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While the World Debates Burqas, Fashion Designers Show Beautiful Abayas at Paris's George V Hotel

Note from Anne: It’s a year ago this week that my own dialogue with the Muslim world began. It has been rich and fruitful, a real learning experience for me and many Anne of Carversville readers.

It’s my intention to write an update article over the weekend. I’ve pulled this article forward to anniversary it; because the burqa debate remains strong in Europe; and because a colleague posted an article on the Examiner this morning. My comments refer to this article.

Original Post|June 28, 2009

Before I share the latest designer style news about beautiful clothes for Muslim women, let me refresh our minds on the ‘burqa’ (aka burka) debate so far this week.

Simply stated, President Obama backs burqa wearing, as a form of religious freedom. French president Sarkozy condemns — and will introduce legislation banning burqas in France — as a women’s rights issue.

Inside Story - Burqa ban in France?

I wrote on my Facebook page earlier this week, that I struggle personally with the concept that the burqa, a garment totally enshrouding a woman, except for a slit or screen for her eyes, is wilingly chosen by Muslim women as a preferred form of dress.

It’s my understanding that neither President Sarkozy — nor myself — take issue with Muslim women wearing a headscarf in public. (I am confused by the French law passed a couple years ago, banning “conspicuous signs” of religious affiliation, including the hajib.)

It’s also my understanding that the burqa evolved, not as mandated in the Koran — which it is not, but in the male-dominated orthodoxy of Muslim culture. For any readers knowing that burqas are demanded by the Koran, please, please leave a detailed comment on this article.

Burka-wearing woman via Telegraph UKThe question for Smart Sensuality Women is whether or not Muslim women willingly choose to wear the burqa. President Obama suggests that they do. I have my doubts that all women who wear burqas choose them willingly.

In supporting women’s rights to wear the burqa if they choose (and not prohibited by law), how does one support the women who don’t want to wear the burqa?

How does one actually know that the woman photographed above actully enjoys her life under that tent? How do we determine who has chosen willingly and who hasn’t to don her burqa?

In his Cairo speech to the Muslim world earlier this month, Mr. Obama called on Western countries “to avoid dictating what clothes a Muslim women should wear,” saying such action constituted “hostility” towards religion clothed in “the pretense of liberalism.” via Christian Science Monitor.

My soul searching on this topic is not complete, because I am uneducated about the benefits of wearing burqas. I react to women wearing burqas from my own frame of feminist reference. I’m now following the discussion on the IntLawGrrls website, supported by many international, high-caliber Muslim women lawyers.

Here’s a Feb. 2008 web essay, written by Beth Van Schaak. The same blog entry references The Politics of the Veil by Joan Wallach Scott.

Another Story in Paris

While I review my personal position on this subject, let me share the photos of gorgeous abayas, the outer cloak worn by Muslim women. Typically, the abayas cover every inch of a woman’s attire. I believe that in many Muslim countries, it is not permissable for a woman’s ankle to show in public.

Model wears a John Galliano shawl for ‘Royal Show of Abayas’, via WWDWomen’s Wear Daily reports that a horsewoman arrived atop a stallion to open the Saks fifth Avenue fashion show of redesigned abayas, staged Thursday at the George V Hotel in Paris.

The show was attended by members of the Saudi Arabian royal family plus participating designers Felipe Oliveria Baptista, Adam Jones, Anne Valérie Hash and Martine Sitbon, per WWD.

The London Telegraph adds French luxury labels Nina Ricci and Jean Claude Jitrois and Italian houses Blumarine and Alberta Feretti.

WWD reports that Saks Riyadh and Jeddah director Dania Tarhini has launched a project “Confidences a travers le vetement”, asking designers to explore the relationship between clothing and meaning.

The Saks Fifth Avenue Riyadh and Jeddah fashion show at the George V hotel in Paris. Photo: APThe designs will be shown during the couture shows next January.

Ms Tarhini, a Lebanese who has lived in Saudi Arabia for the past seven years, acknowledged “it wasn’t easy” to convince designers to take part in the project.

Back at the Presidential Offices

Not too far away from the George V in Paris, the London Times reports that Fadéla Amara, France’s secretary of state for urban policies, herself a Muslim, spoke out in support of the president’s view. She said she was alarmed by the number of women “who are being put in this kind of tomb”, and she urged: “We must do everything to stop burqas from spreading.”

The unconventional Amara, grew up in Algeria, the daughter of a former construction worker, who could only sign his name. For a look at Fadela Amara, read this post in French Politics.

This blog references an American Prospect article Burqa Politics in France, which seems to lay out cogently most of the issues around this topic.

Anne and Burqas

As an American woman, I’ve thought often about burqas and the women under the tent. In a rather dramatic scene at JFK a decade ago, my partner escorted me from the waiting room, because I was besides myself in anger, watching a Muslim woman suffer in 100-degree heat, while her husband sat next to her in Western dress, and a sleeveless shirt.

The same Anne presented herself to the concierge at La Mamounia in Marrakesh, offering to change clothes from a knee-length skirt and wear a sarong or pants, whichever he preferred.

He chose the sarong, which was a big hit among the Moroccan women.

