Are Muslim Women Oppressed? Ask One

Aman Ali, a BoingBoing guest blogger, is the co-author of 30 Mosques, a Ramadan adventure taking him to a different mosque in New York City every day for a month. My last post generated an interesting discussion (268 comments and counting) on Muslim women covering their hair. But it seemed kind of silly to talk about the subject, without hearing viewpoints from Muslim women. My friend Mariam Sobh has graciously agreed to chime in. She is editor in chief of Hijabtrendz, the original fashion beauty and entertainment blog for Muslim women. Here's what she had to say:
It's the age old debate that quite frankly I'm sick and tired of. Muslim women and their "oppression". Oppression is such a loaded word and it conjures up all sorts of negative images, but what people don't seem to want to understand is that Muslim women are just like any other woman. We come in all shapes and sizes, and all sorts of beliefs. You can't paint us all with the same brush. I'm as American as anyone else, I watch movies, I read celebrity gossip, I shop at Victoria's Secret, I work outside the home, I'm pursuing my dreams, the only difference is that little piece of fabric I wrap around my head. Big whoop. I'm not harming anyone by wearing a piece of material on my head so what's the big deal? I myself wear the headscarf and I do so because it's something I believe is mandated in my religion. No one is forcing me and it has no political significance (I have no idea why people keep thinking it does). Believe me if I didn't think it was required I WOULD NOT be wearing it. I hate being bullied all the time by the press or some ignoramus about my scarf. It takes a toll on you emotionally and eventually you have to develop a thick skin. But words will always hurt no matter what.
I believe God asked us to cover our bodies and that includes our hair. Look at other religion where people try to practice their beliefs and it's very similar; think of the Amish, Mormons, even Hasidic Jewish women. They all cover up in some way to preserve their modesty. Now, I'm not here to judge anyone. If you want to walk around outside naked, go for it. But I'm not going to reprimand you or try to psychoanalyze you, or even tell you that what you're doing is wrong. That's for you as an individual to figure out. So why is it, that whenever it comes to people who prefer to live more conservatively everyone is up in arms? OH MY GOSH SHE'S COVERING HER CLEAVAGE! So what? Why do I have to share my goods with you? I choose who gets to see me and who doesn't. Is that what is so bothersome, that I actually have a choice? I'm seriously trying to figure this out. Some Muslim women wear the headscarf and some women don't. Some Muslim women choose to wear their headscarf in a way that conforms somewhat to today's fashion and some prefer to go old school. It all comes down to personal interpretation and understanding and that's perfectly fine. We're all adults, we're all responsible for our own actions. I'm not holier than thou. My headscarf does not make me some religious expert, it's just a small part of my life. It's a testament to myself that I want to be a better person and that I'm struggling to do good in this world by following what I personally believe God wants me to do. For those who talk about women being forced into submission, that occurs everyday all over the world regardless of religion and it's very sad indeed. If people try to use Islam as a way to manipulate women then those individuals are sick and twisted. At the end of the day I'm thankful that I have the life I do, where I can practice what I believe and not worry about anyone forcing me to do something against my will.


  1. It’s good to hear that you feel empowered and free.

    The confusion of others about your dress choice may be related to the juxtaposition of two things you say:

    “Believe me if I didn’t think it was required I WOULD NOT be wearing it.”


    “I’m thankful that I have the life I do, where I can practice what I believe and not worry about anyone forcing me to do something against my will.”

    It’s very hard for many people – particularly, but I would guess not exclusively, those of other or no religion –  to reconcile those two statements. And I would say that that would explain much of the discourse of which you are sick and tired.

  2. I myself wear the headscarf and I do so because it’s something I believe is mandated in my religion. No one is forcing me and it has no political significance (I have no idea why people keep thinking it does). Believe me if I didn’t think it was required I WOULD NOT be wearing it

    This is incredibly revealing. So… it’s not a choice. It’s mandated by religion.

    This kind of proves our point!

  3. I myself wear the headscarf and I do so because it’s something I believe is mandated in my religion. No one is forcing me …

    man⋅date /ˈmændeɪt/ –noun
    3. an authoritative order or command

    Either your choice of words is somewhat poor, or, indeed you are forced to wear hijab; albeit not overtly.

    People can choose not to exercise their free will and acquiesce to the pressures of religion, family, society, etc. That is the beauty of free will; we are free to use or not use it.

    I DO respect your choice. But please understand that using the terminology you did, your choice is not made without external pressures extolling a certain desired outcome.


  4. wow… no sexist/racist drivel masquerading as progressive thinking yet…

    it amazes me to hear people who hold otherwise liberal/progressive views suddenly categorise all muslim women as oppressed, submissive and incapable of independent thought when it comes to sexuality, body, gender and well, relationships with (muslim) men. having lived in non-muslim and muslim countries (regular Oz, Oz Muslims, SE Asian Muslims, Indian Muslims), I’ve seen the good and the bad of gender relations amongst Muslims, and they are by and large comparable to those amongst non-Muslims. The Muslim world doesn’t have a monopoly on abusive relationships… there’s plenty of awful shit done globally by men everywhere of whatever culture/religion/or other.

    I personally believe this (often intellectual) hysteria about Muslim women is driven by a deep-seated cultural bigotry that has existed in our Western societies since Islam became the mirror of the “Other” to the West. Just because you don’t call people towelhead etc, and because you’ve read Sagan or Hawkins, doesn’t mean you’ve escaped that (imho) inescapable prejudice against that ancient Other.

    For the record, i’m a male Anglo-Celtic Muslim Australian geek (who yes, converted) of a vague leftism.

  5. As I said, it’s an explicitly political symbol.

    At best, it’s a horribly regressive clothing style, at worst, it’s like a nazi-armband.

    Go watch Jesus Camp to find out more.

  6. If covering ones head is a religious requirement, can anyone, of the proper theological background, cite a valid manuscript, for example a passage in the Quran?

  7. Fellas I dont think you’re understanding. When Mariam says mandate, its a command in the religion, just like any other command. She meant she’s not being forced by any particular person in her life, just like nobody should be.

    Just because there’s a command in the religion she’s following doesnt mean she’s oppressed.

    1. yeah, but what happens when she stops following that command? maybe it wouldn’t happen to her (because i don’t know who is around her), but i suspect in many places if a woman were to truly choose and decide not to wear it, she would be punished by someone near her. a cop doesn’t force you to obey the law, but he will arrest you if you break it.

  8. Being Catholic, I remember when covering the head was a Catholic women thing.
    Remember Jackie Kennedy?
    The naysayers approach everything from the negative viewpoint. Any tradition that gets in the way of how they want to celebrate a religion is exclusionary. Can’t you allow for the beliefs and traditions of a religion?
    For example, what if some Catholics want to speed up the mass by excluding different prayers? Well, it has never been done, BECAUSE Tradition is part of the religion. I am trying to come up with an example that is as simple as your minds apparently are. Have you ever seen Liberal [which, let’s face it, is a religion] with a pro-Reagan t-shirt on? Isn’t that exclusionary?

  9. You don’t have to feel oppressed to be oppressed. Religion manipulates tons of people to be happy with their oppression. It’s been doing it for thousands of years.

    Now, I’m not saying that you don’t have a personal freedom to cover yourself up. You do, and you may. I don’t think anyone here says that you can’t. However, you cover yourself up because God tells you to. Not you. It’s not your choice. It’s the choice of your religion, and you’ve made your peace with it.

    Which is fine. Just remember that you do it because your religion mandates it, not because you don’t want to show your body.

    1. Yes, exactly what Cloud52ab said.


      “But I’m not going to reprimand you or try to psychoanalyze you, or even tell you that what you’re doing is wrong. That’s for you as an individual to figure out.”

      This is in regards to the idea that the speaker wouldn’t stop someone else from running around naked outside. I appreciate that she wouldn’t feel the need to boss anyone around because of her religious beliefs. But she is careful in her choosing of words: she’s not going to TELL you it’s wrong. But she thinks it is.

      Now, I’m not suggesting that we can’t choose boundaries between right and wrong. Of course we can. But the reason that Western women frequently feel put off by women who wear hijab is precisely because of the idea that Muslim women who wear hijab feel that it is the RIGHT thing to do. Which would make NOT wearing hijab the WRONG thing to do – not “wrong” in the same way that killing someone is wrong, but wrong in the same way that I might, for instance, think it’s wrong for my boss to masturbate in his office with the door open.

      The difference is, of course, that it is very common in the Western world for women to NOT wear hijab, and when you meet a Muslim who says “Oh, that’s OK, you don’t have to wear it or anything, but I personally wear it because it’s RIGHT”, then the implication is that the non-muhajabat is making the WRONG decision. Oh, sure, the Muslim’s not judging you or anything!

      Now, the reason it rubs people the wrong way is because NOT wearing hijab is the norm in the US. It’s what society considers OK and acceptable. But a Muslim comes along and says it’s not OK – not in so many words, but by dressing differently so as to all attention to the difference.

      I don’t say this to be mean to Muslims. I used to be a veiling Muslim myself. I have to point out, though, that veiling was not common throughout the Muslim world until recently (especially not in areas like China, India, and Indonesia) until this recent Arabification of the religion started taking place.

      1. So….you want people to only wear things that don’t make you feel guilty? Sounds like you feel guilty already and you’re trying to transfer it to women who wear traditional headgear. I don’t see how that mindset is much different than telling women to veil because men feel horny.

  10. And, let’s not forget that when those of us who do not believe in magic flying carpets and zombie saviors have a responsibility to mock you for your foolish beliefs.

    … have to because your religion mandates it. BWA-hahahahahah

  11. Thank you for the post and accompanying video. I am an American woman raised in a Christian tradition, and I respect the tradition of the hijab. On the other hand, I am deeply troubled by the burqa and chador, which to my eyes disguise female individuality and make it more difficult for women to participate in public life. I would love to read about a Muslim woman’s opinion of the difference, if any, between the headscarf and the full-body covering.

  12. I don’t think it’s accurate to summarize that discussion as one about “Muslim women covering their hair”. Characterizing it as such, and portraying that as the central argument demonstrating the oppression of Muslim females, seems like really aggressive strawmanning.

    That being said, I’m thrilled that a female Muslim voice was brought to the table so swiftly, and hope it is the first of many.

  13. There are a ton of women historically who are ardent supporters of FGM. There are a ton of women historically who support women not having voting rights or equal rights in general. Abused women are often the loudest defenders of their abusive spouses, who they genuinely love with all their hearts. I could go on and on. The oppressed are often the loudest voices claiming that they are not oppressed and arguing for the oppression to continue.

    And really, the fact that your justification falls back to the Flying Spaghetti Monster shows me that I should not put a lot of faith — pardon the expression — in your ability to make a rational argument for your actions. Sorry, but if you’re driven by superstition, your credentials get pretty weak. That’s about as good as “I wear this tinfoil hat because of the voices in my head.”

    I love BoingBoing and have pressed reload a thousand times today and at least a hundred times every other day, but I think BB made a mistake with this series of posts and this guest blogger. Unicorn chaser? I’d love to see a Dawkins chaser on this one.

  14. This is incredibly revealing. So… it’s not a choice. It’s mandated by religion.
    This kind of proves our point!

    If I may presume…I believe the choice lies in practicing the religion, and the headcovering is a result of that choice, not something imposed against her will.

    An imperfect analogy would be the military. If I choose to join the military, I must wear the clothes, a uniform, that are accepted along with that choice, even if I would not otherwise do so.

  15. Oh, come on. I was wondering how quickly people would misread her comments and jump like that. Seems like it only took a second!

    There’s a huge difference between believing that your religion mandates that you do something, and feeling forced into it. For example, take churchgoing Christians. Many of them wouldn’t go to church each Sunday if they didn’t believe it was what God wanted them to do, but it’s part of the religion and so they do it gladly. They (usually) don’t feel oppressed, like someone’s twisting their arms, or maybe like someone will beat them if they don’t go. It’s just part of the religion.

    She says that if she didn’t think it was required BY HER RELIGION that she wear a headscarf, she wouldn’t do it. That means that if some man told her to do it it wouldn’t matter, if some group of people on the street told her to do it it wouldn’t matter, if some politicians told her to do it it wouldn’t matter. She believes her religion asks it of her (like any ritual or lifestyle in any religion), so she chooses to do it. This isn’t oppression, it’s called following a religion. If you believe that religion is fundamentally oppressive, that’s fine – but then you have bigger fish to fry than some women who choose to wear headscarves.

    Either way, you should read her argument carefully and respond to that, instead of immediately lumping her in the “poor oppressed woman” box just because she says she feels like something is required of her by a lifestyle SHE CHOOSES.

  16. danlalan, religion that you’re born into, that your whole family and culture supports, is not really a choice in the same way that most other choices are. It’s not that easy to escape a life of conditioning.

  17. the funny thing is over here in the UK until the 60’s many women would not be seen out and about without some sort of head covering.

    The full covering of the face leaves me feeling uncomfortable though.

  18. Shannon, I’m a pretty hard core athiest, and I find your arguments as oppressive, offensive and as fundamentalist in tone as anything spewed out by the Westboro Baptist nutters.

    The idea that this woman who states that she, by her own choice, practices a religion that you disagree with is brainwashed and incapable of truly free choice is the exact argument I’ve heard made about athiests by evangelical christians. Next you’ll be saying the “hate the sinner, love the sin” crap your brand of intolerant offensive ideology spouts.

    You are becoming the thing you detest. Please stop.

  19. Do these posts on the Burqini represent a trend for the future?

    Is it just a matter of time before we start discussing beard lengths and jalabiya-swimwear?

    Finally, is a Burqini “a wonderful thing?” and does it belong in a “collection of wonderful things?”

    Here’s to hoping that the answer to these three questions is no.

  20. I find being forced to wear a headscarf/burqa/whatever strongly abusive as much as I find the same for being forced to wear a jacket and a tie at workplace, no matter if the order comes from the office boss or the big bearded boss in the sky.
    Every culture has its own way of showing that the human race as a whole still needs a couple more thousand years of evolution before it gets rid of that idiocy.

    By the way, the almighty FSM, would never force her believers to wear anything they don’t like. Although willingly wearing pirate costumes a couple days a week may bring some benefits in the afterlife.

  21. I take her comment about not wearing it to mean that she feels oppressed by those *outside* her religion for wearing a headscarf. It seems to me that she is proud to wear traditional clothing but that anti-muslim sentiment is stronger than tradition, which is a shame.

    I am agnostic if not atheist, but I do believe that tradition and culture are both immeasurably valuable to this planet we live on. It’s a travesty for anyone to feel oppressed by their own culture, but it is far worse for that person to feel oppressed by others *for* their traditions and culture.

  22. goldmineguttd@2

    That’s a glib response but not particularly helpful. There are billions of people in the world who make faith-inspired decisions. They wear distinctive clothing, attend religious gatherings, fast, pray, meditate, observe holy days, donate to charity, house the homeless, feed the hungry and help their neighbors. They frequently even put the needs of others above their own. Some of it may be unfamiliar, but doing something because your religion requires it is hardly a foolproof sign of oppression.

    It’s convenient to toss every Muslim into the same pot. But that’s around 1.5 billion people living in every country in the world. There’s no way that they’ll fit into any single category. Rash generalizations give us a thrilling jolt of self-righteousness, but they’re hardly accurate or fair.

    I said this in an earlier comment, so I apologize for repeating myself. Labeling every woman who wears a hijab or a burqa as mentally damaged is just as demeaning as any other form of casual abuse. It’s just dressed up as altruism.

  23. Also: I have a question for the people who think she’s being oppressed despite her assertion to the contrary. When exactly is it that a woman is “allowed” to speak for herself? Is it when someone else tells her that she’s not oppressed anymore? Is it when she feels shamed enough by other cultural ideals that she bares some cleavage and shows her hair?

    Or is it that because she’s a proud Muslim woman, she’s in a catch 22, kind of like a woman who is a proud sex worker? She can either renounce what she is doing and become “unoppressed” according to someone else’s definition, though she’s no longer doing what she wants to be doing, or she can remain “oppressed” according to someone else’s definition, and be happy having chosen what she wants to be doing.

  24. I’d have to agree with Shannon. People tend to follow whatever beliefs their parents or other influential people in their lives may have given them while they were being raised.

    Yes, it is oppressive, but it’s human nature. We practice what we are taught. Obviously, people can overcome things like that, but on the whole, a lot of people are ideologically lazy.

    It has nothing to do with the fact that it’s this religion or any other religion. It’s any belief system.

    We all make our choices based on what we have learned.

  25. Danlalan, if as she says, she really believes that a god will sentence her to the horrible tortures of hell if she doesn’t do it, then does she really have a choice?

    And I’m nuts to say that she’s incapable of choice?

    You think she has choice because you know her underlying theory is nuts. But she doesn’t. So she has no choice. A choice obtained by threat of torture is not freely made.

    If you believed that you would be tortured for eternity (or at least a long time — I realize that Hell can be temporary in Islam) for not wearing a head scarf, then I suspect you’d wear one as well.

  26. The commentators seem to be conflating two different issues. The first is the fact that religions in general often mandate the behaviour and dress of their followers. This is true of most religions and not specific to Islam.

    The second point is that Islam in particular has a set of mandates, concerning the dress of women, which some people feel are oppressive.

    So when commentators pick up on the fact that Aman is obeying the mandates of her religion, they are addressing the first point. This is an issue for Islam (because it is a religion), but it is not specific to Islam, and is not really a women’s issue (as both men and women have ‘rules’ in their chosen belief). And Aman nicely anticipates this when she talks about other religions.

    The second point, the interesting one, is whether the particular mandates of Islam are oppressive to women. To make this point, you would need to show that the dictates of Islam differ in some meaningful respect from those of other religions. It is difficult to show this, because evidence of women being oppressed through religion is not necessarily evidence that the religion is oppressing them (as opposed to being a tool of oppression). Also, women like Aman appear to provide a clear counter-example to what is supposed to be a general principle.

  27. This is incredibly revealing. So… it’s not a choice. It’s mandated by religion.
    This kind of proves our point!

    …only if you think that Jews are equally oppressed by their religion’s head garment requirements.

  28. So would it be cool for me to go around in those areas dressed very immodestly? I would assume so, right? No problem. To each his own.

  29. “And really, the fact that your justification falls back to the Flying Spaghetti Monster shows me that I should not put a lot of faith — pardon the expression — in your ability to make a rational argument for your actions.”

    Religiousness and rationality are not mutually exclusive.

    “Why do I have to share my goods with you? I choose who gets to see me and who doesn’t.”

    People seem to forget this in our present society. The media compels us to dress scantily, tart up, feel uncomfortable with ourselves if our body doesn’t match up with the forms of female splendor staring at us from the magazine racks by the checkout line.
    To those who take the “female oppression” line, how is our society not equally or more damaging than among those who follow this mandate?

  30. JFrancis, I think it’s been mentioned before in a couple of the other discussions, but this is not about modesty. It’s about control and religion.

  31. My girlfriend recently talked to an arab girl from her street, who was wearing a headscarf. Turns out she wore it for a while and now would like to stop, but she doesn’t dare to. She’s afraid of how the others will react.

    So I suppose some girls will wear it because they think it’s a good idea, others because of peer pressure and that’s not ok.

    Personal liberty is very important to me, but we’re seeing more and more beards and headscarfs overhere in a population who used not to wear them and in whose homecountry people their age don’t. And it makes me feel uncomfortable.

  32. I completely respect Mariam’s choice to wear the hijab, however as a Muslim woman I personally refuse to wear it myself. I think Mariam has made a very valid point in that she has never been forced to wear it, or coerced and isnt making some sort of grand statement by doing so, it is her personal choice and we MUST respect that.

    HOWEVER, growing up I saw countless friends and relatives being forced to wear the hijab, and to this day know many women that have no choice due to family pressure (occasionally from her husband even). It is frustrating and upsetting to see, I remember cousins being beaten as teenagers for getting caught going to the mall and removing their hijab when they thought no one would know.

    But there is validity in the point that MANY religions impose similar standards upon their women, not just Islam.

    Like everything in the world there are two sides to every argument, the thing we can ALL agree on, is that being forced to do anything is wrong, and Miriam clearly points that out in her interview.


  33. Head Scarves : Full Body Covering

    Social Pariah : Dead to your family

    Tolerence to other views : Absolute impermeability

    I’d say about a 5:1 on the spiral.
    But then I’m always lookin’ out fer the fives.

  34. Correct me if I am wrong,(and I know you will,thanks): the question that was asked was “Are Muslim woman oppressed?”, Not “Are you Oppressed?”.

  35. Even in women where there is no threat of retribution as we’ve seen regularly in the news, and many posters have mentioned anecdotally, there is still major oppression going on.

    I was raised atheist, and I’m guessing many BB regulars were. I think because the idea of believing in god is so alien to us, it’s hard for us to understand the fear of eternal punishment. I admit that I can’t even understand how a person could twist their brain around to believe in god… but I do get that my atheism is as alien to them in return, which is scary in its implications.

    We speak out against torture. We speak out against police threatening to kill your kids if you don’t do what they want. We speak out against coercion by force. Why not speak out against religion? Because that’s exactly what religion is. “God” has a set of rules, often interpreted by a ruling class. If you break those arbitrary rules, you face a punishment worse than the death penalty.

    As atheists, we kid ourselves into thinking that it’s not, because we know that the threat is false. But to those who believe it, it might as well be real, and because of that, they do not have real freedom of choice.

    This applies to all religions with a concept of hell — most obviously Islam and Christianity.

  36. I’ll try and sneak in here while I can still read all the comments. There is a lot to be said for the simplicity of a standardized garment. It takes the vanity and anxiety out of getting dressed and done up in the morning. Think of the millions of (wo)man hours wasted hairdrying, dying, cutting, primping day on end… The head covering removes the need to spend time fixing up one’s hair-do for the day. Not that its bad if you do, but- there is some comfort in a head covering that tucks everything away. Myself, I where a bandana most every day. It’s a trick to keep enough of them on hand. It falls askew sometimes and I’m sure I look like a half-crazed pirate, but it still beats the alternative of going out with my hair standing on end in like 12 different directions…

    Anyway, a note of the cut of the garment in the last post. There is an enviable simplicity there as well. I think the burquini is rather flattering. Seems like you get full range of motion and smooth lines. With a couple of modifications, I’d say it’d be an almost ideal uniform for daily life.

    My personal opinion is that the *best* and *most beautiful* female garments in the world have to be the Indian saris the women wear. A woman in a sari floats on air. Traditions are usually just fine, be they religious or otherwise. There is often a collective wisdom to be found among long stading cultural practices. Please, everyone loosen up, live and let live. No more bombs or war. Kthxbai.

  37. Shannon – While I agree that a cultural / religious upbringing is something you don’t really escape, I think that’s a different, and much larger, discussion.

    There’s a disturbing undertone creeping into a few comments, particularly in the other thread, which I’d rather avoid in this one: apparently even a free woman in a modern society cannot possibly have chosen to wear ‘modest’ clothes; it must be a result of her unwitting oppression by terrible cultural pressures. (Comparing, as some arguments did, a woman who makes a religious choice to an abuse victim who keeps going back to a violent husband is hyperbole that completely obscures the point. Frankly I find that insulting, both to the women concerned and to those who genuinely are oppressed.)

    There’s something a little dangerous about singling out, say, Mariam Sobh’s chosen headscarf. (Speaking with my Jewish hat on for a moment… the kippah is every bit as inconvenient a piece of headgear. And there’s no question but that I wore it for many years entirely as a result of childhood religious upbringing and extremely strong social and peer pressures. But I didn’t have the slightest trouble giving it up as soon as I grew up and actually wanted to. If anyone here were fool enough to suggest that I was the unwitting collaborater in my own oppression I would not reply. I would be laughing too hard to type.)

    Of course, my current work doesn’t actually require me to wear a suit and tie. There’s a lot of jobs I couldn’t get if I wasn’t willing to. Cultural oppression via fashion?

  38. im starting to get the impression that Aman Ali is a cruel internet troll whom is about to reach legendary status.

    it all makes perfect sense when you think about it, cory and xeni are known for their shenanigans (documented here in the boingboing archives).

  39. @#1
    ‘ “Believe me if I didn’t think it was required I WOULD NOT be wearing it.”


    “I’m thankful that I have the life I do, where I can practice what I believe and not worry about anyone forcing me to do something against my will.”

    It’s very hard for many people – particularly, but I would guess not exclusively, those of other or no religion – to reconcile those two statements. And I would say that that would explain much of the discourse of which you are sick and tired. ‘

    Western religions also have many many rules people follow only because their religions dictate, and would not otherwise. I’m not arguing about religion, only about the logic of your statement.

  40. My question is: why does Mariam think it’s mandated? (Does it clearly and unambiguously say it in the Koran, and if so, does she do EVERYTHING it says in the Koran?) Does she think it’s impossible to be a Muslim and not cover your hair? Wouldn’t it be good if she showed that there was a way to be a good Muslim and wear whatever you want (especially as she makes it clear she doesn’t really want to wear the head covering)? I wonder what she thinks of the various kinds of Sufis, some of which praise homoeroticism and drinking alchohol. I am reminded of the story of the early Muslim judge who was appointed to the Maldives (I think it was). All the inhabitants regarded themselves as good Muslims, but the women refused even to wear tops. He reported that he managed to get them to do so while appearing in court, but had given up trying to get them to do so elsewhere. Were they just mistaken?

  41. Tynam, Mariam has not chosen to wear a headscarf. Her god told her to do it, and, putting it in vulgar black-and-white terms as I always do, told her that he’d torture her eternally if she didn’t, or something to that effect. That’s not a choice.

    A chubby girl who chooses to hide her figure with a big sweatshirt is still making a decision based on external beliefs — the way a beauty obsessed culture has mistreated her — but it is much more her choice because of the lack of perceived consequences. It is also REAL. She can understand the consequences of her actions, and make a decision based on them, and none of the consequences include a bizarre delusion like “hell”.

  42. So people who keep kosher diets are oppressed?

    Willingness to obey certain bounds is not a mark of oppression. I don’t do certain things because I believe they are bad for me. I limit my intake of animal fat because I think they’re bad. I can choose not to whenever I want but I want to stay within those boundaries. Likewise I don’t murder, steal, rob, etc. for I choose to follow those moral boundaries. Would you say that I’m oppressed? Taking a less extreme example, I drive within the speed limit. I do it because I believe they contribute to my safety and those of others on the rule. Is that a sign of oppression?

    I know it’s difficult for some of us atheists to understand but living according to the rules of religion is believe to be good for the believer in the minds of the believer.

    You don’t have to use force to make people stay within limits. When you do, it becomes oppression.

  43. Is it enough to simply ask any one (or all) muslim women why they wear (or dont wear) a hijab?

    This reminds me of conversations about “the masses”, if everyone was stupid enough to think the world is flat that wont actually make the world flat.

    If every single muslim women said “I wear the hijab by choice!” that doesnt address the issue properly, I mean evangelicals dont believe in evolution, they would say “god said so in the bible!”, but that just makes them stupid, muslim women might want to think they arent oppressed by being “mandated” (her words) to wear the hijab but quite obviously it does stem from the arabic mulsim males want to control the female population, specifically her sexuality.

    The rub is the fact that we are still instinctual animals and even in so called modern society we treat women pretty horribly and most women expect it and the odd time a women speaks out about it now shes labeled a man hater.

    Of course this is a complex subject, female rights, but while I recognize the FACT that the muslim world treats women no better then property I have to also realize that my own society has many many problems with how it treats women.

    Its like we are living in Victorian times talking about how much better we are then the savages because our women get to leave the house with an escort or how much better we are because our women are allowed to occasionally sit quietly in the same room with men who are conversing.

  44. I wholeheartedly agree with #10.

    Aman Ali’s previous post was NOT, substantively, about ‘Muslim women covering their hair.’

    Hair was never once mentioned in the body of the post she authored.

  45. Tynam said:
    There’s a disturbing undertone creeping into a few comments, particularly in the other thread, which I’d rather avoid in this one: apparently even a free woman in a modern society cannot possibly have chosen to wear ‘modest’ clothes; it must be a result of her unwitting oppression by terrible cultural pressures.

    Depends what you mean by “modest” doesn’t it, and according to whose notions. Does anyone believe they’re being immodest by revealing their fingernails? I doubt it. So why should one feel immodest in revealing one’s hair, unless one has been told to feel shame in so doing? Isn’t modesty always tied to shame? And isn’t shame, in the abstract, a bad thing?

    Now, if you’re talking about modesty when it comes to not bragging, I’d have to say that’s a different matter. And if all Muslim women are wearing headscarves because they think their hair is just so fabulous the world couln’t take it, then fair play to them.

  46. Comatose51, I don’t know if they’re oppressed because eating kosher doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that oppresses a person, but if they’re doing it because the Flying Spaghetti Monster told them to, then they’re deluded.

    As far as choosing not to steal, murder, and so on, I think the book “Sense & Goodness: Without God” was recently covered here on BB. That would be a good start. You don’t need God to be a moral person.

  47. @#17, I think the Burquini is a “wonderful thing” if it allows women who would otherwise not swim an opportunity to do so. I went to the websites of both Burquini and the Orthodox “modest swimwear” and read the comments of people who had purchased them.
    These are women who had not gone to the beach or the pool, in some cases, for years due to lack of something suitably modest to wear. They chose instead to refrain from activity, engagement,and enjoyment. That breaks my heart.

