Posts tagged ‘Women in Islam’

Islamophobia: What Caused This Psychological Mindset?- By Haani M Virjee Part 2

Islamic Terminology: The Misuse of Words

The media has taken Islamic terminology and has gone beyond merely using words out of context. Instead, it has completely distorted the meaning of various words, giving a translation that is not even close to the original. As it turns out, this inaccuracy of translation also contributes significantly to Islamophobia. One such word that is inaccurately translated is the word “Jihad.” Dina Ibrahim notes “one of the ongoing problems with western coverage of Islam is that Jihad is always translated as holy war.” He goes on to say that “Jihad is not a holy war. It is a struggle to overcome the forces of evil.” Finally, he stresses that “the concept of Jihad has been abused by Bin Laden and his followers, as well as network news.”7 The literal meaning of Jihad is indeed “struggle”; however, this term is used in many different contexts in Islam. The word Jihad can be used in a military context, but not in the way that the media portrays it-as a term being used to wage war against all other religions. In truth, it can only be used in a military context if one is oppressed and needs to resort to militant means to overcome oppression, or if one needs to resort to militant needs to defend land. The type of Jihad that is actually stressed more in Islam is the internal Jihad, or the struggle within oneself to resist temptation to commit sin. Arguably, this type of struggle is much more difficult to overcome. Finally, an example of Jihad that people are not even aware they are familiar with is the Jihad of Martin Luther King Jr. to fight for civil rights.

Another term that has been incorrectly used is the term “madrasa,” which has been defined in the media as an Islamic school where young Muslim men go to learn how to perform terrorist attacks on nations such as the U.S. In fact, in an ABC News report Bob Woodruff described madrasas in Islamabad by saying, “This is where the recruits begin their education, a collection of religious schools known as madrasas along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.” He later states, “[T]hey study the Koran and they learn about jihad, or holy war.”8 This interpretation of a madrasa is false. A madrasa is an Islamic school. It is not a place where young adults learn about holy war, but instead madrasas are where children learn morality, good behavior, and acts of worship consistent with the teachings of Islam. In the US for example, madrasas can be equivocated to Sunday school for many Christians. As a result of the media, many madrasas that now exist are incorrectly interpreted as types of terrorist recruitment centers.

Media Portrayal of Women in Islam

The portrayal of Muslim women has also contributed significantly to Islamophobia. “One common perception about Islam through the media remains that women are treated as second-rate citizens.”9 This perception arises when many news channels show images of women wearing the burqa and discuss political systems, such as that of Saudi Arabia, where women are treated as second-class citizens. When Americans view this coverage, they not only condemn such a system, but they view Islam as something completely foreign to the ideals of American society. What needs to be understood is that the Arab culture in Saudi Arabia predominates social and political atmospheres. The problem is that when there is a conflict with Islamic principles, the inequalities and social injustices are made to look like they are part of the religion. Furthermore, since the two holiest sites of Islam are found in Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi government claims to rule under Islamic law, it is not surprising that the outside world associates everything the country
does with Islam. However, Divya Sharma stresses that it is “important to note that a majority of Muslim population in the U.S. is not the same as the Muslim population in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or elsewhere. Religion is largely interpreted within the larger socio-cultural context.”10 Culture and religion must be distinguished as well as apparent oppression verses actual oppression. In more democratic political systems, Muslim women wear their scarves and observe the “hijab” by their own choice.

“In the final part, we shall look into Religious Illiteracy and The Conclusion.”

Islamophobia: What Caused This Psychological Mindset?- By Haani M Virjee Part 1

This work was written by the student for Siena Collge and was published in the School Journal.

https://www.siena.edu/uploadedfiles/home/Publication/Gleanings4.pdf

Introduction:

The attacks of September 11, 2001 resulted in the destruction of the World Trade Center, the loss of countless innocent lives, and a war that has affected countries all over the world. What many overlook is that the attacks also gave the opportunity for the reputation of Islam and Muslims in America, and all over the globe, to be tarnished and destroyed. The aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001 includes a rise in what some sociologists call “Islamophobia,” which has been defined by some as “the fear or prejudiced viewpoint towards Islam, Muslims and matters pertaining to them.”1 Numerous cases of Islamophobia have been seen after the attacks of September 11, 2001, including the stereotyping of Muslims at airports and the prejudicial behavior against men and women wearing religious attire. A recent example is in the controversy over the building of the mosque at ground zero. Arguably, this psychological mindset existed even before 2001, but the rise of this issue in the last ten years can be attributed to two major causes:
the portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the media and the religious illiteracy of most Americans.