What has changed for me now is the necessity of facing my own thoughts on the subject and taking a position that I can articulate and defend. As is the case with most political and ethical issues, the topic is clouded with grey matter realities. But I’m determined to define a position that works for me, even if it puts me in opposition to my president. Anne

Note to readers: I initially wrote this article for Smart Sensuality News. but at 1000 words, it seems more appropriate as a Journal essay.

With all the attention that this essay is getting, I’m collecting some of the more thoughtful web articles on this topic. If you have one to contribute, please leave the url as a comment, and I will take a look. If I don’t use it, I will explain why but still leave the link in your comment box for others to see.

Women in Swat Valley Abandon Burqas Anne

France’s Minister Fadela Amara Calls Burqas the “Gangarene of Radical Islam” Anne

France must look beneath the burqa Christian Science Monitor

Only 367 Muslim Women in France Wear Full Veil NYTimes

The Burqa of Fear, Terror and Subjugation Pakistan Observer

Burqa no tool for political maneuver Saudi Gazette

The burqa debate splits France The Hindu

France begins burqa ban hearings Saudi Gazette via AFP

Burqas, bans and Ms Bruni The Times (New Zealand)

Lifting the Veil on the Debate over Veils Huffington Post

French row over burqa ban unveils contradictions Reuters

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Wearing the burqa is neither Islamic nor socially acceptable (Note: this essay has many comments on all sides) The Independent

For some, burqa brings freedom Boston Herald

Reader Comments (15)

French President Sarkozy is calling for a ban on the niqab on France (they already prevent Muslims from going to school with a headscarf), i.e a ban in total. Except the man doesn't even know the right word for the Islamic facial covering. He is calling for a ban on the "burka". Now I understand that some people call the Pakistani chador with a mesh screen and more pleating (more pleating is typical of Aghanistan's "burka") the "burka." They do so in error. This is not a burka . This garment is a chador, with a mesh screen, and it is purely cultural. Having worn one, yes, I own one--an afghani friend brought one back--- I can say for a fact it is not an Islamic garment, as Islamic clothing is meant to make a woman's life in public easy. In an Afghani chador I cannot see my feet or to the side of my face. I do not have free hands as I have to HOLD the garment closed, whereas in my niqab (what Sarkozy is referring to as a burka) and my abaya I have free movement of my limbs and no impediment to my sight. Also, in the sunnah Aisha R.A (may Allah be pleased with her---the wife of the Prophet Mohammed S.A.W) never covered her eyes in total with fabric. She always had her sight free. So in Islamic history, having the eyes free is what was done. So the Afghani "burqa" and Pakistani mesh chador are not Islamic garments. If that is what President Sarkozy meant when he said "'The burkha is not a religious sign, it's a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.' " I would have agreed with him. It is not welcome in my life for sure. I like the use of my hands and arms, and I like to see where I am going. That's halal for a woman, ya know?! Anyways, and so.... he still would have been using the wrong term. You think if you are gonna pass a law, you'd use the right name for it. Ya know, to stop confusion?

If you are going to put it in writing that women in France are not allowed to wear burkas then this is what you are banning: . It is not a religious garment either. LOL, it is something worn in the desert to keep sand out of the mouth and is something supposed to make a woman look like a falcon, and for khaleeji women, it is like a Venetian mask... a sign of beauty/cultural dress. No one wears these in France.

What Sarkozy wants to ban is this (which is a religious garment---recommended by all four Islamic schools of thought: shafi, hanafi, malaki, and required by one Hanbali).. Let me explain, in Islam, all four ways of thinking are valid, even if different---the difference in opinion comes from whether the jilbab [Islamic overgarment] covers the face or not---only hanbali says that it does---the rest believe it is something done by the Prophet's wives and is thus a good thing to do if one is able to and wants to, but that they do not have to. ALL ISLAMIC SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT require the jilbab to be worn, as it IS a command in the Qu'ran:

[Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 (33:59) says:

Ya ayyuha an-Nabiyy qul li azwajika wa banatika wa nisa al-mu'minin yudnina alayhinna min jalabib hinna; dhalika adna an yu'rafna fa laa yu'dhayn. Wa kana Allahu Ghafur Rahim

O Prophet! Say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw their JALABIB close around them; that is better that they will be recognized and not annoyed. And God is ever Forgiving, Gentle.]

and ALL the schools of thought agree that the jilbab is an overgarment [here is an essay with all the Islamic evidence:], but from those evidences, Islamic historians come to different conclusions over what the jilbab must cover. The earliest companions of the Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W) all agreed, the eyes, the hands, the rings on the fingers, the hem of one's inner garment when walking or reaching, and one's overgarment. Thus the face was covered, but that may have been because it was better to cover the face, not that it had to be done. But most scholars agree the face may show as well, as there is evidence to the effect that women did have their faces uncovered, and the Prophet Mohammed did not tell them to cover their faces, just said it was best to. There is evidence enough Islamically to make both opinions valid.

Sarkozy wants to ban Islamic facial coverings, not Afghani chadors, or desert burkas. Sure, of course, the French do have the words in their vobaulary to ban all of these, but can they truly ban scarves, and face coverings? Because niqab (Islamic facial covering) is these things. LOL, tell it to Lagerfield, Dior, Lacroix, Givenchy, McQueen, and Gaultier Mr. Sakozy: "'In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity,' he said to extended applause in Versailles, at a joint session of France's two houses of parliament. " I doubt they will applaud you truly decide to pursue banning facial covering for ALL women citizens of France.