    One of the fellow students in my karate class is a Muslim woman who wears a unitard under her gi, and a hijab. I am pleased she has found a way to reconcile her religious beliefs and the code of dress she believes appropriate with a challenging athletic activity.

    Let everyone swim. Let them wear whatever they want. EVERYBODY IN THE POOL!

  48. And on a lighter note, #38, I’m totally taking your line:

    My hair is just so fabulous the world can’t take it.

  49. I think those young girls dancing around topless at spring break are more oppressed than these women. Oppression is in the mind. If a girl thinks she needs to flash her boobs to gain acceptance, love and attention in this society, is that not real oppression?

  50. I know we’ve got some hardliners here who would disagree with me, but I think the general consensus is not “all muslim women are oppressed everywhere” but “muslim women women are oppressed in many middle eastern countries, and the coverings are emblematic of that oppression”.

    And so while it’s great that some muslim women who would not face a violent death without a headscarf choose to wear it, that’s not really what (most) people here are arguing against.

    And so I’m really sick of posts saying that wearing a burqa is totally cool if you live in a western society without the threat of death or violence if you choose not to. Fine, that’s great, but that’s not *really* what people here are objecting to. The burqa is a pretty potent symbol of the oppression and subjugation of women, no matter how many “liberated” muslim women living in America can’t wait to cover up.

  51. I’m all for an individual’s right to wear what they like, but I do think the asymmetry in dress standards displayed by muslim men and women makes it rather apparent that men are making the rules and that women don’t have much say. What self-respecting conservative muslim woman would stand for men wantonly titillating her by displaying their chests [1]?


  52. @Shannon: I don’t think everyone who follows a religion do so out of fear. Jews, IIRC, don’t have a concept of hell, yet many of them keep kosher. The appeal of religion for many people has more to do with their ability to satisfy some spiritual need. Buddhism, at least in the form often practiced in the West, doesn’t involve much punishment either. Karma, as explained to me, isn’t really about being punished or rewarded but about being tied down by the consequences of our actions. Nonetheless, Buddhists still follow certain rules. Giving Mariam the benefit of the doubt, I would guess that her choice to follow the rules of her religion is done in the same spirit. Muslim men cannot wear silk or jewelry, IIRC. Perhaps there might be some benefit to this enforcement of personal modesty? Your chubby girl example actually illustrates the possible benefits of this. When everyone around you is modest, no one is made to feel bad about themselves.

    I’m an atheist yet I still follow rules that most religions espouse because I believe transgressing them would make me less happy as a human being.

  53. Here in the secular US there are expectations of female modesty that don’t apply to men. Ladies gotta keep their tops on. Unlike the hijab, which is a choice, most of the US finds female immodesty to be a crime.

    And why is this? It’s because boobies (and lady head hair) drives men CRAZY with desire. Why, if women were allowed to reveal these sexy bits, men wouldn’t be able to get the real, important work of civilization done.

    For those of us who would like to see men and women treated equally the hijab and bikini tops are reminders that women are still second-class citizens.

    What do female clerics think about the hijab?

  54. Religion is just a highly codified set of superstitions to keep people in line and this is a perfect example.

    If you ask women being beaten by their husbands many would claim that it’s not happening, or they ‘deserve it’ or some other such nonsense, and that’ where I fit in this kind of argument.

    Good point, hotshot.

  55. There’s a peculiar fascination with veils and unveiling in the West. Of all the ways that women could be considered oppressed in Islam, this would seem to be one of the lesser issues, as compared with say the problem of the lesser value given to women’s testimony, but I guess that topic isn’t sexy.

  56. AND. do we want to support a religion/society where there’s one set of rules for some people and another set for others based on whether they have ‘dangly bits’ or just breasts? Ridiculous. And if that IS the case, then where does it end?

  57. To those who are pointing at “Believe me if I didn’t think it was required I WOULD NOT be wearing it” as proof of her oppression, why not include the next sentence which explains why she wouldn’t:

    I hate being bullied all the time by the press or some ignoramus about my scarf.

    She’s not admitting that the hijab is a religious shackle–she’s saying that she hates putting up with the idiocy it attracts. And based on the past few threads about this, it’s a whole lot of idiocy.

  58. Comatose51, I know, that’s why I left Jews, Buddhists, etc out of my earlier comment and focused most strongly on Christians and Muslims.

    I certainly agree that there are advantages to school uniforms — they make everyone equal — but I don’t like the idea of taking away personal freedom by choice. I feel the same way about communism (especially after my recent visit to Cuba)… Wonderful idea on a great many levels, but so outrageously flawed on human rights that the wonderful parts don’t matter.

    patadave, I thought topless laws had made their way through the courts by now in most of the US? I remember what a fun summer it was here in Toronto when it changed in the 90s. Just about drove me crazy, haha.

  59. @39: Why is keeping kosher less oppressive than covering your head? Not being able to enjoy the delights of pork or cheeseburger could be seem as sad to some people. I’m not sure if they’re deluded or I’m deluded since I can’t prove that there is no god and they can’t proof the other way.

    I definitely agree that you don’t need god or gods to be a moral person since I’m an atheist and believe that I’m a moral person. Nonetheless, there are many people who do believe in some higher being(s), believe that being a good person make them happier, and being a good person to them involves following rules that was set down by those higher beings.

    I just don’t think what is “oppressed” is as clean cut as some of us think it is. One can argue that Buddhist monks and nuns are oppressed because they cannot eat meat and have sex. On the flip side, we have also seen the negative consequences of too much of both.

  60. grimc, she points out in those statements what an unfortunate lose-lose situation many Muslim women are… really damned if they do, damned if they don’t. All the more reason to stand up against it.

  61. Comatose51, I love to argue, but even I’m not going to argue about whether not being banned from eating wonderful delicious bacon is oppression or not.

    1. Shannon,

      You’re turning into a broken record. Take a breather.

      Everyone else,

      Keep it civil, and if you’re going to make sweeping statements about a billion people, back them up with some facts.

  62. @51: LOL. After I wrote that I wondered what the orthodox Jewish view on “I can haz cheeseburger” is. Do the kittens have something to atone for on Yom Kippur?

  63. I’ve endured similar conversations about my decision not to have sex without a life-long commitment. There are a lot of people who seem to think that I am somehow destroying the sexual freedom of women. This is ridiculous and insulting.

    My body belongs to no one but me. It is not a public space or a political entity. If women truly have sexual freedom, they should also be allowed to choose not to have sex, for any reason they like, without having to explain themselves to anyone.

    I think the hijab conversation is similar. Just like the concept of abstinence, a hijab can be used to oppress women. Oppression removes personal choice from important decisions about your own circumstances. If these women are respected as people and adults, they should make their own decisions, and be allowed to wear a hijab if that is what they want, without having to explain their personal decisions to people who disagree with their choice.

    In short, get your ideology off of our bodies.

  64. It seems like we’re making some pretty rash generalizations about Muslim culture. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, living in every country. That’s enough room for the whole gamut of human nature. Judging the entire group by the bad acts of its worst members isn’t fair to them and it doesn’t help our understanding at all.

    If the world judged my own demographics (American, Christian) the same way, we wouldn’t look any better. Of course, we know that we’re better than the example set by our criminals, pundits, celebrities and politicians. But we know it because we’re steeped in American culture. We can spot the variety and nuances that aren’t obvious from the outside.

    The conversation here feels like the same thing in reverse. We’re rushing to judgment with only the most superficial knowledge. It feels deliciously self-righteous, but we’re not learning anything.

  65. From skimming through the comments of both of Aman Ali’s posts it seems that there’s a lot of discussion about choice and religion. When a religion dictates a certain kind of uniform this issue is clearly evident. But what I find most people are seeming to ignore is the fact that everything we ALL wear, the way we ALL act and interact in relation to our genders is absolutely socially influenced.

    Perhaps as a man in America you may feel that you cannot relate to a kind of “gender-based dress-code” as the one faced by Islamic women, but you can! Our joint cultural perceptions of what it means to be male or female infinitely influence the way you dress (as well as many other aspects of your day to day life). Gender (versus sex) is completely socially constructed, and whether you live in a society that forces you to cover your hair or forces you to wear pants versus a skirt, you are influenced by its gender norms.

    I’m not arguing that either of these systems are particularly oppressive or not, but I think we all need to realize the similarities of gender performances and gender normativity that ALL human cultures perpetuate.

    Read “Gender Trouble” by Judith Butler for more on this kind of stuff.

  66. Why does God get so freaked out by the details of things, why does he care what you wear, or eat, or whether you cut the tips of penises off? Doesn’t he have more important things to take care of?

  67. … really damned if they do, damned if they don’t. All the more reason to stand up against it.

    You do realize that your statements represent the “damned if they do” part of the equation, right?

  68. Humans invent religions.

    Some humans are men.

    Historically, men have used religion, and the fear of the unknown / fear/love of non-existent deities to control who in their cultures can receive property, who can run a country, who will control the wealth, what the values of society will be, etc.

    All Judeo-Christian-Islamic (and I am sure lots of others) religious books in these cases say that men are morally superior to women and as such have certain rights and powers that women do not.

    Men, who created the religions then use the religious tenets they have written in the book(s) to make laws that determine when they are allowed to e.g. kill the women for misbehavior.

    There have been witch burnings (millions of women were murdered in Europe and America by the Catholic Church for being witches). Sharia Law says that if a woman is discovered not to be a virgin on her wedding day she can be killed. Sharia law has determined that 13 year old girls who have been gang raped should be subsequently stoned to death. This happened just last year.

    There is nothing to celebrate about “ladies fashions” within man-made cultural institutions that have been constructed by men to control and kill women.

    If Scientology suddenly announced that they were going to require women to wear Burkinis or head scarves, everyone at BoingBoing would go batshit crazy with indignation and cries of injustice. Why? Because it is commonly agreed that this is a made up religion – we even know the *man* who invented it, L. Ron Hubbard.

    But all religions are based on stories men made up. Talking snakes, burning bushes…Just because a religion is over a 1000 or 2000 years old, doesn’t make it any more reasonable or rational than Scientology.

    And it doesn’t mean that the oppressive teachings can ever be incorporated into a truely free and open democratic society. It’s like trying to create a better healthcare system while keeping the for-profit Insurance companies involved.

    There are many kinds of feminists – two in particular are liberal feminists and radical feminists.

    Liberal feminists want equal rights and equal pay etc. WITHIN the current capitalist system.

    Radical feminists see that the current system is poisonous to both women and men and that it is impossible to fix the system from the inside, but rather a radical revolution is necessary and we have to start over.

    That is the difference here. There is the liberal view that as long as women are not being stoned and caned and having their clitorises cut out with dirty shards from broken Coke bottles, then it is okay to celebrate Burkinis and Hijabs.

    But the radical people here are saying No. You can’t ooh and aww the paint job on a prison. Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions have been dangerous to women from the get go. Eve is blamed for sin coming into the world – that’s the foundational myth that everything else is built upon. That’s a huge problem.

    sorry for the double post – comments were turned off here for awhile.

  69. ” d s bcs t’s smthng blv s mndtd n my rlgn. N n s frcng m”

    Y mssd t. Lstn t yrslf. Yr rlgn s frcng y.

    Cmmnts frm Mslm wmn r nt mr vlbl thn cmmnts frm nyn ls. Ths s bcs Mslms hv bn brnwshd. f y hv nt bn brnwshd, y wll nt dclr yrslf t b Mslm. Thr s nthng n t fr y. Nthng. Bng Mslm s f n bnft t th blvr. Hwvr, n strngly slmc rs f y rfs t b Mslm thy wll kll y. Mst Mslms ccpt thr rlgn fr xctly n rsn: thy hv n chc.

  70. So the choice is in adopting the religion? That’s cool.

    I guess I could be an apostate there and everyone would be fine with that, too? Excellent.

  71. Secret Life of Plants,
    Thank you for the post that I was trying to write. Yours posted first, and is both more lucid and reasonable then anything that I could have posted.

  72. Miriam, thank you for taking the time to share your perspective in this post. I just skimmed through some of the posts on, and I think your blog is really neat. You have really, really thick internet-skin.

    I am so saddened and dismayed by the tone of many of the comments here.

    I have spent time in Muslim homes in Africa and Asia and America, and when I hear stuff like this, I feel absolutely alienated from my own country. WTF? Racism + xenophobia, plain and simple. You can doll it up in all the misquoted Dawkins or botched libertarian talking points you want, it’s still ugliness.

    To borrow a line from Aman, it is so entertaining to see people get so bent out of shape over someone’s lifestyle — a lifestyle that does not affect their free will at all.

  73. Guess what? I am a Muslim woman. Sometimes I wear Hijab, sometimes I don’t. Its my choice, and I realize the consequences. Just like if you robbing the store. You do it even though you know the consequences. Its your choice. The truth is some Muslim women are oppressed. The other truth is some Christian women are oppressed… Jewish women…Catholics women etc. A lot of women in general are oppressed. It is just insane to me that there are about what? 1.8 billions Muslims in the world, and because of a very very small portion of the religion chooses to behave negatively we all are bashed. Its funny too because there are a lot of different types of Muslims (like for Christianity- Baptist, Methodist etc.) we all practice the same to a point. Some chose to go a little extreme as in many other religions there are extremist. Someone told me after they spit on me when I was walking down the street that I should go back to my country. Well, I am a born and raised American. Why do you care so much about they way I dress? Why must I be spat on and Hijab ripped from my head for things “my people” have done? Yes, I get it. 911 was a tragic event, and a lot of people hate Muslims because of it. But do you see me going around spiting on protestants and Catholics because john booth killed president Lincoln? no, because I don’t believe you should bring religion into things like that. People are bad, man people are dying everyday massacres are happening in this moment by the hands of people other than Muslims. I am such a nice person, kind, caring, compassionate and I get treated like crap because of my faith? People complain about us not wanting to mingle and get involve outside our homes… how can we when you want to push us away because we are different. It troubles me, saddens me as well. The reason I wear Hijab and a Jilbab is not only because its mandated by god, but because I really don’t want some harry old guy starting at my goods. Sizing up my shape and starring at my behind. The only man I would love to give that privilege to is my husband. Its something about giving my husband something no other has had before. Like a virgin giving her husband her virginity on the night of their marriage. Its special, its reserved for someone special.

  74. I encourage you to wear it – it is your choice.

    However, many women in the Muslim world do not share the choice. That is why it is a symbol of oppression.

  75. Sometimes it seems like when women actually get murdered – crickets. When they dress funny – ZOMGwereallgonnadie.

  76. @#27:
    Most vocal people on BB do indeed seem to have an atheistic world view, but I don’t think that can be extrapolated to them being raised in an atheist household. My experience is limited to social circles in two predominantly Christian countries (Britain and Germany), but in neither of these truly atheist households are common. Most have vestiges of religiousness still, bits and bobs doctrine that for some reason or another are still followed and passed on.

    That aside, there’s an astonishing array of flaws in the current discussion. It starts with the kindergarten line of reasoning that unless the person making an argument is above reproach, they have no right to argue in the first place, it continues with people arguing about several issues as if it was one and the same thing (oppression of women is not the same as wearing a head scarf is not the same as Islam is not the same as condemning religion as a whole is not the same as…) and doesn’t end when people who seem to have an axe to grind about certain issues chime in with their standard arguments, adjusted with a few keywords to make them appear vaguely related to the topic.

    I can’t help but giggle when I read phrases like “Frankly, I find that insulting”; it reminds me too much of the “thinking bug” newscast from Starship Troopers. All we need now is a “speaking as a mother” post and the cycle of bovine droppings is complete.

    And just to stop this from being entirely meta: if people want to wear an onion on their belt because it is the style at the time, fine. But either they have the conviction to go with it when people laugh at them for it (safe in the knowledge that those laughing are too thick to grasp it), or they had best examine how certain they are about it and if, perhaps, it’s not a teenage hissy fit after all.

  77. @patadave
    I can’t speak for anywhere else, but here in Columbus Ohio, woman can not be arrested for toplessness, because it would be unconstitutional to have a law that applied to one sex that did not apply to another. This provision is tested here, each and every summer.

  78. I’m not entirely buying this. Religion oppresses. That is its primary job. Nothing’s wrong with Islam that isn’t wrong will every other religion. All religions oppress. That’s what they’re for. They oppress the mind and nearly all freedom of expression. And it would seem that their primary target for oppression and control worldwide, in all cultures, is women.

    If you want to control the bodies of women, you start a religion. It’s what you do if you are an insecure, closeted, hallucinating guy.

    But then again, women are also oppressed by most Western corporations.

    It may show that I’m a big fan of Christopher Hitchens.

  79. I live in Bay Ridge/Ft. Hamilton Brooklyn. There’s a large Muslim community, especially people from Yemen. It changes in 9 or 10 block, but in the blocks surrounding my apartment I’m one of the few non-Muslims.

    I’ve lived here for 5 years, and I know my neighbors well enough that I’ve been invited over for dinner. They’re candid, and we’ve discussed the burka issue quite a bit. My next neighbors, who aren’t ultra-religous let their daughter decide whether or not she wanted to wear the burka when she got to middle school. She decided not too. She still hangs around with the same kids on the block, shops in the same stores, and it doesn’t seem to be a huge deal. It strikes me as no different that people in Texas wearing cowboy hats, because that is what people they know wear.

    I realize that this is Brooklyn, and other parts of the world function very differently. It just seems to be a personal choice among my neighbors, and not a big deal. Let people do what makes them comfortable seems like a decent way to live.

  80. @Shannon It’s been rather entertaining watching you create all of these contradictions against your own points. What I think is really interesting is your apparent lack of belief in free will. (post 21)

    Since I do believe in free will, my view on this makes it appear that Mariam chooses her religion, and chooses the customs that she wants with it. Most of the “oppressed” women (and men) who would like to change their traditions, but feel pressured not to, are still making a choice by doing nothing. (I do acknowledge that there are people who are genuinely forced to do things against their will.)

    Your comments about cultural upbringings are also entertaining. I was raised in a religiously neutral home (that is, my mother is a religious extremist, and my father is an extremist on the agnostic end), and eventually, on my own accord, became certain in the complete lack of a god. But now I am a devote, open-minded Christian. I don’t believe it has /anything/ to do with my parent’s beliefs. In fact, I’d like to think that I have been eclectic about it. I digress.

    You argue that it is overwhelming, even /impossible/ to escape cultural upbringing. Perhaps this reflects your own experience, but do not assume it is the case for everyone. That is a logical fallacy.

    Frankly, I find your lack of acceptance and respect horrifying. Even if you are right, you are trying to cram your beliefs down your rival’s throats. In doing so, you are no better than those you oppose. Try to open your mind; who knows what you might find. At the very least you won’t be met with such adversity.

    @All-the-atheists-out-there-wanting “out-of-religions.” Most of you are making a very difficult time of it, and are on your way to making your very own. Woot! Yayy! An exclusive club in which we are better than the stupid masses! Yippee!!!

    Not really. Just stop the “us versus them” mentality (we’re all guilty) and then it’ll be fine.

    I think.

  81. I think the people complaining about the hijab are nothing but Fascist Atheists who want to make everyone as “free” as they are, whether they like it or not. They are going to hate any symbol of faith and religion, whatever it is.

  82. It’s all well and good that she has the choice to cover her hair as she wishes. Unfortunately, it’s not the case that women in many parts of the Muslim world have the same freedom. The fact that American Muslim women enjoy a (totally justified) range of sartorial choices says more about the wonderfully wide range of personal freedom we enjoy in America than it does about the gender politics of the Muslim world.

    I imagine that this woman gets a lot of queer looks walking down the street. That’s unfortunate. I also imagine that a Muslim woman in a bikini in, say, Iran would get a lot worse than queer looks. Until the latter woman is as free to dress as she pleases as the former, then we have a problem. I concede that the dynamics of the problem are complex, that the west also has “imperfect” gender politics, that the perspective of Muslim women needs to be included in order to understand the true contours of the problem, etc., but none of that changes the fact that there is a problem. A big problem. That’s a broad-brush statement, but also a true one.

    (Also, religion is stupid.)

    1. I imagine that this woman gets a lot of queer looks walking down the street. That’s unfortunate. I also imagine that a Muslim woman in a bikini in, say, Iran would get a lot worse than queer looks. Until the latter woman is as free to dress as she pleases as the former, then we have a problem.

      But people in the US and Europe can’t change Iran (except maybe in the way that we ‘changed’ Iraq.) We can change our own countries and how we act in them. Being friendly and supportive is a lot more likely to effect social change than giving women the fish-eye because they’re dressed differently.

  83. As an academic who studies Muslims living in the U.S., I am disheartened by the ignorance displayed in some of these responses. I would not bother to reply except that this type of fear of anyone different than themselves pertains directly to my research and the way people easily hide behind their anonymity on the internet to show the uglier side of humanity. Such ignorance is why they are so easily misinformed and manipulated. Over a billion Muslims means diversity and Ms. Sobh gave a simple description of one aspect of one Muslim woman’s life. I applaud Aman, Ms. Sobh and BoingBoing for attempting to set up an unapologetic dialogue that might educate those who choose to receive it-that is truly a gift.

  84. #52, I agree….who’s *really* oppressed here? I think it’s really the women who live in a culture that places an absurdly high value on teenage bikini body, flawless skin, and constant sexual availability? Puh-lease don’t tell me that image of what a woman should be isn’t oppressive beyond the pale. Just because there’s not a law mandating anorexia doesn’t mean it’s not oppressive. Frankly, I’d rather live in a society where I could wear a hijab so I could avoid all the judgment people feel absolutely free to make on women’s bodies.

  85. It seems like most of the discussion centers on Muslim women in America. And the blurb from Aman’s friend Mariam is all about being a Muslim woman in America and choosing to wear the hijab. That’s fantastic, and choice is what we’re all about here.

    What seems to be mostly absent from the discussion is that in a number of places, the penalty for not wearing the hijab, or even the niqab or burqa, is severe corporal punishment or worse. In other places, some Western, there are environments where the hijab is banned. French schools, for example. Universities in Muslim Turkey banned headscarves until the uproar forced the government to relent.

    Is either of those examples–being punished for disobeying religious norms, or being punished for adhering to them–not a case of oppression? Maybe a more precise title for this post would be “Are Muslim Women Oppressed in America?” That answer seems to be “no” but it is hardly a universal truth.

  86. As a fascist atheist myself, I think the problem is that we often feel like people don’t get to choose their religion. Sometimes atheists (and I only say this because I am one) feel like they’re enlightened compared to those who still have religion, and that people do not choose to be religious, but have not been able to overcome the brainwashing that made them believe things that don’t make logical sense.

    Therefore, the reasoning is:
    religion is forced on you –> religion mandates something –> wearing the hijab is not only not your choice, but even your free will has been bent so that you can’t even make rational decisions about it

    That’s the reasoning, but I think sometimes people put too much weight into rationality. People should do what makes them feel satisfied and happy, whether it’s logical or not.

  87. @ XENI

    I think we’re all just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I’m not going to think that the politically and culturally enforced on threat of violence norm of burqas is cool no matter how many liberated Mulsim women in western societies (or in Islamic societies, for that matter) say they wear them free of coercion.

    I’m not even going to change my mind if you call me a racist xenophobe.

    When women are allowed to travel without an escort or drive in Saudi Arabia, maybe then we can all high five about how cool burqas are.

    When men are forbidden from driving and need a female escort, maybe then.

    Until then, I’ll think they’re about as cool as Cosmo Magazine and unequal pay for equal work.

    And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to know why FGM is a straw man in this larger discussion. It seems to me that it’s another cultural norm set by men and imposed upon women that some women choose voluntarily. I’ve heard a lot of the same arguments w/r/t cultural relativism applied in conversations about FGM. So how is it so different, as a place for comparison?

  88. Anonymous @ #94,

    Is that photo an argument for or against the existence of God? At any rate, I like pie.

  89. If Christians in the U.S. were given six inches of leeway to do so, they would oppress women just as badly as they are oppressed by any other religion. It’s all the same horror everywhere. The separation of church and state is not a slogan. It’s life or death. For real.

    But I also think that the attempt to portray Muslim women as free to do as they please and to choose, is exceedingly sloppy thinking and wishful to boot. Muslim women in relatively free nations are free to do many things. That does not mean that their religion gives them that freedom. What it means is that the state gives them that freedom.

    Religions don’t give people freedoms. They take them away.

  90. I work in a school system that has a considerable population of Somali and Togolese immigrants. These students are Muslim, and the girls wear hijab.

    My experience with their culture leads to mixed feelings about wearing hijab.

    On one hand, I think that American culture is sexualized nearly to the point of insanity – we are REALLY confused about sex. I think that our valuing women mostly for their appearance is one form of oppression and cultural control. So, the hijab as a path out of that cultural sickness does have a certain logic.

    On the other hand, there is the ‘Daughters of Eve’ point that Secret Life of Plants brought up. Religious clothing rules for women – Jewish, Christian, Islamic – are based on the idea that women are responsible for men having ‘sinful’ sexual thoughts. I think that is sick, too. I believe that everyone should be held responsible for their own thoughts and actions. Blaming someone else for something I choose to think or do is simply not acceptable.

    I’d like to see a social experiment in those cultures that ‘strongly encourage’ feminine modesty, but I know the ethics involved would not allow it. I think one test of ‘choice vs oppression’ is to have a woman in such a culture disregard the modesty rules for a day and then observe the reactions of the people around her. (Something like a loose, high collar long sleeve shirt and loose slacks. Nothing tight or sheer or revealing.) If she is condemned as a sinner or temptress for her choice, then I think she is oppressed. If nobody cares, then she truly does have a choice to dress as she pleases.

  91. I would also like to say that I am as likely to slap the Cosmo out of a woman’s hands as I am to behave with hostility toward a woman wearing any kind of hijaab. Which is to say not at all likely.

  92. @Marya & @Shannon – Six US states have decided that men and women have equal rights when it comes to toplessness (and a handful of cities and smaller communities).

    But, when I lived in Texas in the 1990s, and where female toplessness is legal, I recall some women going topless in protest of something-or-other, but being arrested for disturbing the peace. A woman in New Hampshire was recently arrested for toplessness, but let go without being charged.

    Men and women are not treated equally by either religious or secular laws.

  93. I feel more comfortable wearing clothing in public even when the weather is nice enough to go naked, so I can’t criticize anyone for feeling obliged to wear a head scarf.

  94. “As an academic who studies Muslims living in the U.S., I am disheartened by the ignorance displayed in some of these responses. I would not bother to reply except that this type of fear of anyone different than themselves pertains directly to my research and the way people easily hide behind their anonymity on the internet to show the uglier side of humanity. Such ignorance is why they are so easily misinformed and manipulated. Over a billion Muslims means diversity and Ms. Sobh gave a simple description of one aspect of one Muslim woman’s life. I applaud Aman, Ms. Sobh and BoingBoing for attempting to set up an unapologetic dialogue that might educate those who choose to receive it-that is truly a gift”

    As another academic in the US I am appalled by the sloppy reasoning and vague scattershot name calling in this response. The fact is that Mariam gave an argument and the majority of people disagreeing with her are taking that argument seriously. I doubt that she needs your sympathy and condescension.

    Suppose a friend or family member of yours did something that you disagreed with – wouldn’t you argue with her? If you didn’t, I think it would be a sign that you didn’t want to stir things up or you didn’t want to have to live with the hurt feelings. Sometimes, then, it helps to hear arguments from anonymous people on the internet. Particularly as they are as non-threatening and reasonably thought-out as most of these comments. In fact, I think the quality of these comments is to be applauded. Except, perhaps, for the following:

    “I have spent time in Muslim homes in Africa and Asia and America, and when I hear stuff like this, I feel absolutely alienated from my own country. WTF? Racism + xenophobia, plain and simple. You can doll it up in all the misquoted Dawkins or botched libertarian talking points you want, it’s still ugliness.”

    First of all, the first sentence is a bit of a red herring, unless it’s supposed to be a badge of something. But what, exactly? Is the implication that the people making these comments would assault people who invited them into their homes with unwanted anti-religious diatribes? I highly doubt that most of the people offering criticisms here would think them the kind of thing you bring up when visiting other cultures or even sitting next to people in headscarves on the subway. There’s a difference between simple accommodation of others’ eccentricities/differences in a social setting (which is simple politeness) and rational debate about customs in an internet forum.

    Next, what is the “this”? Most of the discussion has been academic, and the kind that I’m sure a large number of Muslims indulge in. Or are they incapable of that? And racism? Since when was Islam a race? Isn’t it you who’s lumping all Muslims together? Not to mention all the various different arguments here. But I guess all us internet commenters look alike.

    And for a final bit of silliness:

    “Keep it civil, and if you’re going to make sweeping statements about a billion people, back them up with some facts.”

    Why is the number important? Shouldn’t this be true of any number of people?

    “Read “Gender Trouble” by Judith Butler for more on this kind of stuff.”

    NOBODY should read Gender Trouble. Not necessarily because it’s wrong, but because it’s impossible to tell because it’s so horribly written.

  95. i think people are missing the point here – john lennon said it best –

    “Imagine there’s no Heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace”

    maybe we should ask the girls in Afghanistan who are now legally the property of their husbands if they feel oppressed.
    maybe we should ask the girls in California who let multiple men use their bodies for the camera if they really feel free.

