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When Muslim Women Speak Out

Few weeks ago, on the weekend of 18-19 August, a pregnant Muslim woman was harassed and had her headscarf torn in a suburb in Stockholm. As a reaction to this crime, citizens from different faiths from all over the world have been posting photos of themselves wearing a scarf on social media outlets to show solidarity, using a common hashtag #HijabUppropet.

As reported, this initiative aims “to raise awareness on the types of abuse Muslim women face for their religious identity.” However, I believe that before raising awareness about that, people around the world should know who a Muslim woman is, and if there is a common identity that Muslim women over the globe can be classified.

A basic point here is that Muslim women are not a homogenous bloc. There are Muslim women of different countries, races, and cultures. Within Islam, these women identify with different interpretations and schools of thoughts. Most importantly, many Muslim women are unveiled, and many women wear the veil for non-religious considerations.

As a Muslim woman born and raised in the Middle East, I have been familiarized with texts on the negative framing of Arabs and Muslims by media. Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’ and Jack Shaheen’s ‘Reel Bad Arabs’ are the best examples here. This negative framing of Islam has contributed to the unfavorable perception of Muslim women either as partners in terrorism, or as silent victims of terrorist Muslim males. Realistically, however, the threat of Muslim terrorism is exaggerated, and statistics show that only 6% of the terrorist attacks in the US between 1980-2005 were carried out by Muslim extremists.

It is very likely that the framing of Islam as a religion of terrorism by many media outlets contributes to the negative perception of Muslim women and to faith-hate crimes against them. Noticeably, it is often the stories of extremist groups or radically covered women that make it to the screens. But, aren’t there extremist groups in every religious or non-religious thought?

There are many groups that have been framed and stereotyped by the media, but it is the framing of Islam that has provoked global conflicts and hot discussions on Islam and globalization. Moreover, Islam is the world’s second largest religious tradition worldwide, where there is an estimated number or 1.6 billion Muslims according to the Pew Research Center. Instead of positively connecting the people of the world, traditional media has increased the gaps between us. The presence of social media today is a very powerful tool to reconnect us, despite our differences, and to promote mutual tolerance and respect. The hijab outcry is a good example of that, but there are also other ways to achieve this tolerability and to fill these gaps.

Because I interact with many veiled women I realized how different we, veiled women, are. Though we are members of the same society, the way we perceive ourselves, the veil, and religion greatly varies. In the texts on Islam that I was modestly exposed to, the voices of Muslim women were barely existent. The first time I heard the voices of Muslim women was when I selectively started the literature review for my dissertation on veiling. Despite my socio-religious background, I have felt the urge to hear more voices. That’s why I decided to conduct around 50 interviews to hear how veiled youth perceive themselves, and how non-veiled and non-Muslim youth perceive the veiled.

You, fellow reader, can also hear the voices of Muslim women over the virtual media. Talk to me or to one of the thousands Muslim women connected online. You can also register for free online courses on Islam, download books on Islam written, and read an alternative coverage of events to escape media framing. Only when we become media literate citizens the traditional outlets will be obliged to cover events more justly.

If you, fellow reader, are a Muslim woman, do not expect media or citizens to have a positive perception of you if you are not willing to speak out for yourself. Only by a grounded direct communication between us, the diverse people of the world, we can encourage tolerance and stimulate positive change in our increasingly polarized world.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital empowerment and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Comments

jampa's picture

Support the voice of Muslim women

Great work dear Bitani!
It is just like a "A Danger of Single Story" on Ted Talk, i think people usually have tendency to interpret things in single-side, surface, subjective perspective and judge them. So, Speak Up Muslim and Present to the World your diversity, Thunder your voice and Lead your own life through the great power of solidarity.
Cheers,
Jampa

bitani's picture

Thank you jampa for your kind

Thank you jampa for your kind reply :)

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

shahd's picture

Wonderful

What a wonderful piece of writing. I am a Muslim woman who does not wear hijab, yet strongly defend muslim women right to freely choose what to cover or what to expose from their bodies.

The way we Muslims are being labeled really affect how we live today,but I totally agree with you. Remaining silent will make it worse, and we should prove that whether we covered our hair or not, we ARE human beings, who are enough rational, enough educated, and 100% able to claim our freedom.

