Happy February everyone! It’s been a while since hijab has dominated the headlines (har har). But with so many people talking about hijab-as-veil, hijab-as-appropriation, hijab-as-the-only-thing-defining-muslim-women this past week, today is a special hijab version of the roundup.

In other news, Bremen becomes the third German state to recognize Islamic organizations as official religious bodies — meaning that Bremer Muslims can now take ‘Eid off! Muslim students in a Maryland high school can now pray during class time — but only if their grades are good. And while it was feared that extremists destroyed priceless manuscripts in Timbuktu, the bulk of the collection was saved, by fabulous superheros in the guise of mild and meek librarians.

Today’s lesson: Don’t mess with people who command Silence in the Library and smash metadata for fun.

Enjoy!

hijabday

tokenization of Muslim women, “Hijab Day” by Person of Color.

1) So another World Hijab Day has come and gone.

Some marked this social experiment by wearing a special designer, invisible scarf known as the NoHijabHijab,™ some marked it by wearing their touques, Tilleys or sun hats, and some marked it by joining a relatively safe and supportive community environment to see what it feels like to be a “veiled” Muslim woman for eight hours in a relatively safe and supportive community environment. You know, without the hangups of praying, fasting, giving zakat, being discriminated against for having a Muslim sounding name, community racial microaggressions and invalidations based on gender, being overlooked for education/employment/marriage/social mobility because of hijab, or experiencing all sorts of gender and religious based injustice…

I could go on, but my current blogger hero, mama and footballer extraordinaire, footybedsheets, said it all so succinctly:

This exercise reduces a Muslim woman to one yard of material. It is not an action that one can adequately educate and put another woman in their position. It’s completely disingenuous  to think so.

Will having my teammates wear a hijab for a one hour match allow them to understand a lifetime of stares, barriers, “No, sorry you can’t play with that on” decisions, struggles and then my own strength and confidence to embrace it and keep going?

No. No, it won’t.

Just like wearing a hijab for one day will not provide a woman with contextual understanding of challenges and the realities that a woman in hijab may face: misogyny, cultural stresses, financial problems, prejudice, racism and even effects of war.

WHD was created to fight hijab stereotypes by inviting non-Muslim women to try it for a day. Al-Jazeera has a summary of the myriad reactions to the event — everything from, “yay, we all love and understand each other” to “boo, this sucks” to “taking the hijab off the next day defeats the purpose of hijab.”

The BBC used the day as an opportunity to use their horrid “Muslim Headscarves” infographic, and concludes their coverage by saying, “the day is about showing the world that women can choose the hijab willingly.” Making it more difficult to be critical of places where women can’t.

And now, a music video about Class Tourism.

2) This entry should really be in the above piece, but it was too delicious not to give it a seperate honour.

For WHD, the HuffPo published some full on hijab tourism with Natasha Scripture’s investigative journalist fray into a wild and wonderfully desexualizing eight hours of hijab:

So, one morning, after carefully tucking my stray hairs under a plain black headscarf, tightly wrapped around my face (traditional Sunni-style, with my face visible), I looked at myself closely in the mirror. Who is this person? With my long hair concealed, I immediately felt that my face was unequivocally defined by my eyes and that even the faintest shift in my facial expression would be detectable by the least discerning of observers. Most strikingly, I felt instantly de-sexualized. It was as if putting on the veil had melted away my sexuality, and I was left with just me.

Yeah. Because “veiled” Muslim women have absolutely ZERO sexuality. None. Nadda. But oh man, wait until that stuff comes off. Then BAM!

I went to meet a girlfriend at a crowded Thai restaurant for lunch where I was absolutely stunned by the transformation in myself, more so than the way people were treating me. As ridiculous as it sounds, I felt myself becoming more demure, which is not my personality at all. As a journalist at heart, I’m naturally adventurous, even flirtatious, so it was strange to feel this wave of shyness creep over me. I think I became that way because the strangers surrounding me — the server, the hostess, the patrons — expected me to be that way.

Demure Muslim women in hijab isn’t a stereotype at all. Now, why would one’s personality change? Because the hijab has the power to remove one’s sense of self? Yeah, I put it on and wonder where I’ve disappeared to. It’s my invisibility cloak.

