Cross posted at MMW and Tales of a Modern Muslimah

American hijabis often have a lot to think about when they step outside their doors. Will we be denied a job because of hijab? Will we be asked to take off our hijabs at work or school? Will our hijabs make us a target for racists and xenophobes? Will we be pulled out of line at the airport because of our hijabs? However, one place we don’t expect hijab to cause us issue is in court. In courtrooms throughout the U.S., Muslim women wear hijab and Muslim men wear kufis if they’re inclined to do so. My mother, who is a social worker, wears hijab when accompanying clients to court.

 

Lisa Valentine. Image via AP.

Lisa Valentine. Image via AP.

So it must have been completely shocking for Lisa Valentine to be denied entry into a Georgia courtroom because of her headscarf. I’m sure it was one of the most racist incidents in her entire life. Despite the fact that Valentine’s civil rights were violated and this incident was inspired by racism, the media’s coverage of Lisa Valentine’s ordeal has been mixed at best.

One constant issue that I have in the reporting of Valentine’s ordeal is the reporting of her using a swear word. Every article and news clip on this story has mentioned it. “When she turned to leave and uttered an expletive, Hall said a bailiff handcuffed her and took her before the judge.” “Frustrated at being prevented from entering the court, the woman reportedly uttered an expletive and sought to leave the area.

Why is this fact so important to mention in every news story about Lisa Valentine? Wouldn’t a lot of people use an expletive if they were denied access to court? It’s almost as if the mention of Valentine’s use of a swear word is being reported as a cause for her arrest instead of a law that was abused by the bailiff and the judge. I wonder if the mention of Valentine using an expletive is to make her seem at fault or to simply make hijabis look bad. Either way, I found the constant mention of this fact to be really annoying and unnecessary. She cursed. So what? No matter what Valentine said, there’s no reason why she should have been arrested and sentenced to ten days in court.

Additionally, the coverage of Valentine’s ordeal hasn’t focused much on the racial dimensions of the incident. Valentine’s civil rights were violated because she is a Muslim. Even though she was barred from the court because of her “headwear”, her headwear was religious in nature. There’s little mention of the fact that Valentine’s headwear wasn’t ordinary headwear at all but part of her religious attire. In most of the stories I’ve read on Valentine, this distinction isn’t made except by Valentine herself.

Also, I have seen no discussion of how xenophobia and Islamophobia probably influenced what happened. I doubt that a nun would be asked to take off her habit in court because Catholics are not seen as foreign. However, Islam and symbols associated with it (such as hijab) are. Without looking at the issues at these issues, the stories on Valentine seem incomplete.

If you have any fleeting knowledge of the Bible, you know exactly what the title of the post refers to. Often, this phrase is quoted by some Christian when discussing why they will not marry anyone else but another Christian. I wanted to discuss this issue in relation to Muslims, well specifically Muslim women, since this never seems to be an issue for Muslim men.

One of the first things I learned when I started to get of that age when I started to “mature” was that Muslim women do not marry non-Muslim men, doesn’t matter if they’re “people of the book” (i.e. Christians, Jews, Zorastians, among some scholars Hindus). There were no ifs, ands or buts about this. Muslim men, I was told, did not have to follow this same rule. They could marry women of the book and I saw some who did. Being the thinking girl that I was, I wondered why. One of the first answers I was given was that men are the head of the household and responsible for the religion of the children. If children had Muslim fathers, they were automatically Muslim, duh! But if they have non-Muslim fathers and Muslim mothers, they were automatically non-Muslims. This answer may have sounded ok in theory but then I saw that it wasn’t playing out in reality, at least not where I was. I saw children of Muslim fathers and Christian mothers who weren’t Muslim at all. I couldn’t even tell you about the opposite side of the coin because I rarely saw it and the Muslim women who “dared” to marry non-Muslims were usually run out of the community so I couldn’t tell you how their children ended up.

So if having a Muslim father didn’t ensure more Muslim children, there had to be another reason for not allowing Muslim women to marry out but allowing Muslim men to do so. There’s a verse in the Qur’an that addresses interfaith marriage.

5:5 Today, all the good things of life have been made lawful to you. And the food of those who have been vouchsafed revelation aforetime is lawful to you, and your food is lawful to them. And [lawful to you are], in wedlock, women from among those who believe [in this divine writ], and, in wedlock, women from among those who have been vouchsafed revelation before your time -provided that you give them their dowers, taking them in honest wedlock, not in fornication, nor as secret love-companions. But as for him who rejects belief [in God] – in vain will be all his works: for in the life to come he shall be among the lost.

