Identity Crisis

My sincere apologies for my long silence – work, life, and everything else has kept me too busy to post anything. 

Nevertheless, one issue has been growing in my mind over the past few months and is beginning to take a toll on my mental well-being: my identity. 

Upon conversion, I was excited to be seen as a white American convert to Islam; I enjoyed being different and didn’t mind the curious stares.  However, as time has passed, the excitement is wearing off and I am now feeling almost desperate to be seen as ‘normal.’  It would be nice to ‘fly under the radar’ so to speak every once in a while, to fit in with SOMEONE at least.  Everywhere I go, I’m different.  Born Muslims stare at me with curiosity, and some approach me and talk to me about it, but the conversations rarely go beyond that; it seems that I’m viewed as some sort of exotic rarity that they want to pump enough information out of to be able to rush home and call their families to tell them about an American convert they met (sometimes they ask to take pictures with me so that they can show their families even)… while all the while failing to realize the seriousness of the impact my conversion has had on my life. 

Americans either stare coldly, smile kindly (or with sympathy rather), and a few (mostly women) compliment my scarf or my outfit.  And there are always some who treat me rudely, assume I don’t speak English, or believe I must be brainwashed or a complete idiot for accepting Islam.  Although the people around me from day to day are mostly polite, I find myself being held at arm’s length, despite my efforts to get to know them and move closer toward them.  

Of course, I can’t fail to mention the few true friends I have found online; kindred spirits who either share my experiences or simply are sincere and genuine enough to move beyond my appearance (most of them don’t even know what I look like anyway!).   

As a result, I find myself suspended between two worlds – the Muslim world, which seems to be something one must be born into, and the dominant culture in the American world, which seems to consciously or unconsciously reject all those who fall outside the white, Christian(ish) ideal.  I can’t really blame either one outright, however, as it’s basic psychology to be attracted and feel close to those who share similarities, and feel unsure or distrustful of those who are different.

And all the while, I have begun to struggle with my own concept of who I am as an individual as well.  I fit nowhere.  Due to my conservative Christian background, I find myself resonating more with Muslims from collective backgrounds, who value family and more traditional roles of the husband, wife, and children.  Yet my own family seems to have drifted more into individualism, living life for themselves, depending on only themselves, and thus not extending a helping hand when other family members need it most.  At the same time, I support the Islamic view of the roles of the husband, wife, and various family members (which is definitely not always the same as the cultural traditions most Muslims practice, and differs slightly from the traditional Christian ideals); I still value independence and minding my own business; I hate the nosiness and mindless (yet destructive) gossip that often accompanies collective cultures, and believe that people should be left to manage their own lives, make their own decisions, and find the right path for themselves without the intrusion or judgment from others. 

And I am so many other things as well.  I am a musician, an artist, an intellectual, an athlete, someone who is open-minded, compassionate, educated, moderate, skeptical (in that I ask questions and am unconvinced if something is not logical), hard-working, curious, and earnest.  I have a million different interests and enjoy learning about everything.  I have a great deal of knowledge about Christianity, and am knowledgeable about Islam as well.  Compared to my family, I’m a raging liberal.  Compared to most other highly educated Americans, I’m conservative – moderate. 

Yet…. none of that is evident when others only look at my scarf and the color of my skin – they simply make their judgment, and then brush me from their mind.  Of course, I remind myself that even if I didn’t wear the scarf, people would just look at my overall appearance and pass me off as X or Y and move on.  So, it’s not a question of a piece of cloth; I like wearing it and cherish its benefits greatly.  I just think it’s regrettable that it’s become an item highly marked with preconceptions and stereotypes.  Muslims and non-Muslim Americans alike see it and come to entirely different, and incorrect conclusions. 

And yet, what does it matter that others see me for who I truly am or not?  It doesn’t really… but I think it’s just the combination of being hugely misunderstood everywhere I turn AND struggling with my own concept of who I am.  I am many things, but am having great difficult to tie it all together in order to conceptualize myself as one, single individual.  I don’t expect others to fully understand me, but I suppose it’s not entirely fair to complain about it either since no one can get a clear picture of who I am until I first understand myself.