  96. Look, she can wear whatever she wants. She’s not hurting anyone. If she wants to believe in a petty god that will judge her at the end of her life and say, “Well, you tried to live your life morally. You looked out for other people. You even sacrificed your own life while saving a bus load of orphans from a fiery death. Good. Good. BUT… Oooo. You didn’t wear a scarf. That’s a shame. I’m sorry, you’re going to have to burn the fires of Hell for all time. Go with Adolf, he’ll help you get situated. NEXT!” That’s her choice. (Except really it isn’t. For the VAST majority of people, religion is assigned to them by an accident of birth. Which renders the whole “I know in my heart this is true,” argument suspect.

    I have family members that Pentecostals, and apparently believe that Jesus demands that they not cut their hair, tie it into a school-marm bun, hairspray the hell out their bangs to make them stand straight up, and wear full length denim skirts. The hijab is no different, nor is the the yarmulke. I find them all equally disappointing.

  97. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    To steal and mutilate a quote:

    I may not agree with what you believe, but I’ll defend to the death your right to believe it.

  98. @97

    I don’t know if God exists.But if he does… I just find funny that the same God created billions of galaxies and petty rules for us mortals. We should look at the night sky more often.

  99. Let’s be honest here: Islam is open to critique in a way that Judaism and Christianity are not. Not to mention Hindu, Buddhist, Communist, or Capitalist mythologies!

    The United States has no direction without some sort of Other to hold in contempt. Today’s Other is Muslim, so anything you might find peculiar about any other groups out there, you can just keep to yourself.

    Bigotry in the service of nationalism, is called patriotism.

  100. Hey, maybe the NFL oppresses too. I’ve been watching football today and I’ve seen the players do countless prayer huddles when the games finish. But I never see any Muslim players with prayer rugs on the sidelines. Are they forbidden by the obviously super-christian NFL from praying in the stadiums?

  101. The attitude I’m seeing here that because women in some countries are forced to wear hijab, women in all countries are oppressed for wearing it, is ridiculous.

    To piggyback on the toplessness discussion, I’m sure there are women in the US who would like to go sunbathe without a top. However, not every women would do so given the opportunity. There are plenty of beaches in Europe that can support my contention. Some go topless, others don’t, because they have a choice – just like Muslim women in America have a choice about wearing hijab.

  102. As another American academic, I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone posting here (myself included) is a dumb American. I’ve submitted my research to several scientific journals and will be awaiting your responses.

  103. Nothing is wrong with wearing pants, skirts, burqas, hijabs, low-cut tops, or mini-skirts if the person wants to wear it.

    If a person is forced to wear something, there is a problem.

    Being forced, mocked, or harassed into removing an article of clothing is just as bad as being forced to wear it.

    So is the problem really the piece of clothing/person wearing it?

    I think it’s a stereotype to think that every woman around the world wearing a burqa is doing so under coercion, and probably makes the person who makes this accusation comfortable depicting other people as less evolved or backward without even having to think about it.

    Aman, I am a non-Muslim (completely non-religious) woman who is enjoying your contributions to BoingBoing immensely.

  104. Sorry, I’ve got to go back to football for a moment because when you play football you’re sort of forced to wear the helmet and all that other stuff. I played football in college for a while but I quit because every time I saw myself in a mirror with the helmet and pads on I felt completely and utterly ridiculous. I was oppressed to some degree when I told this to the coach.

    He looked at me for a long time and said very quietly, ‘What is wrong with you?’

    I shrugged and told him that I didn’t know. But I certainly felt oppressed and have no problem admitting that my football helmet did in fact oppress me quite a lot. So I quit.

  105. “What is Liberty?” asked a brave of the Elders. “Go ask Eagle” they replied.
    “What is Liberty?” asked the brave of Eagle.
    Eagle flew high up into the Sky, until he was almost out of sight, folded his wings and plummeted to Earth. At the last second he spread his wings, gliding over the rocks and alighted by the brave.
    “I am a Prisoner of the Air. That is my Liberty.”

  106. In related news, the arguments made by the hard-core Atheists are starting to look and sound exactly like those being made by the religious people they hate so much.

    Not to mention that most of the Atheists here are stunningly ignorant about religions as a whole.

    If you want to preach against religion as a whole, go right ahead – but at least get your facts straight. I think every single blanket statement about religions in this thread is incorrect. There’s pretty much nothing that all religions have in common.

    Buddhists are actually atheists, wicca is dominated by women, satanism is entirely about freedom to do what you want, shinto has no doctrine, no moral commands – and has only the barest mention about anything that might happen after you die. Traditional Celtic religion put men and women pretty firmly on an even keel.

  107. This series of posts rules. Many of the comments do not rule, but I suppose it’s good that the discussion is happening. Even if it does, as Xeni says, make me feel alienated from my own country.

    Is there some study somewhere showing that mocking and patronizing people who believe different things than you is the most effective way to turn them into ‘free thinkers’? Because a lot of people seem awfully confident about it. And they also seem confident that they can tell who is and is not truly ‘free’ in their thinking (hint: it’s people who think the same thing as them).

    As has been said about western democracy, if your system is really as great as you think, you wouldn’t need to force it on people. They would steal it themselves.

  108. I want to stay away from making any broad generalizations about large groups of people, so let me just speak for myself. Whenever I find myself in one of these classes where we discuss the ways various groups have been marginalized and oppressed over time, it’s all gravy till we get to the chapter on women. Then I want to say, “Take your constructions and shove them.” Having the title of “oppressed” thrust upon you is just gross. It’s extrememly patronizing. If a person or group is oppressed it’s for them- not for any outsiders to decide. And it’s for them to shake the shackles and no one else. Haven’t we had enough foreign dominated “liberation” for one go round the great cosmic wheel?

  109. Just curious, what is ‘opressive’ means in the context of clothing?

    Is it being oppressed when your group of friends wanted to go out partying with very revealing clothes, and ridiculing you coz you are wearing a turtleneck with long pants?

    Is it being opressed when you go out to the beach and people are staring at you coz you are wearing long skirts with no slits and long hand t-shirts, while the rest are wearing itsy bitsy bikinis?

    These are the choices that we made, and people should respect it regardless of the reasons behind it.

    As far as I understand it, even Christians (especially Catholic) required the women to cover up their hairs (thus the Sister’s uniforms). Don’t let me start on Protestants and the rest.

    The only thing different is that Islam is still being practiced wholely and the other religions had either deteriorate over time or being changed by people with other agenda in mind.

    So, let them be…if you don’t like to see women covering their hair, then look the other way. It is after all, your choice too.

  110. Oooh, yukky sound! Get that woman closer to the microphone!

    THANK YOU for first-person accounts of these issues. More, please.

  111. #116,

    Buddhists are Atheists? So what? That has nothing to do with religion or football.

    And by the way, because Buddhists do not address the subject of god does not mean that they are Atheists.

  112. #118,

    ‘If a person or group is oppressed it’s for them- not for any outsiders to decide.’

    Hmmm. Well, then alright, the next time I see someone being oppressed I will leave it to him or her to decide and I will say and do nothing.

    What a relief. I thought was supposed to help in some way. Now I can freely ignore all the oppressed people in the world because it is only their own problem.

    Thank you. Life is good. It’s All Good.

  113. Go to Lebanon, and you’ll see many bikini-clad Muslim women.

    Sorry if that doesn’t conform to the monolithic narratives being espoused by some people in this forum.

  114. So basically it’s just a hat, get over it. Don’t Other Religions have proscriptions against women showing their hair?

    If you want to worry about a religion that is oppressive to women worry about the Catholics and their rules on birth control. They’re more harmful. Plus they already have their Ummah & Caliph (The Pope).

  115. ..millions of women were murdered in Europe and America by the Catholic Church for being witches..

    Sorry to pick on this tangential aside, but it isn’t true.

    In Europe’s golden age of witch-hunting the figure is about 60,000 (when the real organised stuff was happening, 1480-1700). Both men and women. So, about 85% of that figure if you are singling women out; around 51,000.

    Brian Levack (The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe) multiplied the number of known European witch trials by the average rate of conviction and execution, to arrive at a figure of around 60,000 deaths. Anne Lewellyn Barstow (Witchcraze) adjusted Levack’s estimate to account for lost records, estimating 100,000 deaths. Ronald Hutton (Triumph of the Moon) argues that Levack’s estimate had already been adjusted for these, and revises the figure to approximately 40,000.

    Before this time, there was still heretic prosecution, but it wasn’t as rabidly enthusiastic as the witch trials. That is, until the 12th/13th century, when the Inquisition was invented.

    In the USA it is far less, the only official example I can find mention of is the trial at Salem, in which 20 people were executed. There may be other cases, officially or not, but as Salem is so well known I presume there were not many more, and likely no bigger. Let me know if you know different.

    A funny(?) note to this is that before Europe had really got going on its witch-burning mission, the persecution of witches itself was outlawed, because one must believe in witchcraft to persecute it:

    The Council of Paderborn in 785 explicitly outlawed the very belief in witches, and Charlemagne later confirmed the law. The Council of Frankfurt in 794, called by Charlemagne, was also very explicit in condemning “the persecution of alleged witches and wizards”, calling the belief in witchcraft “superstitious”, and ordering the death penalty for those who presume to burn witches.” [emphasis mine]

  116. Why is everyone so concerned about what other people wear? Christ, you people talk about head scarves like it’s the same thing as incest or rape. Do you also say that people shouldn’t pray, on the grounds that it is part of their religion? Should people not go to church because it oppresses their Sundays? Are you opposed to crosses? Fish decals on cars? Shirts in general?

    Let them wear the damn scarves. And mind your own business.

  117. Alessandro,

    Obviously, if a group of people is crying out in unison, “Help us, we’re dying here,” then, yeah, try to help if you can. What I was trying to say is that a group with one set of cultural norms shouldn’t be imposing their beliefs on another with the intention of “liberation.” Cause it doesn’t always seem like that from the other side.

  118. oh jeeze, i’m too tired to read all of the comments but i got about 40 posts in…

    yeah, what she says is typical of the blind religious follower.

    what she doesnt say is typical of the polar opposite “open-minded” individual.

    you know what i say? who gives a shit?

    if you want to do it, go ahead. if you dont, well, dont…

    but, never try to say that its better to do “your thing” than it is to do mine.

    what is “my” thing? people, i have faith in people. i just wish they had more faith in themselves.


  119. If a woman, muslim or otherwise, is being “owned” or otherwise abused, perhaps her clothes are not the first thing you should look to for an explanation. I would think that the clothing issue is loosely related at best.

  120. What’s really sad is people thinking that Islam mandates the wearing of a scarf on your head. NOWHERE in the Quran does it say that a woman must cover her head. NOWHERE. Not in Sura 24.31 or anywhere else. This is nothing more than innovation. And yes, it is oppressive because it was man’s idea that a woman should cover her hair so that the man wouldn’t get sexually excited over flowing locks.
    It’s just a shame more people who say they follow Islam don’t even bother to educate themselves concerning what the Quran (written by MEN) says and what it doesn’t say. Ever heard of bi’dah? It’s become the foundation of Islam. Bi’dah is innovation. It’s men making the rules for everyone else in Islam. If you believe that Islam mandates that you wear a headscarf, then you’re participating in oppression. A headscarf is used to cover a woman to hide her from society. Purdah is even worse.

  121. points to trueblue!

    If women can be considered to be oppressed because their religion dictates their dress, then what can we say about a liberal democracy that dictates the dress of women?

    As you correctly point out, Islamic women have a choice. They can wear or not wear the hijab. US women (except for a half-dozen states and a handful of communities and cities) do not have that choice.

    Which is more oppressive?

  122. #6 posted by Anonymous, September 27, 2009 2:49 PM

    “If covering ones head is a religious requirement, can anyone, of the proper theological background, cite a valid manuscript, for example a passage in the Quran?”

    That’s the problem, NO verse anywhere in the Quran says to cover your head. And if you ask many Muslims where it says in the Quran that you must cover your head, they will tell you it’s in there, but they don’t know where – but they will tell you tomorrow.
    Sura 24.31 written in Arabic nowhere even mentions the word “ra’as” which means “head.”

  123. @ #78

    “Sizing up my shape and starring (sic) at my behind. The only man I would love to give that privilege to is my husband.”

    I don’t want to ‘size up your shape’, nor do I want to ‘stare at your behind’ & your assumption that I do offends me & belittles you.

  124. These comments are breaking my heart. Snide mockery and boorishness and ignorance. Honestly, I’m stunned and uncomfortable.

    millions of women were murdered in Europe and America by the Catholic Church for being witches

    Millions? Really, Secret Life of Plants? Got a citation for that? That would be around one in every fifty women in Europe and America.

    [All religions] oppress the mind and nearly all freedom of expression.

    Visit Rome and say that again. Christianity paid for the Renaissance. For extra credit, remember that Michelangelo, Einstein, Spielberg, and Tolkien were strongly religious.

    If Christians in the U.S. were given six inches of leeway to do so, they would oppress women just as badly as they are oppressed by any other religion.

    Damn! We’ve been found out! News flash: I’m a Christian, and I’m (apparently) a better feminist than you. It’s easy to sit smugly and paint with a broad brush, difficult to understand the complexities of lives unlike yours. I would never judge all atheists by the grade-school bullies jeering at the poor oppressed Muslim woman here.

    I’m sorry to snap, but I’m getting sick of the scattershot personal insults being hurled at me and the people I love and respect.

    —A Quaker, married to a Mennonite

  125. “As has been said about western democracy, if your system is really as great as you think, you wouldn’t need to force it on people. They would steal it themselves.” Well put, #117.

    I suppose I should count myself lucky. I am a person of faith who counts many firm Atheists as good friends. Heck, I’ve even gone with a couple of them to see Hitchens speak at one point in the last few months. I thank God that they are mature enough to genuinely respect my beliefs as I respect theirs, and not put out the sort of sheer dickishness and arrogant superiority that has come forth from so many of their brethren on Aman Ali’s posts. You’d be surprised what we can learn from one another if we give people some credit for having a considered basis for and active critical relationship with their beliefs, as the vast majority of Christians, Muslims, and Atheists I’ve known do, rather than writing them off as simple stereotypes.

  126. The original conversation was about the burqini and by extension, the burqa which is a dehumanizing piece of clothing that turns women into moving sheets.

    Instead of trying to argue that the burqa isn’t oppressive, the author has argued that the hijab isn’t. Of course the strawman isn’t oppressive. There are plenty of old women around the planet that wear garments very similar to the hijab. Sure, it may be a crime against fashion, but it certainly isn’t oppressive.

    But the burqa is. The burqa turns human beings into furniture. Human beings communicate with their face and their bodies. We form bonds through our expressions. Taking that away is cruel not only to women, but also to men.

    The burqa is an abomination that should be attacked and ridiculed as the backwards dark ages torture device that it is.

  127. This has been a very illuminating discussion.

    I find that the atheist posters are by far the most judgmental, oppressive group responding to the topic.

    I am an atheist, and I am ashamed at the intolerance shown by some of you to people who have different beliefs than your own.

  128. This is why I left Islam. I realized that it, like all other monotheistic religions, are man made and oppressive to women in numerous ways.
    I’m glad that I left Islam behind. I am much happier now because of it.
    Someone else made a point about oppression of women in Western society – that we are oppressed because of the societal pressures put upon us by the media through fashion and movies. We’re supposed to look our best at all times and never falter or we are perceived as unattractive or repulsive. To me that is just as oppressive as being expected to cover our whole bodies as if we should be ashamed for being born female.

  129. There’s a lot of closemindedness here.

    Something to consider: the definition of “oppression” or “oppressed” is HIGHLY subjective.

    So in the eyes of those screaming “oppression,” well, sure, it is.

    But your opinion isn’t the one that counts.

    REGARDLESS of how you feel, its the opinion of the woman in question that counts.

    ANd yes, to SOME women, it may be oppression. But to some others, like this woman, it obviously isn’t. Circumstances, circumstances! These are something that us outsiders can have little idea of, but are so crucial!

    She’s said she wouldn’t wear it if its not part of her religion. But since it is, she accepts it.

    Obviously religion plays an important and fulfilling part in her life, as it does for many people. Clearly she WANTS her religion to be a part of her life.

    You don’t have to personally like every aspect of something to want it to be part of your life, or for something to be important to you.

    That’s not oppression, that’s making a life choice.

    Yes, some of the women who adopt these dressing trends are “oppressed”. But clearly plenty aren’t.
    One of the most difficult things the Western-minded must deal with is the prejudicial belief that all such ladies are being Stifled by the Oppressive Muslim Regime!!! which is clearly not true in plenty of instances. This is an instance in which the temptation to enforce OUR moral values on them tends to prove too strong to resist.

    Those of you railing against this as oppression may tend to think of yourself as openminded.. “openminded” being hand-in-hand with the “liberal” mindset.

    But being TRULY openminded is really, really difficult. And it includes accepting mindsets so alien to your own that something that seems so hideiously oppressive to you may just be an acceptable, and even good, part of life to others.

    I personally thank Mr. Ali for bringing this conversation here. This is in some ways an important discussion. There’s so much misunderstanding regarding Islam and women, and its good to have an open discussion about it.

    There’s a great deal of ugliness, here, I urge some of you to take a break, then come back and look at what you said. It’s not pretty.

    FYI, my stance: hardcore atheist & hippie liberal who feels religion’s the cause of most of the world’s evils.

    But I strongly believe in everyone living as they like (an it harm none, do as ye will. “harm” of course, being subjective. I seriously doubt this woman feels “harmed!”).

  130. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

    -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia (1782)

    I don’t keep kosher or fast or dress modestly (for religious observances at least) or decorate my body for special events or ceremonies. I don’t stretch my neck or bear spiritual tattoos. I don’t build a sukkah or shake an etrog. I don’t eat only fish on fridays or avoid mixing meat and dairy. I’m not weaing a prayer shawl or tallis or arm-wrappings or sacred vestments under my clothes.

    But as long as the people who do choose to do those things I will defend their right to do so.

    Honestly, the reactionary “AH! Religion, grab the Dawkins!” attitude is quite trite. Most of the Atheists I know don’t bark with this kind of intolerance, and many of them are quite curious and knowledgeable about other’s beliefs.

    Talking to actual Muslim women instead of seeing them as a simple oppressed and repressed “other” is a good exercise, regardless of your take on the whole God thing.

  131. Secret Life of Plants, the usual number of women “burned as Witches in the Burning Times” was allegedly invented by Z Budapest, a radical feminist who apparently has no ethics whatsoever. She took the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust, added 50%, and published the number as fact. The nearest thing to justification she could give for this was that women were “erased” from history. In my opinion she just wanted to make it seem like a bigger deal than the Holocaust.

    This reprehensible deceit was swallowed hook, line, and sinker by the Wiccan community, including me, until someone pointed out that there’s no historical evidence to suggest that. As usual with conspiracy theorists, Budapest and her partisans claim the evidence was covered up. The public execution of nine million women in Renaissance Europe could NOT have been concealed; since Budapest never cited any real evidence for her claim, the remaining possibilities are that she made it up, and that she got it from someone who made it up (but AFAIK there’s no citation of it preceding Budapest).

  132. So… this modesty is commanded in Islam of women, but not men? What, are men exempted from modesty?

    And isn’t it interesting they didn’t go to…oh, say Saudi Arabia and ask a Muslim woman what she thought on the subject.

    Oh… wait… that’s right. She would be beaten within an inch of her life for talking to anyone without a man present. And someone would have to drive her to the hospital because she isn’t allowed to drive a car herself.

    And she wouldn’t be allowed to visit a graveyard by herself.

    Or attend Friday prayers in a Mosque, unless that mosque would happen to have a special ‘women-only’ section.

    So what are the restrictions on men in Saudi Arabia? They can’t go to women-only venues. That’s it.

    So I don’t know why there is any debate about ‘repression’ of women under Islam. No clue at all.

  133. Seeing as ones cultural identity is of apparent importance in these threads – of which I have read most, though not all – I am a honky from Canada.

    I am continually flabbergasted by the comments in opposition to, lets be clear, a swimsuit cast as something more than an interesting insight.

    Since I am going to cast myself as a western pig objectifying women, I actually think is far more attractive than one that lets a woman’s tits hang out. Sure, call me a prude. My brain can do more with little. I’m quite a pig. Clothes don’t stop that.

    But why, oh why, do these threads degrade into cultural fear? The perception of prosecution of women coming from a western-centric perspective does not compute, I don’t disagree that people – men and women, LBGT(suffixed with the rest of those letters I can’t remember) – suffer more under strict enforcement of cultural laws. That has little to do with what the cultural edict happens to be.

    Moreover, double-you tee eff? On boingboing? A little disheartening.

    And yes, I said nothing in this post. Was merely reacting to the third thread in this chain – 500+ comments all told – out of a disbelief that this level of cultural fear lives in even an open minded community such as this.

    OK, final disclosure: out of all monotheistic/abrahamic religions I do find most of the tenents of Islam the most interesting. As far as monotheistic non-animist faiths go. Must make me a woman hating monster.

  134. I wonder what would happen if everyone on the planet suddenly became genuinely open-minded.

    (chaos? Is being completely open minded, sans any prejudice at ALL, a bad thing?)

  135. Mariam,

    Thank you for your post, and thanks for your courage in exposing yourself to this torrent of responses, not all of which, sadly, are as polite or mindful as they could be.

    All women–indeed all people–should be free to live their lives as they wish. Worship as they wish (or wish not to, for those of us who are atheists), dress as they wish, behave as they wish.

    I think (I hope!) the majority of this site’s readership supports and celebrates strong, free, independent women. I know that millions of women choose to practice Islam, and choose to observe its teachings or rules, including those about what they should wear. And I hope that we support this too. Find your own peace. I am certainly trying to find mine.

    But I suspect that a lot of the resistance to Islam that you may find in America, even from supposedly informed progressives, even if it comes in the form of stereotypes or insults, is that we know there are countries in the world where Muslim women are killed for failing to wear the hijab, or for speaking to a man not their husband, or for being the victim of a rape. People here may wonder how, or why, you would choose to follow a belief system that tolerates this kind of oppression.

    I quickly concede that of course Islam should not be judged by the behavior of its most fanatical adherents. Nor should Christianity or the Republican Party or the Democratic Part or the FSM-ites.

    But we’re trying to make a free society here. We’re still fighting for equal rights for gay people. We’re still fighting for rights for racial minorities. And we’re fighting for equality for women. And while you freely choose to wear the hijab, we must acknowledge that many, many Muslim women wear it because they’ll be punished if they don’t. And that’s a problem, if I may so understate it.

    You choose to wear the hijab. I hope that you live in a community that equally respects women who do not.

    Thank you again for speaking to us.

  136. this makes me kinda sick. i live in the states and i should be able to wear whatever the hell i want to. i don’t have to show my body (my skin, my shape, my hair) to anyone if i don’t want to. this isn’t saudi arabia. nobody’s going to beat me if i do want to show myself. and nobody should be pissed off if i don’t.


    this is fem lib folks.

  137. Remember when the US first started attacking Afghanistan? There were pictures of women in burqas in the news all the time. Presumably as some sort of incentive to get us to support the war. This is what we were fighting against! Liberating the world from it’s oppressive regimes! Ah, such sick, sick irony.

  138. 1MacGeek, I don’t think there’s any reasonable debate that women are horribly oppressed in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, contrary to its own apparent representations, is not Islam.

    Please remember that “American Moslem,” for example, is not a contradiction. I know a young Moslem who is very American in every way (well, he didn’t go out drinking for his 21st birthday, but then neither did I). He says his mother and other female relatives don’t wear the headscarf or act subservient.

    In my opinion blaming the behavior of Saudi Arabia (whose religious police are on my “sure hope they die” list) on Islam is a lot like blaming the behavior of Eric Rudolph or Fred Phelps on Christianity. These two ARE Christians, much as all decent Christians would like to repudiate them, but they are neither representative nor exemplary of Christianity.

  139. @ 1macgeek: “Oh… wait… that’s right. She would be beaten within an inch of her life for talking to anyone without a man present. And someone would have to drive her to the hospital because she isn’t allowed to drive a car herself.”

    Once again, an issue only loosely related to whether those women wear burqas or not. How is it that the existence of abused women in the middle east means that women in other parts of the world should not wear a scarf?

    It has been my observation that people do not need religion to make them violent, greedy, or otherwise evil. But religion seems to be an effective pretense for evil in many cases, particularly it seems in the Middle East these days.

    I would also say that people don’t need religion to make them good. But religion seems to be an effective pretense for goodness in many cases.

  140. The thinking that men are uncontrollable creatures whom women are responsible for hiding/protecting themselves from frees men of responsibility for assaulting a woman if she doesn’t comply with the dress code. And it’s not just Muslim women, a lot of women still get blamed for their rapes in the West (look what she was wearing! She was asking for it!). To the point where many women aren’t just afraid of being raped, they don’t want to take risks because they’re afraid of /being blamed for their rape/, that somehow they are being irresponsible. Oppression is an extremely subtle, insidious thing and it’s not obvious and not even fully understood by its victims. Most forms of oppression are so deeply systemic and ingrained in society that the victims themselves, and the ones they love, may help perpetuate it without realizing.

  141. I live in Saudi and I understand Muslim women in America are far less “oppressed” in a Western world setting than a traditional Muslim country.

    But nevertheless, in Saudi women are treated like pets and have no rights. The Wahhabi/purist interpretation of Islam pretty much treats them like third class citizens.

    It is really hard not be sickened by the obvious inequality. What is worst is going to Thailand and seeing the men everywhere with their wives trailing behind them. The men wear shorts and look like goofy tourists while their wives are wrapped in black gauze. I’ve talked to some Saudi women and they say they like the clothing because it makes them feel anonymous and it keeps men from pestering them.

  142. Is the “It can’t be liberating to wear modest dress because the impulse stems from male oppression” argument equivalent to the “It can’t be liberating for women to produce porn because the impulse stems from male oppression” argument? Because it always seems to come down to men telling women what they are and aren’t allowed to do.

  143. The more I think about it the more I think that a relatively interesting link/post has been burdened with a title which is a fundamentally unanswerable question.

    “Are Muslim Women Oppressed?” Is not answerable.

    Are _All_ Muslim Women Oppressed? Obviously not. It’s a large enough group that any definition of oppressed that applies to all Muslim women is going to apply to damn near everyone else as well.

    Are _Any_ Muslim Women Oppressed? Pretty definitely yes. Again, it’s a big enough group that any definition of oppressed that excludes the entire group is going to exclude just about everyone.

    Is the specific woman whose blog got linked oppressed? Seems like not.

    Is apparel the be all and end all of oppression? No.

    Am I starting to sound like Donald Rumsfeld? Yes.

    Anyway, we all seem to be descending into a real shitfit of an argument without defining basic terms. What constitutes oppressed? And, for the definition of your choice, do we have any actual data? Because one person is actually a pretty small sample from which to extrapolate to “Muslim Women”

  144. Along the lines of post 55:

    If she thinks wearing a headscarf in some way honors God, and if she feels right in honoring God, then how can you call that oppression?

    We are all products of our society and upbringing. I too find it difficult to conceive of some all-powerful being that guides the universe, but on the other hand I acknowledge that any religion in essence is a frame through which to view life, the universe and everything. Many atheists pride themselves and lose no time stating that they are moral people. These morals have not sprung from nothing, they came from social understandings which were all codified into either laws or religion. Sure, some of these codes have gotten stale (Christianity and birth control regulations) or overly complex, but to attack every religion as some sort of delusion is to ignore that religion in general is an incentive to moral action and a connection to the wider spiritual universe.

  145. Two points on witches and Salem: 1. to paraphrase TS Eliot, we don’t burn ’em, we hang ’em; 2. Salem was a theocracy, under what eventually became the Congregationalist Church, not the Catholic Church.

  146. I think this thread has almost as many pompous blowhards as all the religions of the world put together. (EXAGGERATION!) Some very arrogant and disappointing responses. I expected better of Boing Boing readers.

    Freely, happily choosing to be subject to something is not – I repeat, NOT – oppression. It is freedom. If you must insist that (for example) my faith in Christianity is oppressing me, then fine. You’re free to do so. But no one is forcing me to live as a Christian. I am choosing to subject myself to its laws and guidelines, in much the same way that Mariam chooses to be subject to Islam’s laws. I still have my freedom in the matter. I’m choosing how to live my life. Would you be receptive to me telling you that your life is wrong, that you’re a fool for your choices? Then maybe you shouldn’t do it to others.

    Do you not choose to be subject to the laws and regulations of The United States of America (or whichever country you live in)? No one’s forcing you to live there (at least, I hope not), but you (hopefully) choose to. Are they oppressing you? For most of you, I’m guessing your answer would be “no,” yet you’re still subject to their command. Are you not still free? Does the law not, for the most part, benefit you even though it “oppresses” you?

    Then again, perhaps I just haven’t reached the level of enlightenment necessary to see myself as the ignorant, teat-suckling religious neanderthal that I am.

  147. i’ve been to plenty of christian weddings where the man was told he’s the head of the household and his job is to return his wife to heaven as beautiful as she is that day and that for her that HE has the final say in the matter under the roof… yeah whatever… women are all oppressed pretty much…

    and no, i’m a dude.

  148. CRAP! Comments shuffled. I was making reference to TooGoodToCheck’s comment in regards to consisting of sound logic. Please disregard my previous comment as illogical.

  149. Muslim men does have clothing restriction – from the navel to just below the knee.

    As for women who are oppressed, i know some of you keep going to the ME for reference. But why not Indonesia or Malaysia, where in Indonesia alone there’s about a hundred million muslims. If you say the Muslim women in these countries, with their colorful and festive hijabs are oppressed, where some of them are ministers and head of businesses then you have already set your mind in stone; no amount of cajoling and argument will change that.

    i urge those who dont know, to learn, and those who knows, to learn more about Islam and its tenets, and take everything in context, not just taking it piece by piece and deconstructing it from there. everything have its context.

