The War of the Women
By Yahiya Emerick & Reshma Baig
A popular English saying says that "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." The meaning being that if a woman feels like something unfair happened to her, her anger will be limitless. I'm not going to say that that is necessarily true or not, but I have seen shades of it in the world-wide war between women who wear the Hijab (head-scarf) and those who want to oppose it.
Why do I describe it as a war? If you have to ask then you haven't been paying much attention to what women talk about in public meetings, articles, lectures, and even among themselves. The battle consists, quite interestingly, of four distinct war-fronts.
1) the women who wear Hijab out of conviction that it is the Islamic thing to do.
Then there are
2) the women who wear it only because their mothers and grandmothers wore it; unaware of its true Islamic significance.
The third group,
3) the non-Muslim feminists, rally against anything that covers up even one inch of the female form, but we already expected this from them.
4) there are the secular "Muslim" women, who almost never practice Islam anyway, but who have Muslim names and roots, who make it a point to appear at all Muslim gatherings with hair fashionably styled in full public glory.
For the sake of this article, one issue must be clear from the outset (so as not to ruffle the feathers of too many readers): An operative definition of the Hijab-wearing woman must be constructed. Albeit, as described above, not all Hijab wearers are alike. Women wear the Hijab for varying reasons. In reality, there also exists those noble and true Muslim sisters who wear Hijab because it is Islamically correct. They perceive it as intrinsically empowering. In addition, the Hijab is not a facade (the "I'll wear Hijab then do whatever I like" attitude).
The operative definition of a true Hijab wearing Muslim woman is one who correctly follows the guidelines of Qur'an and Sunnah and whose only motivation is to please Allah. (Qur'an 33:59) This type of Hijab wearing woman is intelligent, Allah-fearing, overcoming the temporal trappings of the life of this world, and ultimately very happy with her decision. She is not out to please anyone except her Creator.
Now as stated previously, there are the four groups in this Battle of the Scarf. But it's not a fair war. Although it would seem that there are two factions on each side, in fact, the culturally-based Hijab wearing women are no help to their Islamically-oriented sisters. The cultural Hijab-wearers don't look at their Hijab as an Islamic duty, but rather as an affiliation with some old-country culture. And in fact, they wear it only out of habit.
Obviously, then, the daughters of such women, feeling more "American" than Arab, Indian, Nigerian (or any culture transmitted by family origin), never wear the Hijab themselves because it's just "culture" and thus, the cultural women are no help in the Islamic struggle. Their own offspring become some other "culture" just as they are only motivated by what they grew up with themselves.
Have you ever seen the women, walking in "full" Hijab, but then their two or three daughters, even if they're teenagers, are dressed completely like non- Muslims? It's incredibly common. I feel like asking those mothers. Why are you even wearing Hijab if it wasn't important enough for you to pass on to your daughters?
So the Islamically-oriented Hijab-wearers are quite alone in the face of the assault by the feminists/secular "Muslimahs". The relationship between those two erstwhile allies is strange. The agenda of the Western feminists has always been puzzling. They cry about equality and respect but then push for things that dehumanize women and put them at the mercy of merciless men. They'll say women should be respected for their minds rather than for their bodies, but then they'll say that women should go around in mini-skirts and g- strings. It's funny how some ultra-Feminists argue with pride that the only professions in which women earn more money than men are prostitution and fashion modeling--then, while complaining against violence towards women, they try to encourage more women to be "empowered" by disrobing (utilizing work- place fashions that place more emphasis on the female figure rather than intelligence and qualifications).
Men are an aggressive lot. If you take away clothes from a woman, the man is not suddenly going to start respecting her. Rather he's going to take it as a green light to chase after her. It's interesting how so many male fashion designers are worshipped by Western, European, and now even "Muslim" women. (Armani, De La Renta, Gucci, Mizrahi, Lauren, etc...)
It doesn't take an analyst from Fashion Avenue to figure out that a man will design clothes for women that fits one main criteria: That the outfit be pleasing and attractive to the eyes of a man. From this arises the catch- phrase: "powerful and sexy". Some cultural "Muslims" with more of an interest in fashion (rather than their love for Allah) heed the call of Vogue, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan rather than the guidelines for dress in the Qur'an and Sunnah.
Unfortunately, both "Muslim" men and women have fallen prey to the paradigms of worldly dressing. (Is it really dress for success or dress for sex?). Some brothers are ashamed of their wives and daughters wearing the Hijab in public (the "you look too dowdy with that thing on your head" syndrome.) Some women discourage their own Muslim sisters from wearing the Hijab saying that they'll "never succeed" or "just look old-fashioned and oppressed", or as I've overheard time and time again, "you only need to wear Hijab on Eid or at Jumu'ah prayer".