It is only intended to ban it from Muslim women, and it is obvious, and disheartening for Muslim women, even those that don't want to wear niqab. But if you ban my niqab in the country in which I will, lol, I am creative, I'm just going to wear two of Mr. Gaultier's bridal veils. Because unless they want to ban hats, high colars, and bridal veils, good luck. They will HAVE TO OBVIOUSLY attack the muslimeen.

Suppression of women comes from them not having a choice, not the choices that are made by either party. If you take away our choice, that is the suppression, whether you are a husband that says you have to wear this, or you are a government that says you can't. That is true abuse.

July 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPixie aka Alixianne

I don't wear niqab right now unless I really really want to, or feel the need to (like if I am wearing too much make up and know, girl, damn you look fine:D). If I am teaching men, or around them in close quarters, I would prefer to wear one because of this part of an ayah from the Qu'ran:

...And when you ask [the Prophet Mohammed's wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts. And it is not [conceivable or lawful] for you to harm the Messenger of Allāh or to marry his wives after him, ever. Indeed, that would be in the sight of Allāh an enormity.
(Al-Ahzāb 33:53)

Now I know this ayat is specific to the Prophet Mohammed's wives, may Allah subhanhu wa ta'ala be pleased with them. Their sins were to be twice as heavy as a regular Muslim woman's, and they were forbidden to marry after their husband's death while we ordinary Muslim women are encouraged to if we wish to or are able to. But when the Prophet sallalahu allahi wa salaam came upon a woman who was not his wife (to propose marriage) there was ALREADY A COVER/PARTITION between them. Yes, this sahabiyat (first Muslims [singular]) became his wife, but at the time she was not, and yet this was already in practice between at least this man, and this woman. The following hadith narrated by Umm Salamah:“When my ‘Iddah (This type of ‘iddah refers to the 4 months and 10 days of mourning that Allah has legislated for a woman after her husband passes away) ended from [the death of] Abi Salamah, Rasūlullah (Sallalllahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) came and spoke to me and between him and I was a Hijāb, and so he proposed to me…” Note, she said: "there WAS a hijab, not, "I was WEARING a hijab". What we often refer to now as hijab (the headscarf) is known in the Qu'ran specifically as a khimar. "Hijab" is an Islamic term that means "cover" such as a screen, partition, or a veil. THE WHOLE OF A MUSLIM WOMAN's MODESTY (her voice in public, her Islamic clothing, what she says, what she does) is her hijab, her portable covering. If this type of "hijab" were what the hadith were referring to, Umm Salamah would have said: "between us was Hijab", not "a hijab" which in the Arabic, grammatically refers to a specific kind of cover, [a veil, or a partition, or a screen] and not the kind that Um Salamah was wearing. You simply can not get that out of the grammer. Anyways, so maybe the Prophet sallalahu alahi wa salaam simply thought to speak to Umm Salamah (may Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala be pleased with her) from another room for propriety's sake, but stealing a comment from Revert Muslimah's post [ ]
"another way to look at this concept would be that if in a woman's home [place of our refuge and saftety says Allah] they have [should have] a barrier or veil between her and a man why would she abandon that form of modesty when she left the home?"

That is why I have always believed the niqab is mustahaab (beneficial/you get reward for wearing it) since Allah subhanhu wa ta'ala Himself has informed us in Al-Ahzāb 33:53: "That is purer for your hearts and their hearts" . If the Prophet's wives (may Allah subhanhu wa ta'ala be pleased with them) and the Sahabiyiat had less fitnah (temptation/evil) in their hearts then I do and the people who surround me, then why shouldn't I wish for an oppurtunity to have my heart be purer? Until very recently though, I never considered that niqab might be wajib (a religious obligation---you gotta do it) only that is was mustahaab (recommended/good for you if you were able).

The issue of niqab and ihram (Hajj pilgrimage to the Holy city of Mecca) is in fact one of the big controversies, and a problem for those who say that niqab is fard (fard is another word for wajib--an obligation of the religion).

Yahya related to me from Malik from Hisham ibn Urwa that Fatima bint al-Mundhir (Radhiallaahu anha) said, "We used to veil our faces when we were in Ihram in the company of Asma bint Abi Bakr As-Siddiq (Radhiallaahu anha). "This again proves that not only the wives of Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) wore the Niqaab and that even though in Ihram women are not supposed to wear Niqaab but if men are there they still have to cover the face. [Imaam Malik's MUWATTA Book 20 Hadith # 20.5.16]

It is very clear that the Prophet sallalahu alahi wa salaam said that a woman in ihram (state of pilgrimage) must not wear either a niqab or gloves. Nobody has ever given a convincing explanation of why in the world the Prophet sallalahu alahi wa salaam said this in the first place if it were fard to cover the face. This is especially true because the obligatory duties of the hajj must be done in public, and in general there are very large crowds around.