The General Effect of Media
It can be argued that with the lifestyle most Americans live today, the phrase “time is money” holds true for many. The advances in technology, including the creation of smart phones, wireless internet, and various other gadgets, have answered the demands for convenience and efficiency. These advancements, while being praised for allowing more accessibility to news and media, can at the same time be condemned for it due to the effects on public perception on topics such as Islam. The coverage and references of Islam and Muslims in the media post-September 11, 2001 has increased, as well as the amount of hate crimes.2 Through the use of powerful images, words, and a lack of context and background, the media has successfully tarnished the image of Islam. When most Americans watch news stories about Islam, they see images of bearded men carrying guns, bombs exploding in the streets of the Middle East, and headlines such as “radical Islam” or “Islamic militants.” Sheikh et al’s research on the Islamic image conducted even before September 11, 2001 showed that the articles on Islam “were mostly centered on crisis, conflicts and wars. Coverage of Islam was for the most part, international not domestic, and a clear majority of stories did not distinguish between the various branches of Islam.”3

Some experts believe that it is not just how and what the media presents, but who presents the information. Divya Sharma notes that “though Islam has been part of American society for over two hundred years, its analysis is built around violent acts by terrorism experts.”4 In other words, whether intentionally or not, many news channels have been picking experts who already have a negative view of Islam to provide analysis on the religion to the public, which has a profound effect on perception, whether the public knows it or not. Khalema and Wanna-Jones “found that media representations are frequently taken as facts, and since 9/11 attacks these representations have influenced public perception of Muslims in general.”5 This idea is directly supported by a survey conducted by Cornell University in 2004, which showed among other things “that people who paid more attention to television news were more likely to fear terrorist attacks and support limiting the rights of Muslim-Americans.”6 When citizens of a country are ready to limit the rights of their fellow citizens based on their religious status, one knows that a serious issue exists.

“In the next part, we will look into Islamic terminology and Media portrayal of Women in Islam”

  1. 1 Gema Martin-Munoz, “Unconscious Islamophobia,” Human Architecture 8, no. 2 (2010): 21.
  2. 2 Divya Sharma, “Why Do They Hate U.S.? Exploring the Role of Media in Cultural Communication,” Journal of the Institute of Justice and International studies no. 8 (2008): 246.                                                                                                                                                                                                      3.K. Sheikh, V. Price and H. Oshagan, “Press Treatment of Islam: What Kind of Picture do the Media Paint?,” Gazette 56, (1995): 139-54, quoted in Dina Ibrahim, “The Framing of Islam on Network News Following the September 11th Attacks,” The International Communication Gazette 72, no. 1 (2010): 113

Bikini or headscarf – which offers more freedom?

By Krista Bremer, O, The Oprah Magazine

Nine years ago, I danced my newborn daughter around my North Carolina living room to the music of “Free to Be…You and Me”, the ’70s children’s classic whose every lyric about tolerance and gender equality I had memorized as a girl growing up in California.

My Libyan-born husband, Ismail, sat with her for hours on our screened porch, swaying back and forth on a creaky metal rocker and singing old Arabic folk songs, and took her to a Muslim sheikh who chanted a prayer for long life into her tiny, velvety ear.

She had espresso eyes and lush black lashes like her father’s, and her milky-brown skin darkened quickly in the summer sun. We named her Aliya, which means “exalted” in Arabic, and agreed we would raise her to choose what she identified with most from our dramatically different backgrounds.

I secretly felt smug about this agreement — confident that she would favor my comfortable American lifestyle over his modest Muslim upbringing. Ismail’s parents live in a squat stone house down a winding dirt alley outside Tripoli. Its walls are bare except for passages from the Quran engraved onto wood, its floors empty but for thin cushions that double as bedding at night.

My parents live in a sprawling home in Santa Fe with a three-car garage, hundreds of channels on the flat-screen TV, organic food in the refrigerator, and a closetful of toys for the grandchildren.

Oprah.com: An inheritance story you won’t believe

I imagined Aliya embracing shopping trips to Whole Foods and the stack of presents under the Christmas tree, while still fully appreciating the melodic sound of Arabic, the honey-soaked baklava Ismail makes from scratch, the intricate henna tattoos her aunt drew on her feet when we visited Libya. Not once did I imagine her falling for the head covering worn by Muslim girls as an expression of modesty.

Last summer we were celebrating the end of Ramadan with our Muslim community at a festival in the parking lot behind our local mosque. Children bounced in inflatable fun houses while their parents sat beneath a plastic tarp nearby, shooing flies from plates of curried chicken, golden rice, and baklava.

Aliya and I wandered past rows of vendors selling prayer mats, henna tattoos, and Muslim clothing. When we reached a table displaying head coverings, Aliya turned to me and pleaded, “Please, Mom — can I have one?”

She riffled through neatly folded stacks of headscarves while the vendor, an African-American woman shrouded in black, beamed at her. I had recently seen Aliya cast admiring glances at Muslim girls her age.