  150. @arkizzle

    “I believe in an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.”

    Arthur Hays Sulzberger,
    Editor, NYTimes, 1935-1061

    One of my favorite all time quotes….

  151. If I read Shakespeare and then make you dress like Hamlet, I’m oppressing you. There is quite a lot of stuff like that going on in the world. Not everywhere and not for everyone. But certainly organized religions do tend toward this kind of thing. I don’t see how one could seriously argue that point.

    Organized religions do seem to tend toward insisting that certain habits are kept and that certain appearances are maintained.

    That is oppressive.

    But I know some corporate guys who think intelligent, hard-working men should wear ties. That is also oppressive.

    Oppressive people always tell other people what to wear. They can’t help it. It’s first thing that springs into their tiny minds.

  152. Mark @ 101 has said all that needs to be said in this thread.

    As for the rest of the berserk anti-hijab lecturers here, GET A LIFE! If the oppression of women upsets you, GO LOOK FOR REAL ISSUES.

    Can women vote, get education, get jobs, equal pay, are they safe from sexual harassment? Are they safe from rape?

    The last damn thing you need to worry about is a frigging headscarf.

  153. It matters not to me if my neighbor chooses to wear 20 headscarves, one headscarf or none at all.

    It neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket.

    (With apologies to Thomas Jefferson)

  154. Religion seeks to demean, and either willingly or otherwise, people agree to be demeaned.

    Now she may welcome the fact that she is demeaned or is asked to do things differently; that, however, does not change what it is.

    Of course, I am quite indifferent about people doing whatever the hell they want – it is none of my business and they are free to do as they will.

    However, as a fellow human, it is deeply paining to see what religion does to people.

    I would express the same sympathy to any other religious person, immaterial of what the religion is.

  155. Oh, I see! So because you’ve been brainwashed by the leaders of your community into believing that a magical sky fairy will stop liking you if you don’t do what they say, you’re not oppressed at all! That clarifies things greatly.

  156. What a very odd and (to me) unexpected debate.

    I live in the midwestern United States and see women wearing headscarves all the time, and it’s never occurred to me to wonder if it was a sign of oppression.

    I don’t think the issue is headscarves. When I see someone in the U.S. wearing clothing/jewelry/whatever that marks them as belonging to a particular religion, a reasonable base assumption is that they are wearing it intentionally and could stop if they wanted.

  157. A point that seems to be eluding many posters on this thread is that millions of Muslim women have not been simply mired in darkness waiting for someone to tell them they are being oppressed and lead them into the light. That kind of paternalism is not that different than some of the more odious right-wing adherents who want to “bring freedom” to the “Middle East”.

    You cannot make a gift of liberty, and to assume that any Muslim woman in hijab is some movie-of-the-week tale of religious oppression is pure nonsense. Shall we start crying out for the poor Jewish boys tallises and kippahs?

    And hey, Little Edie Beale was a fashion plate in her time, and take a gander at her daily wear.

  158. “Opression” is not a thing by itself.

    Of course, the set of relations that is envolved is very real to the participants, but “opression” is a word. A sign. Someone is opressed based on some understanding of what is it to be opressed. I think all monogamous relationship are opressive. Many will disagree. You don’t have to believe in the invisible friend on the sky to be opressed based in some paradigm, c’mon.

    You can say someone is opressed based on marxist, or anarchist, or feminist, or any other terminology. Then we can debate and try to convince the others. Opression by itself isn’t debatable.

    We keep circling around choices and individuals and etc. We’re not dealing with something that operates on the individual basis. We choose our language? Our parents? Our beliefs, our soccer team? We may choose a few, we may think we choose everything, but then we have the problem of, like, distinguishing childrens that are abused by their parents and children that aren’t. The children-parent relation short-circuits our comprehension based on ‘choices’ as much as this religion-person relation. I don’t think we have much chance of debating opression based on individuals. I think we need to deal with systems.

    “Choice” seems a poor divisor. We’re all free to bully this woman for using certain clothings. She is free to be pissed off and complain. We’re all choosing. You can easily choose to be opressed in marxist terms, in anarchist terms, in feminist terms, whatever. You can choose to have a lord that walks over your tummy. In my view, we all choose the opression of the national states. So what? It doesn’t makes it less opressive, in anarchistic terms.

    I digress. I think she’s opressed. The only way to effect some change in this situation – and I want it – is to convince her. In the ends, it’s just who convinces who. I have my values and paradigms and she has hers. (:

  159. If you introduce one hundred white Americans to an Iranian Muslim woman, ninety-nine of them wouldn’t be able to guess if she was more likely to be Sunni or Shi’a.

    But all one hundred of them would have an opinion about whether or not she should wear a veil- an opinion they’d think she was foolish not to listen to.

    And that (speaking as a Westerner) is the West’s foreign relations problem in a nutshell.

  160. Just to inject a little cheer into this:

    Saudis open hi-tech science oasis

    Saudi authorities hope the mixed-sex centre it will help modernise the kingdom’s deeply conservative society. The religious police will not operate on-site. Women will be allowed to mix freely with men and drive on campus. Women will also not be required to wear veils in the coeducational classes.

  161. Danlalan,

    Thanks! I knew it was a quote, but didn’t know of whom, just the book I’d read it in.


  162. It strikes me that many statements about religion – how it limits your freedom, imposes its own mindset on yours, forces you to do things that don’t accord with your personal preferences – can all be said with equal truth about interpersonal relationships. It’s the nature of life that we give up some of our perfect self-determination in order to enter into relationships that provide us more comfort and fulfillment than we got from our independence. And for some people, religion is that relationship.

    For me, the moment of entry into adulthood was the moment that I decided that I’d rather be happy than right.

  163. Regarding: “it’s something I believe is mandated in my religion. No one is forcing me and it has no political significance.”

    I think people are having some issues in parsing of emphasis here in these 2 sentences: There are also some muslim women who don’t _”believe”_ specifics are “mandated”.

    N.B.: I’m a muslim female born and raised in the U.S. I’m not a Sharia scholar–though I do have a PhD. My mom is not a muslim. My dad is. My siblings vary widely in their practice: from the Richard Dawkins citing end of the spectrum to the fasting Ramadan and trying to explain things on the internet end of things.

    …My understanding is that the most specific mention in the Quran (and I’m paraphrasing here, so I apologize in advance, but I think it’s circa ~33.59) is that ladies should wear sufficient clothes to not be confused with streetwalkers.

    When it comes to what any individual practices, there are cultural mores that can come into play. And for those who are inclined to cover up, when it comes to modesty there are rules that apply to males too: I believe the general case for males was from belly button to knee as far as ideal coverage, but again, that is more of a general practice that I’ve noted via seeing folks at community centers when I was a kid, I can’t provide a citation.

    The most important aspect of any act of faith, or even just general “act” is intent. (There’s a whole Law and Order franchise that I think supports me there.) If I roll up my sleeves to change the pump oil it is not to seduce my labmates with my sweetly defined forearm muscles–it is a utility and safety issue. Likewise, if I were to to walk down the street on a cold night with 4 inches of cleavage showing, I’d know what I was doing, and personally I wouldn’t feel great about representing myself that way so I don’t do that. And regardless what I believe when I go to bed at night, whether it is along the lines of making sure I have a positive balance in my metaphysical checking account or a fear of a flying spaghetti monster, that is how I’d behave. The basic tenets of Islam happen to jibe pretty well with how I logically tend to do things, so I tend to find myself under that tent.

    Regarding the original issue: I used to frequently lake- and competitive-swim so I tend to wear bathing suits more along the lines of short-johns and technical suits. Have never owned a bur- or bi-kini, though would consider the former before the latter. My parents actually think I dress a little too conservatively (due to what they think is body shame,) but the fact of the matter is there is a lot of crap in lakes and I’ve always been paranoid about such things touching my lady-business after seeing that scene in “Stand by Me” with the leeches. I’m not always the best example of a muslim, but then again I’m not always the best example of a human; everyone strives to improve.

    –Another moderate American Muslim who only wears a headcover to pray.

  164. Bravo for those brave words! Religion remains the only virtually taboo subject on Earth for liberals, even harder to get one’s head around when persons who command respect by dint of intellect also happen to be very religious. A liberal usually comes to grips with religion either by rejecting it out of hand or by becoming religious. There is no middle ground, and of course there should be. Sometimes the blind spots in liberal perspective are breathtaking.

    Islam in particular is hard for Americans to understand, because it, almost alone of all religions, gives perfect freedom to its adherents, absolute free will tempered only by the warnings of the Quran and the example of Mohammed. I liken it to walking across the Grand Canyon on a narrow bridge without guardrails. Your fear of falling should be, and in this case is, the only guide you require. The headscarf is a matter of personal choice — not OUR personal choice, but HER personal choice.

    Speaking as a convinced Darwinian, a lifelong student of Buddhism, and a so-so Catholic, I always and inevitably find myself admiring the example of religious persons of any tradition. It helps to draw lines in the sand that surround each other, and do not divide us. That headscarf is not a dare, and certainly not an insult to any true American.

  165. I don’t care if women want to cover themselves, veils and hijab are often very beautiful on the women who prefer to wear it, and if it makes they happy, who cares, as long as women are not coerced into wearing it. As for those who insist on being fully covered, they should have to obey the same restrictions on concealing clothing that I have to, unless they want to fight for my right to wear a ski mask in a bank.

  166. @ GRIKDOG

    The headscarf is a matter of personal choice — not OUR personal choice, but HER personal choice.

    (broken record, barely spoken, mumbling, exhausted) except where required by law, and enforced under threat of prison or violence, as part of a larger system to oppress and marginalize women…

  167. In defense of the anti-religious nutcases. . .

    I can’t speak for everyone else’s experience, but I personally grew up as a member of a very tightly knit christian organization. In retrospect, a lot of what I did, and what I didn’t do, is pretty wildly disparate from what I might have wanted to be doing or not doing, but I tried to serve god, following the spirit and letter of what He commanded.

    And you can say I had a choice – I lived in a nation with freedom of religion and public education, and yet for the first twenty years of my life it was utterly inconceivable to me that there was even a choice to be made. It’s not that I felt trapped – its that my entire world view, my experiences, and most of the people in my life were lined up in such a way that there was no thought that the religion I followed could be anything but true. And losing my religion was more a matter of good luck (got a job in another city so I had less of a religious feedback loop, didn’t get married before I got out of the religion) than good planning or force of will.

    So I’m not sure that you can say someone really has a choice if they don’t believe it’s a choice. For myself, I wouldn’t say that I was oppressed, but I can easily imagine how someone could be getting a seriously raw deal from their religion, and still feel like they don’t have a choice even if they technically do.

    Very few people walk out there with an open mind an look for a religion that works for them. Most of us follow the same religion as our parents, and for a lot of us that works out fairly well. Other times it sucks hard, and people end up working against their own interests, significantly invested in something that’s really not good for them.

    We have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the separation of church and state. These things are a mostly reliable defense against religion doing too much damage. I would certainly rate them as better tools than a ban on all religion or a specific religion or whatever.

    But I do think that Shannon has a valid point – just because someone believes in a religion without physical coercion doesn’t mean that they’re not oppressed (for a given value of ‘oppressed’ which includes acting against your own interests and giving away your power).

    1. TooGoodToCheck,

      That argument could be applied quite well to capitalism, or any other economic system. Or parliamentary democracy. Or the kindergarten through 12th grade school system. Or any of the other peculiarities of any culture or nation, all of which are assumed to be ‘normal’ by the vast mass of citizens or adherents. Which is to say, that the argument may be correct, but does it have value if it applies to every aspect of every human’s existence?

  168. This is the same old debate that’s been going on since the 1700’s – all the ways the West likes to see the Middle East as backwards, brainwashed, thoughtless and violent, because it would be oh so much more convenient for us if they actually were.

    Because then, when we pressured them to be more like us, we’d be doing them a straightforward favor, instead of… whatever really, really odd thing it is we’re actually doing.

  169. @grikdog

    There are certainly flavors of the Muslim faith for which your statement is not true.

    I think what really freaks people out is not the “perfect freedom” which I had not actually heard of before, but rather the fact that there are a non-trivial number of people who would self-describe as Muslim who are really scary dudes, and who are avowedly opposed to freedom for adherents and non-adherents alike.

    Salman Rushdie was encouraged to temper his free will, and he was given a lot more incentive than the warnings of the Quran and the example of Mohammed. There were riots over cartoons published in Denmark.

    That behavior is obviously not representative of most Muslims, but please don’t spout BS about how we’re freaked out by excessive freedom.

  170. Everyone is debating a symbolic piece of clothing while missing the fact that most countries still have laws requiring one to wear a minimum of clothing in public. Only when we are clothing optional will we be free.

  171. Adendum: (Another moderate American Muslim who only wears a headcover to pray again)

    The implication that the choice to wear hijab is oppression due to it being
    (per Str1ken)
    “required by law, and enforced under threat of prison or violence, as part of a larger system to oppress and marginalize women…”

    is fine to make, but it is important not to confuse those things as being part of Islam rather than constructs of nations.

    The problem with the wording of the post title “Are Muslim Women Oppressed” is again an issue of parsing. People can go in the direction “Are Women Oppressed (because they are Muslim)”, “Are Muslims Oppressed (when they are women)”, and the leap that many have seemed to take “Are Women Oppressed (by Islam)”.

    I would argue that there are crappy places to live with respect to local laws, but that those are not inherent to Islam, and it’s kind of silly to do the country/religion bait and switch because there are millions of Muslims in America too. And, if you’re American too, if I’m oppressed, you’re oppressed.

    I tend not to wave the “help! help! I’m being repressed” flag except in Monty Python related jest… though I battle the cruel oppression of gravity every day; just like everyone but the 6 people on the International Space Station.

  172. I haven’t time to read everything at the moment. but here is my two cents.

    1. It’s silly to base the question of oppression on an individual response. Why don’t we take a poll of domestic violence victims to see how many, think they “deserved” it?

    2. Head Scarves are the tip of a really big iceberg. There are many countries where women are not allowed to participate in democracy, get educations, choose if their genitals will be mutilated, who they will marry, or go to a doctor to be tested for breast cancer.

    3. Any woman that chooses to wear the tip of that iceberg on their head every day and thinks they are “as American as anyone else” really have zero sense of American history. American women have fought and died for a century to remove the bounds of religion and tradition so they are as free to dress and socialize as men. My mother fought for women’s rights and the removal of dress codes and so have many American women. If you think watching movies and buying sexy undies is at the heart of what is American you should really crack a few books.

    1. RedShirt,

      The US hasn’t even managed to pass the Equal Rights Amendement.

      The ERA , written by Alice Paul and introduced in every Congress since 1923, failed to gain ratification before its June 30, 1982 deadline.

      Also, the system keeps holding your comments back and I don’t know why. It’s not normal for it to detain comments with no links in them.

  173. Lots of points made about how free Muslim are in the U.S. to believe and to dress as they wish. Of course they are. But that is not really the issue as I see it.

    I think that if you look at the globe you find that wherever organized religion has been allowed to take control, by either becoming the government or by enmeshing itself inextricably with the a government, it oppresses. I think this is true without exception.

    It is the natural tendency of all religions when left unchecked to control oppress.

    Some secular governments do this also. Like China. You don’t need religion to oppress. But religion is one of the best mechanisms for oppression ever invented.

  174. @Antinous

    Yes. If it’s applicable to every aspect of your existence, then that just means you should question everything, and generally treat personal testimonials as being deeply subjective, with limited applicability outside of the worldview of the person delivering the testimonial.

    re Capitalism, yes, the argument applies. I’ve gotten used to capitalism. Is it oppressing me? Am I giving away my power? Do you I better options available? (yes, yes, and maybe but I kind of doubt it). I do think that there’s value in questioning capitalism, even if you think it’s awesome, because maybe it just seems awesome because you’ve never given serious consideration to the alternatives.

    re K-12 school system. I highly encourage thoughtful review on this one, although by the time you do this you may have wrapped up most of K-12. But yes, I absolutely think that K-12 needs an attempt at objective review and a serious consideration of other options. And I also totally believe that just because you think K-12 worked for you doesn’t mean that there isn’t something better, or that it didn’t snuff out a significant amount of creativity and individuality in people who walked out of it thinking they’re totally fine.

    An argument that applies to all aspects of life is just a really awesome argument ;)

    The important thing is to consider where the argument leads. What I get out of it is that personal testimonials (i.e. ‘I am religious and I feel free’, or ‘I am an atheist so I’m more free than you’ are preposterously subjective and they cannot be used to argue much beyond themselves. Also, I conclude that anyone who wants to say that a given religion (or economic system, or political system, or anything else that gets in to your brain early and claims exclusive rights) is or is not oppressive should bring definitions and statistics, or be prepared to be mired in a mess of conflicting and irreconcilable opinion.

    Mostly I just wanted to say that I think Shannon had a valid point buried there initially (which was I think that a subset of Muslim women (A) are passionate believers and (B) are getting screwed over by their religion or getting screwed over by their culture with the complicity of their religion; ergo a personal testimonial is not in all cases going to be airtight evidence of non-oppression), and it kind of got drowned out by whole atheist/fascist/I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I thing.

  175. I think the lesson is fairly clear: please, let us respect individuals and treat them fairly and sensitively in regards to their beliefs while still fighting against societal norms that are against our beliefs.

    So, Mariam Sobh, I respect your beliefs.

    I do not believe society should punish people for wearing a hijab, nor do I believe we should punish people for not wearing a hijab.

    I have a lot of problems with the ways that societies punish people, and I advocate that all countries that mandate clothing should remove this from their laws.*

    However, I recognize that I have a poor understanding of the culture, history, and future possibilities of the nearly infinite societies on planet earth, and so I try to understand a little more each day to reduce that ignorance.

    I still haven’t found a good reason why society should punish a woman for wearing or not wearing certain clothing.

  176. Wow. Bickering over scarves. I wonder if house pets would wile away their lives over such minutiae if they could type?

    When everyone has finally exhausted themselves on this “issue,” maybe we can have a protracted argument over Sikhs and their Kirpan. I think a good, long argument over Kirpan would be a fine way for bored, sheltered westerners to demonstrate both their awareness of the religious symbol as well as their outrage because of something or other to do with this and that.

    Plus it would generate even more hits for BoingBoing. See, I’m always thinking of you guys. ;)

    1. @pinehead, unfortunately, all of this handwringing does nothing for our traffic, so, sorry: even that potentially selfish motivation is not at play. 200 comments may seem awfully dramatic, but that does zero for our pageviews. Sucks, I wish there was some benefit to all the trolling.

  177. I am an American convert to Islam. I wear hijab-for several reasons. I can’t lie and say that I never feel pressured to wear it. Yes, sometimes I do. There have been other times when I removed my hijab and felt my spirituality take a dip. My hijab is part of my daily faith. Wearing it makes me feel closer to God and it keeps me feeling more connected to Islam. Am I oppressed? I don’t know I think I’m very fortunate. I have a hardworking husband who is a decent husband and father. I stay home to raise my children and have a comfortable lifestyle. All of my basic needs are met. Perhaps, we can remember those who are truly oppressed in this world. We debate a piece of cloth that a woman wears on her head while there are people in this world who are so poor that they have no clothes on their back, no food, no shelter, and disearse and poverty have wrecked their worlds. They are the oppressed-not me. I chose Islam as my faith and lifestyle. I chose this life for myself. It’s not a perfect life and there are sacrifices to chosing this life. But, they are sacrifices I choose to make.

  178. In related news:

    It’s illegal in the US for women to walk around topless in public. If they do so, they are subject to arrest, fines and possible incarceration.

    The only significant difference is who’s definition of modesty is being followed.

  179. Eek.

    I think Xeni is totally right on calling out the xenophobia of most of these comments. Many of you seem interested in chastising people (particularly Muslims) for their personal beliefs and arguing that those very beliefs are not held because of their own actual will to hold them, but by a “social brainwashing” from birth.

    Like I said in my earlier comment, we ALL perform our genders based on social systems and guidelines that we hardly ever think about. I cite this phenomenon to simply draw awareness to this issue and it’s prevalence in ALL societies. Gender performance is a part of all of us and one culture’s version of that is by no means “better,” or “smarter,” or “more logical,” than another’s. If you believe that the American way of life and the way Americans perform their gender is any less complicated or socially influenced than that of the citizens of a Muslim country, then you are simply wrong in your assumptions, and I would venture that your ignorance on the subject is upheld by a xenophobia that doesn’t allow you to take seriously the life choices of individuals that you could easily classify as “other.”

    Please. I beg of you. Read Judith Butler. Has anyone else reading this? Does anyone care that people (like Butler) have devoted their entire academic careers to this subject, but this comment thread is full of ignorance-inspired rhetoric? Any Gender Studies majors out there?


    The advantage of becoming aware of one’s personal gender performance and it’s social history is the creation of a more interrogative thinker when it comes to evaluating others. If we all become aware of the roots of our performance, then we can become more accepting of how others choose to perform their gender – and others includes everyone, from transgendered Americans, to straight white men to Muslim women. The study of gender identity and performance is not about getting to a place where one can adeptly cast judgment on another culture or community, but to better understand they systems that create gender performance with the intention of deftly following it into the future with the added responsibility of creating a more tolerant society.

  180. Here’s where I stand: if I’m honest with myself, I think the burqa/headscarf is the most disgusting and tragic symbol of female oppression in the modern world today. But, of course, I would never say that anywhere other than this forum and I almost regret admitting it here. I have to maintain my carefully prepared facade of cultural sensitivity.

  181. This is why organized religion is such a crock of shiite. Christianity is filled with this nonsense too. “Do this”, “Don’t do this”, blah blah, blah. In my opinion anyone who does what someone else tells them to is a weak-minded fool.

  182. Muslimas should feel free to wear the Hijab, but I feel free to denounce them for basically saying to other women (and especially Muslimas who choose not to wear it) they’re hellbound floozies.

    Anyone who tells anyone else they’re deserving of eternal fire and brimstone for any other reason than genocide or child rape ain’t no friend of mine.

  183. @Xeni

    So far we’ve been called racist, xenophobic, and trolls. Perhaps you’d like to compare us to Hitler?

    I oppose the troll label, because that implies people who’ve come here to start a fight for no reason beyond love of conflict, and I seriously don’t think that the comments deserve in general to be categorized as such.

    I’m not sure that I can comment on racist. I haven’t seen anything that seemed to me like it was explicitly race driven.

    Xenophobic, well maybe. I’ve noticed a strong trend towards rabid anti-religionism, which probably qualifies as xenophobia.

    Mostly though, I’d say at least two out of three posts is a good faith attempt to have a reasonable discussion about a hot button issue. It’s a discussion which turned into something of a confused mess, but smearing the entire conversation as racist xenophobic trolling isn’t going to open minds or make people any more comfortable with faiths other than their own.

  184. Any woman that chooses to wear the tip of that iceberg on their head every day and thinks they are “as American as anyone else” really have zero sense of American history. American women have fought and died for a century to remove the bounds of religion and tradition so they are as free to dress and socialize as men. My mother fought for women’s rights and the removal of dress codes and so have many American women.

    Yeah. Just remember that American women have fought and died so that if you exercise your freedom as you see fit, rather than as I see fit, you aren’t “as American as anyone else”.

    Or something like that.

  185. i wear hijab & i love wearing it. nobody forces me to wear. to clear this misconception that muslim women are forced to do hijab i have started a signature campaign on here muslim women who loves wearing hijab can come & put in their comments.

    i launched this site a week back and i already have few comments. hoping this site will change everyone opinion about hijab.

  186. Well, I am delighted to return to find that the biggest problem people found with my post was the number of witches burned. Okay, that’s fine, I stand corrected. I will take the lowest figure offered here, 40,000. Then I will take the other figure that this means that 85% of the 40,000 were women. Fine. 34,000 women were burned as witches because “Religious Authorities” would not suffer a witch to live.

    (I took a “burning times” class as an undergrad and probably hyperbolized the # with no help from anyone, just my false memory. I’ve never even known anyone who was a Wicca(n)? Also, as was also pointed out, I miswrote when I said “Catholic” and “America” since the Puritans weren’t Catholics)

    Okay. Still, 34,000 women…is this supposed to invalidate anything I said?

    Let me be clear about one thing – The fact that I think religion is bullshit would never lead me to treat someone wearing a headscarf or even a full Burqa unkindly. I think it is appalling that anyone would spit on a woman/person for wearing (anything). Why would I add insult to what I perceive to be injury?

    That doesn’t mean that I cannot say that these dress codes are a sign of an offensive belief system that is dangerous to women. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get to argue about religion with my Muslim friends. The Muslim men who own the 99 cent store near my house even bought me a Quran because they said that I was “Too nice to be an American [and that they] didn’t want me to go to Hell(?) because [I] didn’t believe.” They knew I didn’t believe in any God/Allah because I argued with them all the time – but they also often came for dinner at my house where I made sure that what I served was Halal.

    I am not out to hurt anyone, but I have the duty to say that what some people believe is repressive and dangerous crap.

    I think it is important to try to build a better world here on Earth for everyone. I don’t believe that religion helps build a better world in the here and now and, in fact, it makes people put up with crap that they would never put up with if they realized that this one short life is all we get.

    And as far as the separation of Church and the State, ask a gay person in California who wants to marry their partner if religious prejudices don’t interfere with their rights in our so-called “secular” society.

    Religions always take away personal freedoms and rights. Always. We shouldn’t celebrate any of it or put “religiously designated ladies fashions” in a directory of wonderful things.

  187. The rise of a more, shall we say “confrontational”, strain of Atheism in the past few years is easily dateable to 9/11 and the assertion that religion, and specifically Islam, was “ZOMGWEAREALLGONNADIE!” The argument strain became “you moderate and liberal religious people are just as deluded as the fanatics and you give them cover”.

    Even though most suicide bombers were less motivated by religion than by personal vendettas. Endless tirades listing every vile thing done in the name of religion, followed by repudiations and accusations and someone calls someone else a Nazi or claims Hitler was an Atheist/Christian/Pagan/Zoroastrian. 200 posts later everyone is a racist and no one remembers what we were arguing about.

    It’s silly. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have (very nice) books to sell, and their counterparts do as well. Good for them.

    But day to day, moment to moment, neighbor to neighbor, I could care less what you worship or don’t, who you pray to or don’t. Just be happy and try to do more kindness than cruelty.

  188. oh come on now, MOST if not ALL major religions were started by men. their holy books written by men. why? two reasons, fear of the unknown AND POWER.

    a couple of the previous comments hit the nail on the hijab (so to speak). you don’t have to know you’re oppressed to actually BE oppressed.

    it’s NOT ok for women to be dictated to. it’s NOT ok for women to feel ashamed. it’s NOT ok for women to think it’s THEIR fault if someone looks at them.

    this isn’t just a path of islam, it’s a path of many OTHER religions as well. all in the name of a god, but all for the benefit of someone with a penis (and a grand sense of insecurity)

  189. @Secret_Life_Of_Plants

    You’re making a strawman of yourself. You make a categorical statement list “religions always take away personal rights and freedoms”, which has already been refuted in this very discussion (see: satanism).

    Religions can do both good and bad, even if overall they mostly tend to restrict personal freedom, and religious clothing can be a wonderful thing. In the comments about the burqini someone pointed out that the burqini opens up swimming opportunities to women who would otherwise have severely restricted options. Look at it as harm reduction – it’s wonderful!

    I don’t believe in any religion, but I gave up aggressive proselytizing when I gave up organized religion. Zero tolerance of religion is just going to be a hassle. It’s tilting at windmills.

    I just console myself with the thought that people used to take the gods of olympus pretty seriously too. Given enough time, all modern religions will pass, and the big ones will be remembered in whatever passes for textbooks in the distant future, in the section on ancient mythology.

  190. @danlalan, #105

    “I may not agree with what you believe, but I’ll defend to the death your right to believe it.”

    amen to that. whatever floats peoples’ boats, be they muslim, FSM or atheist, is their business (as long as they don’t hurt others).

    if someone wants to wear a headscarf, that’s their business and their business alone.

    the world isn’t a beautiful place, but it is worth fighting for – most of the world is majorly messed up, but it doesn’t mean we need to get all antsy because people around us are somehow different.

  191. I’m surprised and somewhat saddened by the amount of Muslim-bashing provoked by the mere (trivial) mention of hijabs and modest bathing suits.

    I’m also encouraged by all the more enlightened posts, but would all the bashers please get a grip: It’s not for you to decide why Muslim or Christian or Hindu (or non-religious) women (or men) dress the way they do, and it’s not for you to have an opinion about it.

    So get a grip, get real, live and let live.

  192. In the comments, I keep seeing, “Now now, dear, I know you think you’re not oppressed, but why don’t you let me decide that? Just give me that silly old head scarf, and I can tell you why what you think is silly and wrong.” It’s the same kind of coddling, infantilizing crap all the would-be male empowerers are supposedly railing against, but Mariam is being treated like a child because she’s a Muslim, not (only) because she’s a woman.

  193. I find it hard to believe people still aren’t getting it and seem to be to daft to comprehend these two statements:

    “Believe me if I didn’t think it was required I WOULD NOT be wearing it.”


    “I’m thankful that I have the life I do, where I can practice what I believe and not worry about anyone forcing me to do something against my will.”

