The vessel for honor

More from Asra Nomani.

NPR’s Ari Shapiro interviews Asra Nomani, co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement and author of Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam, about the op-ed she co-wrote with Hala Arafa in the Washington Post about why, as Muslim women, they are asking other Muslim women to not wear the hijab.

ASRA NOMANI: Well, what we argue in the piece is that the headscarf has become a political symbol for an ideology of Islam that is exported to the world by the theocracies of the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Just like the Catholic Church in the 17th century did religious propaganda to challenge the Protestant Reformation, these ideologies are trying to define the way Muslims express Islam in the world.

And that ideology of Islam is not a good ideology. It’s a bad one: anti-human, coercive, cruel, and stunningly harsh toward women.

SHAPIRO: Are you urging Muslim women who feel most comfortable wearing hijab not to wear one or are you just saying to well-intentioned non-Muslims please don’t do this as a sign of solidarity?

NOMANI: Well, very interestingly in a movement that I call now the hijab lobby, sadly promulgated by women that some of us refer to as Muslim mean girls and their friends, are trying to put out this meme that we are denying women their choice. But of course in this world everybody should have their choice. What we are saying is we have to be smart about the ideology that is putting this idea into the world that a woman must be defined by her idea of modesty, that she is the vessel for honor in a community. And I believe that we have to be very pragmatic, too, about the consequence of this. Women in Iran and Saudi Arabia are jailed, punished and harassed if they don’t cover themselves legally, according to the standard of those countries. So the consequences for many women is oftentimes very dark.

Women in the UK and the US and other places are harassed if they do wear it, so you can see why people want to be in solidarity with them, but…hijab doesn’t become benign or feminist because of that harassment.

SHAPIRO: I see certain parallels between the debate over feminism where some women argue that women should not be forced to stay at home and take care of children. And there are other women who are saying you are criticizing my decision as a free liberated women to stay home and take care of my children.

NOMANI: Right, but at the end of the day here what we’re talking about is choice. And we’re talking about everybody’s free right to have choice. And so what we’re also getting are interesting messages like you really need to obey the command of Allah and put a scarf on your head. And what we caution well-intentioned Americans and others to think about is whether the scarf matches their own values related to issues of honor and shame.

That’s the thing, you know – it’s not a “choice” in the full sense, because it is a (putative) religious obligation or command. It’s a “choice” to obey a religious command, one that is violently enforced in some parts of the world. That’s a dubious form of “choice,” if you ask me.

There’s a very ugly comment on the interview:

If she wants a new Religion she can go another way. The evidence of Islam is firm. She is an apostate for her beliefs. She does not have to wear anything and can join any religion she wants here in America, but does not have any standing in religious rulings. She does not even understand the language of the Qur’an. She speaks with out any knowledge and mocks the religion. Specifically it is not just the women who have a dress code, but also the men, and they should cover their heads. Why aren’t these types of question asked of the Jews of this country. And I mean no disrespect towards them, of the Mennonites, or Quakers, or the Amish. But why is it always Islam that is being singled out. She is mocking and laughing in her tone which is totally disrespectful to those women who do wear hijab, or veil, or cover completely. Is it the religion you mock or is it Allah and then His prophet.

That comment calls her an apostate and then suggests she mocks Allah and “His prophet.” The penalty for both is death.

None of this is about “choice,” is it.

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