If a woman is supposed to cover her face anyway around non-mahram men, she really has to cover it at all times on the hajj and that is just the same as wearing niqab. Instead, the Prophet sallalahu alahi wa salaam has clearly commanded that a woman should have an uncovered face in public while in ihram. As for Asma (may Allah subhanhu wa ta'ala be pleased with her), it appears that she followed the course of Ummahat al-Muminin [the Prophet's wives] (may Allah subhanhu wa ta'ala be pleased with them). That she did so does not prove that doing so is fard, merely that it is halal (good and allowed). Same perhaps might have been, with Um Salamah, when the Prophet Mohammed came to propose marriage to her? Since there are some very clear sahih (historically accurate) hadiths (records) about women having their faces uncovered and the Prophet sallalahu alahi wa salaam not telling them this was something wrong, I thought both options were perfectly acceptable, with Allah subhanhu wa ta'ala explaining in Surah Al-Ahzāb 33:53 that a covering/partition/veil was best, that had always made niqab mustahaab to me, but not fard.

Though some scholars have written that the fact that women (and some of them not wives of the Prophet Mohammed) covered their faces with their garments EVEN IN a state of religious pilgrimage shows that it was an obligation, since it over-rode even what the Prophet sallalahu alahi wa salaam said. The women were obediant to the command that they not wear face veils or gloves, and yet they covered their faces with their hajj garb. Obviously, scholars conclude, the commandment of Allah subhanhu wa ta'ala for the screen/partition in Surah Al-Ahzāb 33:53 was stronger than the condition of hajj that one was not to veil, so obviously, they conclude, that it had to be fard, since the Prophet sallalahu alahi wa salaam never corrected this action of their pilgrimage, and it was well known. So one could never argue that veling the face was not part of the religion, though they could debate if it was a requirement of the religion (a have to---rather than a best to).

*********to be continued on my next comment....

July 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPixie aka Alixianne

There also was a hadith about the Prophet Mohammed sallalahu alahi wa salaam sitting behind a screen and women on the other side of it, asking him questions about Islam, but I can't find it now. I knew it was sahih though, since I had asked a reliable Sheikh at the time. Until recently I hadn't thought of it, but a partition/screen was used in the home since jilbab (the Islamic overgarment) was only fard (a religious requirement) when going out from one's home. In all my readings, I have found that a woman can wear modest clothing acceptable for salat (prayer) within her home when recieving guests, and jilbab when leaving the safety of her home. But within her home, modest clothing good enough to meet the needs of salat was sufficient EVEN if she had non maharam guests (so no face veils:P). The reason being, I just realized quite recently, was the use of the partition/screen. When at a friend's house whose knowledgeable husband imparted some knowledge on us new Muslims on the subject of fiqh (Islamic techniques for devouring and understanding historical sources), he spoke from behind the screen of another room (so that we would be more comfortable and be able to loosen our clothing and not wear niqab in the stifling apartment in the height of summer) and ask of him things as we wished with no awkwardness. In this case, there was a "hijab" between us. That means jeans, a modest tee... That's what we were. But if he had to speak from the same room as us, and there was no physical hijab/cover between us, we wore our full jilbabs, and niqabs (Islamic facial veil) also, if that made us more comfortable. *if I am only in a headcarf aka khimar and not a niqab, I don't feel as free to joke and interrupt my teacher with questions, as I do when I am veiled with nothing showing but my hands and eyes. It is just a personal preference for me. My friends were okay with less coverage in the same situation. I might be more sensual (personally---not the man who was teaching us lol).

I have always believed jilbab (the overgarment) to be fard (obilgatory) since it is a commandment in the Qu'ran that was never relieved of us in any of the hadith, and from studying the vast array of ahadith on the subject of a woman's dress, and the ayah in the Qu'ran making it permissable for older women with no hope of marriage to remove some of their clothing if they don't reveal their nakedness, I have concluded like all of the scholars did unanimously, that the jilbab is an overgarment that is worn over a woman's other clothing, modest enough for salat or otherwise.

"O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their Jalābīb all over their bodies. That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allâh is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Al-Ahzāb 33:59).
****at the same time I want to note, that while I believe jilbab is an obligation, it is not one enforced by shariah (Islamic law) i.e it had no earthly punishment. So Saudi Arabia and Iran go against the religion itself to punish women for not wearing jilbab---in Islam only God can punish---or forgive--- a woman for disobeying jilbab---it is not a matter with man-made punishments in Islam, the way a Muslim who forsakes praying five times a day, actually has an earthly, set-out punishment****

Back on the topic of facial veiling, the only way I have ever feasibly seen that niqab could be fard is if the niqab (facial covering) were somehow part of the jilbab known to the sahabiat. Some of the scholars are of this opinion and it is a valid one, but one I had always been unsure of how they arrived at it. Jilbab was indeed known to the first Muslims before the permission to wear the modern khimar (headscarf), because when the ayah was revealed to wear the khimar, the women of the Ansaar (early Muslims) cut their jilbabs and fashioned khimars from them, and wore the khimar in addition to their overgarment when they went out. Which is where permission comes to wear the jilbab, khimar, and niqab and socks as seperates peices arrives from, from the scholars, I'd imagine, but how did the scholars conclude that the Sahabiyat's knowledge of jalabib included a face covering?