    GOLDMINEGUTTD seems to be the first offender in this thread. No, it’s not proving your point. She is not being forced or oppressed into anything. It’s just like ANY other religion. She has complete, 100% free will to not cover her head. She is not being forced to do it by anyone other than herself. She does it to be faithful, it’s mandatory because her God said so and yeah, she might rather not but because it follows her faith, she does it.

    There are many instances of this exact same thing in every other religion yet no one wants to freak out and scream ‘OPPRESSION!’ with them. Many Christians would rather not wait until marriage to have sex, many Jews would rather not fast, many Catholics would like to not go to confession but the tenants of their faith say they should so they do. Does that mean they are being forced, oppressed, or are doing anything against their will?

    No, it doesn’t. It’s the same thing here and that is exactly what is meant by those two statements. I wish she had worded it differently because people seem to lack reading comprehension and want to knee jerk and twist it into something they incorrectly think fits their ignorant argument.

  194. “Some Muslim women wear the headscarf and some women don’t. Some Muslim women choose to wear their headscarf in a way that conforms somewhat to today’s fashion and some prefer to go old school. It all comes down to personal interpretation and understanding and that’s perfectly fine. We’re all adults, we’re all responsible for our own actions.”

    Not in Saudi Arabia they don’t. There’s no choice there at all.

    And they’re not treated like adults there, either. They need an escort outside the home like little children.

  195. One could argue that western muslims are not oppressed because they have free choice in whether to wear head coverings or not. on the other hand many eastern muslims are oppressed as wearing a head covering is required by law.
    So perhaps the answer is western muslims aren’t and eastern muslims are.
    does that muddy the waters a little?
    add the fact that the koran doesn’t specifically mention head covering and that makes it a male religious/political rule.
    it makes no sense to analogize the ‘chubby girl’ scenario feeling pressed to cover up through ‘oppressive advertising’ as there is no legal requirement for her to do so.
    not so a lot of eastern countries

  196. Pixel’s got it about right.

    Think about this: a non-Muslim woman in Saudi Arabia is required by strict law to cover her hair and have a male escort, regardless of her wishes, her religious beliefs, or her nationality.

    How is this not sexist oppression?

    We can talk all day about Muslim women living in western countries who freely choose to cover their hair. Fine and dandy. Go to countries where Muslims are the major force in the government and where Muslim men (yes, men) make the laws, and see how much choice is involved.

  197. boy, everyone’s so liberal & for freedom of choice, until the freedoms others choose (which in no way affect anyone else’s) are too foreign & freaky. get over your self-centred, insecure selves & think about living your own lives the way you want to live them, & grant others this opportunity as well.

    …reminds me of the futurama episode about wrestling, where a booed & hissed at “evil” contender was named “the foreigner”: “i’m not from here! i have my own customs! look at my crazy passport!” grow up, people!

  198. I second posters #1, 2 and 3.

    Adding to poster #4
    It’s not about muslim women not having independent thought. Have you considered what the consequences of making you own choices in some of the countries that have been discussed are?
    And I’m not talking about the stoning.
    The same as in any harsh religion. Decide not to wear the burqa (and I find the burqa offensive, the hajib seems a little better) and everyone you know will disown you. You will be thrown out.

    Mariam Sobh, who writes the above article does not live in a society where she would get stoned for removing her scarf. Perhaps she wouldn’t even get disowned or banished. She would still know that she is ignoring the prophets words and will never see his grace.
    She has a choice, she lives in a place which gives her choice. Not everyone is that lucky, and some of those clothing items are representative of the countries where these choices are not given.

    I am firmly against banning anything, especially a piece of clothing. But I live in a country where I am allowed to voice my opinion, privately and publicly. Mariam lives in the USA which also allows her choice, opinion and voice. I was glad to see her opinion, although I do not agree with it.

  199. It sort of disappoints me to see this dawahganda on a site that seems to pride itself as being more non-theist oriented and certainly quite irreverent. Disappointed me enough to register for this site, since I thought it likely the OTHER side of “Muslim women’s voices” wasn’t being heard.

    Like “Anonymous” Muslim, I was a Muslima. I wore hijab and jilbab and abaya. Choice? What choice is there when the community is shoving it down your throat, throwing around hadiths that tell you that you’ll burn in hell if you don’t wear it? When you are told that “god said so” in a very ambiguous and grammatically unclear verse of an ambiguous book that you are not allowed to question. It’s a lot better today than it was 10 years ago; even the salafis and wahabis today realize that they need to moderate their approach towards Muslims and non-Muslims alike in the wake of 9/11. The women coming into adulthood after 9/11 should both realize and thank those of us who were adults prior to that date, because we are the ones who struggled with the extremists in our community who were run to ground or chastened by what their ideological cohorts did. The community was *MUCH* harder on women, both in dress and behavior, prior to 9/11. That is a reality. But Aman, and “anonymous” let’s not pretend like women today aren’t still put under enormous pressure and guilt to wear it and to behave in certain ways. And that sometimes this pressure is greater or lesser depending on your race and economic status in a very stratified, classist, racist community.

    It *WAS* oppressive, but it is almost forbidden within the community to talk about how hot you are, or how you dislike standing out. We offer up the hatred that we suffer as evidence of the superiority of our system in the face of kafir hatred. We are there on the front lines to “represent Islam” and “show the people what Islam is all about” because god knows the Muslim men certainly aren’t doing it in *their* dress.

    The reality is that today, the hijab, post-1979 *is* a political tool and symbol, within the Muslim community, something that Aman, and HijabTrendz and “anonymous” don’t want to talk about – if they are even willing to recognize it themselves. Prior to the mid-80s, how many women in the Arab countries other than Saudi were even wearing hijab? No one wants to examine and deconstruct this recent history OR the influence and power of the Saudi wahabi and salafi establishment and the influence of the arrival of the Muslim brotherhood in Western countries over the Muslim world between 1979 and 2001. The reality is that Muslim women who wear it are elevated to a higher status of piety and morality over women who don’t – and the Muslim community, with the exception of more secular, liberal families, makes sure that the non-hijabis know it.

    Even these threads, and the way it has come about are a bow to Islamic patriarchy. Muslim women were talked *about* by a Muslim male, as they often are when used as a symbol or for deliberate provocation. One or two people claiming to be Muslim women spoke up anonymously. Then, our benevolent brother brought in another woman’s voice – she didn’t arrive here on her own, nor was she invited on her own merits as a blogger or intelligent adult. Why, it’s just like when Muslims have a convention or conference, and you have the token female speaker, the token African-American speaker, and then everyone else is an Arab or Pakistani male.

    It is the same thing, every time, when “Muslim women” are up for discussion. And certainly no one is going to raise the point that Muslim men often use “their women” as a means to engage people in conversation about their religion, and float the idea that their religion is a wonderful thing that you’ve just misunderstood until now. At most other times we are irrelevant and invisible, our issues are “minor issues” and dismissed in favor of the larger concerns of the community, like reaching out to a church or doing dawah.

    I even noticed, when I first read Aman’s blog the second week of Ramadan, how invisible the Muslim woman was there, how absent she was from this enterprise, how the problems Muslim women encounter trying to access the American masjid were barely mentioned at all. Certainly one would not see many photos of women enjoying their iftar on his blog. Do you ask why? Because the men in the community wouldn’t allow it (he’s not even allowed to peek in to “their” area) and the women would, by and large, be angered by it, as many believe it is a sin to be photographed or looked at by a man even in hijab. I would reckon neither him nor Bassam even asked at any point if they could visit the women’s area or photograph the women eating. They know it is a taboo.

    But he’s getting a lot of attention and free press from mentioning a Muslim woman today, isn’t he?

    The best “choice” I made as a Muslim woman was to follow my conscience and leave Islam, in spite of the threats against my safety and the alienation and shunning I experienced from my family and my peers for doing so. It was a choice I made despite the threats of hell and earthly harm against me. Not like the choice one makes to wear hijab because if you don’t, you will burn for eternity. I may no longer have my family, and I certainly no longer have my Muslim “friends”, but I have my freedom, and I have the sun in my hair, and nothing beats that.

  200. By the way, I do think women like Miriam Sobh should be applauded for doing what they are doing within the constraints that Islam places on us (women). It wasn’t that long ago that wearing western style clothing or trying to be fashionable or wear colors other than black and brown was very frowned upon in the Muslim community and there was tremendous amount of pressure on women to wear jilbabs and abayas, which are like coat dresses and robes or long dresses. It wasn’t that long ago that sisters who chose to try and dress the way Miriam dresses today were shunned or even banned from their masjid for doing so. Dressing hijab and not wearing abaya is not an easy thing to do, and I do support that sisters like Miriam are trying to make it a little easier for women who wear hijab for whatever reason to not look so, so out of place.

  201. a) The woman saying she would not wear it if she had a choice in the matter says everything. She might be happy to wear it because she believes it is mandatory for her faith which she wants to follow but it’s still a requirement put upon her.

    b) I am well aware of MANY women I am close to that are strong evangelical Christians who also do a LOT of things that they would never do naturally to appease their religious mandates. Just because they are religious mandates does not mean they are not oppressive or negative or self harming. I am SO tired of watching the people I love beat themselves up for natural behavior because it’s “sinful”. Just as I am shit sick of hearing that muslim women should cover themselves up so as not to cause a man to have sinful thoughts. Yes because he shouldn’t be responsible for his OWN thoughts at all.

    c) While I have much respect for Xeni and her thoughts in these discussions, I did want to mention something. Going back to the burkini thing, I do not suspect many necessarily want muslim women to become uncomfortably immodest with what they wear to the beach, but the burkini does stem from a mandate that says women have to cover themselves lest a man sin. Its beyond absurd that a woman must dress in a certain way to protect a man from his own thoughts. It is NOT her responsibility to adjust her whole life so as to suit a man. That is what personally infuriates me about it. If SHE likes it all on her onesies, all the power to her but as we have seen this is usually not the case.

    I feel the same way about all faiths that impose mandates on others while abdicating from personal responsibility and it bloody well fetishizes the female body.

  202. poster #21 actually made a good point.

    I want to make it absolutely clear that I will not walk up to Mariam in a confrontational manner. I love discussing with sensible people but am aware of my own fallibility.
    Tradition can be good, being forced into tradition is bad. Simple.

    Poster #220
    “grow up people”
    That’s one of the nice things in our countries that we may have discussions, even disagreements and …..our own opinions (which may actually be flawed)
    This is not (just) about those weird foreign customs. It is about basic human rights. Which Mariam has, but women (mostly women) in many of the muslim dominated countries do not have.
    So, #220 (PIILE) get your head out of your ass and read the comments, try to understand what is being discussed, and be silent when grown ups are speaking ;)

  203. >>Are Muslim Women Oppressed? Ask One.. a strict muslim country!

    Might be a more reliable source – if you are able to get an answer at all.

  204. This was the G20 weekend and we are discussing esotic “fashion”?!

    I see that Muslim customs recently got torrents of comments on BB so I think it’s important to remember that:

    It’s meaningless to try to be logical when talking about superstitions (religions) with people who believe in them…

    This is even more true if you are talking about fashion!! Mamma mia: have you ever tried to discuss about fashion with your girlfriend?!
    Do you really think logic can be applied?!

  205. Atheism is by definition dependent by Theism,
    and thus bound by the same duality.
    A step aside for perspective
    could be the beginnings of liberation.

  206. Big difference between being happy and free to wear what you like in the West, and countries that force the hijab or headscarves by law or oppressive culture.

    Reminds me of that woman who’s going up for possible lashes for the deadly sin of wearing trousers. Not even any flesh revealed? Stupid.

    Happy for those who have the choice and want to exercise it, don’t follow nor understand/support your beliefs for various reasons , but hey knock yourself out…but for those that don’t, I think it IS an issue.

  207. Oh and for those trolling the ‘it’s my/their life/religion, none of your business’ argument, I’ll remind you of that next time fundies (Xtian, Muslim or whatever) call for me to be killed because of the way I live my life as a gay man.

    That’s why it IS my business while teenagers in Iran are hanged, for instance. Respect my and their ‘lifestyle’ and I will respect yours, capeesh?

  208. She can wear whatever she wants to, this is a basic human right, I will defend the freedom of an individual to wear or not to wear whatever they want.

    What I am not clear on is why there are differences in how the men and women are expected to behave to feel they are being observant of their religion? What is the reasoning behind these differences?

    I do not believe in religion perhaps I haven’t been blessed with the belief or faith necessary, but we are all related, however distantly as brothers and sisters, why should man made dogma stop us all living together as brother and sister all put on the same ball of rock to share equally.

  209. It’s simple and clear as water is. Has nothing to do with religion, but with orthodoxy.

    In this XXI century international laws say that women have rights and that no longer have to obey to men. Majority sees burka as a form of oppression. An “uniform” will always be an “uniform” and people can identify one. Those that don’t want to use those “symbols of the Past” will always oppose to them.

    I remember in my childhood the catholic widows using black clothes and be very covered from feet to head. Morally oblige by that society (majority) before and still then, those widows were dressing that kind of clothing every single day. That was the social code back to that times. But the things changed. Nowadays those black widows are rare.

    Pick up the example of any other orthodox woman from any other religion dressed like that and you will understand what I mean.

  210. The problem with Islam is that it aims to make religious belief (Islamic religious belief that is) the cornerstone of our social and political life.

    If you want to see how this works you just have to look at the Muslim paradises of Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia as well as at the stream of pearls of wisdom dished out with gusto from Muslim countries (chopping hands and beheadings from the medieval spheres of Islam, beatings or jail sentences for dressing immodestly in some moderate countries, or denial of freedom of religion even in countries where it is enshrined in the constitution of the country).

    In the few countries where sanity was enforced (Turkey, bits of Malaysia and Indonesia) the forces that would want to see us all adhere to such norms are never far away, ready to try to impose their retrograde, medieval points of view.

    It is very easy for a Muslim person living in the West to claim they simply are exercising their freedom of religion, while at the same time we can see how the eventual implementation of such faith (which I am sure is an aspiration for most Muslims) will obliterate democracy, women’s rights, and in even more derided regimes, even access to education and health for women.

    That is what the covering of the head means to many of us: a political statement of intent of where Muslims want our societies to move, and frankly many of us just don’t like the idea.

    If people that love liberal traditions let this retrograde point of view progress without appropriate challenges in the intellectual arena, it will encroach itself in Western conciousness, setting back women’s rights and democratic principles.

    This lady can claim whatever she feels like claiming, the fact is that she has to cover, men don’t have to do to the same extent, and in general it will be men who decide if her level of modesty is adequate or not. That she can’t see how this simple fact antagonizes the most simple of liberal democratic values is mighty telling.

    I rather prefer to deal with Muslims that are upfront about their belief that Islam and Liberal Western Democracy antagonize each other. Parting from this, to me self evident truth, we could reach ways to interact fairly with each other, but I am very uncomfortable with Muslims that contrive liberal values in order to advance illiberal points of view.

    That is why the head scarf is so controversial. It is a political symbol, not just a personal statement.

  211. “I myself wear the headscarf and I do so because it’s something I believe is mandated in my religion. No one is forcing me…”

    These two sentences are non-sequitors, and the very nub of the issue.

    “It is ‘mandated'”, but it isn’t “forced”. Really?

  212. Although the rhetoric can be overwhelming, I respect that a lot of those arguing against this are opposing patriarchy and oppression. The more men that support equality, the better!

    But those that oppose the *imposition* of religious garb need to know that it is enforcement, not existence, that is the problem here.

    Charge the man who beats his wife rather than banning the woman who covers herself.

    Outlaw ‘female circumcision’ but empathise with the daughter/mother of a practice she knows no alternative to.

    Maybe we can’t change behaviour in Islamic theocracies, but we can promote freedom for Islamic women in the West, by both supporting them and their choices, whether or not they want to break from their culture. Isn’t that what freedom means?

    Also: Headscarves are equally worn by Islamic women and babushkas.

  213. My observation so far:

    Muslim women who want to follow the teachings of the Prophet and the word of God are being hounded by overly sensitive people, who themselves beieve the Muslim women are being oppressed because they wear the headscarf or other traditional attire.

    So what that mean is that we should be equally sensitive about horse-drawn buggies in Lancaster County Pa? What about those funny curls on the side of the head of Hasidic Jew men? What about dressing up for powows in our native American celebrations?

    I mean, cut the crap. Let them be for crying out loud. That is the most civilized, democratic thing to do.

    Oppession you say? Are they being threatened in any way if they don’t wear it? Then it is oppresion, but you must leave it alone. It is their choice to be oppressed or to get out of it. Stop meddling in other cultures/religions.

  214. Wow, so many unintentionally ironic comments.

    There are two issues.

    1) A woman should be free to wear what she wants and believe what she wants, so long as she doesn’t try to force her choices on others. As such, if you freely choose to believe in islam and freely choose to follow a rule that may exist in that religion, then that’s fine. There is no oppression here.

    2) In many countries, it is not a free choice (see Iran, watch ‘Persepolis’) and women are restricted in what they wear.

    The right thing to do is change the cases where (2) applies into cases where (1) applies. Many posters here seem to want to do the opposite and force free people to follow western cultural norms.

    To be consistent, I would advocate removing all dress restrictions (when not at work, etc.). It seems odd that it is illegal to be naked. Of course, removing that law would cause no measurable difference in public nudity since few people want to walk around naked.

  215. Clearly, there are some with such a deep-seated jealousy that they would use ridicule to deny others the joy of wearing cool hats.

  216. So many people missing the point …

    So nobody is forcing Aman Ai to wear or not wear anything, in the USA. Well that’s just peachy. Try pretending that in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan and see how unoppressed you are, then. Good grief!

  217. #222 signy, well said, thank you.

    there is a lot of heat flying around in this discussion, fairly naturally, but it is great to hear your point of view, because yours is the one that has not really been raised till now.

    Especially because yours is the kind of voice that this followup post seems aimed at glossing over. I think most boingboing readers would agree on the principle of universal rights & respect for all, but this post seemed aimed at squashing the legitimate voices of dissent against the inequality of many Islamic tenets & regimes.

    Maybe the hijab/burkha issue is a debate Mariam is tired of, but until dodgy (male) regimes around the world cease using Islam as a tool to control their women, it’s one she is going to have to deal with, unfortunately.

  218. #222 and 223 Signy

    Thank you for that viewpoint, and that very well written post. Better written and more to the point than my ramblings, as well as having more credibility.

    Again, thank you.

  219. Since everyone else seems to be commenting on this, I might as well to: Every person in this country has the freedom of choice. Or at least they should. We are free to choose our own religions, and we are free to choose what we believe, even if that means covering your hair.

    And just because someone chooses to show an act of faith that may be different than your own, does not make it wrong.

    I’m surprised many other religions don’t find Christianity barbaric. It actively promotes cannibalism (at least symbolically). To think eating the body of Christ, and drinking his blood is supposed to put you right with the big sky daddy.

    Kind of makes putting on a scarf relatively tame in comparison, doesn’t it?

  220. Signý: she who gains youth from battle/victory.

    Old scandinavian name, found in the Icelandic Sagas, still popular in Iceland as well as existing in many countries where the scandinavians (often wrongly called vikings) traveled, traded and worked.

  221. Common threads
    From a chaotic weave
    My burqa’d babe
    Be simply grateful

    For the lack of rockets
    So dons garments
    Of ridiculous attire
    In this clime and place

    While Kabul breathes
    Suppressed perverse
    Straight jacket fits
    Seemingly less violent now.

    An aesculapian widow
    And her daughters’ dreams
    Like surgical gloves,
    In the kitchen, sink.

    Now secondary, desire
    To spiritual sustenance,
    Or religious zeal?
    She forgets..

    Friday murders
    That biblical jest.
    Humour recedes.
    Like humanitarian law,

    The peacemakers
    And the analytical west
    Toward resignation.
    Hardly civilised, she smiles.

    But nonetheless
    The children need feeding.

  222. “Think it was required”. For religious reasons. Where is it in the Koran? From the reading I’ve done, the covering of hair, face, etc. depends on the culture of the area, NOT upon Koran writings.

    And, let’s see, the Bible, the Torah and the Koran ALL have crazy stuff in it NOBODY follows. Let’s get real. All were written thousands of years ago, and are FICTION. They have some good ideas, but I think Buddhism has the best – if you don’t take it too far and begin worshiping Buddha!

    You can be moral, ethical, believe in God and NOT belong to a ‘religion’!

  223. There was absolutely no inconsistancy with what she was saying. She said she chose to wear it as she beleives it is in line with her religion. All these are about decisions and choice. Of looking at the information and deciding for yourself.

    All you people who are syaing she’s proving your point are just showing how ignorant you are and just skimming to find any word that fits your argument.

    She said the reason she would not want to wear one is because of the bullying and harrassment she gets over it. So where is the tyranny coming from? Not from the reasons she cites for wearing one. It’s from everyone who constantly berates her for her choice over it instead of just getting over it and moving on with their lives.

    When someone is told that they must not wear something, it’s just as oppressive as being told they have to.

    Why not widen the supposed “debate” into why we should feel compulsed to wear or not wear anything?

  224. I’m glad you wrote it! I just hate reading (some) of these comments. I think this has little to do with us (Muslim women) and more to do with what makes the anti-hijab folks comfortable. Conformity seems to be the rule of the day even in the most “progressive/liberal” camps. On one hand, there are those who come from a school of feminist thought where any sign of gender difference means that someone is being oppressed. What they fail to realize is that no theory is universal.

    There are more ways to look at something than from within a Eurocentric paradigm-so that anything that falls outside it is easily labeled as “oppressive” or “abject”. For instance I come from an ethnic group of women who, for no religious reason, are prone to throw a scarf or wrap on. Dudes also like to cover their hair. My grandmother always covered her head with a hat or wrap. So the transition for me into headcovering was not as difficult because culturally it already represented a type of aesthetic. But if you only view Muslim women from one type of paradigm (typically Arab or Persion living in a dictatorship) you will not understand that each of us have a different path.

    It is strange how the most non-religious folks become the most dogmatic in protecting “their” ideals. Sounds a little fundamentalist if you ask me!

    As a young Muslim teen I never thought I would wear hijab-I carried that feeling all up into my 20s and then something changed. I wasn’t around any family, I didn’t have to go to a masjid, I was living free in NYC a la Sex and the City. In fact I was never forced to do anything my whole life. I made the choice. That is not everyone’s story but I can only tell my own.

    Another thing about hijab-it’s cute! It’s wonderful to wear. It’s fashionable. I don’t shun those girls who just love the look/feel of being wrapped up simply for style. The material feels gorgeous wrapped across the body. As my sweetie often says “it’s a perfect frame for a beautiful face.” By the way my sweetie is a Muslim man who covers his hair with a smaller covering every day. Where’s his crusade???

    While you all continue contemplating my oppression I’m off to live my life out loud. I’m a hijabi for life-deal with it!

  225. Why don’t people get this worked up about Sikhs? They have to wear turbans as part of their religion and no one goes on about them being oppressed.

  226. First, some have been comparing the states, Europe, Australia, etc to oppressive regimes. Should we? If we feel these are such, what should we do, if we really love human rights (as a country, I mean) as much as we say we do? We are all up in arms lately about Iran, surely an oppressive country (and on a side note, let me say, I think that despite all the hand wringing over the clerics, we preferred that over the leftist who were part of the revolution, but were pushed out by the Aytollah), but not Saudi Arabia, and why not, when they clearly have a human rights record on par with Iran. What about Egypt, a “secular” regime that is oppressive or Jordan (no free press). Why are we more up in arms about regimes that actually have some democratic practices (Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian terrirtories, even Iran, though that is now debatable, have more democracy than Saudi Arabia, etc, yet these are “bad guys”) than those that do not. Maybe a more effective strategy in regards to women’s rights in places like Saudi Arabia, which depend on the US to stay in power, would be to push for a policy that reflects our values. Maybe it’s because human rights are not really our values, as a country, at least. It really is our policies that allows Saudi Arabia the sort of latitude to push it’s repressive brand of Islam on other Muslim majority countries.

    Second, I think Signy brings up some important points that need to be discussed, some of which are tangentally part of my discussion above, but I think she should tie that to US policy more than she does, which actively supports such depostic regimes (presumably because we still have a mindset which assumes “Islam” and “Democracy” are mutually exclusive categories – this will continue to be true as long as people who have a certain political POV, Bernard Lewis are where policy makers go for information about Islam). I think this is the heart of the problem in the first place, and in fact you can see a rise in so-called “Islamism” in places that were colonized in the late 19th into the 20th century. A good deal of the isms that seem to plague our world begin in the late enlightment period that saw a rapid imperialist expansion and the rise of the ethnically pure nation-state as the only political entity in town. Despite propaganda to the contrary, the Ottoman world was a far less despotic place than modern Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran or even Jordan. Someone brought up the tax that non-Muslim ottoman subjects paid, saying to go read the wikipedia page about it… well, sure, they paid a tax, but their boys didn’t get sent off to war nor were they forced to convert – which, I’ll point out, was not the case in places colonized by catholic countries, BTW. Don’t forget that when Jews and Muslims were forcibly ejected from what is now spain, they went to the Ottoman empire… And don’t give me the whole “slaves to the sultan” nonsense in regards to Christian boys conscripted, cause, as I think I pointed out, many of those boys were eagerly offered up, and went on to basically rule the empire, rising to position of grand vizier, in some cases (at times a more powerful position than the sultan himself).

    Third, there seems to be this view that Islam is some how never changed over the years, has always been this way and that it is practiced in far the same way everywhere, so it’s stuck in the medieval period. No. If anything the oppressive streak of Islam is actually sort of new to it. From what I can gather, debate and learning was hsitorically important to Islam, and frankly still is in many quarters of the Islamic world. As many have pointed out, Islam is just as diverse as Christianity is, and how it is practiced has changed over time. As Signy pointed out, the hijab as a political tool is a new thing.

    Someone also said that the rise in sort of militant atheism being so vocal is post-9/11, and I mightily agree. I sort of dislike atheist/agnostics being represented by blowhards like Hitchens. He’s a smart guy, sure, but he comes off like a jerk, with no empathy what so ever and is just as eager to impose his view on others. How is that any different from militant religion? I have no interest in that whatsoever. I like my religious friends just as they are, because they give me a different perspective on the world, expand my horizons. Why in the hell would I want to hang around with a bunch a losers just like me. ;-)

    Either way, I’ve really dug these debates on these threads, so thanks to Aman for posting the original one, even if some people have devolved into name calling, and some seem to have a very uninformed view of the religion of like a billion people in the world (which is a scary thing, if you ask me) and of world history. Maybe they learned something new these past couple of days…

  227. Wow, do these posts, counter-posts, arguments and and comments (as well as the original post) REALLY MISS THE POINT ENTIRELY!!

    The author herself makes the real point:

    I’m as American as anyone else, I watch movies, I read celebrity gossip, I shop at Victoria’s Secret, I work outside the home, I’m pursuing my dreams, the only difference is that little piece of fabric I wrap around my head. Big whoop.

    For those who talk about women being forced into submission, that occurs everyday all over the world regardless of religion and it’s very sad indeed. If people try to use Islam as a way to manipulate women then those individuals are sick and twisted.

    At the end of the day I’m thankful that I have the life I do, where I can practice what I believe and not worry about anyone forcing me to do something against my will.

    The hijab itself is not a controversial item at all. Neither is the swastika, right? I mean, it’s just a little crooked cross, right? What’s the biggie?

    As Aman noted, she is fortunate and grateful to live in a free society where she can choose to dress as she pleases: hijab, burqa, panda suit, semi-naked…whatever.

    I don’t have to recount here, in how many societies (not exclusive to ANY religion), this is not the case.

    The problem, of course, is that one of the main offenders lately are the VERY LARGE populations of people where Aman would be caned and whipped, beaten, stoned, or have her face washed away with acid, were she to try to exercise any of the freedoms she now takes for granted.

    And for much of the world, the hijab is an in-your-face reminder of the restrictive dress codes (the mildest of crimes against women amongst far more serious crimes) perpetrated by those societies against their female populations.

    Yeah Aman, I agree: it’s unfortunate that the symbolism of the hijab and the reality of life for many Muslim women is in confluence right now. We live for the day when women in those societies can enjoy the freedoms you do now.

    Maybe on that day the hijab can finally become what it aspires to be. Just a piece of cloth.

  228. For people so interested in their own privacy and rights, y’all certainly have a lot of things to say about a woman’s personal choice.

    “That’s why it IS my business while teenagers in Iran are hanged, for instance. Respect my and their ‘lifestyle’ and I will respect yours, capeesh?”

    “grimc, she points out in those statements what an unfortunate lose-lose situation many Muslim women are… really damned if they do, damned if they don’t. All the more reason to stand up against it.”

    “At best, it’s a horribly regressive clothing style, at worst, it’s like a nazi-armband.”

    “Abused women are often the loudest defenders of their abusive spouses, who they genuinely love with all their hearts. I could go on and on. The oppressed are often the loudest voices claiming that they are not oppressed and arguing for the oppression to continue.”

    Really guys? By the way, people who are angry that the headscarf is SYMBOLIC of oppression: I’d like to point out, that you’re here on the internet while humans are being made slaves, humans are being raped and murdered, and dictators are actually being ‘oppressive’. If you’re going to blame her for the problems of middle eastern countries, well, you human beings BETTER GET CRACKIN’ on all the other evils going on in the world.

  229. The long and short of it is this:

    Americans don’t understand modesty.

