Let me be frankly honest with you folks. I am completely and utterly in love with us: our hijabs, our niqabs, and our khimars. I love our unmistakably Muslim identity, and how we proudly assume it. I love my sisters in all their diversity, and I’m left forever in awe of their resilience, their courage, and their inner strength. I look at the quiet beauty that is ours, and I can’t help but feel sorry for those who are too blind—or too bitter—to understand it. I love how we assume our womanhood without compromise, neither subservient nor rebellious. Yes, I am completely and utterly in love with us.
My sisters stand strong in the eye of the storm, forever imbued with dignity and wisdom. Like a million stars shining brightly in the firmament, they illuminate the world with their modesty. No rocks, no bullets, no words uttered in hatred can dim the light that is theirs. They hurl ugliness at them, try to soil their pride, and rob them of their humanity; but my sisters remind them instead of what nobility, and self-respect look like. Yes, I am completely and utterly in love with us.
A million lies shouted from the greatest heights fall down on them like a torrential rain, and yet my sisters remain unmoved and unchanged. Every lie hits them with the force of a thousand razors, and yet my sisters—although injured—remain firm on their path. I look at them, glistening in the morning light, and I am reminded of how privileged I am to call myself a Muslimah. Yes sisters, I am completely and utterly in love with us.
What is a moment in this world for those who dream of eternity? Whirlwinds come and go, but Muslimahs remain forever a reminder that without a convenant with God, life is but an exercice in futility. The past, the present, and the future converge to find their axis in the unflinching commitment of my sisters. Yes my beloved Muslimahs, I am completely and utterly in love with us.
“Captain, we’ve arrived at the rendezvous point. Shall I initiate a sweep?”
“Yes Kal. Contact our clients and let them know that the package is en route”
This, more than anything else is what Leila Diallo hated about her job: the hand-off. If anything could ever go wrong it is at that precise moment. It could be a client suddenly getting greedy; a trigger-happy hired gun getting nervous; some local wannabe thugs deciding to hijack the proceedings; or worse yet, those insufferable bounty hunters shooting up the whole place. Yep, it’s all fun and games until someone gets vaporized or riddled with bullets, she though.
Leila wasn’t particularly afraid of a little action, but with age and maturity one learns to become risk-averse. After dodging capture for the past three months by travelling through some of the worst systems this galaxy has to offer, she was more than ready to hand off the package, get paid, and go on her merry way without too much fuss. Knowing her luck however, things will probably go sideways before she can get off this forsaken planet. Good thing I have just the ship for a quick escape, she thought smiling to herself.
Her ship called Kahil—whose artificial intelligence Leila affectionately dubbed Kal—was a relic from the war. The devastating decade-long conflict engulfed the entire galaxy in its path; killing millions across eleven systems, and pitting the most powerful families of the Ruling Assembly against one another in a merciless tit for tat. The feuding oligarchs poured the bulk of their wealth and resources into the development of sophisticated weapons, each group desperately trying to tilt the balance of power in their favor. Out of that frantic arms race emerged a whole new breed of warships. The Tyshen-class starships were built to be fast, highly maneuverable, and came with a deadly array of weaponry. While Leila had served aboard one of the much bigger Sumong-class starships, she had seen first hand the effectiveness of the Tyshen ships like her beloved Kahil.
When the war ended the remaining ships were decommissioned and later destroyed. The Ruling Assembly of the Caliphate declared these war machines obsolete, and an unnecessary reminder of the conflict. In reality, the destruction of the oligarchy’s deadly armadas had little to do with ushering in a new peaceful era, and everything to do with ensuring that no one could break the peace treaty on a whim. However, a few ships escaped that fate, and the Kahil was one of them. Much like the ships, the soldiers who fought in the war became an equally painful memory to erase. There were no elaborate ceremonies, no long-winded speeches about bravery and heroism, and certainly no thanks from a grateful Ummah; just a measly pay for service rendered, trinkets in the form of medals, and a few vouchers for free dinners. Leila and Kahil were both war relics who found solace in each other.
“Sweep completed captain. The area is secured.”
“Shukran Kal. Any answer from our clients?”
“No captain, still awaiting confirmation from their end.”