It must be added here that Muslim women are not being encouraged to dress dowdy, sloppy, or out of the "mode". It is merely being asserted that what is touted as fashionable is not necessarily empowering--or flattering-- in the real sense of the word. Islam arrived on the scene more than 1400 years ago to fortify a woman's dignity; introducing the concept of "covering the parts that elicit desire". Time and time again it is implored that "Allah is beautiful and loves beauty." Our Creator made us beautiful and the dictates of "modern" fashion morph that beauty into something exploitative and ugly.
The feminists say that women should be free and independent, never relying on any man. So the message men extract from this is that now they can have as many lovers as they want and never have to be tied down to one woman ever again. Consequently, a woman who dates can expect to go from man to man for twenty years or more before she can succeed in tying one down in marriage. And now women have to dress even more alluring to attract men, and have to work harder to keep them around lest the "roving eye" spots another, younger, prettier catch. Women, as polls have shown, are more harried, stressed and suffering from acute eating and other disorders than ever before.
Feminists say that all spiritual traditions are male-oriented and have worked to keep women down. While this may be true in the case of Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism, these feminists have no knowledge of Islam. All they see is the stupid, chauvinistic cultural traditions of backward X,Y or Z Muslim country and they equate that with the teachings of Islam. Then pseudo- scholars from the West quote ayat and Hadith out of context and paint a picture of a barbaric religion which seeks death for all.
On the same level, there are also ethnic "Muslim" women out there who do more to disparage Islam and present apologetic misinformation than their non-Muslim associates. Case in point: In a recent New York Times article about the growing number of Hijab wearing women in America, a "Muslimah" doctor from Chicago is quoted as saying that "Hijab has nothing to do with Islam." Her justification was that she was from Pakistan and it's not important over there. This makes one wonder: Which version of Islam is that? Oh, the abridged version. (Qur'an 33:64-68)
At the same time there is the wave of Muslimahs in America who assert their identities as Muslims and are cognizant that the Hijab is a requirement. These are the sisters on the frontlines who you see in various workplace settings with their Hijabs. The Hijab, as many sisters have commented, changes everything. Peoples are compelled to see you as a Muslim and therefore must assess their own feelings about Islam and Muslims. Ill feelings and sincere understanding of the faith are put through the sieve that is the Hijab.
You can imagine the outrage feminists feel when they hear that women are leaving "liberated" Western-secular culture and accepting Islam. I once overheard one feminist say, "Why are they entering a religion that will oppress them." It is so wired. If a woman walks down the street in a french- style head-wrap, nobody blinks an eye. If an old woman has a scarf or net wrapped around her head, nobody even looks. But the minute a woman walks in public with a scarf worn in typical Muslim style, people, women mostly, absolutely freak out. Otherwise nice women will start muttering insults or even yelling.
Of course, no one says anything bad when they see a statue of Mary wearing a veil- and she always has a veil on. And no one yells at nuns, many of whom dress more Islamically than most Muslim women. So why the anger at the Hijab? You know, there's an interesting experiment you can try, and it may also save you from committing sins. Whenever a pretty girl walks by, almost every man looks at her, right? In Islam this is discouraged, for obvious reasons. But the next time you see a pretty woman walking by a stationary group of people, don't look at the pretty woman, (save yourself from a sin,) instead, look at the faces of the other women as the pretty woman passes by them. You'll be amazed to see that it's the women who are most blatantly and closely watching the young debutante prance by. And the glances of the women will follow long after the men have lost interest.
It's amazing! Women judge each other by their looks and appearances more than you would imagine. Especially non-Muslim women, who see the new female as a potential rival for male attention. When a Muslim woman, dressed according to her conscience, walks by, you see these same women grimace and make ugly faces. Why are they so threatened by a covered woman even more so than a half-naked one?
Because the half-naked woman is only a rival for a man. The covered woman is a direct challenge to any woman's whole being, sense of self and way of life. A modestly dressed, covered woman is a walking, talking challenge to the women (and men) who are sacrificing their Akhira for success on the terms of Dunya. A woman in Hijab who is a functioning member of society is a clarion call to everyone around her. She symbolizes a woman who is empowered by Allah (swt) rather than by the shabby, eclectic, pop-cultural, spiritually bankrupt throngs who pass as the icons of contemporary society.
The average non-Muslim woman sees nothing wrong with unmarried sexual relations, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, dancing with men, walking around half-naked, maybe taking drugs, gossiping, lying, using foul language, etc... (Who are all those immigrant Muslim men who race to marry such women and ignore their noble Muslim sisters?)
