29 November 2010

Islam Awareness Week

Last week was a fun time for after-school events.  For starters, the Muslim Student Association sponsored Islam Awareness week.  Unfortunately, I didn't hear about that until about halfway through the week, so I was able to go to only two events, a panel discussion on Islamophobia and a panel discussion on the hijab.  Both were interesting and kept me thinking long after they had ended.

Two points of observation/possible places for improvement: it would have been nice to have a woman on the Islamophobia panel and it would have been nice to have a man on the hijab panel.  In respect to the former, some women in the audience had a unique perspective on Islamophobia much different than that of the men.  While the men on the panel discussed media portrayal of Muslims, women in the audience talked about discrimination against the hijab in the workplace.  One woman shared a horrifying story of how a boy had pulled off her daughter's hijab in school and had used derogatory names against her.  Having a woman on the panel would have given clearer voice to Muslim women's concerns about Islamophobia.

As for the second point, there is a bit more of a background story.  First, the three women on the panel were fantastic.  Really, truly, an inspiration to listen to.  The biggest fault on the panel was a lack of diversity.  All three women wear the hijab (one also wears the niqab), all three agreed that the Quran says Muslim women should wear the hijab, and all three were women.  Again, some men in the audience did enter the discussion and added their perspective to the mix, but it would have been nice to hear from a man on the panel.  Also, I've heard some heated arguments amongst Muslim women and men about what the Quran says and doesn't say about the hijab.  I'll also add that the arguments were among native speakers of Arabic, so the idea of "bad translations" doesn't really carry the discussion (which was the perspective mentioned on the panel, ie: that the translation from Arabic into English was partly responsible for any confusion).  Not being Muslim, I don't have an opinion on the matter-- everyone is free to worship as he or she chooses; however, I thought it was dishonest to not give voice to both sides of an important issue on the panel.  Most sad about the lack of diversity was the fact that the "discussion" did get preachy towards the end.  I ended up not remembering the question I had wanted to ask until after the discussion was over.  I'll ask it now in hopes someone can answer me:

Regardless of what the Quran says or doesn't say about the hijab, it seems that everyone agrees it does tell Muslims-- men and women-- to dress modestly.  I applaud and respect the Muslim women on campus and in the Muncie community who choose to wear the hijab or niqab despite the discrimination they may face because of it.  I also applaud and respect Muslim women who dress modestly without the hijab or niqab-- in the Muslim-majority countries I've lived in, that usually means keeping arms and shoulders covered and wearing long skirts or loose-fitting pants.  Which brings me to my point: in the Muslim-majority countries I've lived in, men also wear a distinct type of modest clothing, characterized by loose pants and a longer shirt, like this for example.  While I see Muslim women in Muncie dressing modestly, I can't say I've seen the same of the men.  And that irritates me.  Why not?  Even the Muslim men who spoke up at the panel in support of the hijab weren't dressed particularly modestly-- they wore tight jeans and short-sleeved shirts.  Again, I do think everyone has the freedom to dress as he or she sees fit, but it seems, well, hypocritical, to be a strong advocate of the hijab while not maintaining similar standards for yourself.  Maybe it's just me, but its been on my mind since the panel discussion.

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