A client running late to a rendezvous is never a good sign. Better be prepared, she thought as she unlocked Kal’s armory. Her favorite item in her rather impressive arsenal was by far her pulse rifle. It had the advantage of being relatively light and easily concealable under her long coat. Better be safe than sorry, she reminded herself as she slung the weapon’s strap across her body and readjusted her Hijab before putting on her coat. As backup she puts a side arm in her leg holster, and a dagger in the sheath strapped to her belt.
“Are we expecting trouble captain?”
“Possibly Kal. Keep sweeping the area, I have a feeling we’ll have some uninvited guests soon enough. Any sign from our clients yet?”
“Let me know as soon as you hear anything from them.”
Let’s get this show on the road, she though unenthusiastically. Exiting the bridge, she heads towards the living deck, and approaches the only other occupied quarters in the ship. As the door opened, Leila entered the darkened room.
“Lights”, a child’s voice calls out. Leila turns around and smiles at the little boy sitting cross-legged on one of the bunk beds. Before she could say anything Kal’s voice resonates through the ship’s intercom.
“Captain, the clients finally replied. They are running late but they will be at the designated area for the hand-off in 5 minutes. I’m continuing to sweep the area but so far all seems in order.”
“Shukran Kal. All right kiddo we’re here. It is time for you to go home.”
“I’m ready Captain Diallo”, answers the child as he gets up from the bed.
Leila spent the last three months trying to keep this child safe. When she was hired to safely transport a package to the capital, she never thought the package in question would be a kid, nor did she expect things to get as dangerous as they did. The job seemed straightforward at first. A third party had successfully negotiated the release of a kidnapped child, and was looking for someone to take him back to his parents who are willing to pay handsomely for his safe return.
“Captain Diallo, this job will require the utmost discretion. The child comes from a rather well known family, and the parents are keen on avoiding any scandal that may arise from this situation. You are to transport him safely to the capital where you will be paid double your usual fee.”
What should have been essentially a mere milk run for Leila rapidly turned into a dogfight with an assortment of bounty hunters trying to get their hands on the child.
“Captain Diallo, it seems that the kidnappers have changed their mind and are now trying to capture the child anew. We have also been informed that some members of the oligarchy have put a bounty on him, and intend on using him as a bargaining chip to strong arm his family into giving up some of their key assets. Due to the changing circumstances, the parents are willing to pay you three times your usual fee. It is imperative that you succeed Captain.”
That was the last message Leila received from the third party who hired her. To escape detection, she decided to avoid the well-known and more frequented spaceports, and chose instead backwater planets located in the seediest systems she could think of. It has been a long, brutal, and bloody journey but they finally made it to the capital.
As the main cargo bay doors opened, Leila flanked by the little boy emerged from the ship. The coordinates to the rendezvous point brought them to one of the countless old scrapyard scattered across the city of New-Cairo. The place was littered with the remnants of dismantled and wrecked warships, cruise liners, and commercial transport ships. The capital was as always buzzing with an endless stream of activity. Every so often, transport shuttles would fly over the scrapyard on their way to their destination. Leila could see glistening in the distance the towering structures built to house the rich and powerful. These luxurious self-contained buildings were a far cry from the wretchedness of the city sprawled at their feet. Overcrowding, squalor, crime, and poverty were the reality of the average citizen. Even the thick smoky fog of pollution that seemed to constantly choke much of New-Cairo couldn’t dampen the splendor of these daunting arcologies. Walking toward the center of the scrapyard, Leila started taking stock of her surroundings. This is the perfect place for an ambush, she remarked to herself.
If the name in this title was unfamiliar to you, you won’t be forgetting it again very soon after reading this. This is the story of the great Lalla Fatma N’Soumer, an important figure of resistance against French colonial invasion in Algeria.She was born Fatimah Syed Ahmed, later given the term “Lalla”, a title given to women of noble standing, and she lived from 1830 to 1863.
Fatimah was was born in 1830, the year the French invaded Algeria. Her father ran a Quranic madrasah, and she would often partake in these, even though it was predominantly for boys. She began her memorisation of the Quran at this time and completed it at an early age, becoming a hafidha and a student of knowledge.
When marriage was arranged for her in her late teens, she refused, choosing instead to dedicate herself to Islamic knowledge and worship. It…
Although geek culture in general is more popular than ever, certain aspects remain little known to mainstream audiences. Larping, or live action role-playing, is inspired by tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), and firmly rooted in genre fiction. Players portray specific characters in a fictional setting, and act out their characters’ actions in a series of events. Although it is a mainstay component of geek culture, larping is often the object of ridicule and mockery. Seen as the geekiest of the geeks in the overall geek hierarchy, Larpers must contend with their fair share of stigma both inside and outside the culture.
