More. About. Hijab. Swanky hijab this time.

Yes, another post about hijab. I can’t help myself – Muslimah Media Watch started it!

IslamOnline published an article this month about the hijab going mainstream. It was a truncated version of the Telegraph’s piece on the headscarf making a fresh foray into fashion. The piece in the Telegraph opens with the journalist feeling none-too-happy with her “babushka” appearance as she tries on a headscarf. (Sidenote: the scarf was Hermes. If she’d care to donate her castoff Hermes to me, I’d be more than happy to show her that there is no reason to feel frumpette in those threads, wallahi!)

Anyway, Dolce & Gabbana, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Vera Wang and other designers are jumping into the  market, looking to “liven up” the headscarf and “introduce it to a younger generation.”

This isn’t anything entirely new. Top-notch designers have been designing abayas for years and selling them to the Middle East’s upper crust. Rummaging through a friend’s closet recently – looking for something to wear to a party we’d be attending – I had my pick of abayas: stunning purple, gilded turquoise – from Lolita Lempicka to Dior. (To my chagrin, my feet were too puny for her Louboutins.) In her closet, modesty met fashion, for sure. But wait – if it’s a flagrant display of cha-ching, is it modesty at all?

What is new is the 21st century push to revive the headscarf in the West. Sure, Grace Kelly rocked it. So did Audrey Hepburn. It’s even shown up on runways over the past 5 years — but hasn’t made its way into the fashion rags as an “it” trend.

Faith at Muslimah Media Watch has posted an insightful and interesting commentary about this, which I recommend you read here.

Mona Eltahawy: “When did Egyptian women become candy, and when did Egyptian men turn into flies?”

In Egypt, a billboard reads "a veil to protect or eyes will molest"
In Egypt, a billboard reads "a veil to protect or eyes will molest"

Please see this article by Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy. I’m including an excerpt, but the entire piece is worth your attention. I thank her for her honesty – it’s voices like hers that will one day break the shackles of shame.

Excerpt:

“When did Egyptian women become candy and when did Egyptian men turn into flies?

There is no law criminalizing sexual harassment in Egypt, and police often refuse to report women’s complaints. And when it is the police themselves who are harassing women, then clearly women’s safety is far from a priority in Egypt.

The State itself taught Egyptians a most spectacular lesson in institutionalized patriarchy when security forces and government-hired thugs sexually assaulted demonstrators, especially women, during an anti-regime protest in 2005, giving a green light to harassers.

So there was little surprise that during a religious festival in 2006, a mob of men went on a rampage in downtown Cairo, sexually assaulting any woman they came across as police watched and did nothing.

It was only when bloggers broke the news that the media reported the assaults. Still, the Egyptian regime has never acknowledged it happened. At a demonstration against sexual harassment that I attended in Cairo a few days later, there were nearly more riot police than protestors.

My sister Nora was 20 at the time, and she, with several of her friends, joined the protest. She had never been to a demonstration before but was incensed when she heard the State was denying something that had happened to her many times. We swapped our sexual harassment stories like veterans comparing war wounds, and we unraveled a taboo which shelters the real criminals of sexual harassment and has kept us hiding in shame.

And that is why I began here with my own stories — to free myself of the tentacles of that shame.”

The full article can be read by clicking here, and you can see Ms. Eltahawy’s blog here.

Don’t forget their names

AP Photo /Adil al-Khazali
AP Photo /Adil al-Khazali

At least 57 people have been killed in Baghdad, following a series of bombings in the city. Three female suicide bombers and a roadside bomb are to blame for the attacks aimed at Shia Muslims.

This week, many Shia Muslims are making the Kadhimiya pilgrimage, one of the major events on the Shia Muslim calendar. The neighborhood surrounding the Kadhimiya mosque was once an epicenter of Shia learning. Over the years, it has been at the forefront of conflict in Iraq – and this week, the sacred site is once again marked by blood.

