less. It would be interesting to know how you police “modest clothing”. How short is too short? How tight is too tight? You are enforcing other standards in this context.

  14. Avatar

    Arsalan

    January 31, 2019 at 9:19 PM

    Assalamualaikum,So I am single guy & this Hijab debates is pretty interesting.
    I was looking for a girl to get married few months ago & the first thing my aunt who lives in America asked me ” Do you want a Hijabi or non-Hijabi ? ” & most of the girl that I talked to put forward this question, ” Would you ask me to wear hijab later ? ”

    No doubt, girls think that its a social demarcation between two kinds & if they would adopt it, desi culture wont judge them or they may purely doing it for the sake of Almighty.

    I have a question, Can parents force them to wear Hijab ?
    If parents believe in that & if they look after that girl ( financillay ) then I think they can make such decisions for her ( as we see in medicine that parents call for treatment options ).

    No doubt, an introduction to God first would let the child adopt Hijab or Niqab easily.

  15. Avatar

    Ahmed

    February 3, 2019 at 5:08 PM

    People need to remember that our children are our flock. We are shepards and will be asked about them on the Day of Judgement.

    Everyone knows about the hadith that talks about telling our children to pray at 7, and beating them (lightly) at 10 if they dont listen. Thats before puberty and we are told to force prayer on them. At that young age they cant be expected to pray on free will. But we force Salah upon them in order to make them get used to it when they reach puberty. We also teach them about islam so they learn why they should pray etc so that they do it willingly when they reach puberty.

    The same can be said/done regarding hijab. We should, yes, force our children to cover their awrah to let them learn modesty and get used to it.

    The reality is that we have become desensitized to immodest dressing, to the point that we find the concept of covering to be strangeand odd. But the reality is that these women walking with jeans are practically naked. I can literally see your awrah, except the skin. The form is blatant. Its absolutely disgusting and filthy. Even if people refuse to say it.

    Let the people hate how we raise our children, we shouldnt care to please them. It is Allah that matters, not the pleasure of the fuel of Jahannam.

    May Allah make it easy for the muslim women.

  16. Avatar

    Siddiqui

    February 21, 2019 at 12:32 PM

    what has this ummah come to seriously

  17. Avatar

    Nayem

    February 26, 2019 at 3:43 PM

    There are muslim who have been made comfortable with the idea that Islam accommodates their every ideological commitment: liberalism, feminism, secularism, social justice identity politics, etc.

    The idea of submitting and reigning in one’s emotions and sentimentality in accordance with the Sacred is completely foreign to them. The tarbiya that is so critical to spirituality and getting closer to Allah is completely absent.But Muslims can’t remain sheltered forever.

    They slowly start realizing that things are not what they want them to be. They start resenting other Muslims and begin to lash out, calling them names: “extremist,” “wahabi,” “misogynist,” etc.

    Many of them become very bitter, burn out, and some even leave Islam.

    For example, you probably think that that hijab (covering awrah) is a personal choice. which means that wearing it is no more or less meaningful than wearing a swimsuit.If all one cares about and celebrates is choice, then choosing to wear the hijab is equivalent to choosing to ditch it. Or choosing to wear something else entirely. It’s all choice! But in reality, hijab is anything but choice. It is fard.

  18. Avatar

    Mummyjaan

    March 4, 2019 at 11:38 PM

    I’m so glad you wrote about this, Umm Reem. It’s something we muslim parents need to talk about more.

    When my girls were younger, we had lots of conversations about hijab and it being fardh, and that it starts becoming obligatory after a certain age.

    My older child kept this in mind and decided on wearing the hijab when it became fardh for her, and I assumed all was going well. After wearing it for 2 years, she told me that she wore it only because she didn’t want to disappoint me and that she wanted to go for a year without it. I was shocked, both by her not opening up to me initially and by her decision to remove it. Although I had left the decision up to her and not forced her, i realized that the expectation she must have felt from me must have been strong. And here I thought I was doing the right thing by providing the information and letting her make her own choice. Didn’t really work out the way I hoped it would.