    If you are not showing off everything your maker gave you, it must be because someone is making you hide it right? I mean, even if it’s subconscious/cultural/historical, surely if everyone had the choice, they would show off everything?

    I put on my oppression one leg at a time, like everyone else!

  230. I come from an evangelical Christian background.

    While I no longer believe, I still understand the underpinnings of belief. A lot of my previous beliefs entailed “not doing things”. This was not imposed on me externally, it went with the belief set I had chosen.

    I read the comments above that would refer to this as oppression, regardless of the fact that it had been my choice.

    I am quite amazed by people external to a specific belief set not admitting that they too are affected by external belief sets, whether that is societal, educational or upbringing (I’m sure that there are more). You could argue that we are all oppressed by our own beliefs.

    None of us are truly free thinkers, regardless of what we would like to boast.

  231. Dear Xeni,

    in your crusade (pun maybe intended?) for multicultural tolerance of diversity, anti-conformism, antifascism etc, which I wholeheartedly support and enjoy; you seem to be forgetting that there is conservatism and a potential for intolerance in every culture!

    It has always existed and will unfortunately probably always exist. A way to fight this intolerance and conservatism in your own culture, isn’t to adopt and embrace the conservatism of other cultures. Instead embrace other aspects that celebrate the difference just as well, but don’t perpetuate the vicious cycles of oppression certain conservative mentalities cause.

    You don’t need to tell me (someone who was punched by police during anti-nato protests), that the West is quite problematic and that the colonial mentality still unfortunately subsists. So please don’t dismiss me as just being another racist or xenophobic American (Islamophobia isn’t exclusively American btw, and I’m not American).


    “On one hand, there are those who come from a school of feminist thought”

    Thanks for at least mentioning these people. It adds a little more depth to the conversation, other than “you’re against the hijab you must be racist” à la Xeni.

    There are so many aspects to talk about. There is feminism, feminist mentality and philosophy. Then there’s of course modesty over time and cultures. Values of religions. Similarities between religions, traditions, etc.
    Also, colonial influence of the West on non-western countries. There’s also the cold war, and the current American soft-power. And more importantly the recent 9/11 attacks and their effects on how we view the Muslim world. And more.
    To put it all under the umbrella of Xenophobia is just sad and not very constructive. IMHO.


  232. 1). Part of abuse is often the mental domination or oppressions of the abused. Related to that, there is well-documented evidence for “Stockholm Syndrome.” Finally, it is known that the abused often defend their abusers. If the charge is that Muslim women are oppressed by Islam (or a specific strain of it), there may be issues of epistemology involved with the acceptance at face value of the assertion by a Muslim woman that she is not oppressed. On the other hand, who better to know whether she feels oppressed than the woman herself: taking away one’s right to self-knowledge is at least equally oppressive. Thirdly, some Muslim women may and others may not feel oppression stemming from the same set of circumstances. Thorny question.

    2). I go a step further and contend that all religious systems are inherently oppressive to some degree.

    3). I like the quote by Nikolas Sarkozy: “When I enter a mosque, I take off my shoes,” he says. “When you enter a school, take off your veil.” Religious expression, in liberal society, has no right to trump the equal treatment of all in the eyes of the law. Likewise, Government has no right to intrude on private-sphere religious expression and participation.

  233. “Some Muslim women wear the headscarf and some women don’t. Some Muslim women choose to wear their headscarf in a way that conforms somewhat to today’s fashion and some prefer to go old school. It all comes down to personal interpretation and understanding and that’s perfectly fine. We’re all adults, we’re all responsible for our own actions”

    I thank this woman for her comments, but they are of no help to me. For me, it’s not about the hijab (in fact the original discussion is not about the hijab either), it’s about choice.

    Clearly, she is free to make hers. My heart soars for her. However, she must admit that many are not free to choose at all – whether on threat of violence or because they do not exist in a world that offers them a choice – this woman does not live in that world. NO CHOICE – that is what I disagree with. I feel certain that she is not comfortable with that either.

    “We’re all adults, we’re all responsible for our own actions”

    Now this I believe – this to me, makes sense. And so, men are responsible for their actions in the presence of the opposite sex – regardless of their perception of modesty.

    For me, temptation lives around us and within us – how we comport ourselves, both externally and internally, in the face of this is the measure of our strength of faith.

  234. >The US hasn’t even managed to pass the Equal Rights Amendement.

    > The ERA , written by Alice Paul and introduced in every Congress since 1923, failed to gain ratification before its June 30, 1982 deadline.

    We haven’t exactly hit the pinnacle of equality, its true, but one of the central principles of america in my mind is freedom and getting more free.
    I think volunteering to wear the uniform of a society that oppresses women in a number of ways is pretty counter to that.

    And I don’t really buy the, “its a different culture” stance. In many ways it is the same culture. The pilgrim women weren’t dressing like that for fashion or practicality. It was the same religious doctrines from the same part of the world. They declare women property and that husbands should be able to keep all other men from ever looking at their wives.

    We have moved on from requiring that type of subservience from women. Cultures may have different views that are sometimes just different, but sometimes one idea is just better than another. Liberty over subservience is one that clearly wins out.

    Maybe for some women the head covering is just a symbol with no real life impact, but for many others it is part of a pretty profoundly bad situation. In the process their faith is used as a weapon against them.

  235. Of course its a political symbol. religion is a political structure.

    on this ongoing thread we saw again and again the mentioning of Iran, and then the counter argument that one should not cite as example the worst regime. But that is the point, Iran wasn’t always like this, it had a vibrant liberal population and yes… women who ware free to dress as they pleased. that is not the case anymore, oppressive religious So please stop with this tired line, its a personal choice, not a political statement. the personal is political.

    You are free to dress as you please, its your right, but understand that this specific dress code is oppressive to many who do not wish to dress this way, and do not have your choices.

    When we see people wearing the confederate flag, it is well within their rights, but their political views are literally visible for all to see. Maybe Islam gets a bad rep, but it is not on the whole, completely unmerited.

    we are living in a society that the right to abortion is still very contested. It would be nice to hear a solidarity from Muslim women to this cause, and help the overall political image.
    give some take some as they say.

  236. I myself wear the headscarf and I do so because it’s something I believe is mandated in my religion. No one is forcing me …

    A lot of people seem to be pointing out this line and stating it goes in two different directions. But I tend to find more of an emphasis in her overall piece in the “I believe” part before the word “mandate”. It seems to be her personal flavor of the interpretation of Islamic teaching, and therefore is something she came to choose to do through that interpretation. It’s still a choice for her at that point. Other people can interpret whatever she read that led her to that decision as something more liberal to boot. I for one am happy that more modern followers of Islam are reading and interpreting the Koran for themselves instead of depending almost solely on an Imam for it (as, at least according to my reading of “No God But God” by Reza Aslan, had been the case for a very long time).

  237. >>Yeah. Just remember that American women have fought and died so that if you exercise your freedom as you see fit, rather than as I see fit, you aren’t “as American as anyone else”.

    That’s right, we fight for freedom for all even those that don’t seem to appreciate freedom. Her statement of being “as American as anyone else” was clearly in my view some attempt to say she shares our values. My point is that she clearly thinks American values amount to materialism when really she doesn’t share several of our most central values.

  238. It’s all relative. I love my bikini, but would be mortified to have to go topless where it can be the cultural norm in some places. I don’t wear my bikini for religious reasons obviously, but there’s also a bit of cultural relativism here.

  239. the thing that sticks out to me most from the original thread, was that there was a lot of discussion. Some of it pretty out there or baseless from both sides, but it was interesting and educational.

    what i saw was the host site kind of feeling that because something was contentious, or that people had strong feelings about it, they had to follow up with posts showing why they were wrong to hold that opinion.

    Xeni seems to get upset when people have their opinions on this. I’m on the other side of the debate as her. but not 100% so because i know its a very complex issue and not every woman that goes swimming in a burqini is oppressed. I further know that not every woman in an islamic nation that goes out without covering her head will be immediately set upon, raped, or murdered.

    but i do think there is an oppressive root to the garment, just like i think there was an oppressive root to the fact that i (growing up catholic) was taught about what hell was like, and what types of love were wrong, and things like masturbation was a sin.

    I wasn’t taught these things in an oppressive atmosphere. It was definitely one of love. but i do feel the ideas were oppressive. I feel that way unapologetically and yet remain friends with my friends that are still catholic.

    coming out with an anecdotal video of one muslim womans view on oppression is about as fruitful as filming me, or one of my still catholic friends and asking if they think catholic doctrine is oppressive. you’re bound to get different answers and both people are likely to be right AND wrong on different points.

    What concerns me is not that some people think “OMG the burqini is EVIL and must be DESTROYED” it’s the general reaction to the fact there was controversy at all. Discussion on matters like this can be fruitful and educational to both sides, with MOD’s sticking around to ref the discussion and make sure that it doesn’t turn into a flame war. I didn’t see it turn into one in the first thread, but i didn’t stick around for the 100’s of comments long discussion.

    But Xeni’s first comments came much earlier than that and she seemed to have immediate and negative opinions about the PEOPLE who disagreed with her. Not the opinion itself. She made a quip about the gender and race of the people probably holding the opinion.

    While i’m not a fan of the garment, i don’t begrudge anyone who is. I see their points, just as i hope they see mine, and we don’t have to attack each other, especially not calling out presumptions about race and gender to have a discussion on it.

    Is this cool?

    I tried to be completely fair here. Hope it wasn’t out of line.

  240. also to be fair I want to point out exactly how embarrassing the comment that followed mine seems to my argument.

  241. Ironically, I think the anonymous Muslim woman on the burkini thread has done a far better job of expressing her opinions then this blogger.

    I’m an open-minded practitioner of non-Abrahamic spirituality. I’m also an ex-nun (Discalced Carmelite) and spent several years wearing a full habit and veil.

    I got as far as:
    Believe me if I didn’t think it was required I WOULD NOT be wearing it.”


    I myself wear the headscarf and I do so because it’s something I believe is mandated in my religion.

    If this is really what you believe then you are oppressed. Not by man or society but by your own attitudes toward Deity. If a hijab really is just a “little piece of fabric I wrap around my head” and you can’t understand why people care about such a petty thing, then why should God care either?

  242. I’ve been working as a teacher in Muslim nations from Southeast Asia to the Middle East for most of the last decade. I have a professional interest in respecting – and being seen to be respecting – the beliefs of my Muslim students and colleagues. I am often the recipient of such amazing kindness and embarrassing generosity, and I credit Islam as a positive force in their lives.

    I find that much of what they believe does not stand up to logic or even corresponds to what the Koran actually says – and Islam is not the only religion with logical flaws. But part of being a decent, tolerant human (and keeping my job) is not pointing out their inconsistencies or ever asking them to defend the logically indefensible. This is especially true in light of the fact that none of them chose to be Muslims and – more importantly – none have the legal right to renounce or change their religion. Legally, they have no choice but to love their religion and their substantial obligations.

    But with respect to the thread’s title, I report the following facts, which I believe to be more relevant to the question than the testimony of a Muslim woman in the US:

    1. In every country where I have lived, women are prohibited by law from dating. Authorities hunt and arrest Muslim women who are found in the company of unrelated men. The men are punished, but the women are punished even more.

    This was the case both in SE Asia (“khalwat” in Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia) as it is in the Middle Eaat, where I am now. Authorities wait in the bushes in the dark to catch people holding hands. Their successes are well promoted in the local papers.

    2. In classrooms and meetings with both men and women present, the men always sit at the front, the women at the back. This is also the case in mosques.

    3. In one class a few years ago, I asked students to suggest lively debate topics on slips of paper. One female student offered the following topic:

    “If men can marry up to four women, why can’t we women marry up to four men?”

    I read the slip, thanked the student for the very provocative question, and quietly suggested that such a topic would probably not be good idea for any of us.

  243. I don’t see how she is making contradicting statements. The scarf is mandated by the religion she has CHOSEN. I’m sure lots of people would rather not go to church at 6am on Sundays but not everything is supposed to be convenient.

  244. I have to say, I’m offended at the narrow-mindedness that Xeni and others have put on display here, where they imply or outright state that if you’re not a muslim woman, then you have no (or little) right to voice a negative opinion of these laws.

    I’m with the person who said “gee, I don’t know if it’s sexist. What do female Muslim clerics say about it?”

    Hey, why don’t we get Ayaan Hirsi Ali to address the question, you know, as a counterpoint?

    At least she gets past Xeni’s requirement that commenters who disagree with her need to not be white male westerners.

  245. Some people are missing the point, as to the coverings, in fact it isn’t an issue of modesty exactly. It is about placing blame on females for men wanting them. If it was an issue of modesty, then you would not have fashion in coverings. Moreover it is not adaptive to the different cultural norms of the west and the koran fails in its “main” goal, modestly, because it fails to appreciate what modest is in the west.

    Let us look at the quran (koran) and what it says (translated to English and yes I do know that the Islamic people say about that) –

    O you Children of Adam! We have bestowed on you raiment to cover your shame as well as to be an adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness, that is the best. Such are among the Signs of Allah, that they may receive admonition.
    (Quran 7:26).

    And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear therof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband fathers, their sons, their husband’s sons, their brothers, or their brother’s sons or their sister’s sons, or their women or the servants whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex, and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O you Believers, turn you all together towards Allah, that you may attain Bliss.
    (Quran 24:31).

    O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.
    (Quran 33:59).

    Anyone getting the picture here? It reads like the old improper legal argument – she meant to be raped/harassed because she was wearing such arousing clothing.

    Moreover it imparts a negative connotation to men – that we cannot handle speaking to women without being aroused.

    Why is this important? Well the religious edict is a poor one since it aims to control action rather than reinforce modesty. To put this another way – it misses the point since it not only does not account for changing times and places, but also allows for the gaming of the rules.

    The women still try to arouse men via makeup and jewels and “pretty” things. They still fail to
    make themselves like other women. And perhaps most importantly they reject the honest attempts by westerners to treat them according to the intent of the koran – as people rather than sexual objects.

    Truth in the west is expressed by looking into another’s eyes, and a business relationship is sealed via a handshake. These are our modesty cues in the United States that transform women into people.

    I understand tradition of other cultures, and religions, but realize that we have our own culture and it is at times extremely insulting to some if others are not sensitive to it. You would not insult a host in his own house? You would try to see why he does things rather than imposing your perceptions upon his household?

  246. :But Xeni’s first comments came much earlier than that and she seemed to have immediate and negative opinions about the PEOPLE who disagreed with her. Not the opinion itself. She made a quip about the gender and race of the people probably holding the opinion.”

    This is what pissed me off more than a fucking burquini.

  247. “I myself wear the headscarf and I do so because it’s something I believe is mandated in my religion. No one is forcing me…”
    Sorry, but “BS” This “voluntary” “choice” to wear the Muslim muzzle will soon be “voluntary” for every other woman, too. Have you see what our women MUST do when they visit countries run by these fanatics? Our newsbabes and ambassadors all MUST wear this. So MUST all of the women in these countries.
    Be tolerant of these folks, and your daughters will have their heads wrapped. Try walking in one their “free” neighborhoods.

    I didn’t realize they had mass number of troops in our country, or that Muslim majority countries had some sort of major power over us… Oh wait, they don’t… But WE DO. I think you need to check the power dynamics of the world for just a second. Do you plan to go to Iran or Saudi Arabia any time soon? Just like I can not go to China as I feel they are an oppressive regime with a bad human rights record, you can choose not to support these regimes with your wallet as well. Don’t go there, then. Which countries are you talking about anyway, because the only countries which force all women to wear the hijab seems to be Saudi Arabia and Iran (I’m frankly unsure about some of the Emirates, Yeman, Kuwait, etc). An egyptian friend once told me his mother used to walk around Kuwait during ramadan with a short skirt eating Ice Cream (presumable without a Hijab). There are no such laws in many other Muslim majority nations – I’ll point to Kosova, Albania, Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey as just the most obvious examples – all US allies, BTW. And as others pointed out, does oppression because you follow the mandates of your religion include things like Lent, keeping Kosher, meditation, and casting a circle? Because if it doesn’t in your opinion, perhaps you should reassess your knowledge base about Islam…

    I think people need to realize that there is not ONE MUSLIM WORLD!!! It’s a diverse place, that includes Europe and the US. Get over this “clash of civilizations” nonsense. Every Muslim in the world is not out to get us… It’s not reality and it’s probably a far more dangerous view point for all of us than a Muslim woman wearing a hijab of her own choice…

  248. Participation in an organized religion is a political statement, no matter which faith. Those who believe in organized religion choose to follow a suggested set of rules put forth by tradition based loosely on archaic texts and customs. It is hypocritical for anyone who self-identifies with any organized religion to judge the traditions of another, period. As an atheist I can’t even imagine entertaining the idea of not developing my own sense of morality, but if choosing to follow ethical and moral guidelines someone else created makes you feel some degree of goodness or rightness about your existence I completely your right to do so.

  249. Btw, this debate would not occur if BOTH sides did not have a point despite neither of them being fully applicable.

    The notion of “chastity” has followed a similar course as modesty here, where the self and the “gift” of both have been vested in the innocence of spirit rather than the cleanliness of the body. (Stern, H. (1966), The concept of chastity in biblical society. J. of Sex Research, 2:89–97.)

    Moreover the controversy is akin to virginity in today’s society and the potential stigma that attaches to it.

    Again I think the real issue here is lack of understanding – if you follow a belief follow it. But don’t confuse a requirement of an action, with the requirement of a belief. That said, most of this could probably be solved with a good meal, mutual respect, and BOTH sides trying rather than being defensive.

  250. TZCTLP
    The problem with Islam is that it aims to make religious belief (Islamic religious belief that is) the cornerstone of our social and political life.

    And how is that different to Christianity?

  251. Arkizzle@268 — Be careful you don’t make the same mistake some of the anti-Islam posters here are making. Christianity doesn’t “aim” to do anything, because it is not a single-minded thing. It has no will. There are only Christians and Muslims, some of whom want their religion to have a stronger influence on politics, and some of whom don’t.

  252. For me the issue has little to do with hijab and everything to do with niqab.

    I agree completely with Ms. Sobh regarding her points about hijab.

    Frankly, I don’t find this a major issue. Even in a red state like Oklahoma — where I am from — the conservative governor of the state sided with Muslims on the issue of wearing hijab on driver’s licenses.

    The niqab is a different, more contentious (and thankfully, less prominent) issue.

    Wearing a mask in public violates MY rights, which is why people aren’t really allowed to walk around in malls, or work as bank guards or public school teachers while wearing masks over their faces.

    I do not think that modesty and religious freedom should be used to justify something like the niqab, even if one Islamic school of thought requires it.

    Rights awarded to everyone is fine, but there is precedent for curbing religious freedom of those who ask for special privileges, such as polygamy among Mormons or drug-related rituals or customs among Native Americans and the Rastafarian. Personally I see nothing wrong with doing drugs, per se, but I don’t think people with unique belief systems should be exempt from laws that affect people who are not members of those belief systems. If Mormons get the right to polygamy, everyone does. This is why polygamy is illegal even if it’s clearly a violation of religious freedom since Mormonism and Islam are both very clear and unambiguous about polygamy.

    A common tactic when addressing this issue is to engage in tactical conflagration of the issue of hijab vs. niqab — a typical argument for defending the right of Muslims women to wear masks as they go about their daily routines is to apply the same argument about modesty and religious freedom for the rights of Muslim women to wear hijab AND niqab.

    That argument is not transferable for reasons I already explained: if I don’t have right to do it I don’t think it’s right to award special privileges. (I can wear a hijab if I want as a non-Muslim, it might look weird but it’s not illegal. However, I cannot enter a movie theater wearing a ski mask.)

    France is absolutely right in this regard. There is a civil contract that says everyone has a right to recognize others, to look them in the face, to be able to identify them. As someone who works with some women that wear niqab, I can attest to the feeling of discomfort I have when I engage in face-to-face dialogue. It is unfair, and, I might add, also condescending to think that just because I’m a man I will sexually covet a woman merely by looking at her face.

    Frankly, if a woman is SO austere as to feel immodest by showing her face, what right does she have to demand to be a public school teacher wearing a mask (as happened in the UK last year).

    At some point, Islamic feminine modesty and a woman’s access to the public and to employment collide. And isn’t that the whole point? The more uncomfortable women are with strangers, the more likely they will stay at home, make babies, cook meals and not venture into places that might harm the precious, delicate reputations of her male relatives. It’s no coincidence that the abayya is BLACK and originated in very hot countries.

    1. There is a civil contract that says everyone has a right to recognize others, to look them in the face, to be able to identify them.

      I didn’t sign that contract.

    1. Fascinating how many commenters can’t even distinguish between Aman Ali (male, guest blogger) and his friend Mariam Sobh (female, video subject). Why it’s almost as if people were in such a hurry to broadcast their pre-conceived notions that they barely looked at the subject material.

  253. No one complains about people wearing the crucifix as a pendant. No one forces Christians to wear them. It’s just like the Hijab. People wear them by choice. Just like the Jews who wear yarmulkes, or kippas on their head, it is by choice. Siks wear turbans.

    Don’t be stupid and start talking about oppressive countries. That is a completely different issue.

  254. @danlalan

    “Are you Sarah Palin, by any chance?”

    Riiighhhtt, Sarah Palin is a huge women’s rights activist.

    I don’t encourage any laws or policies that discriminate against anyone regardless of their views and I don’t think of those with different views as lesser Americans. On the other hand if you ask me what the core American values are I would list freedom from oppression as pretty central principle to the creation and growth of our Nation.

  255. Like you didn’t broadcast enough preconceived notions yourself. As much as I respect you as a moderator (probably one of my favorite over many blogs and forums), I dislike the way you Xeni, and other BB peeps handle and talk about this issue. It’s not the fact that you disagree; it’s how you disagree.

    1. failix,

      From my point of view, there are a lot of brain-washed cubicle dwellers screaming bloody murder about how a bunch of Muslim women are brainwashed. Do you really think that religion is stronger cultural indoctrination that a lifetime of television and computer games? It might seem like liberation talk to you, but to me it reads like: OTHER OTHER OTHER DO NOT WANT!

  256. Head covering, or really any other religious garment worn by adult men or women, is just another external cue signifying the wearer believes in child-like fantasies.

    They should be treated accordingly….Like children.

  257. Check out post #269 if you haven’t already

    Yeah, agreed that Xenis intolerance of differing opinions was not at all pleasing, and very surprising. She should understand that this is a topic which people have opinions on, and the disagreements on the topic span cultures, religions, political views and gender.

    This is an open forum, and some of the comments have been very interesting, even some of those that disagree with me ;)

    My opinion has not changed greatly but I have seen other peoples views on the matter. The discussion has been interesting, mostly on topic, and generally not too vicious.

    I thank everyone who has posted for taking time out and spreading their thoughts.

  258. Antinous,

    Your reading is not correct or even appropriate, because the rejection of particular otherness for specific reasons is not the same as a blanket rejection of all otherness. If BB suddenly became a bunch of Christian fundamentalist apologists, I’m sure you’d get a very similar backlash. To drive it into the ground, just because others don’t include what you want to include doesn’t mean they’re racist/sexist/gibbering idiots.

  259. @redshirt77

    My apologies, you are clearly more intelligent than Sarah Palin, but the flag you have yourself wrapped in confused me for a second.

  260. Failix hits it dead on. As did Ofindustry and Toogoodtocheck and others.

    Boing-boing mods are very busily buzzing around here telling other people how they should talk about this issue. While at the same time they are intermingling their own preferred opinion that we should hold.

    And it’s gotten to the point where one has spilled over to the other, and there’s awfully broad-brush condemnation of (for example) having an opinion that contradicts Xeni, while being a white male.

    Antinous, while you’re busily trying to get us commenters to better introspect our own opinions and behavior and interaction, is any of that introspection on the agenda for the boing-boing staff?

  261. It would be nice to hear a solidarity from Muslim women to [abortion rights], and help the overall political image.

    Kaay…in order to avoid getting harassed about their hats, Muslim women need to, as a group, become vocal about an issue that even Christian women are not in solidarity about. Sounds like a fair deal to me!

  262. Regardless of boing boing staff views, everyone criticizing religious beliefs as being “brainwashed” are, to misquote a famous carpenter’s kid, casting stones as if they themselves aren’t brainwashed.

    We’re all brainwashed in different ways, and even the most modern scientific-minded agnostic atheist blah blah blah is full of prejudices brought on by their own myopic viewpoint, personal psychological limitations and cultural upbringing. Mariam Sobh’s choice in attire is as freely chosen as your own choices in believing there is no sentient creature who created the universe. If you tell yourself you arrived at that belief on purely objective grounds, you’re bullshitting yourself. You can question and criticize the logic behind the philosophy, but to start judging people as being brainwashed and stupid is to reveal a complete lack of perception about yourself and human beings. Grow up and try some humble pie.

  263. God does all this because he is a betting God. It all starts with: :I bet ya Andromeda that I can get this joker to eat an apple in under 15mins.”

    – “Throw in 20 shekles and you’re on!”

    And now you know the rest of the story…


    Head covering, or really any other religious garment worn by adult men or women, is just another external cue signifying the wearer believes in child-like fantasies.

    They should be treated accordingly….Like children.

    I’m guessing that 95+% of the worlds population have religious beliefs. You get to change the diapers, this is your idea.

  265. Antonius said: “From my point of view, there are a lot of brain-washed cubicle dwellers screaming bloody murder about how a bunch of Muslim women are brainwashed. ”

    Really? Who in this thread is, in your opinion, “screaming bloody murder”? Point to the exact posts where you think people are screaming bloody murder?

    I’ll admit I skimmed some posts, but I don’t see it. I do see a good deal of histrionics coming from the BB staff.

    What I think is going on is that one side is having a particularly pointed and often thoughtful debate, and the other side is calling them racists and xenophobes et cetera.

    “Do you really think that religion is stronger cultural indoctrination that a lifetime of television and computer games?”

    Um, what? What garbage equivocation is that? Is your argument really ‘oh YEAH? Well YOU’VE got a culture too, so you’re not exactly unbiased!’

    Seriously. Is that your argument?

    This is a really interesting issue, that brings up lots of great points on all sides. It’s really meaty stuff, that brings up issues of feminism, cultural relativism and the very notions of free choice in a world where religion is seen as both indoctrination AND liberation.

    I think you’re freaking out over nothing. It’s an internet discussion. No big whoop. Why are BB staff acting like this is something to be ‘managed’?


    you could say the same thing about people who love to read books that take place in outer space, are set in the future, or feature dragons and fairies. You gonna tackle THAT one on boing boing?

    Your statement may or may not be true, but fine. That’s an opinion. Proclaiming they should be treated like children is just a hypocritical, dick move.

  267. The Man always makes me wear a cup when I play violent sports. But I can’t get a scholarship and pull myself out of the ghetto if I don’t play violent sports!

    HELP, HELP, I’M BEING OPPRESSED! Can’t you see the violence inherent in the system? I’m being FORCED to WEAR an ARTICLE OF CLOTHING!

    To me, the athletic supporter symbolizes the world-wide denigration and subjugation of persons with muscular ability. Why, they even call us “jocks!” It’s wrong, and there oughta be a law against forcing me to wear a jockstrap.

  268. As several others pointed, this thread suffer from a very confusing title. And Mariam doens’t help by conflating burqas and hidjabs in her argument and by quoting *one* interpretation of the Quranic modesty prescriptions among many as *the* unique and intangible truth…

    BTW, thanks to Hot Shot Hamish (#42 and 102), Anneh #98, Coaxial #104, Bellanatrix #131, Anonymous muslim female #183, Signy #226, Phoenicks #228 and F. Fondi #232 and for making some very good points.

    Too bad Xeni seems to have gone for the “OMG atheists saying bad things of religions, they are acting all racist to the nice Muslim apologists, bad atheists, no cookie!” kind of reaction one doesn’t really expect to see on BB. Ah, well. Nobody’s perfect. Especially when it comes to fashion, where sense and sensibility are definitely unrelated!

  269. “Do you really think that religion is stronger cultural indoctrination that a lifetime of television and computer games?”

    No, and that’s exactly my point. I can agree with you on this sentence, and still disagree on the headscarf.
    I think there were some pretty good points made by people other than angry atheists, who argued from a different angle than “religion vs atheism”.

    As much as I hate Sarkozy’s politics (and Sarkozy himself), as I hate the fact that so many muslims in europe or america are being treated very badly in their daily lives, just because they are muslims, and often just because they look different dress differently etc, I think there’s a valid point to be made when some say that to wear the headscarf isn’t necessarily an o.k thing. Not all have good points worth to be listened to, but some.

    Some might say different things against it, for different reasons. But you can’t just claim that they are all biased, brainwashed, xenophobic etc. Many are, that’s for sure! But not all! And those who aren’t often make points that are worth to look into.

    I myself tend to categorize a lot on BB, that’s just what you do on the internets, and it often works. E.g. Somebody saying something like “he should have listened to the police officer if he didn’t want to get raped with a stick”, in a thread about police violence is very likely going to be an asshole. You have to deal with lots of those…
    But with some rare subjects (like headscarf) these categorizations simply don’t work as easily and aren’t helpful at all.

    I understand you probably have had many of these discussions on BB, and after a while you get used to a certain style of argumentation, even tired and sick of it… (as I write this, others probably don’t help to get my point across). But this is such a complex issue that it’s just a waste IMO to present it in such a subjective way.