Well Done !

bitani's picture

Thank you for passing by

Thank you for passing by Shahd. you are right in every single word.

best,

Bayan

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

Y's picture

Interpretation of "sacred"

Interpretation of "sacred" scriptures must become open to women's voices. Where are the "sacred" scriptures written by women? WorldPulse is the window in which we learn and share what women really think and feel. I am so grateful for all of you brave women sharing your voices and those of our sisters.

Thank you, Bitani. Blessings on you and your work.
Yvette

Yvette

bitani's picture

Thank you Yvette. Yes, i

Thank you Yvette. Yes, i believe muslim women should read the text and interpret it for themselves reasonably. Much of the extremist interpretations against women are by male.

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

Tash's picture

interesting topic, well

interesting topic, well written and provocative ! i have had my own personal views on veiled women, i don't get its relevance but i respect it none the less.

great job!

Kind Regards,
Patsy.

bitani's picture

Thank you Patsy. Perhaps,

Thank you Patsy. Perhaps, every person has a specific view on specific people or communities, but as you said, as long as there is respect or a common ground of it there is still hope.

I'd like hear your views, though, no matter if they're positive or negative. The basic point again is that in all of us humans, there are good and bad people no matter their religion, affiliations, sex, race, etc.

my warmest regards,

Bayan

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

Potter's picture

Well said!

Bitani, your concluding sentence says it all. "Only by a grounded direct communication between us, the diverse people of the world, we can encourage tolerance and stimulate positive change in our increasingly polarized world." Thank you for you contribution to grounded direct communication. It is far past the time for us to examine our sad misconceptions of each other and enter into honest, respectful dialog. Voices like yours are essential!

bitani's picture

Thank you Potter for devoting

Thank you Potter for devoting the time to read my piece and post this encouraging comment.

regards,

Bayan

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

Monica09's picture

We're listening and communicating

Dear Bitani,

I am so happy that we are listening to and communicating with each other. I am glad you took notice of the news I shared with you. I am glad you wrote about how some women wear the veil for non-religious considerations- something which I wanted the world to know. I also feel proud of you when you persistently highlight diversity in your writing, as that's an issue I am very passionate about.

Love to you from Bangladesh!

Warm regards,
Monica

pelamutunzi's picture

thank you

You have enlightened me on muslim women. Thank you. Keep up the fight to let people know the true muslim woman or person without prejudice.

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest.
regards
pela

bitani's picture

Thank you for your post Pela

Thank you for your post Pela :)

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

Usha RS's picture

Diversity among Muslim women

Thank you for speaking out on behalf of the diversity among Muslim women. As a modern educated Muslim woman you are leading the way to a more just and tolerant society. I look forward to your next piece.
Usha xx

Let your light shine!

bitani's picture

Thank you Usha for supporting

Thank you Usha for supporting me always :) (F)

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

Mukut's picture

Well Done!

Very interesting Bayan ! You should be proud of yourself for speaking on behalf of so many Muslim women. Hijab or no Hijab, every individual deserves respect and love. Therefore, I have stopped judging people based on what they wear, rather I embrace each one with their unique personalities and capabilities.

Thank you for this brilliant piece.You are a gem,dear !

Love,

Mukut Ray

bitani's picture

Dearest Mukut, thanks for

Dearest Mukut,

thanks for your reply. Yes indeed, its the differences and uniqueness of every culture that make our world diverse and colorful.

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

Bitani, I very much enjoyed reading your thoughtful and provocative piece. Living in New York, I am exposed to the mass media's take on the hijab while witnessing women and men of all nationalities and cultures openly interacting and engaging with each other on the street. I do believe that much of the rhetoric is based on fear of the unknown. It is natural to be cautious of that we do not understand or are knowledgeable about; however, the problem arises when people are too lazy to research the issue so as to fully understand it before making a judgment.

Those who are most vocal against the hijab appear to be tolerant towards Orthodox Jewish people wearing yarmulkes and wigs (different symbols of religious expression) or Christians wearing crosses. So why do we single out Muslims for their religious expression? If the argument is presented that the hijab is a symbol of women's oppression, it only takes a little research and some interviews to learn that many of those wearing the hijab do so with a free will and for many varied reasons.

If it is the association with terrorism, then a little research into our civilization's history clearly shows that there has never been a day since recorded history when there was not a religious war taking place. Following the terrorism reasoning, why are we not condemning Protestants and Catholics over the "recent" wars in Ireland and suspicious of anyone of those Christian denominations?