While the Muslim woman, in Hijab, radiates the exact opposite! She doesn't engage in those things and rather tries to be humble, self-controlled, full of nobility and goodness and spiritually motivated. Non-Muslim women freak out because they feel so much shame deep down that they are so rotten and unclean! (Culturally-oriented Hijab-wearers don't threaten them much because they usually are rude, loud and without inner-purity, as well. There is a style of Hijab and a look of inner-purity which distinguishes the conscientious Muslimahs from all others. You can see Taqwa in a person's face!)
A Muslim woman, whose inner-purity is reflected in her behavior, is more beautiful than even the most sensually dressed non-Muslim. So many men I know have said this, both Muslim and non-Muslim! Men love to run after the easy women for "conquests" but they want to marry someone who is pure more than anything else in the world! Non-Muslim women are filled with their shame/rage and it makes them attack Islam and things Islamic with a venom more deadly than any Orientalist ever had.
So many Western women, despairing of the lifestyle in which women have been reduced to mere sex-objects for men, are leaving the immoral lifestyle for the Islamic one in huge numbers. It doesn't matter if they find good husbands or not. They're accepting Islam because it's real, because it speaks to them as women.
But still the non-Muslim women twist their hands in rage. Now, because there is a whole class of Muslim immigrants who grew up worshipping America and the West, associating its technological advancements with its values, the non- Muslim feminists have a useful new tool in their fight against the one thing that shows them how wrong they are. These allies are the women with Muslim names who don't practice Islam, or who at the very most consider Islam to be a praying and fasting "religion" and little else.
These "Muslim" women, who may be victims of backward cultural traditions, think that the "Muslim" culture they came from is what Islam is about. Well, if that was true, I wouldn't like Islam either. I'm sure you'll agree that Muslims are sometimes the worst examples of what Islam categorizes as bad. But most of us are intelligent enough to realize that just because I have to pay a bribe to the policeman or if a woman has to abort her daughter in favor of a male child in the future-- it doesn't mean that Islam teaches that.
But there are a whole class of "Muslims" who can't seem to make such distinctions. They can't seem to understand where culture ends and Islam begins; they can't seem to let go of cultural values and adhere to the teachings of the Qur'an; they can't seem to wash away the taint of culture to expose the illumination of Islam. That would require a sacrifice on their part. (Oh my god! If they followed true Islam they might have to allow their daughters to marry people of a different ethnic group. Can't have that now!)
Already the feminists have destroyed Christianity and Judaism. Read that sentence over one time. Those two religions are now in the dust-bin of history, despite a cough from them every now and then, because they're effectively marginalized. The feminists, without even understanding that Islam is best for them, have brought secular "Muslim" women into their ranks to show the world that Islam should become as quaint and marginalized in society as Christianity is now.
Just on a side note, you know how Christian missionaries are roving all over the world and making thousands of new converts every day? They brag about it and Muslims complain about it because countries like Indonesia and Nigeria are in danger of becoming "Christian" countries in a few decades. But wait a minute! Who are the Christians converting and who is becoming Muslim?
The Christians are converting ignorant villagers, uneducated natives and people with Muslim names who don't know anything about Islam. While those who are accepting Islam are Jews and Christians- Westerners who are highly educated and have lived the secular way of life all their lives! The dumb become Christian while the educated become Muslim! There's some food for thought!
Back to the war of the women: How have the feminists used these "secular Muslim" women? They have convinced some "Muslim" women that the path to money and power in this country is through bastardizing your own soul. By conforming to the heathen wishes of the majority, you can achieve loads of worldly success. That if you're a working professional (in any field), that success can only be attained by ripping off the "oppressive weight" of your Hijab and donning a "powerful and sexy" power suit.
As many Hijab wearing, practicing Muslim sisters have commented, the Western feminist ideology only hurts those who are ready to sacrifice their Next Life for the success of the world. Our practicing, Hijab wearing sisters have proved time and time again that they can wear their Hijab and become teachers, doctors, nurses, accountants, principals, economists, professors, etc... On the same level, without sacrificing their identity as Muslims; they are accepting the challenge of success while not simultaneously sacrificing their Islam.
But the feminists have their ready slaves: there are "Muslim" women who are brought by the feminists to their seminars and meetings to give the "Muslim" voice (read: token "Muslim" woman who will lash out against Islam and emerge as the Renaissance Woman Who Emerged From Behind The Veil.) Because these women had no real belief anyway, they almost always parrot, quite shamelessly, the views of the feminists. Then these "Muslim" women become filled with the idea of a crusade against "oppression" in their ethnic communities. An Arab secular "Muslimah" will work her agenda in the Arab community; an Indo-Pak in that community, etc...