It was narrated that ‘Aasim al-Ahwal said: We used to enter upon Hafsah bint Sirīn who had put her Jilbāb thus and covered her face with it, and we would say to her: May Allah have mercy on you. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “And as for women past childbearing who do not expect wedlock, it is no sin on them if they discard their (outer) clothing in such a way as not to show their adornment” [al-Noor 24:60]. And she would say to us: What comes after that (of the āyah)? We would say: “But to refrain (i.e. not to discard their outer clothing) is better for them”. And so she said: [Referring to, 'But to refrain is better for them'], “It is to keep the Jilbāb.” [Narrated by al-Bayhaqi, 7/93. It is Authentic] Thank you Revert Muslimah, and I'll quote you again sister Jamilah:

"this hadith shows that Hafsah Bint Sirin, who was an older woman and a sahabiat, used to use her jilbab to cover her face. This is proof that the jilbab WAS worn as a complete body cover. It also shows how a woman of her age does not need to cover like that but it is best for her to continue to do so." I.e older women of menopause have permission not to wear the overgarment and facial cover. After menopause modest clothing (including a khimar/headscarf) is sufficient for them.

While this doesn't prove %100 that the jilbab always covered the face, it is enough proof that covering the face with the jilbab might have been a religious obligation for Muslim women, and the Hanbali school of thought takes this position. It is a valid understanding, under shariah law, as well as the opinion that the face does not have to be covered. So if you asked if there is relgious evidence in the Qu'ran that says facial veiling is a religious commandment, it comes from the command to wear jilbab (loose clothing worn over top of regular clothing), not the command to wear a khimar (headscarf) as some translators like to insert. Hadith (historical record) would confirm that jilbab covered the face, but it does not say if this was requirement of not, only that it was the way jilbab was worn, and that jilbab itself is a requirement.

Sorry for writing so much!

July 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPixie aka Alixianne

And from a personal, not historical point of veiw:

I usually wear long loose robes, sometimes more Western clothing like long skirts and loose fitting tops formulated to flow away from my body like long loose robes, a headscarf that drapes over my chest, and a face veil. I carry girly accessories, like shoes, bags, bracelets, rings, brooches... for style, because hey, I'm a woman, I like pretty things, I like to be individual on occasion... but I prefer to keep my sensuality, or full on formality, on the down lo, in public places. I want my sexiness out for my man (who I love, and am attracted to, and who deserves me by being a hopeless romantic and honest and noble beyond reproach), but not men who I want nothing from but respect and help in society. I want my good hair days for my girlfriends, lol, I want to show them my blonde highlights, and new lipgloss, and pretty dresses. I don't want to get promoted for that, or have clients like me for that. I want my best clothes out for my family, who won't envy my fortune or beauty, and my parents, who certainly won't feel less as peoplel, if I can afford Chanel, and they can't. I don't want to be all flash in public, making those who have less than me, feel less. I want to be judged for who I am (that IS my beliefs, my ideals, my intelligence, and courage, and paitence) not my facial expressions.

Yes, sometimes I wear a facial veil and loose fitting robe (which isn't hot compared to a baby tee and skinny jeans:D) when my husband stands beside me in a jeans and a t shirt. I am far braver than he is, that is the simple fact. I am willing to not just wear what I have to in the religion, but what is best to as well. He struggles with the have to (Muslim men are required to have beards if it is possible for them to grow one and to work with one the way I am to wear my jilbab), and I'd love to see him where a white robe and head wrap [because it is recommended for men to do so]. But then, I dress to please God, and care not what men think about me. As a Muslim woman, on the day of judgement, I won't care about my husband, I'll only care for myself, and I'll stand there, and believe I'll have more reward (God-willing) at least in terms of clothing, than my husband will, should we both die at this point. But it is hard for him, to even have me dress in my clothes MY way, let alone wear such clothes of our religion as are required of him, because people see a suppression in my clothing, and blame it on him, and I see it as a freedom and a right for me.

I love my clothes. My husband, certainly, does not see them as beautiful in terms of a physical impression, but as members of the same religion, he admires my bravery, and I hope, I inspire in him, some like strength. I am happy I have a husband who is modest in his gaze (he does not look on other women besides me except for the purpose of recognition) and hope he someday has the bravery to wear the clothes and the beard as well. But in my religion (Islam) women have always been the braver: the first Muslim follower of the Prophet Mohammed brave enough to follow him, was a woman named Khadijah (and HE looked to HER for strength). The first martyr in Islam was a woman, named Sumaiyah. When the early Muslim men and this woman were being persecuted by their own tribe for their new-found faith, and tortured by having hot metal pressed against their bodies, all of the men said they gave up their religion. Sumaiyah did not, and would not, and was speared to death by her torturer because she would not do so. Maybe, like me, she was more stubborn than she was strong, but she would not lie and give up a truth that she believed in. And in a battle, where their harrassors came to wipe them out, when many Muslim men dropped their weapons and abandoned the Prophet Mohammed, and fled, a woman named Umm Imara picked up their abandoned weapons, and defended the Prophet during the Battle of Uhud after the Muslims were defeated. Umar ibn al-Khattab said "I heard the Prophet (PBUH) saying ‘On the day of Uhud, I never looked right or left without seeing Umm Imara fighting to defend me.’" And she was not a woman alone, so also picked up the abadoned weapons and fought Nusaiba Bint Kaab and the Prophet praised her fighting by saying "Never did I look right or left but she was there defending me and fighting before me."

