If you think that you have just one life, think again. There's the life you think you have, the life others think you have and the life you really have- three lives!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Lifting the Veil

Ok. It had to happen sometime. I've been thinking about writing about the hijab, burqa, nikab and various forms of Islamic women's dress for some time and now's as good a time as any.

I am a Muslim woman- nobody can deny me this part of my identity. As far as I am concerned, the hijab, in its various forms, is a choice. It is not mandated by the Koran. I choose not to wear it. I believe that modesty can be displayed in many forms. I believe that I do not need to cover my hair to be modest.

I have, in the past, toyed with the idea of donning the hijab. At that time, I was feeling particularly angry and distressed by the acts of violence directed at women wearing the hijab in Australia. But when I really thought about it, the reason that I would have put on the hijab would have been to assert my identity- an act of defiance really- a statement. In doing so, I would have been guilty of what I have accused Western feminists of doing- of objectifying the hijab and reducing it to a symbol. So, to wear the hijab because I was angry would not have been the right reason.

I listened to and read the stories of hijabi women who declared that they rejoiced in covering their bodies, that the hijab gave them a sense of control over their bodies, that they felt they were being appreciated for their brains more than their looks. As much as I tried, I simply could not relate to this notion. Even when I was disturbed by the comments of some men in my workplace about my looks, I still could not relate to this notion. Even when a male colleague told me that I should "uglify" myself to be taken more seriously, I still could not relate to the notion of having to cover myself to be respected. I simply could not relate the problem back to me- if men cannot conduct themselves in a professional manner- that is their problem, not mine.

I visited Egypt earlier this year, and it was this trip that cemented my decision not to wear the hijab. It seemed to me that I was the only Muslim woman who did not wear it. Whenever I had a conversation with someone where I revealed that I was indeed Muslim, invariably I was asked why I did not wear the hijab. At first, the question threw me and I simply could not offer an answer other than that I lived in a Western country and that my work demanded a lot of public appearances where it was easier for me to get people to relate to what I was saying if I appeared to be like them.

But the more I observed the phenomenon of the hijab in Egypt, the more I rejected it. The hijab has become a fashion statement. Young women wear nude coloured body hugging tops underneath revealing halter necks, tight jeans, a brightly coloured scarf on their heads- this is the new 'hijabi'. They, like the Western feminist discourse on the veil, have objectified the hijab- it is not about maintaining any semblance of modesty or being appreciated for their brains.

I started asking women why they wore the hijab. Their responses varied:
I did not want to be mistaken for a Christian
The girls at school teased me
My hair is difficult to manage and I am too busy to go to the hairdresser every week
The cost of hair products is too high

Not a single woman I spoke to mentioned it as a religious choice. Not a single woman I spoke to "rejoiced" in covering her body.

My friend gave me some words of wisdom for which I am grateful. She said "Whenever anyone asks me why I do not wear the veil I simply reply that my hijab is in my heart"

I like that. My hijab is in my heart. And for now at least, that's where it is staying.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Dead or not?

Reports of OBL's death from Typhoid are causing confusion:

SPECULATION about the death of Osama bin Laden continued to swirl across
the globe last night, but in the three capitals most likely to be the first to
know if and when he dies - Riyadh, Islamabad and Washington - there were
blanket denials of any knowledge of French reports that the al-Qaeda leader
had succumbed to typhoid last month.

Significantly, in view of claims that it was Saudi intelligence that was said to be the original source for the report, an official statement issued by the Government in Riyadh said: "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has no evidence to support recent media reports that Osama bin Laden is dead.
"Information that has been reported otherwise is purely speculative and cannot be independently verified."
Internet monitors who track terrorist chatter also said they had come across nothing to support the reports. The Washington-based IntelCentre, which monitors terrorism communications, was quoted as saying it was not aware of any similar reports on the internet.
Officials in Pakistan, where bin Laden is believed to be based in the remote North Waziristan district, insisted they knew nothing that would confirm the reports of his death on August 23. Pakistan's Interior Minister, Aftab Sherpao, said: "No, we do not have any such information." The French regional daily L'Est Republicain reported on Saturday that Saudi intelligence first got reports of bin Laden's death on September 4 and that last Thursday this was passed to the French DGSE foreign intelligence service, which relayed it to President Jacques Chirac's office. Australian officials were treating the claim cautiously, with Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile warning against premature celebrations.