    At the moment, I treat our stage of Islam in our house as “the ‘Makkan period” in Islam. In the first 13 years, many of the surahs that were revealed to prophet Mohammed focussed on building the faith of the fledgling Muslim community. The ahkaam of hijab and many other commandments were not revealed until this faith had build into something much stronger. So we focus on reading Quran and ahadith, establishing our salah on time and making dua. Hopefully, Allah will forgive my weak tarbiyyah that failed and give us strength, ameen.

    I have been accused by my never-present husband that I “must have been too forceful in my emphasis on hijab” and that’s why the girls don’t practice it. But that’s just one more male assumption that I have to deal with, which adds to the difficulties and pressures of being a woman. As both his daughters and I know that his assumption is untrue, I don’t worry too much about it. Coping mechanism :)!

  19. Avatar

    Marahm

    March 15, 2019 at 11:51 AM

    The hijab is now synonymous with Islam. Let’s imagine, for a moment, that hijab– strictly, the covering of hair and/or face– is eliminated from Islam altogether. What is left? Indeed, that is the question. Without hijab, we either have a rich, complete religious tradition or we have a shell. You decide. Think about it. Would you have the shell, or would you still have the whole package, if your conviction for or against that hijab were to vanish?

  20. Avatar

    Amina

    March 16, 2019 at 1:08 AM

    I was brought up thinking hijab was good but optional.Before hijab our parents always emphasised modest loose clothing but just never forced the scarf. I never realised until my late twenties it was actually fard. Once I knew that I started wearing it which was a bit scary at first but have never wanted to remove it since. So when I hear about girls who know it’s fard but don’t want to wear it I don’t understand. I can only put it down to not fully realising the significance and only Allah can open your eyes to that. But I don’t think you should wait for that before wearing it. Example from home is a big factor. Its weird my mum always wore it going out but I never thought I should too it just seemed cultural. May Allah guide all our brothers and sisters, our children and parents, Ameen. But in regards to the tweets I think 5 is a bit young maybe from 7 should be uniform.

    • Avatar

      Ali

      July 10, 2019 at 6:50 PM

      Hijab is arab culture. Stop enforcing it on others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Gender Relations

Podcast: Get Over It: 21 Ways to Say Goodbye to that Haram Relationship and Move on With Your Life | Ehab Hassan

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

So you finally came to your senses. That girl or guy you’ve been talking to is not the best thing that’s ever happened to you, and definitely not helping you advance or get closer to Allah. You know it’s wrong, you want to get over it, you want to move on, but it’s just so hard and no one understands you! InshaAllah, it’s all going to be alright.

You're probably thinking that getting over a relationship can’t be as easy as people make it sound.Click To Tweet

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

#Society

No-Nuptial Agreements: Maybe Next Time, Don’t Get Married

marriage
Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

 “Nikah is part of my sunnah, and whoever does not follow my sunnah has nothing to do with me.”

–Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), Narrated by Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her)

Many Muslims have experienced marriage, then suffered a subsequent divorce as a financial, emotional, and social meat grinder. Some critics have noted the divorce system seemingly exists primarily to benefit itself; the lawyers: mental health experts, investigators, forensic accountants.

They form an entire industry dedicated to extracting the wealth of a disintegrating family, often forcing the middle class or working class into poverty and bankruptcy. All of this happens without any noticeable benefit to society. It’s a self-licking ice cream cone.

For many, divorce happens multiple times. A divorced person who gets remarried is more likely to get divorced again.

While men often complain about how the “family court” system is against them, the reality is that women often bear the financial brunt of divorce. Divorce is more likely to drive women to bankruptcy than men.

After one or two divorces and a few lost years of retirement savings or a decade or more of home equity, another “marriage” starts to look downright irrational. My advice to such people: stop getting married, at least under state law. Get a nikah and a “no-nuptial agreement” instead. Allow me to explain.

Fun with Words

It is impossible to have a meaningful conversation about virtually anything unless we have a common understanding of the meaning of words we are using.

In law, even ordinary words have definitions that defy conventional understanding or even common sense. Basic familial terms like “son,” “daughter,” “father,” and “mother” have state law definitions that are different from what those words mean in Islam or our understanding. Under state law, “parents” can adopt adult “children” a similar age to them or even older, and have the same status as a biological child. In Islam, an adopted child is not the same as a biological child and does not have rights to inheritance in Islam.