Anyway, the piece goes on to talk about how she ended up finally herself again after trying to flirt with a guy over a beer. That’s when she ripped off her hijab and let her hair fly free.

Like a bird.

Lady Gaga in a burqa. To promote her new single, "Burqa." I feel liberated already.

Lady Gaga in a burqa. To promote her new single, “Burqa.”

3) Hijab rapid-fire:

  • More on the fashion front, a Chicago human rights attorney launches a hijab design contest to encourage people to come up with a “truly American hijab style.”

4) And finally, it’s the hijab tutorial to end all hijab tutorials. A must watch for anyone telling you how you should cover (and it’s by a Canadian to boot):

 

**And a hat tip to the always lovely Krista Riley for inspiring “invisible hijab.”

This post originally appeared on Womanist Musings and was inspired by a lovely email discussion with the brilliant Renee over my extreme excitement at having pepperoni on my pizza for the first time in 15 years.


Yalla, yalla, what’s the holdup?” There’s a group of young Kuwaiti teens standing in the doorway to the movie theatre. Final Destination 5 has just started and I’m anxious to get to my seat and enjoy my caramel and salt popcorn. I can’t understand why they’re just standing there pointing to the screen and flashing their mobiles — and just before I start pushing my way through the group, my sister-in-law holds my arm and says, “they’re waiting for the usher.”

The usher?!

We ordered our tickets online this afternoon, thankfully rejecting The Smurfs and unfortunately also saying no to Captain America (I like my superheroes). Once we decided on the movie, we chose our seats — specifically opting for the mixed “family section” over splitting our group between the two gender segregated “male/female bachelor” sections. Then at the theatre, helpful ushers escorted everyone to their properly assigned seats without stepping on anyone’s toes.

As action packed, gore-fests go, it was a pretty entertaining movie. I was a little surprised when a couple of youths cat-called and whistled when the sexy groupie character showed up in hot pants and fishnets, but was more surprised when none of the sexual innuendo or swear words were cut out of the film. To keep a level of public decency, almost every screened film is censored for physical intimacy — including kissing, but excluding hand holding and “wink-wink-say-no-more” references. So I missed that one scene where the main couple kiss and perhaps even a sex scene or two, but I wouldn’t know and it certainly didn’t affect my enjoyment of the film. No one else seemed to care either.

Sex or no sex, we all cringed and yelled together with each horrific death scene.

As far as modern, first-world regions go, the constitutional monarchy of Kuwait is just like Canada… only Muslim. But flashier. With taller, more modern buildings. A massive disparity between the very rich and the extremely poor. Mosques and malls on every street corner. High-end fashion malls. Really expensive cars and ridiculously cheap gas. Overwhelmingly Arab and South East Asian. Really hot.

Okay, Kuwait is nothing like Canada.

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Annie @ PhD in Parenting asked me to write a guest post as a part of her March lineup of guest bloggers. I’ve previously spoken about what an amazing blogger, resource and activist she is, so it was quite the honour to be invited to write for her audience this week.

I’m cross-posting the article here, but I do encourage you all to check out the discussion (and other articles!) happening at her place.


Eryn beat her chubby little arm against my back in excitement as we wandered through the bazaar. Row after row, vendors offered delights for the entire family: balloons; flashing baubles; raw honey; bright and pungent, exotic spice mountains; cheddar cheese stuffed dates; almond stuffed dates; golden and sugary baklava; Arabic language DVDs of The Message, possibly the most popular movie ever made about the story of Islam; red and black henna for dyeing hair and skin; face painting for the kids; black, impressive abayas with shimmering, sequinned designs; heady, musk-scented, oil-based perfumes, and adorable baby clothes decorated with familiar Islamic slogans, “May peas be with you,” and “100% Halaal.”

Men, women, groups of families moved fluidly among the vendors – traditional lines of gender segregation were ignored while people negotiated the crowd. Though, a large group of men stood around the meat shawarma vendor, and double the amount of women haggled at the hijab table, while the matrimonial table stood empty. Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Turkish overpowered any notes of English that floated around my hijab. The organizers successfully created a slice of Islamic culture in the centre of suburbia.

While hemming and hawing over a red and gold, mirror-embossed throw pillow, the Hubby called me over to the book section. He was holding an Arabic alphabet mat puzzle in one hand, and a mosque building-block kit in the other. I went straight for the baby books.