More Thoughts on the Veil

For the Arabic class I’m taking, I had to view a couple of videos regarding the Islamic headscarf, and answer some questions pertaining to the video.  I decided to post both the videos and my responses.  Your response to the videos welcome!

 

 

Al Jazeera: The Veil part 1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlkaX4csHyM

Al Jazeera: The Veil part 2

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35cD16_AQAU

Questions & My Responses:

What thoughts come to your mind when you see a woman wearing al-hijaab
الحِجاب or al-niqaab النِقاب ? How do you view one vs. the other?

Before I came into contact with actual Muslim women, I viewed the headscarf as oppressive and forced.  However, when I began teaching for the first time and had a class full of Muslims, my perception immediately changed as I saw these women as having a great deal of honor, respect and dignity for themselves.  They looked like regal princesses to me, and I realized that someone in a position of nobility or high status doesn’t normally reveal their bodies to every common person around them, but would keep their personal appearance for only those in their private circle.

Regarding niqaab, I have had a few students who have worn the niqaab, and while I respect their decision to do so, I find it unnecessary and entirely counterproductive to their purpose of wearing it in the first place.  As the niqaabi woman in the video explained, the niqaab is to cover oneself physically from view of others and not draw unwanted attention to oneself.  However, niqaabis in the US and most other countries (included countries such as Egypt) draw a great deal of attention since they stand out as very different and even suspicious, as the TV reporter noted.  Islamically, the niqaab is not required (except for those in the Wahabi/Salafi sect), so adamantly wearing it and therefore drawing a lot of negative and suspicious attention to oneself, and furthering negative stereotypes of Muslim, is incredibly counterproductive in my view.  Islam encourages Muslims to dress in the same way as the culture they live in, as long as they ensure that the appropriate areas are covered.

How do you view an Arab woman who does not wear either al-hijaab or al-niqaab? Do you think that a woman dressed like that is making a political or a religious statement?

A few thoughts cross my mind when I see an uncovered Arab woman.  I may wonder if she is Christian or irreligious, or if she comes from a liberal Middle Eastern country, such as Lebanon or Syria.  She may also come from a more liberal city or family (Jeddah is Saudi Arabia is fairly liberal, as I have encountered students from Jeddah who don’t cover their hair, and know of individuals from even conservative areas in Saudi Arabia th don’t observe hijab in their private lives simply as the family in general doesn’t practice it).  Further, an uncovered woman may come from the West, from irreligious parents or mixed religion parents, and finally, the woman may simply not believe in it and chooses not to wear it.  Thus, when I see an uncovered Arab woman, I refrain from judgment and prefer to simply wait for more information.

In working with Muslim students from typically conversative countries however, I have seen that uncovered Muslim women are usually treated differently by their Muslim classmates; they are sometimes not respected as much and are treated as ‘loose’ and are not taken seriously, which is in line with what the TV reporter explained regarding women who don’t cover in Egypt.

Do your views apply to Arab or Muslim men who dress in a non-western manner?

Dressing in a non-Western manner for men or women from any country is their prerogative, and has little to do with one’s religious affiliation.  Islam is clear that a person can dress in a culturally appropriate manner wherever they are, as long as the appropriate areas are covered.  A male or female wearing jeans and a T-shirt to me simply look like they’re integrated and are not trying to set themselves distinctly apart from the culture around them.

Do you think that Muslims living this country should dress in a way that is not different from anyone else around them?

Muslims should dress in accordance to the area around them.  What I mean is that if they live in a more educated, open-minded area, dressing in their own cultural attire is fine as the people around them probably would be more accepting and open to that.  However, if they live in a conservative, close-minded, uneducated area, they may want to adopt the dress around them so as to not draw unwanted attention to themselves.  Again, the Islamic emphasis is always on covering the appropriate areas, and beyond that is a personal choice.

Can you think of other religions wheremen and women dress in certain way because they think that their religion requires them to do so? Does the American society view these other religions and their followers as they view Muslims who adhere to particular clothes?