In law, even words like “life” and “death” don’t always mean what you think they mean. A living person can go to court to dispute his death, demonstrate he is living, breathing, speaking, and everyone agrees he is the “dead person” in question, yet, he is ruled legally dead. Famously, corporations are legally people and are immortal.

Law is not the same thing as truth.

Similarly, it is folly to conflate nikah, the thing that exists in Islam, with marriage under state law. In different states, rules for who and under what circumstances people can get married can vary. One thing that all the state law definitions have in common is that they are not marriage in Islam.

What is Marriage?

For marriage, there is a state law definition, there is an Islamic definition, and there is the definition that the individual married couple has. Under state law, two men can be married to each other, but three men cannot be. In Islam, marriage (let’s call it nikah to be more precise) is a halal social and sexual relationship, and there are rules in the fiqh that are different from state law.

Under some state laws, “secret marriages” with no witnesses or publicly available registration are part of the law and commonly used. In Islam, there is a witness requirement for nikah. None of the rules in Islam require the state’s approval for nikah.

The third definition is how each couple sees their marriage. It is a flexible institution. To the extent it is an economic, social or familial partnership can vary widely. Couples may live together or apart. They may have one income or two.  They may share the same social circles or share none of them. The variations are endless.

Domestic Partnerships

For most of the history of legal marriage in the United States, marriage can only be between one man and one woman. States started allowing for “domestic partnerships” to give some “benefits” of marriage to same-sex couples, like employer health benefits and hospital visitation.

In many instances, these were available almost exclusively to same-sex couples, even after same-sex marriage became part of the law in all states. However, as of January 2020, California opened up domestic partnerships to everyone, including different-sex couples.

As a practical matter, domestic partnerships are simply state-sanctioned marriage by another name. It is notable though some jurisdictions may have limited domestic partnerships that are something less than marriage. In most states that have it, the same family law system, for good or ill, that comes with marriage under state law is also true of domestic partnerships.

While domestic partnership combined with a nikah is available to Muslims in states where it exists, there is no real advantage to using it.

No-Nuptial Agreements

For decades now, in the United States, there has been no taboo against men and women openly having sexual relationships with each other, living and raising families together outside marriage. Courts have long recognized these people should have contractual rights with each other.

When a man and women live together, those involved may be gaining something and giving something up. So if a man promises a woman something, and the agreement is not founded merely on sexual services, the state should enforce those promises, not in family court but civil court.

Marvin started it all

The principle case that established this is the California case of Marvin v. Marvin in 1976. A couple broke up, but the woman wanted to enforce promises made to her by the man. The man felt such a commitment should not be enforceable because, among other reasons, he was legally married to a completely different woman when this non-marital relationship started. Under California law, at the time (abolished by the time the case got to the court), this was criminal adultery.

No-nuptial agreements (sometimes called cohabitation agreements or Marvin agreements) can be used by couples when they want to have enforceable contracts but do not want to subject themselves to the family court system or the family code. They can include provisions of mahar, sharing expenses, equity as well as dispute resolution processes like arbitration and mediation.

The couple can also document limits on what they agreed to to what is in writing. For example, during a breakup, one party may be able to claim an oral promise the other party never made and potentially have it enforced in court. A written agreement protects both parties and the understanding they had when they entered into the relationship.

These agreements have a broad utility for many different kinds of couples. However, for some couples, the main benefit would be documentation that nobody is under the illusion that this is a marriage under state law. It is a private contract between two individuals.

Example of a No-Nuptial Agreement

Salma, 58, does a nikah with Sheher Ali, 62. They also create a no-nuptial agreement. Sheher Ali is a widower, and Salma is a divorcee. They both have their separate assets, including their own homes. Each has adult children and young grandchildren. Both want to put their adult children at ease that this relationship does not exist for predatory financial reasons – a common fear when parents marry later in life.