The books, articles and advice blogs I devoured in early motherhood have made me the family expert on my pregnancy, labour and delivery, breastfeeding, and now for Eryn-specific child rearing. Very quickly I’ve learned to become a fiscally and morally informed consumer, since motherhood leads me to sections of clothing, food and toy stores I would have not have previously considered going to. My expert eye can gauge the amount of preservatives contained in processed foods at 20 paces and I can stealthily repurpose stereotypical gendered gifts without blinking. It’s the same with books.

For the majority of books currently sitting in Eryn’s book nook, I’ve run them past my personal criteria list, making sure they include most of the elements of: strong female characters, diversity, pro-breastfeeding, fat acceptance, social justice, avoiding gender binaries and positive character building. Seeing that she’s only 18 months old, our current rotation includes: The Paper Bag Princess, Olivia the Pig, I Like Myself!, Scaredy Squirrel, the Very Hungry Caterpillar and several multi-language board books on babies, children’s activities, world cultures and animals.

So far, our teaching of Islamic values has simply been organic. Eryn watches us when we pray and joins in when she wants. She knows I put on hijab before we leave the house, and she hands it to me when she wants to get going. She says, “Allah” whenever she passes the Qur’an or wants to listen to her Islamic-inspired music, and I say bismillah (in the name of God) before she eats or nurses. But that’s about it. We’ve never actually sat down with her and instructed her on pictures of mosques, people in prayer, the Ka’abah in Mecca, women in hijab, successfully told prophetic stories from the Qur’an or Bible or dwelt on any other concepts that she’d identify as “Islamic.”

So, it never dawned on me to look at Islamic books. And the first time I did, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed.

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Well I survived the weekend (kind of).

We started the ‘Eid celebration by eating our first daylight breakfast in a month. I made a huge pot of sweet seviyan — vermicelli cooked with butter, sugar, milk, condensed milk and cardamon. After getting dressed in our finest, we went to the CNE and prayed with about 10,000 people. Needless to say, it was pandemonium. We then met up with a few friends and went for second breakfast!  Lebanese shawarma (roasted meat), cheese fatayer (a lovely, salty cheese that tastes like butter — melted over a thick pita), and kunafa (er, how do I describe it? a toasty top, melty cheese bottom, soaked in a sugar syrup. SO GOOD).

Next up was the regular Friday congregational prayers at the Turkish mosque (where I had an altercation with a gentleman who thought it best that the women prayed in a separate room — coming soon to a post near you), a well deserved nap at home, then another party for dinner, pizza for second dinner and waffles for dessert.

You might begin to wonder at the amount of food Muslims eat during the ‘Eid celebration, considering we just spent a month fasting to remind us of God and the less fortunate. You’re not supposed to lose weight during Ramadan, just like you’re not supposed to pig out once it’s over. Suffice it to say that I find it difficult to eat a lot after fasting. Not only does it feel strange to be be eating during the day, but the stomach shrinks, your metabolism is slowed, and really, there are too many people to meet and party with to do so with a full mouth. For the next three days, we are also reminded to spend time after the 5 daily prayers to remember God, by chanting God’s name and other remembrances (heard in the video link above). ‘Eid is also a time for charity and we are all encouraged to give, and then to give some more.

Finally, Eryn is sleeping better now that I’m not fasting. She’s back on her regular schedule, thank God.

Some pics after the cut.

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The truly amazing, Amma Bonsu, host of the online talkshow Ammazing Series, recently invited me to be a part of a panel discussion on Islam.

Myself, along with the esteemed scholar, Dr. Timothy Gianotti and a lovely and opinionated med student answered questions pertaining to terrorism, hijab, equality, 72 virgins, and culture in Islam.

You can watch it here.

Today, I feel that I was a victim to the most subtle coercion. But it was coercion. I didn’t know any better at that time. And no one even noticed that I was living this big secret. I was happy, excelled at school and was popular and loved. At that time, my moments of confusion were masked…sometimes even to myself.

The remarkable Arab Muslim blogger, Neighborhood Muslimah, recently launched her new blog and introduced herself to me. She’s writing in a terribly raw and open manner, discussing her own experience with sexual abuse in order to open a dialogue she feels is missing from the Muslim community.