To be a Muslim larper comes, of course, with its own set of difficulties. Look, prancing around the house in your wood elf regalia will probably not do wonders to abate you mother’s fears that you will remain single forever, but an elf’s gotta do what an elf’s gotta do. So, whether it’s trying to prove your sanity to your increasingly concerned family and friends, attempting to devise a hijab-friendly costume, or finding ways to impeach your larping from encroaching on your daily prayers, being Muslim while larping will undeniably have its challenges. But, despair not fellow Muslim geeks. Where there’s a will, there is a way.
Here are 5 essential steps to facilitate one’s path to larping bliss:
STEP ONE: FIND YOUR NICHE
So, here you are. Ready to enter into the wonderful world of larping, engage in epic fantasy battles, destroy your enemies on the battlefield, and feast on their tears like the sweet nectar of victory. Except, you have no idea where to start. Well, the first thing you must do is to find your niche. Larping encompasses everything from fantasy, to science fiction, to horror…. yes, even vampires (hopefully not the sparkling type though).
As an avid D&D player in my youth, fantasy larps were for me almost a natural progression. High fantasy is where it all began, but it is certainly not the only larp I’ve tried. It is crucial that you figure out what you are looking for in a larp. While some enjoy the physical challenge of battles and quests, others prefer stories revolving around character development. For some, the experience is all about amusement and having a good time; for others however, it is about something more than entertainment. They are looking for an opportunity to engage in meaningful stories that allow them to explore the multiple facets of their personality.
Once you’ve figured out what genre interests you, it is time to search for existing larping groups in your city or region. Depending on where you dwell, finding a group might prove itself challenging. Once you get in touch with a group, ask for as much information as possible about the story and the venue. It is important that you feel comfortable with every aspect of your larp. If you feel that the story, or the characters, or even the venue, are not compatible with your general religious ethos, then keep searching for a better fit.
STEP TWO: CREATE YOUR CHARACTER
Let’s be honest, you’ve always known that the heart of a warrior resides within you. A pox on your frail exterior and a rather dull career that hide so well your true nature. But you are ready to leave the mundane behind and unleash your inner Kraken.
Now, depending on the larp you are partaking in and the chosen method of character creation, you might get a chance to create a brand new character, or end up with a pre-written one by the game master. Whether you become a warrior, a mage, a bard, a merchant, a chamber pot servant, or agent Mulder from the year 2525, every character is important and an integral part of the story. Don’t get too caught up with becoming a hero. Larping is about enjoying yourself and meeting new folks. The golden rule of larping is to never get too attached to your characters. This is larping guys, and bad things are bound to happen to your beloved characters. Much like the beheading of Ned Stark, it might be painful but it is part of the story. Be stoic, and when the time comes…….
STEP THREE: REMEMBER, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE COSTUME
Most larps require a costume. While some might buy their costumes or have them custom-made, others choose to make them themselves. Whatever option you opt for, if you are a Hijabi, finding a hijab-friendly costume is a must. Whether your larp is high fantasy, Steampunk, or science fiction, striving to devise creative, authentic, and unique costumes that embrace the Hijabi ethos is part of the experience for any Hijabi larper. Medieval clothing and steampunk costumes especially tend to offer a variety of dresses, long skirts, coats, cloaks, and veils that could easily go hand in hand with your hijab. One of the best larping attire I’ve ever seen remains a fellow hijabi’s take on a steampunk pilot costume. So, go on with your bad self Lady Arwen, and show them how it’s done…. Hijabi style.
STEP FOUR: ASSUME YOUR GEEKY HOBBIES
While larping is rumoured to be mainstream in Nordic countries, there is still unfortunately a great deal of stigma surrounding live action role-playing in North America. The idea that adults could embrace and commit with gusto to what is essentially a fantasy is often met with social ridicule and shaming.
According to popular culture, the “typical larper” is often an individual riddled with social anxieties, incapable of forging real relationships, and desperately trying to escape reality.
But what this rather dubious portrayal of larping in movies and TV shows often leaves out is the sheer diversity of the participants’ background. There is no such a thing as a “typical larper”. While most embrace it for entertainment purposes, those individuals that gravitate toward larping in order to experience a sense of community often credit this activity for helping them overcome isolation and find confidence in themselves.