Salma, 58, does a nikah with Sheher Ali, 62. They also create a no-nuptial agreement. Sheher Ali is a widower, and Salma is a divorcee. They both have their separate assets, including their own homes. Each has adult children and young grandchildren.Click To Tweet

Salma and Sheher Ali do not plan to live together, which is common for couples their age. They mostly pay for their expenses themselves. They may spend the night at each other’s homes whenever they want but will split time with their separate children, grandchildren and social circles. Sheher Ali pays for joint vacations and outings. He agreed to a mahar. Both agree in writing they did not marry under state law.

Sheher Ali and Salma can still call each other husband and wife, since that is true for them and everyone they know. Both keep all of their finances separate, and each does their independent estate planning where they name each other as partial beneficiaries of their estates as required in Islam. The two also complete HIPAA forms allowing each to see the other’s private medical information and name each other in Advance Healthcare Directives so they can make healthcare decisions for each other.

Legal Strangers

Unmarried couples are “legal strangers.” Doctors won’t share healthcare information. Islamic spouses don’t get an inheritance from a no-nuptial agreement spouse by default. They don’t get things like tenancy by the entirety, community property, or elective shares in places where such things exist. As I described above, though, this can be remedied. However, as I described in the example above, the “legal stranger” aspect of the relationship may be more of a benefit than a downside in some cases.

Some “benefits” of marriage under state law are against Islamic principles.  For example, some state laws that provide for “elective shares” are diametrically opposed to the Quran’s share of inheritance.  Muslims must follow Islamic rules of inheritance anyway, which are different from default state rules, so being under state law is no special advantage. Even with proper planning, the downsides of the “legal stranger” problem still may come up in extraordinary contexts, however, such as lawsuits.

Immigration and Taxes

Another concern is that employee benefits to spouses and dependents don’t generally extend to those with no-nuptial agreements. Immigration law does not allow a path to the United States through the “family unification ” process for those with a no-nuptial contract. Marriage under state law (or the law of a foreign country recognized in the United States) may be the most practical solution in such cases.

In some cases, state-sanctioned marriage may lead to lower taxes. Other legally married couples may experience the so-called “marriage penalty” and pay higher taxes than couples with a no-nuptial agreement. Couples may often find they will pay less in taxes with a no-nuptial agreement than they would if they were married under state law.

Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements

One may wonder, to avoid the “meat grinder” of the family court system, why not just get a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement? It’s accurate that in general, having such arrangements are superior to not having them. These agreements offer greater certainty, though by no means total confidence, on how a divorce would end. There are disadvantages to such an agreement over no-nuptial agreements, however. A big one is that divorce is still in the family court system.

Many Muslim men, especially immigrants, may perceive cultural biases cause a stacked deck against them in family court. The nature of these agreements may make this perception worse. Sometimes, courts treat prenuptial and postnuptial agreements with a presumption of coercion. It is different from an ordinary contract. The family court system is often free to be more paternalistic and make a husband prove he did not force his wife to sign a document.

The Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, which will be worded differently in the different states that adopted it, provides for a process to make these marital agreements harder to defeat. However, the process is perhaps arguably more expensive, cumbersome, and awkward for a couple than a no-nuptial contract. Talking about a prenuptial agreement with a fiancé may be more uncomfortable than bringing up a no-nuptial arrangement and nikah. Without a state-sanctioned marriage, a written agreement is essential. Many people perceive the pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements as both optional and, perhaps unfairly, as a sign of mistrust.

Custody and Child Support

Unfortunately, there is no agreement you can come up with that will pre-settle child support and custody. A judge will decide those things.

It does not matter if you have a “plain vanilla” marriage governed entirely by your state’s family code, a prenuptial agreement, or a no-nuptial agreement. Children are not parties to such a contract. No court anywhere will subject a child’s care and welfare to such things.

For custody and child support, courts in family court will use the sometimes hard to define standard of “best interests of the child.” One Massachusetts family law attorney in a popular divorce documentary cryptically joked that she called children in the system  “little bags of money.” They are often a significant reason family law cases are so profitable for lawyers, mental health professionals, investigators, and everyone else.

No Protection for Poor Life Choices

A good rule to follow is never to do nikah with a person capable of having children unless you are sure she or he can be trusted to raise your future children, and you have made peace with making child support payments to this individual if your relationship ends. If you have a child, you may be suck with a child support order. There is no getting out of this one.