I’m looking forward to seeing her blog develop. A forum for Muslim victims of sexual abuse is needed. Like any abuse situation, there are too many cultural trappings and religious power struggles that are used to justify the abuse — and for some Muslim women, finding support within the Muslim community (or cultural community) is impossible.  Many turn to non-Muslim sources for help, and while this support is immeasurable in helping women escape abusive situations, few can offer the Islamic religious guidance that might be needed to help heal scares left by a tainted religious experience.

If you are able, give Neighborhood Muslimah a visit.

When I lived in Montreal, I volunteered with the Amal Centre for Women. At that time it was simply a group of women who gathered food, clothes and each other to help support women in need. We would visit local (non-Muslim) shelters to provide lectures on the Islamic belief system that workers may be dealing with when Muslim women came to their shelters — and directed them toward specific Islamic supports that a Muslim woman may want or require for herself and her children (such as halaal food, a prayer rug, a Qur’an, supportive and safe ties to the community).  Today I am very happy to see how far they’ve come, and how much Amal is doing for the community through their good works, and new centre!

Breastfeeding can be hard work.  At the beginning it’s the struggle with proper latch (and all of the hurtful problems that come with incorrect latches), supply and demand, plugged ducts, mastitis, thrush, nipple shields, nipple confusion, tongue tie, GERD, food-related colic, “failure to thrive”, learning your pump, learning to read your baby, and possibly dealing with negative comments from family: “you done yet?” “put it in a bottle so I can feed baby” “you could do more and go out more if baby were on formula.”

Then somewhere around the 6-8 week mark (barring any other issues), baby suddenly becomes a champion feeder (I suppose most babies are good eaters. But I’ve heard that this magical age turns them into GREAT eaters), and it’s pretty much smooth sailing until the teeth come in.  If the nursing mom hasn’t done so already, this is the perfect time to get baby used to feeding outside.  But some (like myself) don’t quite know where to start. What to wear? Where to go? In a sling? What if I have performance anxiety? What if people stare? Can i still dress modestly?

It takes practice to latch baby and feed discretely in public, but it’s also about your own comfort level.

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[Read part one of the Hijab 5.0 Series]

I’m just going to come right out and say it: Sex workers wear the burqa. Drug users wear the veil. Child abusers wear the hijab. This piece of cloth is not THE sign of piety. There are vast amounts of women who do NOT wear it, and adhere to Islam with an enviable amount of piety, dedication and pure faith. And who unfortunately, are looked down upon for not wearing the hijab, receive fewer marriage proposals, and who are hijacked by the Media as being the “right kind of Muslim” (ie, not a terrorist or extremist)

Don’t get me wrong. I love my hijab. I love the community it affords me — how great is it that strangers greet me, or ask for directions or welcome me into their home because I’m an identifiable Muslim. In its simplicity as being a piece of cloth is also a multitude of wonderful experiences for women: it provides strength, God-consciousness, self-esteem, the ability to negotiate male-centric spheres without issue, and more. I just think that the hijab gets a lot of bad press and a lot of apologetics. It becomes a problem and an issue for women because it is reduced to being only a sign of piety. It becomes a problem because it is seen as only a dress code for women – when in fact, it is SUPPOSED to be more of a mental attitude practiced by both men and women.
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Nursing cammy. Check.
Long sleeve undershirt. Check.
Fashion neck scarf. Check.
Patterned top. Check.
Patterned sling. Check.
Dressed baby. Check.
Nursing cover. Check.
Hijab… Damn.

Trying to coordinate your hijab with your clothes is one thing. Doing it so that you’re nursing accessible, and still able to match the baby and carrier without looking like a circus freak is another.

This summer wearing hijab has been particularly challenging for me. Not only has it been the hottest weather on record, but I have to take baby and public nursing into consideration. Wearing hijab in the traditional form (tied under the chin), with perhaps abaya-styled clothing just doesn’t work when you have to control a curious, unruly infant, undress yourself, position the baby, latch the baby, adjust the nursing cover, and have a face full of hijab/fingers/feet/cover/shirt without going mental and causing such a scene that bystanders gape in horror at what that Muslim woman is doing to that poor child. (more…)

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