As a Muslim, deciding to partake in larping—casually or more seriously—is often met with bewilderment within the Muslim community. While some might see it as a waste of time, others might perceive in it the sign of something far more ominous going on with you. It is not unusual to have your sanity or maturity questioned by those who never experienced larping. This is where one needs to put on their big girl/boy pants and assumes their geeky hobbies.
Look, not everyone will understand or even approve of your choice of hobbies. Not everyone will cheer you on as you beat a fellow larper senseless with your foam sword. And yes, you will often get concerned looks as you proudly stride around in your body armor on your way to your larp. But like many other hobbies, this is an experience that is profoundly personal. Feel free however to use questions as an occasion to introduce larping to the uninitiated, and who knows maybe one day we larping Muslim ladies could end up with our own larping community…Oh the possibilities!
STEP FIVE: EMBRACE THE LARP
You are done with all the preparations and are now ready to head out to your first larp. First of all, congrats on boldly going where…some people have gone before. Since larps can last from a few hours to a few days, make sure you put aside the necessary time to perform your daily prayers.
Now that you are all set to go, there is one last thing you must remember:DON’T FORGET TO ENJOY YOURSELF! It can be a tad bit intimidating for first-time larpers to find themselves amongst veterans. Larping in more ways than one is an immersive experience: everyone is there to partake in the story and play their part, no matter the size.The hardest part is getting over one’s own hang-ups, and giving in completely to one’s character. Forget about looking ridiculous or making mistakes. Don’t be bogged down by all the rules, focus instead on becoming your character. Play, frolic, and fight to your heart’s content – it’s time to leave the mundane behind and embrace the larping bliss.
Since the tragic events of 9/11, many discussions have taken place in the Western world pertaining to Islam. Muslim politics particularly—from the appearance of transnational networks dedicated to militant agendas, to the endurance and transformation of traditional Islamic political parties—have become a recurrent subject in contemporary global politics. However, as the renowned political scientist Olivier Roy pointed out, the study of Islam as a sociopolitical phenomenon has always been challenging. According to him, “there are serious methodological difficulties in analyzing an Islamic phenomenon taking place on a global scale” (Volpi, 2010: 1). One aspect that always lent itself readily to analysis was the political dimension of Islam. The political element of this phenomenon offered a component susceptible of “being analyzed separately from the other processes” (Volpi, 2010: 1). This focus on the politicized nature of Islam gained traction in Western academia, and Islam came to be described “as a political religion, a religion in which politics and religion are difficult to separate” (Mutman, 2014:1). This exclusion of all the other features of Islam in favor of its political characteristics, led to the prevalence of Political Islam as a favorite topic in the study of Islam within Western academia.
“It is commonplace, particularly in Western analysis, to associate the emergence of Islamism with an “Islamic revival” that began to gather force in the 1970s, reaching its zenith with the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.” (Mandaville, 2007:58). Western literature devoted to Political Islam or Islamism often reiterates three major assumptions. “These are, first, that the intermingling of religion and politics is unique to Islam; second, that political Islam, much like Islam itself, is monolithic; and third, that political Islam or Islamism is inherently violent” (Ayoob, 2008:1). Western thinkers writing on the subject have frequently been accused by their critics of reducing Political Islam to a “despotic oriental foil” to Western liberal democracies, as well as modernity itself.
One of the main reproaches leveled against this body of knowledge is its reliance on an Orientalist Grand Narrative. An essential Orientalist bias central to these contemporary readings of Islam is the “binary opposition between Islam and the West” (Volpi, 2010:32). In this rather Manichaean worldview, the West represents modernity, secularism and democracy, while the Muslim world embodies stagnation, orthodoxy, and despotism. This idea of a cleavage between a Christian West and a Muslim East is not only one that defines Orientalism, it also introduced amongst Western notions about Islam the idea that an Islamic civilization can only inspire undemocratic governments. While we often attribute the rise of Islamophobia to the post 9/11 context, this ideology predicated on an intense hostility toward Muslims, Islamic cultures, and Islamic politics has a pedigree of many centuries in Western thought.