When you see a woman in a face veil, and her husband in jeans and a t-shirt, know that she might just be the braver of the two. She is not afraid to a be a Muslim, when the world tells her not to be. She is not afraid to say I am free in these clothes when the world tells her she is imprisoned and hot under them.

I have worn a face veil, and have worn stilletto shoes. Both are an expression of my femininty, both are a choice, and both have different meanings and purposes in my life. While you could argue the veil is uncomfortable (it can be for my husband, when everyone glares at him when I walk beside him), I can say, so are the shoes (lol, and the shoes more so). Both are part of me. What I want. Who I want to be. When, and where, I want to be what I am.

Saudi Arabia can try and ban the stilletto. And France can try and ban the niqab. But a woman's choice is her freedom, is it not?

I'm a tough girl. My heroes range from Sumaiya, Khadijah, Aisha, Nusaiba, and Um Imara, to Eowyn from Lord of the Rings, the Ventian Courtesan Veronica Franco, and Rosa Parks.

They couldn't ban the heel in Saudi. They can't ban the "burka" in France. Like I said, I'll just wear a bridal veil by Mr. John Paul Gaultier:D and cut out a hole for the eyes:P Tres chique. Peace be upon you.

-Love Pixie

July 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPixie aka Alixianne

Hi Pixie. I'm having a Squarespace moment, which is the platform A of C sits on. More than once it eats my writing for absolutely no reason! I was able to photograph my initial response to you -- although SS says it doesn't exist, then drops the page in 5 seconds -- but must attach it as a photo followup. I can't post a jpg here. So pls look at the update to this article, and I hope we can read the photo writing. You should be able to zoom it, if nothing else.

Meanwhile, I see that your web addy is in the comments. I will contact you mid-week. Love also, Anne

July 12, 2009 | Registered CommenterAnne

There was a time in my life where I might well have been the feminine half of that couple who so inspired your anger in an American airport. Had it been me, I would want you to know that I was not suffering any more than anyone in any other clothes. Heat is heat -- niqab does not make it substantially hotter. At times the lightness and looseness of the clothes comparable to Western fashions indeed can make it cooler or as cool. So while I would have been as comfortable as anyone in my clothes ("aren't you hot?" "why yes ... aren't you?"), I would not have been especially comfortable in the condescension of your anger.

I realize that remark sounds harsh, though it is not intended as a "rant." Rather it is meant to express the rather blunt truth of the feelings of a tremendous number of women in this world who, frankly, tire of being portrayed as victims -- and particularly victims at the hands of men who we love -- that we are not. Were I to write something to the effect that I was sitting in an airport and I had to be escorted away due to my anger at seeing a suffering American woman bearing the gaze of utter strangers upon her shoulders and legs and such while her husband sat aside her in loose trousers and a t-shirt, I would look like someone who doesn't understand as well.

There are a lot of Muslim women in this world who need a lot of things. Rescue from our apparel does not often fall high upon the lists. Feminist discourses which indicate otherwise are feminist discourses which are refusing the priorities lists presented by the women who are themselves the subject of the conversation. And doing so is first world feminism's failure to act as an ambassador for itself. It is crafting a rather bizarre feminist imperialism rather than forging allies. And the attitude that allows it -- far more than "traditionalism," "entrenched patriarchy," etc. -- encourages a reaction against feminism as a concept that is, I gather, far removed from the intended goal. It's kind of like what PETA tactics do to the popular image of the cause of animal rights.

July 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterM. Landers

Anne here. I truly am running this time, away from the computer. Keep it coming. This is good. Of course, many Muslim women disagree with you, but I'm trying to get to a place that's rational on this subject.

Clearly, there's no one size fits all. It's impossible for me to understand this issue at all, when I don't know or hear from women who wear burqas.

So, please. This is so great for me, in terms of your comments. I just want people to be honest, and I thank you very much for being so forthright. That wasn't a rant at all!

Nothing would make me happier than for 500 women to write about wearing burqas. I'll pull it together some how -- a group of you will approve it -- and we'll summarize the issues once and for all. I agree with you that identifying the support that women really want from people like me is also a priority. Feel free to contribute your thinking there also.

Did you read my comment back to Pixie? For me, I'm totally comfortable with the long clothing, covered bodies. I TOTALLY see the merit of that. I have another issue with American women and sexual guilt, and I'm trying to loosen us up in a HEALTHY way, but that's a different topic.

I understand and support covering the body, when a woman wants to do so -- when it's her choice, I should say. It's covering her face, mouth, nostrils that makes me have an unconscious, visceral reaction. I feel she's being shut down. If I can contribute anything to the conversation, it's to admit that much of my reaction is coming from my unconscious mind. It's not neatly packaged, and it's not politically correct.