Practicing Jewish women also dress similarly to Muslim women; they wear modest clothing and also cover their hair (which is a practice alive and well today as I came across many websites and tutorials on Jewish hair covering when I was trying to learn how to cover my own hair as a new convert to Islam).  Jewish texts record that Sarah, the wife of Abraham, never left the house without covering her hair, face, and hands (just like the niqaabi woman in the video).

Christian women traditionally also wore modest clothing and covered their hair, as Paul in the Bible admonishes women who come to church without their hair covered, saying that such women bring shame to themselves and deserve to have their heads shaved (incidentally, Islam does not take such an extreme approach!).  Some Christian women in other countries do still cover their hair.  Women in the FLDS denomination of Christianity dress modestly, as well as the Amish (who also cover their hair).  Women in the Apostolic and conservative Evangelical branches of Christianity have strict beliefs against cutting one’s hair (as the Old Testament states that a woman’s hair is her glory and should not be cut), and that women should not wear pants (as the OT also states that women should not wear men’s clothing and vice versa).  Catholic nuns dress in the same way as Muslim women by wearing long, loose-fitting clothing and a headscarf, and no image of Mary mother of Jesus (peace be upon him) is complete without Mary wearing a headscarf.

By no means has Islam introduced modesty or the veil to religious clothing practices; it has simply continued what has been practiced by other Abrahamic faiths for centuries. Yet, Westerners seem to forget the clothing practices of their own faith traditions historically and to the present.  If Mary is seen as holy and pure for wearing a headscarf, why then are Muslim women seen as oppressed and brainwashed for wearing the exact same thing?

After Conversion: End of the Story?

After one has found the right path and has officially declared the shahadah and determination to follow the straight path, is that the end of the story?  Is life all rainbows and butterflies from there on out?  Often we are intrigued and thrilled by the stories of those who have converted to Islam, what did they believe beforehand?  What made them interested in Islam?  But we sometimes forget that after being guided, these individuals are now living in a very hostile world, with trials and hardships that often far outweigh the difficulties faced before they were Muslim.  It’s easy to tell the revert, “MashAllah, congratulations on your conversion, may God bless you,” and then walk away and go back to your Muslim family and community that surrounds you, protects you, and shields you from the inhumanity of the rest of the world (as it should).  Yet the revert is left still alone, isolated, and standing against a torrent of disapproval and hostility.

Thankfully, some have wondered what happened after I converted – what about my family, what about my friends, what has my life been like as a new Muslim?  Instead of filling up the comment section on several of my posts in response to all the inquiries, writing an actual post on it seems like a much more efficient solution!

Muslim Friends

I converted to Islam 2 years and 3 months ago.  I was so excited and bursting at the seams to have found such phenomenal truth and wisdom – to be guided and on the straight path to God, at last.  I wanted to meet every single Muslim in the area and was exuberant to share my story and make new friends.  Yet, over time I was faced with the reality that Muslims are human after all, and while Islam is perfect, Muslims are far from it.   Many of the Muslims around me (which weren’t many to start with) were more concerned and preoccupied with their culture rather than their religion, so my attempts at friendship failed miserably.  I finally gave up smiling at the Muslim women I passed outside or on campus, as usually they ignored me or glared at me (as an aside, yesterday when I was out running, I passed by a Muslim woman who looked up and smiled at me – I was so surprised I almost tripped over myself – and gave her a big smile in return.  That totally made my day!).  I went to a mosque in the area a few times, but was mostly stared at.  I felt awkward and uncomfortable to be alone despite sitting in a room full of chattering women (who also didn’t seem too interested in the lecture either…).   I was in a different mosque, and the woman next to me leaned over and asked if I was Lebanese.  I replied that I wasn’t, but I was a convert.  That didn’t seem to interest her, and she went back to chatting with the woman next to her.  Last year I met a few Muslim women who were also working for the community college I was teaching for, and while we exchanged information, neither of them seemed interested in communicating beyond that initial contact (despite my attempts to contact them).