This pilgrimage was outlawed by Saddam Hussein, who was responsible for the brutalization of Shia Muslims during his reign. The ceremony has grown in size since his defeat and death. As evidenced by this latest outbreak in sectarian violence, any security force would have a long way to go before it can claim success in Baghdad.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with some colleagues about conflict, and the casualties that have been the result of violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza and beyond. We talked about how we are often (not always) able to put a face, name, and story behind American victims. Not so when it comes to others. We hear body counts. Injury counts. We may see a photo like the one above. “A man” and “a child”, they are called.

This isn’t good enough. It isn’t good enough to know a number that can rarely be confirmed. We – Muslims, non-Muslims, Americans and our fellow global citizens – must have something to put to those numbers. I want to know who we have lost.

As a Muslim, I am angry. I am angry that a Sunni would dare to kill in my name. I want to know the names of the dead so I may pray for them. I want to know their names to whisper apologies to their families. I want to know if “a man” and “a child” have lost a wife and mother.

As an American, I grieve the loss of our soldiers. I stop and watch their faces on the news. I listen to the mothers, the younger brothers, the grandparents and partners. I want to thank them. I want to say that yes, I believe this war is wrong but yes, I thank them still.

For both, I cry. For both, I love.

News updates from the Muslim world

As always, Muslimah Media Watch keeps us aware of the latest…

* Eight women and a man face stoning for “adultery” (quotations mine)

My assertion: the Guardian would be wise to reconsider that headline. Those sold into sexual slavery are not committing adultery. Regardless of what the charges are, the Guardian is validating barbarism by calling it anything less than such in their headline.

* Yemeni feminists clash with “moral police”

* Latest on sexual harassment in Egypt

I choose to wear hijab, but not because I think it protects me from men’s eyes. I have lived through too much to buy into that reasoning. Some women have experienced life in such a way that they do feel protected by their hijab – and that’s great. There are several valid reasons to wear hijab, but above all: we must recognize that women are in danger regardless of how modestly – or how skimpily – they dress. Muhajabah sisters and others: your thoughts?

* In Saudi, a 60-year old creep “wins” a 10-year old girl in a bet with her father

Alhamdulillah, the Saudi Human Rights Council is doing something about it.

Indian Mujahedeen claiming responsibility for Saturday attack

At least 45 people lost their lives this weekend as bombs went off in India. A group calling themselves the Indian Mujahedeen is claiming responsibility.

I’ll say more when we know additional information about this. Here’s what the Associated Press reports as of this morning.

My heart and prayers go out to the victims of this horror – and to their loved ones.

…Allahumma ya mowlana antas-salaam, wa minkas-salaam, wa ilaika yarjaus-salaam, haiyyina rabbana bis-salaam, wa adkhilna daras-salaam, tabarakta rabbana wa-ta’laita, ya zal jalali wal ikram…

This Muslim knows how to have fun & great minds to watch out for

We all have our vices, whether we like to ‘fess up to them or not. Mine are slightly embarassing. But I’m willing to own up to them:

* Independent bookstores: the one in my neighborhood has the most incredible Middle Eastern politics, current affairs and history sections I’ve ever experienced. It’s tiny, but hard-to-find and rarely-encountered volumes abound. I’m like a kid in a candy store.

* Caffeine: I don’t drink alcohol (no, not at all). Nor do I smoke. But I drink a good four shots of espresso a day. Six if my hours are especially long. Yes, my doctor and I talk about this. She’s not thrilled with me. At least it’s fair trade and organic, right?! (If you’re ever in San Diego, you must check out my favorite coffee shop in North America).

 * Miscellaneous: book-collecting, za’atar, the feeling I get after a great workout, the smell of jasmine, orchids, and clean floors (swoon).

But the worst of my vices? The one that makes my friends think me truly bizarre?

CNN / MSNBC / the whole political-commentary universe that is auto-programmed on my cheap analog set.

