Thursday, November 23, 2006

You Go, Grrrls

In my newly empowered frame of mind, I was very happy the other day to see some news stories about a new Muslim women's organisation, the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equity. They just had a conference which brought together Muslim women from the US, Canada, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South Asia in pursuit of women's rights.

It must have been pretty high-powered. It included Baroness Uddin, the first Muslim woman to enter the British House of Lords, Special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General Dr Nafis Sadik, Saudi municipal candidate Fatin Bundagji, Malaysian Islamic feminist Zainah Anwar, Afghani presidential candidate Dr Massouda Jalal, the Nigerian advocate in the Amina Lawal stoning case Nogi Imoukhuede, and a number of distinguished women writers.

I went to a local Muslim women's forum a while ago that included women of other faiths. And what struck me was really the similarities between their experiences and mine, rather than the differences. There was that same mix of more othodox and traditionalist women who find that that kind of faith enriches their lives and seem comfortable with the patriarchal aspects of it, the more radical feminists and proto-feminists of liberal theological views, and the many, many women in between the two, grappling with questions of faith, their personal lives and their politics.

I have never felt the same about all the public debates about Muslims in Australia since going to that forum. Yes, like many people I often feel confronted when I see Muslim women wearing a veil - much more so when it goes beyond a simple headscarf and modest dress. And I am not alone. Frankly, in many Australian shopping centres, there are reactions when a Muslim woman walks in wearing a veil - a stony silence, a hostile comment or even just those carefully neutral expressions that say, "This is an issue". Recently, an Australian journalist tried walking in those women's shoes (actually, one of those women's veils) for a day, and she certainly didn't enjoy it.

And what she didn't enjoy was the reactions around her as much as the veil itself. At the forum I went to, I heard Muslim women talk about how they have been harassed - both into wearing veils they didn't want to wear and into discarding veils they wanted to keep. I heard about how sometimes people who damn Islam for its apparent attitude to women can feed into a hostility to Muslims that is itself more of a problem to those women that the patriarchal attitudes within their own communities.

What I feel, ultimately, is that this patriarchy/veil issue is one for Muslim women themselves to address. I am uncomfortable when public figures who are not Muslim women start railing at women for wearing the veil or for not wearing it, because I don't think anyone should be telling women what they can and can't wear. They have to work through this issue themselves. Theirs is not the only patriarchal religion in the world, and they have to find their own way, their own mixture of simultaneous devotion and critique, just as women of other faiths do.

But I saw a quote from Daisy Khan, an organiser of this latest conference, that "What you're seeing here is the emergence of an Islamic feminist movement."

And if that's the case, then all I can say is, "You go, grrrls..."

13 Comments:

Blogger O272 said...

After the infamous 9/11 event here, my workplace along with many others were taking donations for The Red Cross. They also encouraged us to submit names of other groups we'd like to give donations to...so I submitted a request to allow donations to be submitted to RAWA.

I never got a reply and never saw its name on the list!

4:34 AM  
Blogger oldbear said...

Hi Emily, I pretty much agree with all you posted, and think all the ignorant anti-muslim crap is just that.

However as someone with ties to law enforcement and public saftey I do have some problems with the public wearing of any garmet that obscures the face completely, especially if worn in conjunction with loose or large garmets that could possibly hide weapons(s).

Her in the rural area or suburbs i would not have too much of problem with that,as people tend to know all their neighbors and who is an outsider. But in a crowded downtown I might be concerned, as even a regular robbery gang could easily use them as disguises. Hell Im suprised some losers have not yet.


Here in SD it is not a problem because most all women do not wear full in public. Just depends on the jurisdiction and circumstance,and allowing the officers to do things at their discretion.

The best part of your post was reminding us that lots of partiarchy religions exists, to single out some forms of Islam is unfair.

I laugh when I see all these regressive and reactionary wannabe rednecks tht live around me talkign crap about Islam when these local yokels have less devotion to and respect for both god and wife than many of my Islamic friends and customers.

8:30 AM  
Blogger LePhare said...

In the same way I would not like to talk to a man in a ski mask, I would not like to talk to a woman in a veil. So much of western communication is done with facial expressions that to obscure the face is a disadvantage.

A judge in the U.K recently ruled that a Muslim solicitor should remove her veil before representing her client. She refused and was asked to leave the Court.

Where do we go from here?

5:28 PM  
Blogger oldbear said...

Hi lephare, I am not sure how much Western legal and philosphical thought is unified on this issue.

As a former devout member of a major Christion denomination and a student and admirer of Navajo and Hopi metaphysics, I acknowledege the arguement that spirituality and faith ought to be manifest at all times and under all circumstances, and not just in church or at worship time.

But just as one would not wear a burkha (sic) in the shower, it is foolish and counter productive to wear it in situations like at court or in other professional occupations.

Also i think the onus of adaptaion is on immigrant to adapt to the majority culture. FWIW, OB.

7:30 PM  
Blogger LePhare said...

Further to oldbear's comment. Another case where a Muslim woman insisted wearing a full veil when teaching young children. The school announced today that they have dispensed with the ladies services. It was the children that made the complaint. They were unable to understand what she was saying.

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salamun i lakum there are masjids here in atlanta ga taking donations of zakat funds and the money is not not going in the poor people hands. know i.m running a small charity funds called zakat funds in need.for families in sheleters, and for them to call the better business bearu to verfiy me and the bank and email address reedshemeka@yahoo.com and telephone 770-255-9866. know tell me what the problem. why can't and honest person make a business that is not a lie.

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