This verse mentions only who is lawful for men and not women. So one question that could be asked is “doesn’t this verse apply to women too?” This is what Khaled Abou El-Fadl says:

Surprising to me, all schools of thought prohibited a Muslim woman from marrying a man who is a kitabi (among the people of the book). I am not aware of a single dissenting opinion on this, which is rather unusual for Islamic jurisprudence because Muslim jurists often disagreed on many issues, but this is not one of them.

All jurists agreed that a Muslim man or woman may not marry a mushrik [one who associates partners with God–there is a complex and multi-layered discourse on who is to be considered a mushrik, but we will leave this for a separate discussion]. However, because of al-Ma’ida verse 5, there is an exception in the case of a Muslim man marrying a kitabiyya. There is no express prohibition in the Qur’an or elsewhere about a Muslim woman marrying a kitabi. However, the jurists argued that since express permission was given to men, by implication women must be prohibited from doing the same. The argument goes: If men needed to be given express permission to marry a kitabiyya, women needed to be given express permission as well, but since they were not given any such permission then they must be barred from marrying a kitabi.

The justification for this rule was two-fold: 1) Technically, children are given the religion of their father, and so legally speaking, the offspring of a union between a Muslim male and a kitabiyya would still be Muslim; 2)It was argued that Muslim men are Islamically prohibited from forcing their wives to become Muslim. Religious coercion is prohibited in Islam. However, in Christianity and Judaism a similar prohibition against coercion does not exist. According to their own religious law, Muslim jurists argued, Christian men may force their Muslim wives to convert to their (the husbands’) religion. Put differently, it was argued, Islam recognizes Christianity and Judaism as valid religions, but Judaism and Christianity do not recognize the validity of Islam as a religion. Since it was assumed that the man is the stronger party in a marriage, it was argued that Christian and Jewish men will be able to compel their Muslim wives to abandon Islam. (If a Muslim man would do the same, he would be violating Islamic law and committing a grave sin).

This is the law as it exists or the legal legacy as we inherited it. In all honesty, personally, I am not convinced that the evidence prohibiting Muslim women from marrying a kitabi is very strong. Muslim jurists took a very strong position on this matter–many of them going as far as saying if a Muslim woman marries a kitabi she is as good as an apostate. I think, and God knows best, that this position is not reasonable and the evidence supporting it is not very strong. However, I must confess that in my humble opinion, I strongly sympathize with the jurists that argued that in non-Muslim countries it is reprehensible (makruh) for a Muslim to marry a non-Muslim.

http://www.scholarofthehouse.org/oninma.html

Now, I have to be honest and say that this issue doesn’t affect me because I am married to a Muslim and I honestly didn’t want to be in an interfaith marriage. However, it does affect a lot of Muslim women in Western countries. Some women have actually left the deen (religion) because of this issue. I have also met a couple of older sisters who converted while their husbands did not and remained married to their husbands. So I’m opening up the floor and asking what do you think?

What’s the first image that comes to your mind when you think of a Muslim woman? Is she Arab or South Asian? White or maybe Afghan or Indonesian? Notice that I haven’t mentioned African American (and also Latina). The media depiction of Muslim women usually does not include African American women. Often, Muslim women are depicted as coming from the Middle East or South Asia, and occasionally sub-Saharan Africa. Also, there has been increasing focus on Muslimahs of European descent, especially converts such as Yvonne Ridley and Dr. Ingrid Mattson.

When African American Muslims are depicted in the media, it is usually a male face (Siraj Wahaj, Abdul Hakeem Jackson, Malcolm X, Imam Warithdeen Muhammad, etc.) that is presented to the public. There are exceptions such as Dr. Amina Wadud. However, the overall trend is rather disheartening, considering how much African American Muslimahs do for other black Muslims as well as the whole Muslim community. I have often wondered why the stories, needs and concerns of African American Muslimahs are not focused on and come up with a myriad of possible answers.

One is the sexism that black Muslimahs encounter in their own community. This is probably symptomatic of the sexism that black women as a whole face in the black community. Black Muslimahs still have a long way to go in gaining leadership positions in mosques and national organizations, such as the Muslim Alliance of North America, which focuses heavily on issues affecting African American Muslims. When there are few of us in leadership positions, it is hard for us to become the faces of the community in the media.