Alternatively, I have met some Muslims online who are very sincere and genuine, and I am grateful for their friendship and support, despite never having seen each other in real life!  Nevertheless, as a result of two years of disappointment, I’ve since given up trying to befriend Muslims in real life.

Family

As I mentioned in my initial post regarding my conversion story, my family is conservative, Evangelical Christian, and are very anti-Islam (on both sides)!  There’s an atheist on my dad’s side and a Buddhist on my mom’s side, and both of them are seen as the black sheep, and much time and effort is spent praying for them and lecturing them when they are around.  I’ve told myself that I should take comfort in the fact that neither of them were disowned, but then again, neither of those paths are as heavily stigmatized and hated as Islam.  My family views Islam specifically as being from Satan himself (astaghfirAllah), and the most dangerous.

My dad’s father is a lay minister (he filled in as a ‘sub’ for churches without pastors and does guest speaking as well), and loves to listen to Billy Graham, John Hagee, Pat Robertson, and of course, Fox News.  My dad once put me on the chopping block when he told my grandpa that I had some Muslim friends, to which my grandpa responded by saying, “Well you’d better get rid of them fast.  They’re dangerous!”  I asked him why, and the entire room fell silent.  He sputtered and fumed and couldn’t understand why I was so senseless to not know why.  I decided to drop it – don’t want the entire room to explode against me, and definitely didn’t want to reveal myself.

My mom’s father was a Pentacostal preacher for most of his life, and both he and my grandmother firmly believe that if you aren’t Pentacostal, you’re going to hell (Baptists especially since they believe in the ‘blasphemous’ concept of “once saved always saved”!).  Most certainly they see Islam as a dark evil.

My parents religiously watch Fox News – my dad’s favorite show is Bill O’Reilly, of course.  They are also firm supporters of George Bush and believe he could do no evil (despite the glaring truth that tells us otherwise).  Once (when I was still a Christian), I brought up the possibility of 9/11 being perpetrated by Bush himself, due to the overwhelming evidence, and my dad was incredibly offended and angry (as if I had just uttered blasphemy), and said that Bush could never, ever do something like that – he was a ‘Christian’ after all!  Last time I checked, the only infallible person in Christianity was Jesus (as), so I’m not sure how Bush gained that status!

My parents are also very pro-Israel, anti-Iran, anti-Palestine, anti-Lebanon & Syria, very Republican, and now proud members of the Tea Party.  They believe that I am already brainwashed due to having gone to a “liberal, socialist” university for graduate school, and often dismiss anything I have to say about politics or society in general.  Despite having more education than they do (in my immediate family – my extended family has some doctors and PhDs), my education is dismissed as useless, liberal ideology and not anything worthwhile.

In fact, my family, both immediate and extended, treat me as an 6 year old child who has no common sense or clue about life in general.  Even my brothers treat me in this way, usually dismissing what I have to say or ridiculing me, ganging up against me, laughing at me and questioning my intelligence.  As such, I grew up to think that my brothers and father were very smart and I was not.  I believed that men in general were smarter than me, and I unconsciously deferred and ‘bowed down’ to any male around me.  The males in my family also treat my mom in the same way, never taking her seriously and ridiculing her and questioning her intelligence on everything.  My mom is quite expert at manipulation though (even with me, as I have just recently discovered, after all this time), and while it’s a destructive, unhealthy pattern, it works and she gets what she needs.   I’ve always thought that the first person I tell about my conversion would be my mom, but now I realize that that would foolish because she would only use that against me whenever it suited her.  My family has the mentality of ‘everyone for themselves’, and will sacrifice someone else for the purpose of saving their own skin.

My family is also very argumentative, negative, critical, and judgmental.  I’ve always hated conflict (although there for a few years during puberty I did take on my dad and challenge him about everything to the extent that he thought I should become a lawyer!).  My family will argue endlessly and NEVER let anything go, so I learned long ago that it just isn’t worth it.  I prefer relationships to be smooth and harmonious, not tumultuous and hostile, so I eventually got in the habit of just letting everything go.  Someone would do something to me or make a hurtful comment, and I would just let it go.  Again and again and again… to the point now where they just treat me like a stupid child since they know they can get away with it as I won’t stand up to them or challenge them.