As an Islamic estate planning lawyer, the most important advice I can ever give anyone is not to get a proper estate plan. It is not to get a good lawyer. Of course those things are good, indeed no-brainers, but they have limits. The most important advice is to choose a spouse wisely. If you fail here, there is no law, no lawyer or document in existence that can turn back the clock. A no-nuptial agreement may make a future breakup easier than a family court divorce. There is still no guarantee it won’t be a complete mess anyway. Good documents are never a substitute for poor life choices.

“The Law of the Land”

Islamic institutions like masajid are conservative don’t like taking needless risks, as they should be. Many will not officiate a nikah unless there is a marriage license. They usually will not officiate bigamous marriages, on account of it being illegal.  Of course bigamy, like marriage, has a specific legal definition under state law. One almost universal refrain is that as Muslims we need to follow “the law of the land.”

No-nuptial agreements are in full conformity with the 'law of the land.' It is not a marriage under state law. Nobody is claiming that it is. Limiting nikah to marriage under state law not based on Islam.Click To Tweet

But what if that term did not mean what you think it means? No-nuptial agreements are in full conformity with the “law of the land.” It is not a marriage under state law. Nobody is claiming that it is.  Limiting nikah to marriage under state law not based on Islam. Recently, the Islamic Institute of Orange County, a large masjid in the Los Angeles area, changed its nikah officiating policy. Instead of always requiring marriage certificates, they will also recognize no-nuptial agreements.

Masajid Should Welcome No-Nuptial Agreements

Masajid should have standardized policies and procedures in place. Every masjid should have carefully considered policies to protect the vulnerable and the institution. No masjid wants to open themselves up to a “drive-by nikah” or other nonsense. One policy may well include mandating a no-nuptial agreement when there is no marriage certificate. There is no reason to believe one protects people and institutions better than the other.

Nikah is a vital sunnah for us. It is not something that should be in the shadows, secret, or something shameful. It is fundamental to how we organize our families and communities. When it’s done right, it helps us strengthen our iman, bring us closer to our communities and our loved ones. State definitions of words should not always be your guide to right and wrong.

It is appropriate that Muslims want to do the sunnah of nikah at the masjid, publicly and with friends and family watching.  We should recognize and celebrate every new couple that has done a nikah in our communities. Never mind the state has not sanctioned it.

The state statute book has its definition, we have ours.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

#Current Affairs

When Racism Goes Viral: The Coronavirus And Modern Muslim Orientalism

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Lumping an entire people together for collective punishment, reveling in their suffering, and sniggering at their food choices isn’t an exercise in science, Sunnah, or compassion. It’s good, old-fashioned orientalism.

In the eight weeks since it was identified, the 2019 novel coronavirus has infected nearly 12,000 people in China alone, 200 of whom did not survive. Symptoms are flu-like in nature, and global side effects include acute, apparently contagious… racism.

Online, in Muslim as well as non-Muslim spaces, social media feeds are sniggering “Eww, you eat gross things! Of course you’ll get gross diseases!” In the midst of this human tragedy, orientalist tropes about the Chinese are being sloppily repackaged as health concerns over the coronavirus, and served with a side of bat soup.

Yes, bat soup.

The coronavirus in question is found in bats, and thanks to the scientific expertise of social media, videos of Chinese people consuming anything from bat soup to baby mice and rats are popping up as “proof” of the disease’s cause.

However the coronavirus made the jump from bats to humans, the initial source of the outbreak seems to have originated from the Wuhan Seafood market, where a number of employees and a few shoppers were the first casualties to the infection. The 2019-nCoV is moving from person to person the same way the flu does, and what a person eats – or doesn’t eat – has no bearing on whether they contract the virus or not.

In an article titled, No, Coronavirus Was Not Caused by ‘Bat Soup’–But Here’s What Researchers Think May Be to Blame, Health.com writes:

“Coronaviruses in general are large family of viruses that can affect many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In rare cases, those viruses are also zoonotic, which means they can pass between humans and animals—as was the case with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory system (SARS), two severe coronaviruses in people.