It's easy for them to do this given that most of the Muslims who immigrated to this country are as of yet, unorganized and unaffiliated with any Masjid or organization. What's more, we shoot ourselves in the foot because some of our centers are run by people who are also secular in their outlook and just want to be important in the eyes of their associates. (Qur'an 9:107-108)
The feminist "Muslimahs" set up clinics with free counseling (toward non- Muslim values), abortion facilities, women's shelters and the like. (They get grants from universities, local governments and feminist organizations.) They say they're helping, but by promoting values in the minds of the women they serve which are unIslamic, they really cause harm in the long run.
They literally make it seem as if all you have to do is remove the Hijab, wear a mini-skirt and give up Islamic teachings then all your problems will be solved. When the root of the problem to begin with is almost always someone in their lives, maybe themselves or their husbands, were not following Islam to begin with! The cure can never be the poison.
The culturally-based Muslim Hijab wearers are the most vulnerable. They are usually, and you know this is true, uneducated village-style women who will listen to anything that sounds "sophisticated". Their Islam is usually a mixture of folklore, cultural traditions, superstitions and the like. They are the majority of women in the Muslim world. They're not bad or evil or anything, they're just completely unaware of real Islam. The feminists and the secular "Muslimahs" want to "liberate" them into the great world of today's used, worn-out, vulgar, "modern" Western woman.
The women who have either accepted Islam or who rediscovered it after living in a Muslim family are often quite alone. Those who love Allah by their own conviction and who seek to follow Islam truly are the enemies of the feminists, and by extension, of the Shaitan. The Shaitan calls people to forget Allah, to forget that they're responsible for their actions and to forget that this life is a short time of testing. He lures people with their animalistic desires and their cravings for the best in life. He whispers that there are no moral standards and that you can do as you please. Those who accept this call, whether with Muslim names or non-Muslim ones, descend to the level of intelligent beasts. (See Qur'an 7:16-17)
I have personally witnessed confrontations between those who wear Hijab by conviction and those secular "Muslimahs" who say it's not required. Every single time, the secular "Muslimahs" have utilized an insulting and nasty tone. Arguing with their worst faces. Of course, one of the signs of a hypocrite is that they'll get nasty in a disagreement, but then again, they don't accept the Hadith usually anyway, unless it seems to agree with their positions. (Qur'an 33:36)
The Muslim women who don't yet wear Hijab, but who desperately want to, sometimes may become afraid of the mean-spirit of the secular "Muslimahs." Nobody wants to be pointed out and nobody wants to be yelled at. I feel bad for these women. Their hearts and minds are tugging them towards true Islam but the nastiness of mean, shame/rage filled people make them afraid to wear Hijab. And sometimes the conscientious Hijab wearers don't always know when to be gentle and don't always encourage their sisters in a thoughtful, sisterly way. This as a result of always having to be on the defensive.
This war will go on for as long as there are women who believe in and love Allah. Many a Muslim man, whose own faith was weak, has fallen to it and pressured his wife or daughters not to wear Hijab. But in the end, the purity is the proof. A Muslimah in Hijab always looks purer than a woman in a mini- skirt. And a Muslimah in Hijab who practices Islam, will always be happier and free of shame, while a "liberated" woman has nothing but the empty standards of fashion magazines, western-style therapy, and empty and temporary "love" affairs to look forward to.
There is one incident that we'll never forget. We were once at a Muslim youth rally on the east coast. There were hundreds of Muslim college students in attendance. As we were moving through the crowd we came upon a group of Hijab wearing sisters. One of the sisters, a young woman of about 18 or 20 was stating, "One thing that scares the heck out of everyone is an articulate, well dressed, intelligent, and professional Muslim sister wearing Hijab". It's true. Because they present the alternative that every woman can attain. That is the real equality and the real standard of respect. (See Qur'an 33:35) The trouble is, so many people are so trapped in the sinful, immoral lifestyle of lies, substance abuse, irresponsibility and chaos, that their shame drives them merely further into rage.
We know of one mother, a Muslim woman, who sent her daughter to an Islamic school in Michigan. The daughter opened her eyes to Islam and wanted to wear her Hijab outside of school, in public, also. But her mother, who was a secular "Muslimah" forbade her to wear Hijab saying, "I won't have my daughter being better than me." May Allah help us and the Muslim women who strive to please their Maker and ultimate judge. Amin.
*** The authors would like to state that this article is not intended to disparage those Muslim sisters who do not take Hijab for whatever personal reason. It is understood that a sister will take Hijab when she is ready since there is no compulsion in Islam. At the same time, according to the Qur'an, Hijab is a fard and this fact cannot be overlooked. (Qur'an 33:59) Allah (swt) is the final judge. May he give us all courage.
Yahiya Emerick's articles are reproduced electronically on Huma's Homepage on Islam with permission.