When in 634 Jerusalem fell into Muslim hands, for many Christians the very status of Christianity as the “universal religion of a universal empire” (Kalmar, 2012:36) was being challenged by the newly expanded Muslim Caliphate. While Edward Said argued that the European encounter with the Orient resulted in the depiction of Islam as the ultimate outsider in the Western world’s collective imaginary (Said, 1979:70), Ivan Kalmar posits instead that when Islam was born, Prophet Muhammad (saw) “was widely regarded not as an alien but as an “impostor”, a heretical Christian with pretensions of being a new Christ” (Kalmar, 2012:38). Hence, the advent of Islam was not interpreted as a schism between Europe and “its outsiders; but rather as a crack within a single, Christian-Muslim edifice” (Kalmar, 2012:39). This fragile status quo changed drastically when the Ottoman Empire won the battle of Kosovo and gained an important foothold in Europe by 1388 (Kalmar, 2012:40). The fall of Constantinople in 1453 exacerbated existing tensions and irrevocably altered the previous relationship between Islam and Christianity.
The capture of Constantinople by Muslims marked the beginning of Europe’s creation “as a continent with a distinctive religious and cultural tradition” (Kalmar, 2012:41). To ensure the integrity of what was now seen as a purely Christian realm, the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella launched the Reconquista and expulsed Muslims and Jews from Spain and Portugal. The conquest of Constantinople and the Reconquista allocated to each religion a solid geographic presence. In the Christian West’s Weltanschauung, Christianity found its abode in the West, while the Orient became irretrievably Muslim. During the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther said of Islam the following:
“The Turk is the rod of the wrath of the Lord our God. … If the Turk’s god, the devil, is not beaten first, there is reason to fear that the Turk will not be so easy to beat. … Christian weapons and power must do it…”
He saw Islam primarily as a violent movement—closed to all reason—in the service of the anti-Christ, and that can only be resisted through equally violent means. In 1544 Bartholomew Georgevich of Croatia produced a best-selling work titled Miseries and Tribulations of the Christians held in Tribute and Slavery by the Turks. It was what we might call by today’s standards a graphic novel. This illustrated book showed Turks beheading prisoners, Turks spitting babies on their lances, Turks leading into slavery captured women and children. In Europe where illiteracy was rampant, this book reached a wider audience and popularized a virulent form of propaganda against Muslims.
In later centuries Islam continued to be presented as a foil for authors who championed Enlightenment in Europe. Western thought and literature produced an impressive collection of stereotypes and half-truths about Islam and Muslims. In these works Muslims were often referred to as Turks, Moors, Saracen, or Mahomedians. Whether it was Voltaire’s depiction of Prophet Mohammed (SAW) as an theocratic tyrant, Shakespeare’s portrayal of the Moor’s inherent brutality and lack of reason in Othello, Hegel’s assertion that the Muslim civilization was devoid of Volkgeist or specific ethnic and national spirits, Montesquieu’s commentary on how despotism is likely to be the only means of establishing order in Islamic territories, or Ernest Renan dismissing Islam as incompatible with science, and Muslims as incapable of leaning anything, or of opening themselves to new ideas, these ideas about Islam were reiterated again and again. Scholars in Western academia to this day perpetuate these stereotypes of a static, irrational, retrogressive, anti-modern religious tradition. Luminaries of Western academia such as Bernard Lewis, Ellie Kedourie, Daniel Pipes, Gilles Kepel, and Samuel Huntington have given credence to this portrayal of Islam in their own illustrious careers.
To ignore the historical roots of Islamophobia, and how Western thought has been instrumental in not only manufacturing a narrative about Islam based primarily on stereotypes—but also in justifying and reiterating this idea of Islam as a civilizational threat to the Western World—would hinder our understanding of the many ramifications of Islamophobia in our society. Sam Harris, the popular American author, philosopher, and neuroscientist stated the following: “To speak specifically of our problem with the Muslim world, we are meandering into a genuine clash of civilizations”, and we’re deluding ourselves with euphemisms. We’re talking about Islam being a religion of peace that’s been hijacked by extremists. If ever there were a religion that’s not a religion of peace, it is Islam.” He belongs to the greater industry peddling the fear of Muslims and Islam. The phobia of a subtle islamization of Europe (and the greater Western world) is not solely found in the ramblings of bigots and fascists, but has rather been polished into a conceivable threat by the likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins who use their academic credentials to lend credence to this supposed threat. If we do not address the structural nature of Islamophobia, we will never truly be able to challenge it effectively. Islamophobia is not simply the work of racists and bigots; it is rather part and parcel of the intellectual heritage of the Western world.