Bugger! Guess I have to cancel the Ding Dong the Witch is Dead Party I was planning!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I'm angry.
I know that's not unusual but I really need to vent.

There are a lot of Muslim community organisations here in Australia that claim to work for the well being of the Muslim communities here. One of them is a Muslim women's organisation that gets government funding to provide services to Muslim women.

While these kinds of organisations may do some good work, they are often staffed by inexperienced women who have a particular view of Islamic teachings. Very few are secular Muslims. Most wear the hijab or the burqa. That's fine. I have no problem with that- while I do not agree with it I will always defend a woman's right to wear it if she so chooses- just as I would defend a woman's right to wear a bikini if she so chooses.

The problem is that these organisations often only provide services to like minded women. Often the kinds of 'services' they provide serve, not to assist women to integrate and participate in the broader community, but to keep them in their place. I call these organisations The Enablers.

They advocate for Sharia divorce courts. Why? We have a legal system in Australia to deal with divorces regardless of religion.

They advocate for Muslim women only swimming sessions at local pools. Why? Most pools have women's only sessions but they will not mix with Western women.

They advocate for Muslim women only English language classes. Why? Nearly all higher education institutions are mixed sex.

But what really pisses me off is that they often have first hand information about women and young girls being beaten by their husbands and fathers. And they do nothing about it. They work under a shroud of silence and enable these abusive conditions to continue. They prefer to deal with problems themselves and will not admit that they simply do not have the capacity to find solutions.

I've met a lot of Muslim women who do not wear hijab and who have gone to these kinds of organisations seeking assistance. They have been treated as outsiders, as somehow less Muslim and therefore less worthy.

It's not unusual for Muslims in the diaspora to take the moral highground. Heck! Every Muslim I meet tries to make out that they are more Muslim than the Muslim I met before them! But it really starts to get serious when there are women and girls being beaten and the only people offering assistance are there to keep them where they are. It's shameful.

Ramadan Kareem

Well, it is a bit late (oops) but a blessed and prosperous Ramadan to all.

This year my Ramadan resolutions are:
I shall contemplate the meaning of my life on this beautiful Earth
I shall pray for peace in the Middle East
I shall empathise with the millions of people in the world for whom no water and no food are part of the everyday challenges of life
I shall call my parents more often and break fast with them as often as I can
I shall thank Allah each and everyday for my family and friends

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Why oh why

Why do I have to read Focault? Have been avoiding it all this time and now can no longer do it. This is particularly harrowing considering I have just returned from a conference where the snotty nosed academics with oh-so-proper British accents began every paragraph with a quote from Focault or some long dead obscure French philosopher.

As they so eloquently rambled on about something that I am sure is of no consequence I looked around the room thinking I was the only stupid one who didn't understand a word of what they were saying. Then I spotted them. The Colleagues- there they were in full force to support the speaker, nodding their heads in unison like a flock of silly pidgeons and frowning where appropriate as if on cue.

Why do academics do that? Why do they take their little posse with them to their presentations and why do they talk only to their posse as if nobody else in the room is allowed into their own little world? And why do their posse have a series of prepared questions that only confound the whole bloody thing even more? Do they mean to make me feel stupid? Is is a conspiracy aimed at eradicating all the dumb asses from academia?

Gladly, I was not the only one who left the room feeling even more confused than when I had entered. A few people spotted the bewildered look on my face (was I that obvious) and mumbled as they walked past "what was that about?" Should I be taking comfort in the fact that I am not the only dumb ass?