Initially, this novel coronavirus was believed to have started in a large seafood or wet market, suggesting animal-to-person spread, according to the CDC. But a large number of people diagnosed with the virus reportedly didn’t have exposure to the wet markets, indicating that person-to-person spread of the virus is also occurring. However, it’s still possible that the novel coronavirus began with an infected animal at the market—and then went on to person-to-person transmission once people were infected.”

Being uncomfortable with things you’ve never considered edible before isn’t necessarily a racist reaction. When my husband told me he ate a chocolate-covered cricket once, I hid my toothbrush for a week, but that’s not what’s happening right now. There is a deadly virus threatening a group of people, and the internet sees fit to make fun of them. Why? Because orientalism.

Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.

Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.Click To Tweet

The inferiorizing feature is step one, because in order to position yourself as a winner, the other guy has to be a loser in some way.

The otherizing is the step 2, and both steps are important because if you say that your little brother is a loser, in the end you’re still family and you’ve got his back. This would be inferiorizing, but not otherizing.

But if you say that other kind of guy is a loser, then you have no common ground. And when the other kind of guy is in trouble, you need only gloat and make nasty comments on Twitter. That’s inferiorizing with otherizing. Orientalism can be loosely translated as US vs THEM, normal versus weird, and local versus invasive foreign, or exotic.

The otherizing of orientalism is so subconsciously embedded in people that it even creates auditory illusions to maintain the “otherization” of the subject being viewed. As crazy as that sounds, everyone has their own experience. Mine for just last month played out as follows. A homeless man approached my window and said “Ma’am, do you have two dollars?”

I smiled and responded to him, “I have exactly two dollars!”

As I dug around for my wallet, he cocked his head and said, “Your accent. There’s something different about it. Something… foreign, exotic?”

“It’s Chicago,” I said, handing him two dollars.

He blinked a few times. “What’s Chicago?”

“My accent. It’s Chicagoan. English is my first language. My accent is from Chicago.”

He narrowed his eyes at me suspiciously, this gatekeeper of Chicagoness. “What part of Chicago?”

“North side, Lincolnwood area,” I said. “I grew up on Devon Ave.”

“Pulaski Park!” he beamed, pointing to himself. “I’m from Chicago too!”

We smiled at each other, basking for a moment in our mutual Chicagoness. Then I waved and drove away, adding his insistence of my  exotic“otherness” to the dozens of other peoples’ who have heard my perfectly flat, perfectly blandly midwestern accent and perceived something foreign. I call that one “hearing with your eyes.”

I have lost track of people who have tried to insist that I have an accent. One woman even went so far as to imply that I was lying about being a native English speaker, that I must have some other first language, because there’s “Something else in there, I can hear something foreign! But you’re very articulate though.”

(To form your own opinion on my exotic accent or the lack thereof, visit the MuslimMatters podcast here!)

Compliments like “You’re so articulate!” or “You’re so different!” give you partial credit for your exceptionality, while still discrediting every other member of your general race, religion, region, or hemisphere. The left-handed compliment has a long history, and follows a predictable pattern. Take, for example, this excerpt from The Talisman, a crusade-genre fiction published in 1825.

In this scene, our gallant, invading knight finds himself unable to defeat the enemy “Saracen,” aka – Muslim defender of the Holy Land. In grudging admiration, the knight concedes:

“I well thought…that your blinded race had their descent from the foul fiend, without whose aid you would never have been able to maintain this blessed land of Palestine against so many valiant soldiers of God. I speak not thus of thee in particular, Saracen, but generally of thy people and religion. Strange it is to me, however, not that you should have the descent from the Evil One, but that you should boast of it.”

Translation: “Your people and your religion are the spawn of satan, but not you. I speak not thus of thee in particular. You’re so cool for Muslim!” Spoiler alert: turns out it’s Salahuddin.

From the crusades to colonialism to America’s chronic invasion of Muslim lands, the misrepresentation of people from Over There is both a cause and effect of policy decisions. Orientalism creates the “bad guys” necessary to justify the “good guy” response by “proving” the bad guys to be so weird, inferior, and intrinsically bad that it becomes necessary to call for the good guy cavalry. That gives the good guys permission to take over the resources that the bad guys are too incompetent to manage anyway, and overthrow the governments they’re too stupid to run, and free the women that they’re too barbaric to appreciate.