If only people took the time to learn about the issues, they would see that underneath the adornment and clothing, we are all very similar and have the same needs of love, peace and security.

bitani's picture

Dear Janice, thank you for

Dear Janice,

thank you for devoting the time to read and reply to my post.

i agree that there is fear of the unknown among us humans, and that probably explains why what be tolerant here may be fought elsewhere and vice versa. This is just a call to make us communicate and learn about issues from first account. I focused on veiled women because this issue is important to me and to the world today in light of the sociopolitical events we're witnessing. But if me or any of the readers have a fear/misconception about any group of any society, it is a call to build a bridge with someone from this culture. I take an example here from worldpulse, that my interactions with people from Nepal and Bangladesh before i joined this amazing community were only when i see people from those countries working as domestic workers in Lebanon. Just in knowing people who are not under that classifications was a nice change for me and a further introduction on how hybrid a seemingly homogenous group can be.

best regards,

Bayan

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

Iryna's picture

Tolerance

I like the passion of your op-ed, Bitani, you are speaking about respect and tolerance which are always the weakest parts of our society. We should learn to accept people in the way they are and understand that if a woman decided for herself to wear a veil it means she has her reasons to do this. The smallest thing we can do is to accept it and the best is to understand.
Thank you for your strong, original and interesting vision, Bayan!

Warmest wishes,
Iryna

bitani's picture

Thank you for your kind

Thank you for your kind comment Iryna :)

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

lydiagcallano's picture

Thank you for speaking out

I am Baptist but I have Muslim friends in Mindanao - Maranaos, Tausugs and Yakans. In 1990, my Maranaw friends gave me a Muslim name of "Fatma".

My four years of visiting Mindanao every 3 months under the Grameen Bank Replication Project deepened my understanding and appreciation of the Muslims. As I respected their faith and culture, they respected mine.

Many of these Muslim friends of mine did not finish college but they are open minded. It only proves that formal education is not but mere tolerance is the key for mankind to live in peace with one another.

Thank you for speaking for the Muslim women. Continue to be their voice.

Ma. Lydia G. Callano
Iloilo, Philippines
+63 33 3158137 or 5138830

bitani's picture

Thank you Lydia for the time

Thank you Lydia for the time you spent to read and comment on my piece.

Indeed tolerance is the key for a peaceful living for all the diverse people in this world. Education alone won't work, and i know well educated people who do not tolerate people who have different views or opinions.

best regards,

Bayan

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

Zoepiliafas's picture

We have to plan a Skype date

We have to plan a Skype date soon!

I am MORE than curious about the 50 interviews you conducted. I really believe this would add so much value to the international dialogue. I think we desperately need this perspective.

"If you, fellow reader, are a Muslim woman, do not expect media or citizens to have a positive perception of you if you are not willing to speak out for yourself. Only by a grounded direct communication between us, the diverse people of the world, we can encourage tolerance and stimulate positive change in our increasingly polarized world."

What a powerful conclusion to your piece!!!

With Great Respect,

Zoe

Zoe Piliafas

Voices of Our Future Community Manager
World Pulse

bitani's picture

Thank you!

Thank you Zoe for the encouraging comment :) I am available for the skype whenever you want

warmest regards,

Bayan

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

Lea's picture

Wonderful piece, Bitani! Your

Wonderful piece, Bitani!

Your article is really terrific and truly captures the issues with which are faced Muslims, particularly Muslim women. I completely agree with you that it is important to educate oneself in order to understand and embrace the complexities of a different culture, religion, ethnicity. I have also seen Jack Shaheen's "Reel Bad Arabs" and feel that it is really unfortunate that the media dictates so much our perceptions of individuals from another cultural, ethnic, religious, sexual background. It is dangerous to place individuals within the binary "Us versus Them" as that is the root cause of hatred, persecution, violence against minorities, genocides and the like. As you quite rightfully said, we cannot label the entire Muslim community as "terrorist", "extremists". It is such a rich and diverse community and only a very small minority commits those kinds of heinous acts. Unfortunately, they are the ones who get the most coverage...
Moreover, we need more women like you who speak out about their identity and who want to inform the public about the meaning of being a Muslim women and the wearing of the hijab. Your voice is vital to helping us become a more tolerant and accepting society; one in which we learn to accept each other and to care about each other.
Thank you for taking a stand on this issue. You're doing really important work!
I would love to stay in touch with you as this is also a topic that I am passionate about and that I love talking about.
Lea

bitani's picture

Thank you Lea for you kind

Thank you Lea for you kind comments. it will be a pleasure to stay in touch as well.

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

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