For us Muslim ladies when it comes to marriage, it is pretty much a family affair…and even at times a communal one. Most of us rely on family and community connections to meet potential future husbands. While I’m sure some Muslims engage in what is commonly known as dating, for those who choose to go the traditional/religious route there will be no random dates with some equally random dude. No Sir, the prelude to marriage is a carefully planned, well orchestrated process that requires nerves of steel, and a knack for diplomacy. While every community adds its own cultural flavour to the proceedings, in essence the precepts that shape the process of marriage by and large emanate from the same Islamic values.
I’ll be honest, the whole thing eludes me completely. I think that I’ve probably missed some crucial course on human interactions somewhere along the way. It is not that I don’t like marriage, I do. I love the idea of people coming together, creating families, finding companionship, and all that Jazz. What I don’t get is the underpinnings of most human pairings. The how and why most people choose to be together is always bizarre to me. Human intimate interactions are as mysterious to me as they would be to any visiting alien from another planet. I’ve had the pleasure of playing the role of the chaperone for my closest friends during their courtship, and I absolutely enjoyed being a confident, a counsellor, and a comic relief (when needed) for each one of them. I’m honoured that they trusted me as their friend and their sister in Islam. While I would gladly chaperone for anyone, when Geeky Muslimah is the object of said courtship things tend to….well….go awry.
While I’m a total science fiction geek, I also happen to be on the more orthodox end of the Muslim spectrum. THIS is often difficult for some brothers to reconcile. From my appearance, my opinions and practice of Islam, they often ascribe a certain personality to me. A personality that is unidimensional and bereft of depth. Most of the proposals I’ve received were made to me because apparently from afar I seemed like the “perfect Muslim wife”. This was of course based on my appearance and nothing more.
I’m so far removed from what most men would consider an ideal wife, it is quasi comical actually. If I could have my own personal coat of arms the motto on it would read “I do not cook and I barely clean”. I’m not exactly a hermit (yeah I am, who am I kidding?), but I’m not exactly the socializing type either. I prefer quite nights at home doing something useful like catching up on the latest episodes of Mr.Robot. Entertaining people (family included) is what I call cruel and unusual punishment; the small talk, the smiling, the constantly running around serving people and being a good host….please just put me out of my misery (Umm….maybe I have a problem after all guys, but that is a discussion for another post). I’m obsessed with reading, in fact if I could pretty much do just that, I’d be living in my own personal utopia. I’m not particularly affectionate, displays of emotion make me rather uncomfortable actually. If we could all just take up Kolinahr like the Vulcans, I’d be totally fine with that (Science fiction geek here, you’ve been warned folks)
Another problem is that I just don’t perform well under pressure. A certain prototype of Muslim woman is what is expected to make its appearance when the party making the proposal shows up at your place. I’ve been told more than once that this is when you put your best foot forward. What does that even mean??? Apparently I just do everything wrong. First of all I hate dressing up. There is a reason why my wardrobe is full of black abayas, I can’t be bothered with developing a fashion sense. But somehow now I’m expected to be Miss stylish Muslimah??? Not gonna happen folks, you’re lucky I’m not wearing my Doctor Who T-shirt on top of my black abaya (to accessorize 🙂 ), so just back off already.
Then there is the conversation with this person who could possibly become the one you will share the rest of your life with. Once you’ve depleted the obvious topics (family, profession, education) what else do you talk about? I love talking politics, science, literature, history, and religion (and yes I will totally judge you for having the wrong opinion), but apparently my eagerness to talk about these topics often comes off like an interrogation. I actually once rejected a proposal after a heated conversation about the role of the IMF and the World bank’s structural adjustment programs in the impoverishment of the Global South (I’m sorry but if we do not share the same basic Islamic values of social justice, and you see nothing wrong with the gutting of entire nations in the name of pure greed, you can just keep on trucking. I will not raise a guinea pig with you let alone actual little human beings). Of course it didn’t help that this brother actually worked for the World Bank, a detail that was mysteriously omitted from the description I was given of him (my family and closest friends know how I feel about certain institutions).