One excellent reference on this is Dr. Jack Shaheen’s brilliant documentary Reel Bad Arabs, which summarizes a hundred years of Hollywood’s orientalist portrayal of “Arab Land,” a mythical, exotic, treacherous, incompetent, and seductive place, whose capital city is apparently Agrabah which, in 2015, a public policy poll found that 30% of GOP voters were in favor of bombing.

Another side effect of orientalism is the refusal to allow for individual accountability and the insistence on collective blame. “Western” men who harm and oppress women are rightly labeled as jerks and abusers who don’t represent Western morals, ethics, or ideals through their individual actions. Same for white racists, extremists, and criminals in general.

However, Muslims jerks who do the same are awarded representative status of the entire Muslim population (1.9 billion) and Islamic tradition (1441 years). The perception as all Muslim men based on only the worst of them seems ludicrous on paper, and such generalizations are no longer acceptable to make about race, but are still perfectly popular to make about minority religious groups.

Orientalism enables the belief that Muslims are terrible terrorists who are terrible to their women. If they say otherwise, it’s because their religion is terrible and lying about it is part of the religion too. They don’t deserve their own lands or resources, they’ll just use them for more terribleness. We should go in there and save them from themselves! And also, make lots of predictable, idiotic romance novels and movies in which a poor, beautiful Oriental Female is rescued through the power of Love and Freedom. Because just as violence is the natural state of the Muslim man, oppression is the natural state of the Muslim woman. Miskeena. Habibti.

Human beings can be horrible to each other. No ethnic, religious, or racial group is any exception. The problem arises when individual horribleness is elevated to collective attribution, and that collective attribution is used to justify collective punishment, as well as collective suffering.

When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)?Click To Tweet

When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)? What about snails, frog legs, crawfish, chocolate covered ants, and those tequila-inspired lollipops with an actual worm candied in the center?

The filtering effect of orientalism means that our weird foods – be it maghz masala and katakat– are quirky and fun, but their weird foods are disgusting and totally cause to celebrate infectious disease.

If the tables were turned and a deadly coronavirus originated from say, Saudi Arabia, would it be alright to ridicule Muslims for what they ate, or how they lived? What if that specific coronavirus actually originated in camels.

Yes, camels. The Islamophobic internet would have a field day with that one. Yes, we ride camels and prize camels and even eat camels – and they’re delicious I might add – but if a deadly virus originated from camels, found its way into humans in the Middle East, and from there caused death and destruction in other countries- would it be our fault? Would we deserve scorn? Would the suffering and death of our people be justified by how “gross” it is that we eat camels, even if only a few us actually do, and the rest of us prefer shawarma?

Pause for dramatic emphasis. Open the Lancet. Read.

“Human coronavirus is one of the main pathogens of respiratory infection. The two highly pathogenic viruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, cause severe respiratory syndrome in humans and four other human coronaviruses induce mild upper respiratory disease. The major SARS-CoV outbreak involving 8422 patients occurred during 2002–03 and spread to 29 countries globally.

MERS-CoV emerged in Middle Eastern countries in 2012 but was imported into China.

The sequence of 2019-nCoV is relatively different from the six other coronavirus subtypes but can be classified as betacoronavirus. SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV can be transmitted directly to humans from civets and dromedary camels, respectively, and both viruses originate in bats, but the origin of 2019-nCoV needs further investigation.

The mortality of SARS-CoV has been reported as more than 10% and MERS-CoV at more than 35%.”

MERS-CoV, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome –Coronavirus emerged in 2012, traveling from bats to camels to humans, killing 35% of the people who contracted it. It originated in Saudi Arabia and found its way across the continent all the way to China. So could the Chinese internet have been justified in ridiculing our deaths because we ate camels?

Could they legitimize posting “gross” videos of whole, pit-roasted camels? Could they say it was science, not racism, as they moved on to our other “gross” foods, like locusts and the dhab lizard?

Read more about the Sunnah of the Dhab Lizard.

Locusts and lizards have as much to do with MERS-CoV as mice and rats have to do with 2019 novel coronavirus, but doesn’t our grossness in general mean we deserve our fate?