    PS:Notice: I’ve never had any problems with how BB handled previous subjects before, and am very happy with the moderation policy (I’m actually thankful not to be banned ^^), this complaint is mainly about this particular subject.
    I can’t ask Xeni not to blog about things how she sees them (that would be against the point of blogging things), but I think I can ask her to reconsider her positions on this particular subject in a more open-minded way… at least I hope I can…

  270. @ Str1cken: Re the jizya (and all other discussion of the dhimmi status): please, not another can of troll bait! If only because it’s not specific to islamic law. Did you know that until around the year 1800, Jewish people in several European countries had to pay an additional tax per capita simply for being Jews and having in a Christian state or town? And there was another tax when they wanted to travel.

  271. @Irene Delse – Thank you on your mention of Jizya/Dhimmi status, etc! I’m glad I wasn’t the only one thinking about such things. I’m glad you brought up taxes on Jews in European countries, as well. I’ve generally been of the mind that Ottoman Jews had it better off until the modern period (when you had laws that actively integrated them). As one of my professors is constantly yelling — CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT!!!!

  272. The reality is that today, the hijab, post-1979 *is* a political tool and symbol, within the Muslim community, something that Aman, and HijabTrendz and “anonymous” don’t want to talk about – if they are even willing to recognize it themselves. Prior to the mid-80s, how many women in the Arab countries other than Saudi were even wearing hijab? No one wants to examine and deconstruct this recent history OR the influence and power of the Saudi wahabi and salafi establishment and the influence of the arrival of the Muslim brotherhood in Western countries over the Muslim world between 1979 and 2001. The reality is that Muslim women who wear it are elevated to a higher status of piety and morality over women who don’t – and the Muslim community, with the exception of more secular, liberal families, makes sure that the non-hijabis know it.

    Just like I posted in the “American Burqini” thread. See, people, we must hear the voice of the ex-Muslims – and of the liberal Muslims thinkers who want to “upgrade” their religion to the 21st Century. Not only the apologists for a so-called “traditional” religion.

  273. Let’s see, religious authorities tell a woman she MUST wear a hijab, so we will give her her freedom by telling her she MUST NOT wear it. Hmmm, I don’t quite see how this represents freedom either. Surely the free woman (or man) is one who can wear whatever she (or he) wants. If that happens to be a hijab (or a turban) I don’t see the problem. The problem is surely coercion, not a specific garment or style of dress. Applying the opposite coercion hardly solves the problem of coercion. I’m about to don my hooded raincoat (because it’s raining) but, as a white male, no one is going to question my choice to cover my head for whatever reason. It should be the same for all.

  274. Yeah, but Irene, I think that we also have to understand the point of view they are coming from as well. Ex- anythings often have an act to grind and they may spin things in a way that is not accurate (not that this can’t happen the other way, too). I think I and many others feel that not all Muslims who practice traditionally are oppressed and that the hijab/burqini is not necessarily a sign of oppression, especially when worn here in the states. I’m all for change, but who is to mandate what should change about the religion, those of us who are not Muslims? The religion should be responsive to those who are members, not to some external force. Can you see how us pointing our fingers and talking about and at them would make many reentrench themselves in tradition (especially given some of the extreme views of Muslims in the US in some places, some very vocal ones, too)? what if you all you heard about whatever group you aligned yourself was how you were all backwards, oppressive, mean, stupid, brainwashed, wreckers of civilzation etc (of course, Throbbing Gristle sort of wore it as a mark of pride, didn’t they… but that is neither here nor there)? I would further argue that the religion has changed for those who live here. I’m sure they practice quite differently then those in other places. A product of Islam not being mandated from one place (no matter how much the Saudis would like that to be true). Overall, it’s extremely problematic to try and assign a group view to the entirety of the Muslim world (which you have to admit, some are doing here), as there is no single overriding commonality, other than Islam, in it’s many guises, itself…

  275. Roy, which authority tells ALL muslim women that ALL muslim women must wear a hijab?

    Certainly Mariam is not so told, she makes the decision for herself.

    I believe you are talking about the rules of certain states. A fairer argument would be to confine your point to the countries in which this is true, and not make it about Islam itself, just as Creationism is not a feature of Christianity, only a subset of it.

  276. A woman needs her husband’s permission to leave home.

    The status of women’s testimony in Islam is disputed. Some jurists have held that certain types of testimony by women will not be accepted.

    Honor killings are more common in Muslim-majority countries.

    Women are not allowed to engage in polyandry, whereas men are allowed to engage in polygyny.

    Generally, women are not allowed to lead mixed prayers.

    Islamic jurists have traditionally held that Muslim women may only enter into marriage with Muslim men.

    The probability of victim getting a respectable single or married status in the society is rare, especially if she gets pregnant due to rape. So, the majority of cases are neither reported nor brought to court. However, the stringent requirements for proof of rape under some interpretations of Islamic law, combined with cultural attitudes regarding rape in some parts of the Muslim world, result in few rape cases being reported; even the cases brought forward typically result in minimal punishment for offenders or severe punishment for victims.

  277. @danlalan

    **My apologies, you are clearly more intelligent than Sarah Palin, but the flag you have yourself wrapped in confused me for a second.**

    Honest mistake.

    @Roy Blake

    **Let’s see, religious authorities tell a woman she MUST wear a hijab, so we will give her her freedom by telling her she MUST NOT wear it.**

    I don’t think the hijab is really the issue at all. The question of the day seems to be, is the hijab and similar garments symbols of oppression even for women that choose to wear it of their own free will. Some of us argue that it is. Americans are free to wear any number of symbols of oppression around, we just don’t have to think its a good thing. I am not going to tell anyone they are going to hell.

  278. Also the posts to this article spell out exactly why there will NEVER be peace in this world. Mine! No Mine! Ad nauseam ad infinitum.

  279. If a totalitarian Christian theocracy arose somewhere in the world and forced all of its female citizens to wear a cross — on a necklace, or on a charm bracelet, say — would you try to tell American Christian women that they should no longer wear crosses?

  280. I SAID:

    There is a civil contract that says everyone has a right to recognize others, to look them in the face, to be able to identify them.

    #293 REPLIED:

    I didn’t sign that contract.


    I didn’t mean a literal contact, silly! I meant it in the Rousseau sense of “social contract”.

    But my point boils down to this: Abayya, hijab, gloves, all the other stuff is a religious right, and I will defends that like a good American should. (If you haven’t noticed, religious tolerance — dare I say acceptance or embrace? — of hijab is far less of an issue in the US than it is in places like France, Tunisia and Turkey.)

    But for me the niqab (the veil over the face) is a deal-breaker for what I and many people — including many Muslim men and women I know, and I know more than the average American — believe are very legitimate reasons.

    I’ve met Muslims born and raised in the Middle East and Pakistan who have said pretty off-color jokes about the mentality of women who wear the entire body cover (and the mutawwa men who do their gender-appropriate equivalencies, like the short thobe and fist-length beards, kneeling as they drink water), especially regarding the phenomenon of recent converts who try to go to the extremes in their faith to prove their fidelity. These are jokes and comments I would never repeat, but my point is (besides there are mean people everywhere) that the niqab is a fading phenomenon that a vast majority of the world’s Muslims do not believe is mandatory.

    It does, however, have a political element. And I truly believe this is an issue that must be dealt with carefully, because if we don’t the niqab will become (if it hasn’t already for some) a political statement and an act of defiance rather than modesty.

    You may not agree with any of this, but if you can’t see the logic in the argument, I recommend stepping back. While you’re thinking about this very legitimate point by secularists and others in Western society, perhaps you should read (or re-read) Rousseau.


    1. And I truly believe this is an issue that must be dealt with carefully, because if we don’t the niqab will become (if it hasn’t already for some) a political statement and an act of defiance rather than modesty.

      People do get defiant when you get all up in their grille. Veiling has become heavier and more mandatory every year as the West encroaches in the Middle East. Check out Islamic customs before Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt. Just like the War on Terror has been Al-Qaida’s number one recruiting tool. At what point do we recognize a failed strategy and leave people alone to sort things out for themselves?

  281. Xeni @200
    Well, crud. I didn’t know you guys didn’t see any benefit from all the activity. I didn’t mean to infer selfishness on you, either. I was just looking for a silver lining in all the noise.

    *troll troll troll*

  282. If you’re wearing what you want, and have the choice about whether to do so or not, then you’re not oppressed.

    If you are one of a group of girls who die from smoke inhalation inside a burning school because the people in charge will not let you out in public until you can put on the legally-required hijab: that is oppression.

    Don’t assume that just because Muslim women have the freedom to choose their clothing in a free country like the US, that they have that freedom everywhere.

    To be honest, people don’t have the ability to go naked in most countries, so most countries are oppressed a bit.

  283. @Arkizzle:

    Mariam does say that she believes her mode of dress is “mandated in my religion”. That’s what I meant by religious authority. Of course state authority can be a lot more draconian. However, my point was that whatever “authority” mandates the wearing of particular clothes, using some other authority to prohibit or disparage wearing those clothes makes no sense at all from the point of view of increasing someone’s freedom. In case there is any misunderstanding, I’m very much in favor of Mariam’s right to wear whatever clothing she feels comfortable with, for whatever reasons she feels sufficient. I’d hope that everyone arrives at their decisions about dress, and about other much more important aspects of life, freely, as I’m sure she did, but even if not, forbidding a particular mode of dress does not add anything to the cause of freedom. In other words, BB folks, I’m on your side! I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear before.

    1. Siamang,

      Perhaps you should read some history before entering the discussion. The Middle East was subdivided by Western governments at the end of WWI in a fashion meant to be optimal for controlling it. That subdivision is one of the major causes of conflict there and throughout the world.

  284. Everyone upset that this woman is wearing a headscarf, please go find a Christian woman who believes the Bible says she must not wear pants, and harass her as well. I have known both types of women and while I would not choose either path, I still understand how a person’s faith can give them reason to do so.

  285. @ DAS MEMSEN

    “Your statement may or may not be true, but fine. That’s an opinion. Proclaiming they should be treated like children is just a hypocritical, dick move.”

    Hypocritical? How so?

    Treating adults who believe in child-like fantasies like children seems like a relatively reasonable reaction.

    When they prove that “God” measurably exists, then I’d be happy to modify my attitude.

    Until then, if they don’t like it. Tough s@#t.

    Also, talking about what those scraps of cloth worn on their heads “represent” seems to be the exact same thing as discussing which brand of floss the Tooth Fairy recommends?


    The Dick

  286. Why would the invisible man in the sky worry about what your wear on your head? Surely you must recognize that at least some portions of your mythological traditions are the inventions of man?

    Self oppression is fortunately the least painful and the easiest to overcome.

  287. I’m incredibly late to this discussion, but somewhere near the top someone asked about the exact nature of verses in the Qur’an concerning dress. I’m by no means an expert on the subject, I thought I would contribute what I can from my notes from a class I took last semester.

    From what I know the verse most heavily concerning clothing in the Qur’an occurs in Surah 24, Verse 31. According to the english translation by Majid Fakhry, the verse is thus:

    “And tell believing women to cast down their eyes and guard their private parts and not show their finery, except the outward part of it. And let them drape their bosoms with veils and not show their finery except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, the sons of their husbands, their brothers, the sons of their brothers, the sons of their sisters, their women, their maid-servants, the men-followers who have no sexual desire, or infants who have no knowledge of women’s sexual parts yet. Let them, also, not stamp their feet, so that what they have concealed of their finery might be known. Repent to Allah, all of you, O believers, that perchance you may prosper.”

    In the same Surah, Verse 60 also deals with clothing:

    “Those women who are past child-bearing and have no hope of marriage are not at fault if they take off their outer garments, not exhibiting any finery, but to refrain is better for them. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing”

    Thus, the mandate is to cover their “finery”, which, depending on the definition of the word in Arabic, could be interpreted fairly broadly. However, this verse alone is not the origin of the tradition of veiling. The Qur’an itself is not the only source of the traditions of Islam, but also the Hadith, which are essentially sayings of the Prophet as related by his close followers, and also the Sunnah of the Prophet, which is a word that is similar to habit, or usual practices, in English. Since Muhammad was the Prophet of God and was therefor, one would suppose, a more pure man than the rest of us, it is supposed that by following his traditions and habits that you can become a better Muslim.

    This is all very relevant because the wives of the Prophet were heavily veiled themselves; erego, to veil oneself is to follow the tradition of the wives of Muhammad, and to be a more devout Muslim. It is also worth noting, from a historical perspective, that the women who had traditionally been heavily veiled were upper class, such as members of court, whereas the lower class women who were always engaged in some type of labor were rarely able to don such elaborate trappings and perform their duties simultaneously.

    I would also like to throw in that it is not just women who have requirements of dress; men do too! For example, a man who walked into an office wearing short sleeves would be at the very least told to go home and change or, at the worst, arrested for exposing his bare arms.

  288. Anonymous @ #335,

    If the punishment is carried out, Kartika would become the first Muslim woman to be caned in Malaysia…

    Given that imbibing alcohol is illegal for both men and women, is the fact that she’s the first woman to be caned evidence that Muslim men are oppressed?

  289. In many Muslim countries, the fact that which rules will be followed, which ones will be allowed and which ones will be refuted in full is like a tug-o-war between the secular and the traditional.

    Growing up in Turkey, I have seen many unfortunate examples of this. Same people who talk about removing the ban of hicab in public institutions will be also the ones who will remove alcohol from any restaurant or nightclub they can. Next thing you know, people who follow religious rules will be promoted over those who don’t or you will be stared at for eating lunch during Ramadan, or worse. This is not hypothetical. This has happened. This IS happening.

    The point? It is not about the a piece of clothing. It is about what the message you send to other people by wearing that piece of clothing. And anyone preaching about religious freedoms and laughing at other governments making decisions on what people should wear. Please try to understand the context in a particular country before commenting away.

    We all would love to live in an environment where people will respect each other, where no religion (or lack there of) discriminates against another. Until that happens, we will struggle with compromises.

  290. The problem I have with some of your definitions of religion as oppressive is that it’s based on your belief that religions are all wrong. And that’s exactly what it is, a belief. To enforce that belief would be as oppressive (if not more so) than the religions you disagree with.

    I think the best policy is education and informed choice. People should know that there are other systems of belief available to them, including atheism.

    When people talk about the Hijab as a form of oppression they are mistaking the Hijab for the problem. The problem is oppression of women and it occurs independently of the Hijab. If women are able to make an informed choice and still choose the Hijab then good for them. If they choose not to wear the Hijab then good for them. But no one should be forced to wear it, or deprived of their right to be informed as to their choices.

  291. From what I’ve seen, most people who have a problem with the traditional Islamic manner of dress are the people who mistakenly believe that the viewpoint of extremist groups such as the Taliban somehow represent the views of Islam.

    “hYou infidels have to convert to Islam or die” :

    Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but isn’t the stated reason for jihad against the West that because the knowledge of the existence of Islam is nearly universal, then because we don’t follow it, we’ve somehow rejected it?

    On the other hand, the people I know who have problems with such things seem to have a problem with Amish people, too, and those folks are DEFINITELY not going to declare jihad on ANYONE.

    I have no problem with it as long as they don’t expect me to convert.

  292. not sure about this, but do wonder slightly how much of this is a consequence of the (probably well intentioned) media coverage (that perhaps wasn’t quite so fair and balanced) that ran post 9/11 to convince regular folks that it was cool to go to war, but the side effect has been to demonize a group of 1 billion ppl in the american popular consciousness.

    ie, the prob. with propaganda is it’s great for getting everyone on the same page and ready to blow shit up, but it’s much harder to undo.

  293. I’ve come to some conclusions concerning moderates and their impact on our world. Here I am speaking of mostly christian moderates, but islamic and jewish moderates pose just as great a threat. Remember, when we define moderate it is not so much the views, but the prevalence of their views. If everyone is crazy then crazy is the new moderate.

    Though I prefer to have a more absolutist view, which means all craziness is wrong whether socially acceptable or not.

    The main point is moderates are actually a far greater danger than extremists; they may even present an even greater threat to our future than extremists with weapons of mass destruction, as moderates already have their finger on the button and are just as welcoming of Armageddon as the extremists. The deaths directly and indirectly attributable to moderates far out number anything violent extremists have caused by millions.

    Also, and most importantly, moderates teach from the same hate filled and intolerant books as extremists, leaving their children open to the persuasions of extremists.

    Moderates are also afraid to speak out against the madness that is extremism, because their faith and indoctrination is based on the same scripture as extremists.

    So called moderates are literally responsible for millions of deaths by their opposition to needle exchange programs, their insistence on abstinence only sex education, opposition to the use of condoms in Africa, etc.

    Millions of Americans are in prisons on drug related charges, and millions of people around the world are the target of the U.S. lead War on Drugs, that is literally the result of outdated opinions and laws supported by the religious majority.

    In conclusion, I view all faith based religions as a form of psychosis. People once indoctrinated rarely completely abandon faith, they just change pews. So a member of a completely crazy cult, such as the mormons, joins a mainstream, but equally crazy, in my view, cult such as catholicism, which is responsible for laying to waste the spiritual and secular landscape and leaving millions dead around the world.

  294. >So called moderates are literally responsible for millions of deaths by their opposition to needle exchange programs, their insistence on abstinence only sex education, opposition to the use of condoms in Africa, etc.

    so called by you. I hadn’t realised everything in america is so pushed to the right, but what you’re calling moderate seems a misuse of the word.

  295. #326

    I agree completely about defiance. There’s no excuse for opposing “mandatory” Islamic dress.

    My only gripe, and it’s a legitimate one, is when any group of people ask for special privileges, which is the case with niqab. I would strongly oppose allowing, say, public school teachers from wearing niqab. And I don’t blame the mall security cop for asking any person to remove masks when entering shops and other public/commercial places. And driver license’s by definition must have a face-picture. This is not a big issue in the US, but it’s a considerable one in Europe. I think religious freedom ends where the “public contract” begins. That’s no unreasonable, as I said: we already ban polygamy for Muslims and Mormons (well, everyone), and from a strict literalism of religion, this is a violation of religious freedom. But the social contract says America doesn’t allow polygamy. Polygamy is non-compulsory, as is the niqab. If a woman wants to wear it, fine. But she can’t expect to do certain jobs or be allowed in certain places by masking her face under the guise of religious freedom (esp. considering that the mask is non-compulsory).

  296. You know, when Bob Jones University trots out women onstage to tell the crowd, Oh yeah, we LIKE being subservient to our husbands as it is prescribed in the Bible, people usually have no reaction other than loud and derisive snorting. Somehow we’re supposed to take it seriously when other religions do it for their stupid fundamentalisms? A religiously mandated load of horseshit is still a load of horseshit, even if the participants genuinely dig it.

  297. Dear Shannon,

    consider that atheism is a religion. You can’t prove scientifically that there is no god. That is an untestable hypothesis. Therefore, if you BELIEVE that there is no god you must be taking that on FAITH.

    I respect your right to follow whatever faith you choose, but please recognize that you are as much a slave to your atheist upbringing as people of other faiths are to their tradition. You berate others you perceive as being blinded by faith, while you yourself are blinded by your own racist and sexist BELIEF that women of a particular cultural background are incapable of making intelligent choices simply because they are women of a particular cultural background.

    It seems to me that your religious background has been rather intellectually oppressive, leaving you incapable of understanding people different from yourself. Rather than attempt to understand Mariam’s point of view, you have used this thread as a pulpit, proselytizing about the superiority of your beliefs. How ironic!

    People of all faiths should do their best to understand and appreciate each other, including atheists.

    Yours truly, Lupi

  298. Before I say anything else, I want to make clear that outside of a conversation like this, I would never debate a Muslim woman who wasn’t a close friend about her head-covering, just as I wouldn’t debate a Mennonite I didn’t know about hers. (Yes, I know both Mennonites and Muslims.) More importantly, I believe it is wrong for anyone to discriminate against anyone else based on a symbol if their faith that does not explicitly harm themselves (as in, say, sticking nails in your skin or something) or others. While I think that the burqua and chador cut off a major element of human communication (the face), my real concern is that studies (in Saudi Arabia, I think) have shown that they decrease women’s peripheral vision enough to create a gender gap in people who get hit by cars.

    All that being said, unlike many here, I’m not bothered by the concept of doing things because of religion. I just want to know why men shouldn’t have to do it too. (And yes, I feel the same way about the kipah. And, for you atheists, being topless in public.) If men also had to cover their hair, I’d have no problem. The problem is the idea that women are temptresses by default, and men can’t control themselves, unlike women. As any straight woman who’s ever seen a man with a sexy head of hair can tell you, temptation goes both ways.

    I will admit that I didn’t read all the previous comments. I started, but too many of them were just pointlessly offensive or off-topic.

  299. “consider that atheism is a religion. You can’t prove scientifically that there is no god. That is an untestable hypothesis. Therefore, if you BELIEVE that there is no god you must be taking that on FAITH.”

    That’s a platitude by people of faith. What most people of faith fail to understand about atheism is that when we say “we don’t beleive in God” — it’s not a matter of faith.

    It’s not like I’m putting my faith in the unknowable; it’s that I don’t put faith in the unknowable.

    Not embracing dogma is not the same as embracing dogma. I know it’s hard for people of faith to understand, but faith in the unknowable isn’t even a factor in atheism because atheists view putting faith in anything unknowable as archaic thinking.

    But as usual, the people of faith — while controlling just abotu every aspect of our soceity — try to portray themselves a victims when in fact it is secular atheists who are the ones who are driven to silence about their views.

    Sure, I can talk abotu my atheism in America (and be faced with scorn and accusations of having no morals from the religious people), but in a global scale, there are a lot of places a secular atheist would be in danger expressing his or her views.

    Put it this way: an imam (or any other religious proselytizer) is free to preach openly in the West, but Richard Dawkins would last about 15 seconds preaching his views in main plaza of Jalalabad before he was assaulted and even killed.

    (I’ve spent years in the Middle East and even there I had friends on more than one occasion warn me very, very sincerely not to tell people I was an atheist.)

    1. when we say “we don’t beleive in God” — it’s not a matter of faith.

      And some day, maybe we’ll meet an atheist who says that. Most of the ones who comment here seem to say, “THERE IS NO GOD, you stupid deluded childish fool who doesn’t deserve to be treated like a human being because you believe something different than me!” Which sounds remarkably like religious fanaticism.

  300. Most everyone is atheistic toward some gods- I’ve never met a person who simultaneously believes in Allah, Odin, Zeus, Ganesh, Ra, etc.

    The best approach for non-believers to take is “I believe in one less god than you do,” not “you are a fool for believing in something that I don’t.” The former emphasizes what you have in common with the person you’re engaging, the latter just comes off as crass and condescending.

  301. As an atheist, may I just say that faith in religious doctrine is an insult to your god-given intelligence. And may I add, so far as I am able to determine (a whole five minutes of online research), wearing a headscarf is not mandated by Islam, so it falls into the realm of custom. So I guess Mariam Sobh can stop wearing the scarf now… or does she wear it to identify herself as outside the mainstream?

    All religion is nonsense. We are all temporary local decreases in entropy.

  302. #350 JOHNNY ROJO writes:

    “And may I add, so far as I am able to determine (a whole five minutes of online research), wearing a headscarf is not mandated by Islam, so it falls into the realm of custom.”


    You need to spend more than five minutes of online research, then, because as far as I can tell, covering the hair and the chest area is pretty specifically stated. What is not stated in the Qur’an is the face mask. That comes from hadith extracted by one school of thought.

    And, sorry Muslims to say this, but the Hadith were added, revised and redacted over hundreds of years after the time of the Prophet (pbuh). And to me if the Qur’an doesn’t say “wear a mask” it is not incumbent of society to meet the demands of the more extreme views on women’s garb when it intersects with the public contract implication of wearing a mask in many places in a free society.

    I know I keep harping on this niqab (face-veil) thing, but I’ve moved beyond the hijab issue. It’s a non-issue except for single minded bigots, or secular feminists who see a hijab and are quick to assume women are coerced by abusive, domineering husbands.

    I’ve debate many issues with Muslims from the Middle East (in the Middle East), and I have come to the conclusion that:

    #1.) American need to get over any issues pertaining to the way a person chooses to dress, and

    #2.) With the exception of the public and private right pertaining to masks in commercial places, government buildings, and at certain places of employment (i.e. public school teacher, public employee, any kind of security officer, airline pilot, or any place a private business owner chooses to restrict masks).

    BTW: Here’s another issue with men. Don’t take a job at a grocery store in the Midwest and then start bitching about moving a palate of beer, OK? I’m pretty sure I’ve read in the Qur’an that the rules are pretty forgiving regarding peripheral jobs (not directly related to earning income off the sale of haram products) based on economic need for feeding yourself and your family with honest work. And if you reject that, then don’t take that kind of job and especially don’t start waving the flag of “religious persecution” after accepting it.

    And converts: Please, please stop trying to take it to the extremes, OK? Some born-and-bred Muslims find it quite hilarious sometimes to see converts go on the Hajj and try to awkwardly “out-Muslim” themselves. Relax. Follow the Five Pillars, and be a good Muslim and stop worrying about so many of the minutia. It’s hard enough just to follow the compulsory habits!

    By the way, for those of you who go to the airline stewardess area to pray during flight: The Prophet (pbuh) said when traveling you don’t have to pray right then, though it is encouraged it’s not compulsory. Earn your grace point with Allah AFTER the flight. Thank you.

    Convert American-born Caucasian and African American women: if you find yourself in a room full of born-and-raised Muslim women and you see them dressing very modestly, but without the mask thing: take a cue. Masks are just fucking freaky to a lot of people, including women, OK? Get over our issues about that! (By “our” I mean A LOT of people, not just “Islamophobic Westerners”.) It’s not compulsory, and I’m not allowed to walk around all day and at my job wearing a mask.

    Just some thoughts.

  303. I too take exception to the easy classing of anyone who calls out religion as intolerant, divisive, and dangerous as simply xenophobes or “white male westerners”, bigoted, etc.

    As it is said, it isn’t paranoia when they are out to get you.

    These religions, and yes I do use the pejorative superstitious cults moniker, are in fact all eagerly awaiting the coming of the lord who will whisk the believers away bestowing wondrous rewards, while leaving those who use the freedom their god gifted them behind in some form of eternal torture.

    My question, is how does this affect their behavior in the here and now. Obviously, we have many fundies, who in fact do consider themselves as moderates, who at the very least will do nothing that would prevent the coming apocalypse, while others are actively helping their god in his grisly endeavor.

    Another frightening fact, which yes I do harp on, is these various versions of the desert cults all teach from the same book. While moderates like to believe that this is ok, because we just ignore those nasty bits, they all accept these books as the final word on morality and teach/indoctrinate their children using these lessons. This in fact exposes children to the same material extremists use to bolster their own claims and justify their actions.

    Why this is not seen as problematic is difficult to understand. We teach our children god is the ultimate authority, we teach them these books are the ultimate expression of gods will, but then tell them those bits that promote intolerance, hate, and violence are not to be taken seriously. Those precepts no longer apply. Why mommy?

    So, yes I view all of these religions as dangerous and will continue to try and educate people to the inherent danger in an omniscient god and his infallible books.

    Again, for me, the proof in the divisive nature of religion is there are literally tens of thousands of denominations/cults descended from the original three and the infighting. The fact that all of these cults have at one time or another enforced their cults by sentencing apostates to death is only further proof of the fear and weakness of the leadership. The only progress being most cults have stopped torturing and killing before letting their god take over.

    As I have asked before, why is this vengeful unforgiving god seen as benevolent? Why isn’t a god who would visit eternal torture upon his own creations seen as detestable? Why?

    Why doesn’t this god want for his children that which I, his simple bigoted creation, hope for my own, to no longer need me, to live without me, to love, choose, and act without threat, to live free without fear?

    Furthermore, I see all of this afterlife stuff as a cheapening of this miracle that is life, the universe, and everything. Why bother, this is just temporary? Heaven awaits.

    Why bother? Because this is temporary. For my money, believing this is all puts real value on this life.

  304. I wear my Hijab because it has given me a good sense of looking beyond the exterior of things and people.

    I wear my Hijab because it gives me a sense of sisterhood with my other Muslim women whether they wear it or not.

    I wear my Hijab because I have faith in Allah and in Islam and I am grateful for everything that this religion has taught me.

    I wear my Hijab because when I walk down the street and get asked why I wear it, I am able to inform these curious people about the beauty of Islam.

    I wear my Hijab because I don’t like to worry about doing my hair everyday.

    I wear my Hijab because I believe that every physical thing about me is sacred and should be shared with only the people who are worthy of it.

    I wear my Hijab because I have the face for it. :)

    I wear my Hijab because it’s not just a piece of fabric, it’s a way of life, I choose to be modest, and levelheaded. To me, Hijab is a form of sophistication and class.

    I wear my Hijab because every time I look in the mirror I am reminded of my morals and values as a person, and my religion has helped me guide those morals and values but it does not define them.

    I wear my Hijab because I love the sense of pride it gives me; it makes me feel confident that I can believe in something so strongly and in turn I won’t fall for just anything.

    This is why I wear the Hijab. No one is making me wear it. I can be a Muslim and follow my religion with or without it just fine, but I choose to wear it for these reasons.

    Thank you for reading.


  305. Mariam says “Believe me if I didn’t think it was required I WOULD NOT be wearing it. ” and people said it not like man is forcing her.
    Wow, did allah say to wear it? no. Did Muhammad say to wear it in the Koran? no. Turns out some seriously unenlightened culturally and scientifically illiterate Imams (Islamic religious so called scholars), in others words misogynistic males codified that she should wear it in order to obey her religion.
    /so yeah Miriam a bunch of fanatic muslim males long time ago made you wear that head covering.