So if Muslim women can understand that I'm trying to do the right thing here -- in what could become a rare digital conversation, then please be honest with me and educate me. In talking to me and whoever else joins the conversation, you're educating us all. Thanks. Anne

Please do not think that I'm a dilettante, and please don't leave me over this question. Another writer challenged me privately last week to wear a burqa for a week. Is that the stupidest idea you've ever heard or does it have merit? I hear you that for you the burqa is hardly the big deal. I agree with that point.

But the argument we're having in America (not that you haven't heard it and don't live here, too -- I read quickly) is the notion now that each country makes its own decisions, and we're wrong to try to influence the cultural mores of any country. I basically agree with that concept in many ways. America has been way too culturally imperialist, to a disgusting fault. And yes, I track sexuality trends in popular culture, so I know how offensive we can be, if the marketing doesn't rock your boat. And the Europeans are moreso. So what is the balance between supporting women and keeping our noses out of other people's business?

I must run, and I'll send you the same comment to your email addy later. Peace. Anne

July 12, 2009 | Registered CommenterAnne

My email (this isn't my personal one) is bm_pixie @ hotmail. com (no spaces of course!).

About wearing the face veil, besides other people's stares, it isn't uncomfortable. Finding beautiful fabric, choosing a cut and colour that suits your face.... styling your scarf around it. I can eat a footlong sub sandwhich from underneath of it:D. I never have to worry about anyone seeing food stuck in my teeth, I always know just when I should get a breath mint, I don't have to worry about sunburn, or when some racist jerk hunts me down, he can't see the tears in my eyes after I escape him and I don't have to pretend to be happy all day if I'm not (as a Muslim woman if I am upset someone will think my husband beats me or my parents are forcing me to get married or something). I have the privacy I want when and where I want it. There's alot of different styles... And I actually get to dress UP MORE underneath it. Cuz I like make-up. I like it for myself. And a certain few. I am not a show-off though.

July 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPixie

Hi there Anne!,
How are you doing? InshaAllah (God Willing), everything is well with you and your family.

I'm a convert to Islam. I converted 3 years ago, thank God. And 4 years ago, I was one of the people saying that Muslim women were oppressed. Like you, I thought abaya, hijab, niqab, and burqa were the signs of oppression, that it made them lose their dignity, that they were forced to do it, that they needed to be freed. And then I learned about Islam.

Whatever level of hijab (used in the sense of "modesty" here) is observed by a woman, it gives a sense of freedom. Think about this; I have no Muslim relatives and I didn't meet my husband until after I converted. Yet I began wearing hijab immediately due to verse 24:31 and my understanding of it. Everything in baby steps. Then I started a slow transition into abaya; only cute ones, of course. And now those are full time, with my hijab. My next step, inshaAllah, and one that I want to take, is niqab. But my husband and my birth family both don't want it. All this from a former Wisconsin Jewish girl.

When one wears hijab, we are free from the burdens society places on beauty. We don't have to worry about what we look like (although we still do from time to time) because our beauty comes from our faith in God and He alone we worship. And we cover, for the most part, because He alone we worship. And I understand the temptation to say "but THIS woman has been oppressed by it!" Sadly, as in all cultures, misogyny exists. Bad things happen to good people. Men go off on their half-cocked ideas and commit sins in the name of Islam. Women pressure each other to do the same. How does one know that situation? The answer is that we don't and, to be blunt (but said lovingly), it's not really our business. If a woman reaches out and says, "I need help", then inshaAllah we can help. But she has to take that first step.

There's also a difference in mindset. In Islam, the first pillar in the Shahadah is "There is no God but God." This means that what we believe God wills overrides what we will. If something is wrong, then we shouldn't do it, if something is right or recommended, we should do it. And on the final Day, when we are standing before God, we will be questioned about our actions and intentions. So we put aside that we may be hot (although there's almost a cooling system in the sweat/breeze ratio) or uncomfortable or being stared at or, on memorable occasions, being called Osama bin Laden (apparently he does drag!) because we have such faith in Allah that we will be rewarded for our struggles. And to wear niqab or to wear burqa, in the west especially, will in this sister's humble opinion be greatly rewarded.

After wearing hijab (and very occasionally niqab) for a longer period, I see the reward in it every day, in my faith and how I feel, in my daily interactions, and in my heart. I would encourage you to wear hijab for a day and then niqab for a day and explore how it makes you feel. Hijab, when I first put it on, made me feel invisible. I was changing from a western, sexually based attitude to a Muslim one and for the first few weeks, it was hard when I didn't get that same type of attention. Then it shifted and now, I'm repulsed when I get unneeded attention from men in that manner. Sometimes more than a day is needed for that effect though :)

As a final note, I apologize, greatly, for the unwelcoming attitude you have received from the Muslim communities you have been around. Our duty on this earth is to be a Khalifa/Steward of Allah and show kindness to our neighbors and non-Muslims because, at least for neighbors, they are some of the closest to us. As you'll be able to see with the link and the various articles, there are rights to neighbors regardless of faith. So, neighbor of a different city, if you're ever in Milwaukee (or, in a short time, Cairo), shoot me an email and we'll have coffee inshaAllah :p

July 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNoor

I just need to make a quick correction. The first pillar in Islam is the Shahadah, the testification of faith. The first HALF of the first pillar is "There is no God but God." My wording was way off on that one.