No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.

No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.Click To Tweet

Orientalism is alive and kicking both of our communities in the teeth — Chinese and Muslim – but to further complicate the matter, there’s the ongoing genocide of the Uighur Muslims in China, and that’s rooted in orientalism too.

The Chinese government has imprisoned 3 million Muslims in concentration camps, a number equal to the entire Muslim population in America. It is not unexpected that some people wishfully assume the 2019 novel coronavirus epidemic to be the comeuppance that the Chinese government deserves for its cruelty, but that’s sad and wrong on many, many levels.

People cheering the coronavirus on fail to understand a few very big, very important things about the situation. I will list them, because the internet is no place for subtlety and these points have to stand out for those who would sail over the entire article so they can trash it in the comments. They are as follows:


  1. The entire population of China is no more responsible for the actions of its government than you are for yours. If you hate Donald Trump, his border wall, the separation of families, the Muslim Ban, cuts to medical benefits, and corruption in general but STILL live in America, then you understand that a great, frustrated, and powerless mass of citizens can have little to no effect on its government’s choices. Such is politics. Such is life. Such is China too.

    This guy is all our fault specifically. So I hope we all die of the flu.

  2. The coronavirus’s lethality is exponentially higher in people with poor health and weak immune systems. Like the flu, the coronavirus is overwhelmingly most lethal to children and elderly. The coronavirus is not targeted at, nor limited to the Chinese leadership for its crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, that is not how epidemics work.
  3.  The spread of Coronavirus – like all respiratory infections – is greatly accelerated through close living quarters as well as poor sanitation and hygiene. The 3 million Uighur Muslims interred by the Chinese government are imprisoned in distressingly cruel, cramped, and unhygienic conditions. Their close proximity as well as population density mean that if the virus makes it into the captive population, hundreds of thousands – if not millions of Muslims – would die. Don’t root for the coronavirus. It does not discriminate based on religion or race, even if you do.

And now we come full circle. When Muslims ridicule the Chinese for “being gross,” they are simply echoing the same racist, Orientalist talking points that labeled the Chinese – and later the Japanese – as the “Yellow Peril,” a filthy, faceless, monolithic mass deserving all of our scorn and none of the individual considerations that we insist on for ourselves.

Given the abuse that Muslims have been subject to by orientalist tropes, it should make us all the more aware of its dangerous cultural impact. We know what it’s like to be looked down on, laughed at, and blamed for our own suffering. We know what it feels like to have our foods gagged at, our accents mocked, and our cultural clothing turned into Halloween costumes.

Worse still, we know, very painfully and very currently, what it looks like for an entire people to be treated as a disease in and of themselves. China has declared Islam to be a contagious disease, an “ideological illness,” and on this very basis is it holding 3 million Muslims hostage. In an official statement loaded with situational irony, the Chinese Community Party officially stated,

“Members of the public who have been chosen for reeducation have been infected by an ideological illness. They have been infected with religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology, and therefore they must seek treatment from a hospital as an inpatient.

… There is always a risk that the illness will manifest itself at any moment, which would cause serious harm to the public. That is why they must be admitted to a reeducation hospital in time to treat and cleanse the virus from their brain and restore their normal mind … Being infected by religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology and not seeking treatment is like being infected by a disease that has not been treated in time, or like taking toxic drugs … There is no guarantee that it will not trigger and affect you in the future.” – source

The dangers of racism and orientalism are real, and the victims number the millions. Knowing how much damage orientalism causes in our community, we must commit to never, ever stooping to the same ideologies that are used to justify our own oppression. No matter how many bats people eat, or how evil their government can be, people are individual people. We stand on equal footing, equally deserving of respect, compassion, and acknowledgement of our humanity.



The Orientalist mindset that diminishes and distances us from each other strips us of our dignity, whether we are its victim, or its the perpetrator. Such racism is antithetical to the Prophetic compassion and mercy that Islam demands from us as Muslims. When Muslims celebrate the suffering of innocent people as some sort of epidemiological revenge for the suffering of innocent people, that’s not Islam.

That’s prejudice.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Continue Reading

Trending