Before I begin, I would like to point out my ignorance when it comes to the Islamic faith. I have attended some talks about the basic beliefs and customs and have engaged in conversation with probably only a couple of Muslim people directly addressing their beliefs. So, like many North Americans, what I know about the religion of Islam is not a whole lot.
What I do know, however, is the basic reasoning behind traditional Muslim attire which includes the western-perceived oppression of clothing that covers most, if not all, of a Muslim woman’s body. The intent, as I have come to understand it, is to appear humbly and modestly before the eyes of Allah and to shed all possibility of sexual objectivity from the worshiper. The same basic rules apply to the men but it seems that a great deal less of the male body seems open to be objectified sexually (as it is also in western traditions, if I might quickly point out!).
This is not an argument in defense of Muslim customs. If asked, point blank, if I think women should adopt the traditional dress seen in traditional Islam, my response would be “No”. I believe that such dress helps dehumanize women and robs them of their rights to self-expression. Yet, having said that, I also acknowledge that this is not my call to make.
Becoming a Muslim means accepting the rules and regulations of Islam, which I have not and, in all likelihood, will not do but this does not make me a moral authority to deny others from accepting the terms. The rules pertaining to dress, which one must accept, is pretty clear so we must accept that Muslim women are fully aware of the conditions of their faith. What the protest pictured above fails to acknowledge is that Muslim women might actually be consciously concealing their sexuality as a testament to their faith.
Are some women oppressed under the name of Islam? Of course, in the same way that some women are oppressed under the banner of Christ. Are some women beaten, mutilated, and killed in the name of the Prophet Mohammed? Yes, but jumping to the conclusion that these circumstances represent the entirety of the Islamic faith would be like jumping to the conclusion that the Westboro Baptist Church represents all of Christiandom. In North America, we hear an awful lot about terrorizing Muslim extremists and this starts to paint a distorted picture. Seldom do the Muslim families that budget their resources and bemoan their occupations make the news because, well, they’re far too busy doing “normal” things to appear on American television.
My point is, the above protest, assumes that all Islamic women are oppressed and want nothing more than to shed their clothes and run naked through the streets. This is, as nice as the sentiment is, Islamophobia. Furthermore, the fact that it is not recognized that Islamic women might be putting on restrictive garbs by choice is something I find baffling. What about nuns? They too are religious women that have opted to conceal their body in a garb (very reminiscent of a burka) but we don’t see anyone staging a protest, screaming, “Nuns! Let’s get naked!”
I believe this is because us Northern Americans can recognize that nuns have opted into their lifestyle whereas we assume, thanks to misrepresentation of the media, Muslim women have been oppressed into their role.
It also suggests that nakedness equals universal freedom which I have issues with. There are many ways in which one can define “freedom”, being naked being only one of them. But there are also definitions of “freedom” that being naked might actually hinder, like the freedom to worship the religion of your choice. Perhaps some Muslim women keep their garbs on in order to maintain their freedom to practice Islam as it is defined in the Qur’an.
Islam has come to represent an oppressive and extremist religion in the way that it is defined by News coverage in North America and in the way that we, as a culture, don’t take the time to ask the critical questions about Islam. We assume that our notion of freedom must be their notion of freedom. That if we feel free getting naked, then so must they. We have normalized western culture and in a fight for the freedom for Islamic women, we have neglected to ask exactly how Muslim women would define freedom. If to us having lots of sex equates freedom for women, then it must also for Muslim women. At least, that is the assumption.