I quietly pitied them, covered in floor-length skirts and long sleeves on even the hottest summer days, as my best childhood memories were of my skin laid bare to the sun: feeling the grass between my toes as I ran through the sprinkler on my front lawn; wading into an icy river in Idaho, my shorts hitched up my thighs, to catch my first rainbow trout; surfing a rolling emerald wave off the coast of Hawaii. But Aliya envied these girls and had asked me to buy her clothes like theirs. And now a headscarf.

Oprah.com: How do you get your daughter to talk to you?

In the past, my excuse was that they were hard to find at our local mall, but here she was, offering to spend ten dollars from her own allowance to buy the forest green rayon one she clutched in her hand. I started to shake my head emphatically “no,” but caught myself, remembering my commitment to Ismail. So I gritted my teeth and bought it, assuming it would soon be forgotten.

That afternoon, as I was leaving for the grocery store, Aliya called out from her room that she wanted to come.

A moment later she appeared at the top of the stairs — or more accurately, half of her did. From the waist down, she was my daughter: sneakers, bright socks, jeans a little threadbare at the knees. But from the waist up, this girl was a stranger. Her bright, round face was suspended in a tent of dark cloth like a moon in a starless sky.

“Are you going to wear that?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said slowly, in that tone she had recently begun to use with me when I state the obvious.

Oprah.com: Your kids are different…and it’s okay

On the way to the store, I stole glances at her in my rearview mirror. She stared out the window in silence, appearing as aloof and unconcerned as a Muslim dignitary visiting our small Southern town — I, merely her chauffeur.

I bit my lip. I wanted to ask her to remove her head covering before she got out of the car, but I couldn’t think of a single logical reason why, except that the sight of it made my blood pressure rise. I’d always encouraged her to express her individuality and to resist peer pressure, but now I felt as self-conscious and claustrophobic as if I were wearing that headscarf myself.

In the Food Lion parking lot, the heavy summer air smothered my skin. I gathered the damp hair on my neck into a ponytail, but Aliya seemed unfazed by the heat. We must have looked like an odd pair: a tall blonde woman in a tank top and jeans cupping the hand of a four-foot-tall Muslim. I drew my daughter closer and the skin on my bare arms prickled — as much from protective instinct as from the blast of refrigerated air that hit me as I entered the store.

As we maneuvered our cart down the aisles, shoppers glanced at us like we were a riddle they couldn’t quite solve, quickly dropping their gaze when I caught their eye.

In the produce aisle, a woman reaching for an apple fixed me with an overly bright, solicitous smile that said “I embrace diversity and I am perfectly fine with your child.” She looked so earnest, so painfully eager to put me at ease, that I suddenly understood how it must feel to have a child with an obvious disability, and all the curiosity or unwelcome sympathies from strangers it evokes.

At the checkout line, an elderly Southern woman clasped her bony hands together and bent slowly down toward Aliya. “My, my,” she drawled, wobbling her head in disbelief. “Don’t you look absolutely precious!” My daughter smiled politely, then turned to ask me for a pack of gum.

In the following days, Aliya wore her headscarf to the breakfast table over her pajamas, to a Muslim gathering where she was showered with compliments, and to the park, where the moms with whom I chatted on the bench studiously avoided mentioning it altogether.

Oprah.com: Why her faith is colliding with her workout routine

Later that week, at our local pool, I watched a girl only a few years older than Aliya play Ping-Pong with a boy her age. She was caught in that awkward territory between childhood and adolescence — narrow hips, skinny legs, the slightest swelling of new breasts — and she wore a string bikini.

Her opponent wore an oversize T-shirt and baggy trunks that fell below his knees, and when he slammed the ball at her, she lunged for it while trying with one hand to keep the slippery strips of spandex in place. I wanted to offer her a towel to wrap around her hips, so she could lose herself in the contest and feel the exhilaration of making a perfect shot.

It was easy to see why she was getting demolished at this game: Her near-naked body was consuming her focus. And in her pained expression I recognized the familiar mix of shame and excitement I felt when I first wore a bikini.

At 14, I skittered down the halls of high school like a squirrel in traffic: hugging the walls, changing direction in midstream, darting for cover. Then I went to Los Angeles to visit my aunt Mary during winter break. Mary collected mermaids, kept a black-and-white photo of her long-haired Indian guru on her dresser, and shopped at a tiny health food store that smelled of patchouli and peanut butter. She took me to Venice Beach, where I bought a cheap bikini from a street vendor.

Dizzy with the promise of an impossibly bright afternoon, I thought I could be someone else — glistening and proud like the greased-up bodybuilders on the lawn, relaxed and unself-conscious as the hippies who lounged on the pavement with lit incense tucked behind their ears. In a beachside bathroom with gritty cement floors, I changed into my new two-piece suit.