And I just have a note for the feminist perspective. (a fantastic resource) have a class on "Understanding Islam." It's very basic and I don't think it really covers hijab all that much, as it's an intro class, but they do, to my knowledge, talk about the use of male pronouns in respect to Allah SWT, ie His will or Him, from a grammatical standpoint. (Arabic doesn't have a gender neutral form and the default in the language is typically single-male, so we refer to Allah as Him instead of Her to be grammatically correct.)

July 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNoor

The word Hishma means "proper dressing" i.e modest dressing. Unlike the various "Hijab" fashion blogs up on the net, I like THIS label because it doesn't come across as the be-all-end-all in sunnah dressing, the way "hijab" can. Hijab is serrious business, and some Muslim women have reduced it to a scarf and a pretty tunic top, and this isn't what it is in the religion. But at the same time, they have made it more accessable, and awareness about how to dress for salat (prayer) has risen, so I'm happy. These sisters helped me start wearing a scarf, even if I did so incorrectly at first. Actually, the word "Hishma" is from Saudi. A Saudi sister who owns the ILOVEHISHMA boutiques stores in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), said she wore hijab in the U.S and when she moved back to KSA, she ironically found it harder to wear hijab in her city, than she had in, I believe it was, L.A.. So she started her business, to show women in the Arabian Kingdom they had other options than the black abaya and scarf and veil... That there is more than that in the sunnah. I applaud her efforts, even if I am stricter with myself than she is with her customers:D

July 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPixie

As for Muslim women distancing ourselves from non-muslim women, sometimes we might (not from you--but from things your life might consist of). We aren't supposed to drink, and I myself do not speak to men I have no relation to outside of politeness and necessity (it makes my married life like fireworks--you know, the teenage star-struck nobody-else-in-the-world-feeling?... well my husband and I are waaaaaaaay past the honeymoon stage and that's still there) (this is a good post on the subject: ). Beause I wasn't born Muslim I have a group of non-muslim friends and even though we are totally close and they know all my facial expressions underneath a veil (and body language to the point they could pick me out of a crowd of veiled women---maybe my rollarblades give me away), we still have trouble getting together. My focus in this life is pleasing my Creator (inshaAllah--sometimes I fail at this). Their purpose is happiness and security in life. They drink. I don't---and I can't around them. I also don't speak to men as a friend (only as a person helping or being helped). So alot of the social situations they engage in, I don't fit. But if you want to invite a group of Muslim women over to your house, if there are no men, and you have tea or pop or coffee (LOL, I am addicted to tea) we`d love to come over, and invite you into our homes the same. But religion is such a big part of our lives, praying, discussing issues in the religion (how to deal with marriage, kids, society---all of this we can discuss from a religious point of view), we don`t want to weird you out when we pause to pray. But if you want to talk clothes, or make-up, or loser men (all women have these subjects) we`ve got that down, lol. We can tell you about our dream men, and how we dream of getting married... We can talk about politics and literarature and science (though not all of us, it depends on what woman). I get bored by biology while my Saudi sister in law can go off about medicine (and episodes of HOUSE), and I can talk about early Christianity and teach a thing to a Sheikh or a Christian priest LOL---and they can teach me something too. I think with the women in your old neighborhood, it would have to be you to go up to them and say, I am your neighbor. I would like to have you over, no men, no alcohol, lol, and we can get to know eachother... Islam is all about that... community. But for the truly practicing Muslims, you can`t seperate the religion from the person, so sometimes we remain to ourselves, because we don`t want to seem preachy. I don`t want to be like, sorry boyfriend of my bestest girl, I don`t shake hands, no Amanda, I don`t think you`re a floozy cuz you have a boyfriend... You`re not Muslim. I don`t want to come off like I am better because I am Muslim. But since I am very concious of adhering to my religion, I worry I can come off that way to others I might introduce myself to... So I let others open up to me. Then, lol, they are part of my community for life,. Especially if they offer tea, or an excuse to dress up with other women, lol, no hijabs:D

July 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPixie

Hello, Anne of Carversville!!

(BTW I like your name, reminds me of "Anne of Cleves"!!)

I came here by way of my best friend's Blog, "ILoveHishma" featuring Pixie. I just want to say that I am happy and interested in a sharing of ideas, especially on the issue of covering in Islam. Where I live right now, a burka is not the enshrouding blue cloak commonly seen in the media -- it is a traditional piece worn by bedouin women resembling a falcon. It is used for modesty because the bedouin women worked very hard the heat of the Arabian Gulf. I find it very comical that Sarkozy wants to ban something that is fading away with the older Emirati generation.

July 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAalia of Abu Dhabi

Ladies, see today's July 15th latest update for my going forward ideas. As I wrote, I will contact Pixie later today. Thanks. Anne

July 15, 2009 | Registered CommenterAnne

Lubna does not deserve to be punished in anyway! As I said, in Shariah, there is no punishment, for not wearing hijab (this is something God Himself will judge upon). Cross-dressing (to purposely make someone think you are a man as a Muslim woman) does have a punishment in Islam (but this only applies to Muslims). But not wearing hijab? Allah never told mankind to punishment those who disobey His commands for jilbab and khimar. THERE is to be no earthly punishment for not wearing hijab.

July 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPixie

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