So when brothers find out that my ideal husband is a man I can grow with spiritually (I totally see us having our own Qur’an competitions at home….winner gets a chocolate mouse cake), who is willing to live a principled life according to the precepts of Islam, but who would also be willing to binge watch Star Trek with me, and go to Comic Con ( Cosplaying as Worf and Jadzia…#RelationshipGoals), they just don’t know what to make of it. And I don’t blame them, I am a hodgepodge of contradictions, and a patchwork of inconsistencies. So when the inevitable denouement of these situations arrives it always ends with the same phrase “Sorry it didn’t work out, but look I’m probably not the girl for you anyways. I’ll be making duas for you, please do the same for me“, usually followed by a nervous giggle.
Look at the end of the day what matters is that each and everyone of us finds happiness. I, Geeky Muslimah, found happiness and a sense of purpose in what I affectionately call the singlehood. I just wish we stopped looking at women as incomplete, depressed, or lonely if they are not married. Our personhood is not the byproduct of our marriage status.
Full disclosure here; I’ve never exactly been a social butterfly. I’ve always preferred the company of my books, and the few friends I have made over the past decades. So when I decided to venture into the blogosphere it was both an attempt to find an outlet to deal with the various trials and tribulations of my life, and a way of tapping into the greater Muslim blogosphere in the hopes of finding a community. Since I started blogging I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many other Muslim bloggers. Amazing, funny, insightful, and inspiring individuals whose posts I look forward to. I’ve learned much in the process, and enjoy living vicariously through their travels and adventures. They’ve made me laugh, ponder, and even when I don’t agree with their opinions, I nonetheless appreciate their candour. Blogging has also allowed me to take stock of the plethora of blogs, websites, podcasts, and magazines made by and for Muslim women. As someone who very often rants about the importance of narratives, and the necessity for Muslimahs to not allow others to narrate their existence and co-opt their voices, learning of the existence of so many outlets made primarily by Muslim women was a welcomed change. However, within this cornucopia of content lies serious problematic trends that we need to address.
Help me out here ladies. Is there a reason why almost every blog, podcast, website, or magazine by and for Muslim women focuses so heavily on fashion? There is nothing inherently wrong with the topic, but when it represents the overwhelming majority of the content destined for Muslim women at the detriment of everything else, it becomes a problem. Do we not have any other concerns or interests? Do we have nothing else to contribute to our communities and Ummah at large? Have we become so narcissist that our conversations begin and end with looking good and finding Romeo? The overwhelming majority of these outlets produce a narrative about Muslim women that is simplistic at best, but mostly insidious in its erasure of our complex and diverse realities.
It is true that the modest fashion industry has allowed many female Muslim designers to make a name for themselves, and build their own enterprises by catering to a growing Muslim clientele eager to be fashionable while remaining true to their Muslim identity. I can only applaud these entrepreneurs and recognize the hard work and dedication needed in order to succeed. In fact, they have been so successful at it that the mainstream fashion industry is now taking notice of their success. The new hijab and abaya lines by fashion heavyweights like Dolce & Gabbana, as well as the presence of the hijab on the runways of the famous New York fashion week is a testimony to the popularity and the lucrative nature of the modest fashion industry. Some would even argue that the presence of the hijab in venues ranging from the cover page of Playboy to the runways of New York represents, in and of itself, a victory against Islamophobia. They perceive the visibility of the hijab in mainstream media and cultural outlets as an effective way of challenging the stereotypes that alienate Muslim women from the rest of society. After all, what better way to combat marginalization and alienation than to prove that we are not so different from everyone else?
The idea that through fashion islamic values of modesty can be promoted is probably one of the main ideological underpinnings of the modest fashion industry. The popularity of the Hijabi fashionista phenomenon, which is as much a byproduct of the modest fashion industry as it is its main driving force, rests on a similar idea; conveying modesty through fashion. But can an industry predicated mostly on ostentatious displays be a vehicle for modesty? The phenomenon of the modern apparel industry based on the mass production of clothing, and “the establishment of designers as arbiters of taste” originated in Europe. Since the 20th century fashion has turned into an essential staple of Western culture. Throughout the decades it has gained traction in much of the rest of the world. While the Muslim fashion industry perceives itself to be a distinct and separate entity, one could argue that it is more an offshoot of the Western fashion industry than an alternative. This becomes particularly relevant when one takes into account the ideals of beauty promoted by the modest fashion industry. Other than the presence of the hijab, the ideals of beauty that are promoted by this industry—from skin tones, to phenotypes, to body types—adhere to eurocentric ideals of beauty and female desirability.