There’s also the racism, both covert and overt, that African Americans face in the Muslim community. Often, we’re not on the boards of masajid that aren’t predominately African American and if we are, our numbers are insignificant. African Americans are also not well represented in national organizations like ISNA, ICNA and CAIR. Also, the issues that affect African American Muslimahs are often ignored by organizations like ISNA and ICNA. When these organizations are pushed as the voice of American Muslims but lack significant input from African American Muslimahs, then it is not surprising that representation of African American Muslimahs is seriously lacking in the media.

Lastly, there is the racism of the mainstream media. On MMW, we have often discussed how Muslim women are portrayed as victims and otherized. The face of this woman is usually brown. Fatemeh has a great post about the racialization of Islam up at Racialicious. I think that this racialization of Islam leaves little space for the representation of Western Muslim women and almost no space for the representation of African American Muslim women.

While this post thus far may sound bleak, I do think that there is slow progress in getting African American Muslimahs heard. The blogosphere has provided an outlet for many African American Muslimahs to speak to the world. Not too long ago, NPR did a piece on polygyny among African American women. About four years ago, a great ethnography of African American Muslim women titled Engaged Surrender was published by the University of California press. Additionally, there has been more focus on African American Muslimahs in the entertainment industry as well. So things have been getting better. However, there needs to be more coverage of African American Muslimahs, as well as Latina Muslimahs. We are Muslim women too and we’re not invisible.

Cross posted at Muslimah Media Watch

Any Muslimah is familiar with Muslim women role models of the past. We have Fatimah and Khadijah (ra). I include ‘Aisha (ra) in this list (for Sunnis at least) but I think that the perception of ‘Aisha by Muslim scholars through the ages has been less clear than the former two. While ‘Aisha is praised for her knowledge of hadeeth and her devotion to the Prophet, she is not praised for other actions such as her leading role in the battle of the camel. Because of actions like this, ‘Aisha has, at times, been associated with fitnah (chaos, confusion) by the ‘ulama. I also think she has been somewhat associated with fitnah because she challenged norms of proper gender roles for women. Despite this, she is still considered a role model by many Muslim women and even Muslim scholars.

All of these women lived over 1400 years ago. I think that unfortunately, there has been little emphasis on modern role models for Muslim women of the present. Many books on written for Muslim women are abundant with information on the women I mentioned above. Books may even have information on Hafsa and Umm Salaama (ra). However, one is often left with the impression that Muslim women haven’t done much since the time of the sahabah. One gets the impression that women had little influence on Islamic societies, especially during the “golden age” of Islamic history and that they continue to have little influence in the present.

Muslims girls and Muslim women need to know that we have always made impacts in our societies, and that we continue to do so. They need to know that we have not just been wives and mothers who are supportive of leaders, but that we have been leaders ourselves. Umm Hani (d. 1466) was a distinguished scholar of Qur’an and hadeeth. Another woman, Khadijah bint ‘Ali (d. 1468) was a scholar of Qur’an and hadeeth as well as a calligrapher. She taught women as well as men. I learned about these women and others not from traditional books for Muslim women but from Women and Gender in Islam, the famous book written by Leila Ahmed. A more controversial figure is Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya, a Sufi mystic who spoke heavily of her love of God and who also did not get married because of her devotion to God. One of my favorite quotes by her is “O my Lord,” she prayed, “if I worship Thee from fear of Hell, burn me in Hell, and if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me thence, but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, then withhold not from me Thine Eternal Beauty.”

There are role models for modern Muslim too. Shirin Ebadi was the first Muslim woman and also the first Iranian to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She won the award for fights for human rights, especially for women and children. Ingrid Mattson is the first woman to ever be President of ISNA (Islamic Society of North America).

Muslim women have always had role models to look up to. The problem though, is that many of these women do not get the attention they deserve. They don’t get the attention they deserve in books written by traditional (I use traditional for lack of a better term) scholars. Muslim women are left looking up to Khadijah, Fatimah, Mary, ‘Aisha and other figures centuries past. Many of us often left wondering if we still have a significant role in the deen outside of mother and wife. By highlighting Muslim women who have made their mark, Muslim women will know that yes, they still do have a significant role in the deen and they will fight for it.