I can’t get enough. I even get glued to the commentators who make my skin crawl. After all, what’s more invigorating than countering their slimy, often empty points with scholary and sassy remarks?

Love, you say? Fortune? No way. I’ll take my nerd-time over both any day. Politics never bore. I can’t say the same for romance. Sorry – do I sound bitter? Must be all of that espresso.

Last night, when my internet cut out for several hours, I spent my Friday night (this is the “this Muslim knows how to have fun” part) simultaneously cursing at and commending MSNBC.

In a feisty conversation about Obama’s presence on the world stage and McCain’s – uh – blathering at a restaurant (‘scuse me, he was blathering at “Schmidt’s Sausage Haus” – closest he could get to Berlin I guess), I ruminated on some recent commentary by one of my favorite pundits, well, ever. I’m talking about the hyperintelligent, quick-as-a-whip Rachel Maddow.

My Friday night TV-watching buddy didn’t know of Ms. Maddow – nor do a lot of people I come into contact with. Sad, considering that most people can recognize at least a name or two off the roster of ornery old dudes she outshines on MSNBC.

I won’t belabor you with biographical data – that’s what Google’s for. I will say that I personally think she should have her own show — perhaps she could replace the one show on CNN I simply cannot stomach.

Below, one of my favorite debates: Rachel Maddow vs. Pat Buchanan on healthcare. It’s just too delish.

Watch what you wave

Last year, a friend and I were returning home after an afternoon out, and decided to take a longer route than usual. On the way, we passed a Jewish temple. We quickly noticed the prominence of the building, but more so we noticed the prominence of the flag waving above it.

The Israeli flag was striking for one reason: while the building itself was certainly impressive, the stature of the building seemed almost an afterthought beneath the flag itself. A shadow, almost. But how could an enormous building be a mere shadow of cloth?

We noted how odd it must have looked to passersby: a hijab-clad woman pondering the facade of a Jewish temple in the middle of the quite secular city. I’ll admit – we even shared a laugh about how strange it must have looked.

As we stood there, someone was making their way to the entrance for a service that evening. The person smiled and — what? Held the door open for us, thinking we were actually on our way inside.

Talk about crumbling walls. No, this didn’t break down the checkpoints, stop rocket fire, or bring down the firing posts looming from atop the wall tragically marking the Middle Eastern skyline. But it certainly threw me for a loop. I was being invited in, hijab and all. There was absolutely no animosity, fear, or hesitation in this stranger’s eyes. I declined the invitation, but was left with something to reflect on for the evening.

No image is simple.

Just before leaving the premises, my friend snapped a picture of me. Quickly. It was a picture of my face and the Israeli flag blowing above me. I was neither saluting nor cursing it. I wasn’t looking at it, either – I was looking ahead, even away from it. 

It was, at the time, simple: a snapshot of seemingly irreconcilable imagery. On a more analytical level, perhaps it was me looking toward a future where being invited inside wouldn’t have struck me as odd at all.

 Of course, nothing is simple. Flags are not simple, garments are not simple. People get seriously wound up about flags, about who they represent – and who they fail to represent.

Once the photograph was released, the lesson about flags was drilled into my conscience.  People made all kinds of assumptions about what the photo signified. They assumed – without bothering to ask.

China’s nu ahong – female imams

Anne Miller Darling for Saudi Aramco World
Photo: Anne Miller Darling for Saudi Aramco World

Talk about Islam and the secular state: see this interesting story and photo essay about China’s nu ahong, or female imams.  What a testament to the diversity of Muslims worldwide – not to mention that these women seem fierce! The photo above is one of my favorites – I love her formidable spirit. This woman cooks for her community when they break the fast during the month of Ramadan.

“China’s Hui Muslim women inhabit religious communities, homes and social spheres shaped not only by Islam but also by China’s Confucian culture and its Communist secular state. The photographs indicate how they have come up with unique strategies to help themselves flourish in these circumstances.”

Special thanks to Islamfemina for sharing this story.