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The prevalent narrative in the modest fashion industry, while attempting to champion the ideals of modesty so dear to Islam, is inflicting a powerful blow to the hijab’s ability to empower women by liberating them from the vapid and hollow expectations of beauty thrusted upon them by society. Many Muslim women often explain their reasoning for wearing the hijab as a way of escaping the chauvinist and dehumanizing gaze of society by adhering to a different type of womanhood; one predicated not on arbitrary standards of outward beauty, but rather holistic ideals of personhood transcending the mere physical to embrace instead all that truly characterizes a believer: manners, compassion, piety, intelligence, and wisdom. Instead of promoting a different kind of womanhood and using Islam to advocate for the liberation of women from overtly sexualized femininity, the modest fashion industry reiterates the same expectations as the mainstream fashion industry when it comes to what makes a woman beautiful and desirable. The emphasis is once more put on outward physicality and artifices such as makeup and clothing.
In fact, I would argue that this is the reason why the hijab is so readily accepted in the world of fashion. Bereft of its own spiritual narrative the hijab becomes nothing more than a cultural signifier, much like a kilt, a sari, or a dashiki. In that context it is reduced to nothing more than an object of exoticism that exudes mystery and seduction. It harkens back to the age old Orientalist narrative—that has always fuelled the fantasies of Westerners—about scantily clad ladies submissively awaiting for the sexual favours of their husbands in their well-guarded harems. These images of beautiful hijabis gracing the pages of fashion magazines is more likely to foster pipe-dreams about forbidden fruits awaiting to be unveiled than to promote modesty or a distinct form of womanhood in Islam.
Granted one could say, upon taking a look at my moniker, that I am nothing more than a reclusive nerd hating on fashionable folks with actual relationship goals. I assure you however that my trepidations are not born of hatred or jealousy, but rather a desire to question the pitfalls of the current popular narrative shaping who and what a Muslim woman should be. We should applaud our sisters’ success and support them in their various endeavours. However, in Islam part of that support entails giving sincere advice to one another.
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Each of you is the mirror of his brother, so if he sees a fault in him he should wipe it away from him.” [Tirmidhi]
We cannot on one hand bemoan sexism and the hyper sexualization of female bodies in mainstream society, while at the same time reproducing the same patterns all over again in our own platforms. We cannot keep harping on about the liberating essence of the hijab, while at the same time stripping it of all that makes it a tool of liberation in the first place. We cannot profess our love and dedication to modesty, while taking part in the same process that imposes on women arbitrary standards emphasizing outward beauty. We cannot pretend to aspire to a different kind of womanhood predicated on ideals that transcend mere physical beauty, while at the same time reproducing a narrative that reduces women to nothing more than vain creatures existing solely to satisfy the male gaze. We cannot in the name of feminism promote women’s liberation but do it at the detriment of the very ethos of Islam.
Muslim women are as diverse as the Muslim Ummah itself. We come in many shapes and colours, and this diversity is part and parcel of our identity as Muslimahs. However, the current narrative championed by the modest fashion industry not only ignores this diversity, but also erases the complexity of our experiences. It gives credence to the erasure of anything deemed “imperfect”, it excludes those deemed to fat, to dark, to disabled, or to ugly. It embraces in more ways than one the mainstream narrative pertaining to Muslim woman which often vacillates between two extremes: the oppressed woman in need of liberation, and the Pinup girl in need of recognition. It is a narrative that alienates and disempowers the vast majority of us by stripping us of our humanity and complexity.
We are mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters. We are nurturers and warriors. We are ulemas, scientists, doctors, writers, teachers, engineers, artists, maids, architects, nurses, farmers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, activists, and so much more. We are the inheritors of 1400 years of history and struggle. The mothers of the believers (may Allah be pleased with them) and all subsequent generations of Muslimahs have laid down for us—through their hard work and example—a blueprint to follow in order to succeed in this world and in the hereafter. At a time when the status of women in Islam is often used to attack our religion; at a time when Muslim women are often the primary target of the virulent discourse of modern day Islamophobia; at a time when our communities and Ummah at large are struggling with massive political, economic, social, and spiritual challenges, we—Muslim women—simply cannot afford to remain silent and let ourselves be erased by a narrative that strip us of our true identity, and robs us of our potential. We have much to contribute to the world and our Ummah. More than ever, our talents, knowledge, experiences, ideas, courage, and strength are needed to help our beloved Ummah traverse this difficult moment.
So, let your light shine through Muslimahs by remaining steadfast in the path of your Lord.