  306. I didn’t think I was oppressed or unequal, either, when I was a Mormon. But then I discovered otherwise when I finally got a taste of freedom and autonomy, and stopped getting my opinions & self-worth spoon-fed to me at church and from my family and community.

    And the threat of damnation (and being cast out of your family and ostracized by your neighbors) doesn’t exactly make doing something your religion says or following the religion in the first place very much of a “choice”. Authoritarian religion does not offer choices, just mandates.

    I feel so sorry for people who don’t get to be in the driver’s seat of their own lives.

  307. I’m amazed at how some posters react to a woman’s (any woman’s) choice to clothe/cover herself.
    1. I’m glad you don’t come down on the Mennonites and Amish this way, or there’d be a circus around my town every day. However, I find it despicable that you feel okay to criticize Muslims.
    2. I fit into “agnostic” or “atheist”, but there are some days I don’t feel like showing myself to the world. I frequently wear a scarf or bandanna over my hair because it’s modest, and I feel that people are more inclined to deal with me based on my words and actions rather than what I look like. Do I deserve criticism for not being physically exposed to your eyes all the time? No, of course not. Does anyone else, for whatever reason they choose to cover themselves in whatever way? No, it’s none of your business. I just…. wow. I can’t express how frustrating it is.
    Also: love the burqini. I wish I could wear one, but it seems like a case of jumping someone else’s train. Plus, I wouldn’t want to have to answer nosy people’s questions about why I’m not wearing a “normal” swimsuit. But sigh… to be able to swim in the ocean without feeling people’s eyes on my body. Bonus: sun protection!!

  308. It is quite interesting, to me, this discussion. In my opinion the first quote, that is “I myself wear the headscarf and I do so because it’s something I believe is mandated in my religion.”, is a very interesting concept. This person is aware of the compulsion to cover her head due to a pressure from society/religion. I however wonder, and this is true for every single human to have ever lived in our modern culture/society, how many of these choices we actually make. Let me give an example:

    I can be a nudist. I have not been nurtured into being one by my parents/friends/social circle. But I have the ability to be theoretically whatever I’d want. I have however not made this decision consciously. Just like the hundred/thousand/possibly millions other things I do which I have never thought as to why I do them.

    I agree wholeheartedly. The hijab does not harm anyone, and if the decision has been consciously made that you are to be a muslim/insert religion person, all good and we can move on. I’d like to give another example regarding this. I have been raised an orthodox christian. With time I have made the realization that it’s all not so kosher for me. You may disagree with my conclusion but that’s your right. I have made the conscious decision to be an atheist/agnostic (though I’ve started to doubt this as well as of now. How do you define a conscious decision when you’ve exhausted all other available choices.) I for one have no idea how to define myself and most likely never will. How many have made the conscious decision to be part of their religion?

    I know women and men which by marriage had to (I say had to loosely due to not knowing the exact circumstances) convert to their “better half’s” religion. This is a conscious decision? Or another restricted decision? (see being an atheist)

    I’d be very interested the rest of this debate regarding social/cultural pressures upon the individual and the need to belong (and the sacrifices that go with it) from a social/psychological point. I think we’ll require the help of some sociologists or some psychologists. I for one don’t know which discipline would be more appropriate.

    Another argument which interests me is the “media controls us and brainwashes us into dressing scantly” etc. etc. Again, is it a conscious decision? Why aren’t I a nudist then? It sure as hell covers the dressing scantly part. I can only provide a guess as to “it’s not accepted by my community/peers/etc.”. I say this because I remember a story in Norway where nudist hitchhikers were going up a trail and people went crazy over it due to small children being present on these trails/roads. Granted clothing is very useful. I’d rather be comfortable then freezing my nuts off (quite literally – by the way, cold isn’t the issue it’s the lack of oxygen available to your tissue that causes frostbite. When the body tries to limit heat loss it cuts the blood flow to the extremities and tissue has a nasty habit of dying without oxygen.). So are nudists oppressed? I’d say yes. They are not hurting anyone (again depending on your sense of morality) yet they are forced to go to nudist beaches and colonies by the bulk of society. Take the last three sentences with a grain of salt I’m no expert of the social pressures and issues with being nude as a life style.

    I for one believe (I’m very uncomfortable with this word since it denotes unreliable reasoning with no actual logic behind it but for lack of a better word right now…) that if you’re comfortable and you’re not hurting anyone (please no neon pink clothes my retinas are scared enough, thank you!) with your fashion sense/morality/what have you by all means. This means hijab, burka, what have you – go nude if you’re comfortable. The question in my mind is more of the forces that push you in that direction. When are they excessive and can you call it oppression? Time to to find some relevant studies or get cracking on some. Very interesting stuff!

    Back to the idea of choosing your religion or to which community you are part of. What happens when you choose to be a INSERT RELIGION and go against their customs? Are you still part of that community/religion? Or are you branded an outcast and refused entry? Because in the end that’s the ultimate form of oppression. If you can do whatever you want with yourself (read clothes style, sex life, risk taking, drug use, etc. Things which do not influence anyone or suppresses them or hurts them)and still be welcomed into a community/religion without hiding yourself then no obvious oppression happens. Passive aggressiveness is another thing and this would get too much for me. Is there such a society/community on this planet? If there is someone PLEASE tell me about it! I’ve yet to hear/find one. So in the end we’re all oppressed. But these are the sacrifices we make to “belong”.

    I found an interesting comment regarding free will. How do you define free will? The ability to choose to break rules? Or the ability to choose from the safe options (cultural/social)? What happens to the gray area of bending rules? Oh boy I better stop here before this turns into an essay. I must say I find this whole discussion very interesting and enlightening.

  309. Jeez, what’s the big deal…

    I just wish we’d get over it already, but apparently this is a subject people have very strong opinions about. I’m of the opinion that the hijab is none of my business to have an opinion about, how could it be unless I were a muslim woman?

    Neither should I have an opinion about how the hassidim choose to dress in my old neighbourhood, or about the sikh headdress, or how this Canadiens’ fan chooses to dress, or how office workers in Paris all wear the same uniform… all each of us is saying is to what community we belong to or by what kind of people we wish to be accepted. And the symbols we use have an historical explanation. Wasn’t tradition an invention?

    I’m not religious but would never call myself an atheist or agnostic but maybe more a humanist perhaps – what point is there in defining ourselves as the opposition to another group? We’d only exist by virtue of there being Other People who are Not Like Us, which is not really very interesting.

    I just wish we’d stop this them and us thing, and remember that each of us is part of a community; even rather many different communities at any one point in our lives (you can wear a hijab AND a Canadiens’ shirt). To be accepted by our communities, we adapt our behaviour, and how often do we really feel this as sacrifice? Also, those groups who are the most in opposition, seem to have the most in common.

    Really, what is the big deal?

    1. The big deal is that no matter how we identify ourselves we also have to identify with others. Only by learning more about other cultures and ourselves can we understand them and not fear them. As a human species we tend to (loosely used) fear the unknown. While of course it is impossible to truly know people it’s why the human brain generalizes so well! It is a lot easier to generalize than to take the time, effort, and patience in the end to appreciate every person you meet for who they really are.

      I absolutely agree with you, if the conscious decision has been made to belong to a community/w.e what you wear or not wear is your choice and as long as it doesn’t harm my retinas it’s all good in my book. But the more interesting thing is the psychological and social phenomenon as to how we enforce these traditions and the pressures we have to contend with when we go against the traditions of the community. How they affect our lives, our stress levels etc. We always have to give part of ourselves to belong. Which one are you willing to give? And how moderate is the community you’re part of? Always interesting questions and always so riveting to learn more about the social animal known as human.

      Regarding “X is none of my business and I don’t care about it” I read this somewhere regarding diffusion of responsibility in a crowd. Who calls 911? Everyone assumes someone will and chances are the call will inadvertently be delayed. When does one consider an intervention into what is none of one’s business? Another very interesting question since it can also be applied to the macro world such as countries. When does one invade Iran to, assuming, find the greater good? I do not advocate anything mind you, I’m just putting questions up as they come to me on topics I’m interested in. I have no interest in starting a political debate but that’s the biggest application we currently have regarding interventions and it’s currently an example which many may be familiar with. One can only learn about the culture/person/what have you in order to recognize when it is time to care and when it’s okay not to.

      1. Yes I think the point I tried to make is that we all have our own hijab to wear, and this realisation is what helps us identify with who we consider “others”. Also the point I wanted to make is that we don’t just belong to one single community, and if someone is wearing a hijab and I am not, I cannot just assume that we don’t belong to the same community. Her being muslim is not all of her identity, perhaps she’s an avid gamer or marathon runner, perhaps she’s lesbian, maybe she’s an immigrant like me, perhaps I’m the stranger.

        You misquoted me when you said “X is none of my business and I don’t care about it”. I do care about it! For someone who is not religious I am very interested in religion and culture, and I think we should know the histories of the communities and cultures around us, and also (obviously) how our own history has been influenced. But we’re still individuals, and I can’t extrapolate group behaviour onto an individual.

        Not sure I understand the reference to Iran though…

        1. I completely agree with you. We all are part of different communities. But each community takes its toll on our personality and are changed by it. Take me, I’m the argumentative person. I’ll argue about anything in order to gain some understanding about what we’re arguing or the person I’m arguing with. No idea what spawned this but I know only one person similar to me yet different. We frequent similar social circles and have similar issues. But we are distinctively different such that nobody would ever confuse our personalities.

          Was reading an interesting thing a psychologist said yesterday. He said that gloomy weather influences our moods up till the point you realize it’s the weather that’s making you gloomy and attribute it to the weather. By which point your gloominess associated with the weather (bias) goes away. Are we really aware of all the social/cultural biases we exude? Like the male bias that tends to interpret most women which are overly nice as interested in them. I’ve been known to be at fault here. Yet I know nothing about all the other biases until someone points it out.

          The fact that she’s a muslim does not diminish the fact that she’s a gamer and vice versa. Some communities are not mutually exclusive. But what an interesting dynamic of whichever combination of communities s/he is part of. And since the communities are not exclusive it doesn’t diminish her identity as a muslim or gamer. And since it’s quite impossible to define a human psyche that I’m aware of (painfully little mind you) one must concentrate on the smallest particles of her psyche to understand how they all tie in together.

          Of course we cannot extrapolate behavior from the group and apply it to the individual. But we must always be aware of the group in order to understand the individual. The individual and the group are in a symbiotic relationship. When one evolves so must the other or face exclusion.

          Take a country as a macro community. Sure it has multiple smaller distinct communities which could also be interpreted as people in a regular community. Take 10 people extrapolate them to become 10 communities and you have the make-up of a country. Granted this is very unscientific and haphazard at best. But the idea is that a country even if some of the communities in it don’t get along with each other (take shia and sunni communities) all these factors make it a macro community. Where each individual community comes together to create something bigger than they are. Not quite sure if this is all true or not but if someone can let me know that would be great so I could stop making bad assumptions.

          Take that and you can see how one acting upon one individual in a community or a community in particular can also be applied to countries or communities of countries (UN, NATO, G20, etc.) acting on other countries. When was it decided it was okay to bomb Bosnia? Or needed? When was it okay to invade Iraq? When will it be okay to take military action against Iran? Again I don’t wish to get into political discussions here. My interest is purely from a social aspect. When is it okay for a person/culture/group to intervene in the day to day happenings of another group/person/culture? I feel this is very subjective, at least for me since I do not know enough about most cultures I have encountered. Otherwise there would be some, rough albeit, guidelines, since of course you cannot infer the behavior of an individual from a group, but the group itself is fine to create probabilistic models for :) But Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) can cloud this model and bad decisions are made every day. We as a human race have much to learn about each other and ourselves. And by asking the questions which are hard to answer we can get another piece to the puzzle.

          Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt. And I hope it all makes some sense. And I really need to stop writing these mammoth posts. But sadly this makes me feel like I’m back in 2nd year uni. Ah the fresh knowledge and ideas!

          1. Yes I see your point :) Our individual behaviour is affected by the group we belong to, the people we share our values with. And I think we also have an impact on the our group by our behaviour, and some people will have more influence here than others.

            Sometimes it’s too easy to explain individual behaviour away by group behaviour though… A friend was telling me the story that when one of his co-workers “found out” that he didn’t drink alcohol, suddenly everyone in the office seemed to “know”. Apparently, it was a Big Deal. His decision was attibuted to his being muslim, as he hailed from a predominantly muslim country. Suddenly he was looked at differently… but he wasn’t even a devout muslim, he just didn’t want to touch the stuff as a personal decision! I don’t drink alcohol either, because it can be accutely health threatening for me to drink it and it’s just not worth the risk. And I never liked beer anyway… But would people assume I don’t drink because I’m a muslim?

            I’m sure it’s hard to identify all our biases… I’ve had to get rid of a few that are perfectly acceptable where I’m from, but when you start travelling and see that bias being applied to you, it makes you think and you realise you’ve had blinders on all along…

            As to your question ‘when is it appropriate to intervene?’ I guess there’s no clear cookie cut answer… and intervene how? I was horrified to learn that for the longest time in North-American hospitals circumcision was pretty much an automatic thing to do after a boy was born, supposedly boys can’t learn to wash properly I guess?? And declawing cats?? Horrible!! Who’d come up with such an idea, the poor animals!

            So I don’t know, I guess you have to pick your battles…

            I’m not sure I want to get into discussing military invasion though :)

  310. I am glad to hear that wearing a burka makes you feel free. Personally I think that religion is a bunch of cod’s wallop, but that doesn’t mean that you have to agree with me.
    On the other hand, we have heard of many occasions when a Muslim woman has chosen to NOT wear a Burka and upon being ‘caught’ in public has been beaten by Muslim men and sometimes killed.
    This does not reflect a freedom of choice to me.

  311. I do think of many Muslim women as being oppressed. Why is that I wonder? I think to assume someone wearing a headscarf is oppressed probably doesn’t make sense. I’m glad to hear that you feel free. You can hardly blame us for thinking this though.

    We hear so much about women being oppressed in such cultures. I appreciate your comparison to Hassidic Jews and Quakers and I will admit some of that makes me uncomfortable. Yet we do not read stories about Hassidic Jewish or Quaker women being stoned to death or beaten for failure to live up to the standards of their faith.

    We non-Muslims do not just think that because you wear a veil you are oppressed. We worry about you being oppressed because we value freedom. Because we have read so many stories about violence within Islam, especially against women. About atrocities committed based on faith. I will accept that not all Muslims behave this way. I worked with several who obviously loved and respected their wives and daughters. What I see lacking is outrage from within the Islamic community when such atrocities are committed.

    Thanks for sharing your point of view, but understand our position. Many of us are simply concerned for you. We worry that you aren’t free. We want you to have all the rights and opportunities available within the world and it upsets us when we feel someone is being hindered in their pursuit of happiness.

  312. All tradition is inherently oppressive. Head scarfs are just one example.

    Things that oppress western women if they feel like they need to do them to appear appropriate:

    * wearing makeup
    * wearing high heels
    * cosmetic surgery
    * complex/time-consuming hairdos
    * any uncomfortable clothes
    * body shaving

    Oh yeah, and men:

    * neckties
    * business suits
    * face/body shaving
    * etc. etc. etc.

    We are oppressed insofar as society mandates things to us. We are free insofar as we feel we don’t have to do things.

    Some religions are more oppressive on your behavior once you agree with them. Christianity forces you to always be nice no matter what (holy shit!). Islam does the same and has other needs. Orthodox *anything* tends to have more oppression on your behavior than reform/progressive X.

  313. I think the most comfortable attire is entirely naked. There are no cloths to keep you hot or tangled. However, I used my free will to wear clothing, instead of joining a nudest colony, to show my respect for myself and others beliefs and not offend anyone. I assume Muslem women also wear the attire they do to show repect for, not only others and themselves, but also to God.
    Let others be who they feel they must be. It is not for us to judge others by their outward appearance.

    Someone else tried to organize people by their outward appearance and religion. He wasn’t very popular in the late 1930’s and mid 1940’s. His name was Adolf Hitler.

  314. I can see how what I’m going to type may be offensive to some. Especially since it may appear as a attack on their beliefs. However it is not my intention to attack anyone’s beliefs, but only to point out facts that are clearly written in books muslims read daily.

    1. muhammad claimed that God spoke to him.
    2. muhammad had several wives.
    3. muslims claim that all other religions are false, as an example, the Bible they claim is corrupt, mostly due to the fact that “man” had written it. The quran however, muslims believe is not corrupt, because it is the word of God.

    1. One of muhammads wives was named Aisha. According to the book of the hadith of Bukhari, volume 5, #234 (Islamic readers will understand the reference; google if you do not), his wife says the following; “…Narrated Aisha: The prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six.” It’s also been clearly documented that muhammad first has sex with his youngest bride when she was the age of nine years old. My question is, why would God talk to someone who takes a child of six as a wife, and has sex with her when she is age nine? Does God agree with this behavior? Is sex with children wrong, or is God saying it’s ok and we have just become politically correct in our society over the past few hundred years?

    2. One of muhammads wives was also known to be Jewish. muslims tend to mention this wife as prof that there were early conversions. However the wife they mention was first captured after muhammad and his men killed the entire town who refused to surrender. The woman muhammad married, was previously married. Her father, entire family and her at the time husband,. were all beheaded by muhammads men. She was then asked to convert or be muhammads sex slave (concubine). My question is, why would muslims when mentioning this wife of muhammad leave out the part where she converted only after her entire family and husband were beheaded… and mention her religious conversion primarily, as if it was done of free will, and not instead of broken spirit?

    3. The truth is that there are no copies of the quran older than 150 years after muhammads death. Then there’s the whole debates over the differences in the two oldest known qurans… the Samarqand & Topkapi Qurans issues… etc So why do muslims believe still that the quran wasn’t corrupt, seeing how there’s no proof muhammad even touched one, and there’s none known any earlier to be written accept over 150 years after he died. Not to mention there’s more than one version of it, several in fact. (A good article being from; “What is the Koran” from Toby Lester – a google search may bring it up I’m sure).

    I hope by giving background behind the questions, I’ve made some attempt successfully to overcome those who may say I am somehow being offensive. It seems if you ask any question to someone who believes strongly in their faith, and the question is worded as if you are questioning whether the faith itself is based on something that may not be true, due to reasons stated, you are suddenly called a racist, insert-word-here-phobic, or defender of some other religion. (Which for the record, I’m not a person who practices any faith, nor has my family been of the kind to do so… and no, neither me, nor anyone in my family considers themselves atheist either. We just live life, and that’s it, and mind our own business…. while hoping others will do the same, without violently forcing their views on others, and allowing for dialog even if deemed offensive). If all this fits, and gets posted, and someone actually responds in a way that treats it all as a serious set of questions rather than a slam piece, then I appreciate it all. Thank you for reading. I respect the views of others, I hope others respect my right to hold differing views, and the right to ask questions so I may search for the truth beyond my currently held views. Side stepping what I’ve said however won’t change someones mind, entering into dialog may bridge the gap of understanding however. And one is certainly more important to do than the other.

  315. As a woman, I find it repugnant to see so many responses condemning another woman for her CHOICE.
    Granted, we would like to think that any choice based on a belief we do not share is ‘forced’ and/or ‘oppressive’ but that is, in reality, untrue.
    (Of course, as in EVERY CULTURE, RELIGION AND GROUP, humans CAN BE, WILL AND ARE oppressed. It’s not exclusive to Muslim women. Nor is all the ‘religion is a load of cap’ less oppressive than believing in God or having faith and/or religion.)
    I find it most amusing to hear people proclaiming themselves to be ‘agnostic’ voicing an opinion using that label.
    Being agnostic, by definition, means you do not adhere to a group or belief, nor disbelieve. So isn’t it an oxymoron to label yourself ‘agnostic’?
    I would also like to point out that when a woman is able to freely speak her mind, express her beliefs without any repercussions or punishment, there is true progress and no oppression. However, condemnations, labeling and ‘you’re crazy for believing’ are, in fact, oppressing.

  316. Are Muslim Women Oppressed? Ask One. And by this you mean ask a New Yorker about headgear. Glib much? How about ask the girl who’s murdered by her own father for dishonoring the family. What’s your next piece going to be? “Do Morons Think They’re Stupid? Ask One!” Nice work if you can get it.

  317. I love love love (note: sarcasm) how people in the comment section are speaking for us(Muslim women) and when we say something about what we do and why we do it, you go on to say “no no, you see, really you’re just wrong and we’re right. We’re going to twist your words until we can prove that you’re oppressed, damn it!” Stop going freud on us please, kthanks.

    Now, this may come as a shock to some of you commenters, but I am a Muslim woman who follows the opinion that it is obligatory to cover (from head to toe). Literally the only skin that shows is the skin around my eyes. “Ohh, poor you, your husband must have forced you. It’s ok, we’ll give you a divorce courts address,” you say? I’m not married, first of all. And the ones closest to me actually DISCOURAGED me from wearing it because they feared that I would be harassed. In fact, they were upset when I first started to cover. But I did, you know why? Because I love my Lord and want to obey His commands. And, fyi, ‘Muslim’ linguistically means submitter (to the will of God/Islaam). We don’t live this life to fulfill our desires but to worship Him. I love being His servant/slave. It’s MY choice to obey His commands, it’s MY choice to try to gain Paradise and escape Hell. I don’t see why you’re trying to stop me from getting good. Oh, and yes, we do have a freedom of choice. We have the freedom to obey or disobey God. But those who take the hated path will have to pay the consequences in the Hereafter. Now I know some of you will now say “OMG, SEEEE, you’re oppressed! You’re only obeying your God cos HE TOLD YOU TOOOOOO.” To those people I say….lol, get a life. Are you oppressed because you decide to follow the traffic laws your goverment has? And I’m not talking about a petty government, I’m talking about my Lord =) k good evening

  318. The veil, and the covering of the head predates muslim beliefs by hundreds and hundreds of years in Christianity and Catholicism. To quote Nawal el Saadawi, in “The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World”…

    …[I]t is therefore wrong to attempt a study of women in Arab and Islamic society without referring to Christianity and Judaism, both of which preceded Islam and influenced it to a very marked extent in many aspects related to its fundamental concepts and teachings. It is equally erroneous to deal with the monotheistic religions and the position occupied by women therein, if we do not trace the paths that connect them with the religions belonging to a still more distant and misty past. …

    There is an interesting student essay on the veil and its’ significance called, “The Power of Metaphor: Veils within Judeo Christian society” at


  319. When people talk about the oppression of women in the Islamic world, I would think that head-coverings, even in areas where they are more forcefully mandated, are small things compared to women who are beaten or taken to court for being seen in public with a man not in their immediate family, girls who are attacked and have acid thrown on them for daring to go to school, or for that matter men who are sent to jail for talking about sex in interviews on TV. I don’t automatically assume that a women covering her head is oppressed — I’m a man who covers my head, and I don’t feel oppressed for it — but that doesn’t mean no oppression exists.

  320. Compare and contrast to the Ralph Lauren Ad and the threatened lawsuits against BoingBoing and PhotoshopDisaster blog. In comparison the hijab seems quite sensible.

  321. Quoted from above:
    “It’s MY choice to obey His commands, it’s MY choice to try to gain Paradise and escape Hell. I don’t see why you’re trying to stop me from getting good. Oh, and yes, we do have a freedom of choice. We have the freedom to obey or disobey God. But those who take the hated path will have to pay the consequences in the Hereafter“

    Man this is just SO SAD.

    Someone who’s mind is so controlled by a mental virus that they can’t make sense of the most basic definitions.

    Religions always come with a threat. It’s the way a religious idea defends itself from competing ideas. And what better threat is there than eternal suffering?

    The world would be a much better place if everyone taught their children to beware undisprovable, viral ideas.

    I don’t think most of us really have a problem with a headscarf, it’s the insanity behind the scarf that is troubling.

    1. Someone who’s mind is so controlled by a mental virus that they can’t make sense of the most basic definitions. Religions always come with a threat. It’s the way a religious idea defends itself from competing ideas.

      Nothing that you’ve said can’t be applied to any aspect of anyone’s life in any society – political and economic systems just as much as religious beliefs. It’s easy to see when other people are brainwashed, but nearly impossible to see it in oneself.

      1. Yes. This is not just a muslim issue. Take me for example. I’m a fat guy. On a hot day in florida it hurts no one if I walk the streets naked. But I don’t do it, because I fear the social blowback which would include public humiliation and possible jail time. So yes. I am oppressed, and that’s why I don’t go around spouting all sorts of drivel about how wearing clothes is a personal life-style choice. It is not. I am simply afraid of the social consequences of doing otherwise. And I’m honest about that.

        See? It was easy for me to admit that I’m oppressed. I’m oppressed because I don’t REALLY have a choice to wear clothes or not. Just like a muslim woman doesn’t REALLY have a choice. She MUST conform to the religion or face the wrath and intolerance of her community. And she too is oppressed, oppressed by men who invented a ridiculous story and wrote it down in a ridiculous book.

        While I’ll agree with you that many people have what amounts to a religious faith in political systems. I cannot agree with you that religious ideas are the same as every other idea. They are not. Religious ideas are unfalsifiable,emotionally manipulative, and viral (Islam and Christianity especially). The result is people who think like this:

        “We don’t live this life to fulfill our desires but to worship Him. I love being His servant/slave. It’s MY choice to obey His commands, it’s MY choice to try to gain Paradise and escape Hell.”

        Now I could care less what this lady believes, but the problem is people like this fill their children with psychologically damaging fear. And YES those children are oppressed. And they will grow up terrified that if they wear the wrong thing they will be plunged into hell for eternity. It’s despicable. And it’s very sad.

  322. I’m the same girl from above (the Muslim female who covers herself completely).

    Dewy, I did tell you that Islaam is Submission to the Creator. We ARE His slaves. But He has given us free will and we are free to do what we want. However, just like everything else in THIS world, there will be consequences. You didn’t answer my question. Since you live in Florida, you have laws. Now, of course you don’t HAVE to follow these laws. But it is (usually) in your best interest to do so. If you decide to break this law, then yes, you are absolutely free to do so. However, you will then be ticketed/warned/fined/imprisoned/executed/etc. Similarly, God has laid down laws for us to follow. We can choose not to follow them, but that would definitely not be in our best interests. However, the choice is ours as well as the consequences. There is a difference between the government laws and God’s laws….and that is that God’s laws are, of course, divine and He is perfect and the Most-Just. The government can always make mistakes. But if we are willing to follow these laws put down by the government, what about God?

    And did you not read what I said? The ones closest to me (and with the most influence) were displeased with me at first for wearing what I wear in a place where the hostility against Muslims is high. However, I STILL wore it. My relatives expressed disappointment over it. People unrelated to me also discouraged me, but they said that I would get no where in life wearing what I wear (in terms of my education and career goals). Well, I’m going to prove them wrong inshaAllaah =) . Anyways, I faced a slight backlash from my community at first but they got over it. Now, Alhamdulillah (all praises belong to Allaah), people have come around to the idea of me wearing it and even set me as an example for their kids. So your argument about us being oppressed by our people is pretty much null (and I’m not the only one with these circumstances, so many of my friends’ families discouraged them from covering).

    It’s not my problem that you decide to give free reign to your kids. I, however, will not be doing that if God grants me kids.

  323. OOh that was very nice to hear from, in Islam nobady is forced or oppressed to do something if you are just a muslim as you say you only need to follow the rules of Islam every relegion cultures and traditions has they rules and conditions etc… I really thank you for bringing your of contributions of Islam particular about women oppression as what other people are saying that’s not truth is just because their dont know nothing about Islam, their just want to ride all the whole world by their worst idea ….I thanks you once again i really wish you good job Incha ALLAH , may ALLAH bless you .
    Ibrahima from Gambia

  324. Quoting 381: “The ones closest to me (and with the most influence) were displeased with me at first.“

    Yes. You are right. In your particular case you are lucky not to live here:

    Good for you.

    Quoting 381:“There is a difference between the government laws and God’s laws….and that is that God’s laws are, of course, divine and He is perfect“

    Wow. This is exactly the kind of crazy I was talking about. Thanks for letting us all know that your particular religion trumps all secular law. That’s scary.

    Quoting 381: It’s not my problem that you decide to give free reign to your kids. I, however, will not be doing that if God grants me kids.

    Right. You will instill in them a fear of hell and force them to adhere to something written by men in 610. If they don’t want to do it you will alternate between threatening them and telling them that they have a ‘choice’.

    I stand by my original assessment. This is so sad. Here is what you don’t understand: The ideas in your religion cannot be shown to be false and cannot be tested. BUT THIS DOES NOT MEAN THEY ARE TRUE.

  325. Well spoken, Ms. Sobh,although I might argue that in America it can’t help but make a political statement– that we are so committed to such “American” ideals as freedom of expression, religion, conscience, etc. that you feel safe doing something “counter-cultural.” I’ve been surprised and depressed to notice that the Europe I thought so civilized and tolerant can only maintain this image through homogeneity with only the most superficial exceptions (it’s ok to look different as long as the differences don’t mean anything.)
    Any American who values their freedom (and any Christian who believes Jesus’s promise that we can have an individual, personal relationship with God) should rejoice whenever we see someone like Ms. Sobh who so confidently knows and expresses her beliefs. And thank her.

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