Friday, May 20, 2011

Don't talk to me about hijab

Let me start by saying that I am a fan of hijab. I wear hijab. I believe that hijab is mandatory, and I think any efforts to keep women from wearing it are wrong. So don't think this is a post about how hijab is not relavent anymore, because that is a seperate subject. I'm just afraid that Muslims and non-Muslims alike have inflated the importance of hijab way too much. We have made it the key to a woman's piety. A prerequisite for calling yourself a Muslim woman. And (this get where you get ready to reach under your abaya to take off your shoe and throw it at me) I just don't think hijab is all that important. Yes, that's right. I said hijab is not that important.

Lets put that statement in perspective a little. Why would I say that? Well, because there are so many other things in the religion that should be taking precedence over the issue of attire. 5 big ones that I can think of, the pillars of Islam. Why when a woman makes shahada are we all over the topic of whether or not she will wear hijab and no one ever asks if she needs help with learning salat? Maybe memorising a few surahs? Did anyone ever ask a new brother whether or not he would grow a beard and cluck their tongue disapprovingly when he said he wasn't ready yet? Did anyone ever question a brother about whether or not he was still Muslim when he shaved his beard?

So here's my radical idea. Stop talking about it. Throw hijab out of the conversational mix. Stop making it a part of what you talk to non-Muslims about. Of course they will ask, but don't get stuck on the subject. And PLEASE don't get all philosophical and start using metaphors. God said wear it, so I do. Simple and to the point. Because if you keep things in perspective you'll realise it's a subject that's taking away from the things we should be talking about.

Maybe it's just me here... But I feel like when Muslim women is the topic of conversation hijab is the focus. That's wrong, it's not the way hijab was meant to work. It was meant to let people see us as honorable and pious women and take "maybe I could hook up with her" out of the equation. But I would go so far as saying it isn't even accomplishing that anymore. Humans send many non-verbal signals, and our young ladies who wear hijab can certainly send the message of availability with or without hijab. Of course that's no reason to say it doesn't send the message of modesty anymore... But it can be said that wearing hijab doesn't make you modest, your behavior does that.

That's my message here mostly I guess. There was a time when women dressed modestly in general, no matter what their faith was. Women covered their heads, didn't show their body. That was the societal norm. So I imagine (and I could be wrong here) that hijab as it is practiced in Arab cultures was not really shocking. It probably wasn't even worth talking about because all the people around them were fairly modest too. Jump to now, where the societal norm is mini-skirts and suddenly Muslim women really stand out. Hence, hijab is the most visible thing about Islam and it gets talked about a lot. Too much in my opinion. How many people know about hijab but have no idea we believe in the same one god as the Christians and Jews for example? I'm not claiming I know how to solve this, or suggesting we all go burn our scarves in protest... But I think it's something we all need to think about and try to overcome.

As usual, just food for thought here. I'm no scholar.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Convert Truths, Blog Carnival

When I saw this post I knew I had to throw my hat in the ring... Not just because I have always thought of the blogger as a kindred spirit, but because it's a topic I have been interested in recently too. I have been blogging since 2005, and I'd say things have changed a lot in my life... But then when I went back to look on the archives to see when I started my blog, I found that the oldest post was this post about not fitting in at the masjid and I just about fell over. Because here I am 6 years later about to tell you the exact same thing! I'd like to say that I decided to take the post in an entirely new direction because why rehash what's already been said, but I'd be lying to you. This issue is still very near and dear to me, so I think it merits revisiting.

Before I was Muslim I actually did attend church, I was a Sunday school teacher as a matter of fact. And I was also a vocal performer in college... So I sang at churches frequently. It may interest you to know that the minister at the church I worked at wanted to keep me on as the childcare coordinator. But after me showing up on Easter Sunday in hijab, other church members complained and I resigned. Anyway... Just an interesting back story. What I'm trying to talk about it mosques, and my experiences with them as a convert. I bring up my experiences as a Christian because obviously that's what I have to compare it to.

I have always had a problem with the cliquish nature of the masjid experience, and even after so many years as a Muslim I haven't been able to get past it. It feels way to much like the high school cafeteria for me to be comfortable there. So, for the most part I just avoid going to the mosque. Now before you shout haram, hear me out and give me a chance to explain why. In my opinion, if going to a religious institution does not enhance your religious experience there is no reason for you to go to it. And if going to a religious institution actually makes you question your chosen faith, run away and don't look back. One of the things I love about Islam is the fact that your connection with God requires no intermediaries. Now I am not so uneducated that I don't know the rewards for praying in congregation, but I think a certain amount of common sense can be used in these matters. How many converts you know have been driven away from the religion by people in the community? Food for thought.

On a personal level, I have walked away from the mosque crying. I have cowered in my car wondering if I would be turned away at the door. I have been treated with disrespect. I have been ignored. I have been marginalised. And I have gotten to a point where I just expect it. So you get it. I hate the mosque, it means nothing to me. I will go out on a limb here and say I think my experience is shared by not a few other converts, but the majority of us. Going even further out on a limb... I think it's also the experience of even born Muslims raised here in the US. And I think it's about time that drives us to action.

Our mosques are not a reflection of who we are as a diverse, educated, forward thinking community. That has to change! I know from my conversations with other Muslims that we are all thinking ahead, wondering what the community will be like in 10-15-20 years. But we leave it at wondering. We are dropping the proverbial ball here sisters and brothers. We are hating the mosque and the community and not putting forth the effort to create something that really represents us as we are. I wish I knew why that is. I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that we are afraid we will be called the k word if we ever question the way things are. And there is some truth to that.

So I say, forget the guy in the jilbab who gets his panties in a bunch every time you talk about changing something at the mosque. We need our own mosques. I'm not sure what you would call them, reformed? Definitely not progressive (but that's another post). They would be open for everyone. People would be welcomed, there would be a special new shahada committee to help converts. There would be a youth group, and a mother's group. And no one would get asked how many raka are in the isha prayer before they entered. As a matter of fact non-Muslims would be invited regularly and be given an opportunity to see that Islam is not a members only club where you have to know the secret handshake to get in... We are a religion accepting new and different people all the time. Did I mention the charity work? I think it should have a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter. Maybe even a free clinic! Wouldn't that be great?

Muslims... What makes me sad is not that we are a mess and we seem so disorganised and hostile to outsiders. It's that we even seem that way to ourselves. We have got to change that. There are great moderate Muslims out there, we just have to unite. If you know me you have probably heard me say this in 100 different ways 100 different times; until we accept each other, we can't ask people to accept us.