Goose bumps spread across my chubby white tummy and the downy white hairs on my thighs stood on end — I felt as raw and exposed as a turtle stripped of its shell. And when I left the bathroom, the stares of men seemed to pin me in one spot even as I walked by.

In spite of a strange and mounting sense of shame, I was riveted by their smirking faces; in their suggestive expressions I thought I glimpsed some vital clue to the mystery of myself. What did these men see in me — what was this strange power surging between us, this rapidly shifting current that one moment made me feel powerful and the next unspeakably vulnerable?

I imagined Aliya in a string bikini in a few years. Then I imagined her draped in Muslim attire. It was hard to say which image was more unsettling. I thought then of something a Sufi Muslim friend had told me: that Sufis believe our essence radiates beyond our physical bodies — that we have a sort of energetic second skin, which is extremely sensitive and permeable to everyone we encounter. Muslim men and women wear modest clothing, she said, to protect this charged space between them and the world.

Growing up in the ’70s in Southern California, I had learned that freedom for women meant, among other things, fewer clothes, and that women could be anything — and still look good in a bikini. Exploring my physical freedom had been an important part of my process of self-discovery, but the exposure had come at a price.

Oprah.com: Why women are the future of education

Since that day in Venice Beach, I’d spent years learning to swim in the turbulent currents of attraction — wanting to be desired, resisting others’ unwelcome advances, plumbing the mysterious depths of my own longing.

I’d spent countless hours studying my reflection in the mirror — admiring it, hating it, wondering what others thought of it — and it sometimes seemed to me that if I had applied the same relentless scrutiny to another subject I could have become enlightened, written a novel, or at least figured out how to grow an organic vegetable garden.

On a recent Saturday morning, in the crowded dressing room of a large department store, I tried on designer jeans alongside college girls in stiletto heels, young mothers with babies fussing in their strollers, and middle-aged women with glossed lips pursed into frowns. One by one we filed into changing rooms, then lined up to take our turn on a brightly lit pedestal surrounded by mirrors, cocking our hips and sucking in our tummies and craning our necks to stare at our rear ends.

When it was my turn, my heart felt as tight in my chest as my legs did in the jeans. My face looked drawn under the fluorescent lights, and suddenly I was exhausted by all the years I’d spent doggedly chasing the carrot of self-improvement, while dragging behind me a heavy cart of self-criticism.

At this stage in her life, Aliya is captivated by the world around her — not by what she sees in the mirror. Last summer she stood at the edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway, stared at the blue-black outline of the mountains in the distance, their tips swaddled by cottony clouds, and gasped. “This is the most beautiful thing I ever saw,” she whispered. Her wide-open eyes were a mirror of all that beauty, and she stood so still that she blended into the lush landscape, until finally we broke her reverie by tugging at her arm and pulling her back to the car.

At school it’s different. In her fourth-grade class, girls already draw a connection between clothing and popularity. A few weeks ago, her voice rose in anger as she told me about a classmate who had ranked all the girls in class according to how stylish they were.

I understood then that while physical exposure had liberated me in some ways, Aliya could discover an entirely different type of freedom by choosing to cover herself.

I have no idea how long Aliya’s interest in Muslim clothing will last. If she chooses to embrace Islam, I trust the faith will bring her tolerance, humility, and a sense of justice — the way it has done for her father. And because I have a strong desire to protect her, I will also worry that her choice could make life in her own country difficult. She has recently memorized the fatiha, the opening verse of the Quran, and she is pressing her father to teach her Arabic. She’s also becoming an agile mountain biker who rides with me on wooded trails, mud spraying her calves as she navigates the swollen creek.

The other day, when I dropped her off at school, instead of driving away from the curb in a rush as I usually do, I watched her walk into a crowd of kids, bent forward under the weight of her backpack as if she were bracing against a storm. She moved purposefully, in such a solitary way — so different from the way I was at her age, and I realized once again how mysterious she is to me.

It’s not just her head covering that makes her so: It’s her lack of concern for what others think about her. It’s finding her stash of Halloween candy untouched in her drawer, while I was a child obsessed with sweets. It’s the fact that she would rather dive into a book than into the ocean — that she gets so consumed with her reading that she can’t hear me calling her from the next room.

I watched her kneel at the entryway to her school and pull a neatly folded cloth from the front of her pack, where other kids stash bubble gum or lip gloss. Then she slipped it over her head, and her shoulders disappeared beneath it like the cape her younger brother wears when he pretends to be a superhero.

As I pulled away from the curb, I imagined that headscarf having magical powers to protect her boundless imagination, her keen perception, and her unself-conscious goodness. I imagined it shielding her as she journeys through that house of mirrors where so many young women get trapped in adolescence, buffering her from the dissatisfaction that clings in spite of the growing number of choices at our fingertips, providing safe cover as she takes flight into a future I can only imagine.

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