Recently, all that has changed, however.  After converting, I gained new confidence in myself (perhaps this should be a different post entirely, but I began to accept myself as a female, and realized that having feminine characteristics isn’t an awful thing, but is a strength), and I began to gain knowledge about the truth of the world around me.  I was more certain of my opinions and now had a great deal of fact to back it up, and began to stand up for my opinions.  Still, they would all start attacking me, so I would eventually give up and change the subject.

In recent months however, I’ve been trying to force myself to see it through to the end, despite the discomfort that it causes.  In fact, without going into the details, my mom and I are no longer on speaking terms (her choice, not mine), and my dad got involved (thanks to misinformation and manipulation from my mom) so we’ve had some intense arguments.  Even one of my brothers and I got into a fight because of the lies my mom told him, but fortunately I was able to set the record straight and he and I are actually on better terms right now than we have been in years.  And none of this going on now has anything to do with my conversion!!

I’ve realized that the only hope I have of being able to tell my family about my conversion without being completely annihilated is to change my relationship with them by getting them to respect me and take me seriously.  If I can achieve that, THEN I can tell them of my conversion and only then will they be forced to take it seriously.  If I tell them now, they’ll ridicule me, accuse me of being brainwashed, and my dad might even drive all the way down to where I live now with a U-Haul and try to force me to move in with them so they can take care of their senile, mentally retarded daughter!  I can only imagine family events – all the focus would be on me and it would be rife with exhaustingly endless arguments and attacks.  No one would listen to anything I have to say or even care what reasons I have for believing the way I do.

No, the only solution is to first change my relationship with them, and secondly, keep trying to change their perception of Islam.  If I can somehow get them to see Islam as at least just another world religion that is hugely misrepresented in the media and has many similarities to Christianity, then I may be able to put myself on the same level as my atheist and Buddhist relatives.  If my family continues to see Islam as evil and as the force on the side of the anti-Christ that Jesus (as) and the Christians will fight against after Jesus returns, then there is no hope for any sort of honest dialogue, discussion, or acceptance.

Friends

Very few of my friends know of my conversion as well.  Some reasons for this are merely circumstantial; I converted during my last year of graduate school (a different school and city from where I did my undergrad), and began covering my hair when I started an internship in another city.  I did see my classmates occasionally for classes during that time, and the reactions were mixed.  A few thought I had cancer, one of them did express her sincere support for my choice, and the rest of them either ignored me completely or began to just greet me politely when they saw me but stopped inviting me to hang out with them.  I was surprised actually, since I was in a counseling pyschology program and the emphasis in every class was valuing diversity and accepting and supporting people from all walks of life… but apparently this is mere rhetoric and not applied in practice.

I don’t often see my friends from undergrad, as I moved to a different city for grad school and they are all spread out everywhere; many of them are married and are starting families.  I saw one of them once though, after converting.  She had been to Egypt on a trip and seemed very interested in the culture and religion, and since she is also from a different country, I thought she would be more accepting.  So, I decided to tell her about my conversion.  Well… she seemed unsure about it and was concerned about what my family would think, especially since she knew me as being a very religious Christian.  After she left that day, I never heard from her again.

Another friend from high school told me a while back that he had converted to Catholicism, and was describing the difficulty he had with his parents, who are astutely Pentacostal.  I thought perhaps he would understand, since he had gone through a similar experience, so I told him that I also had changed my beliefs, and am pretty sure my parents would be very opposed to it.  I refrained from any detail though, as I wanted to see his reaction.  He seemed unresponsive, so I didn’t push it further – and yet again, I never heard from him again.

The vast majority of my friends from childhood through graduate school are very conservative Christians, so I know that I would face a very hostile onslaught of condemnation if I decided to declare myself as a Muslim to them all.  So… I decided it’s not worth it and have let it go.  I don’t see many of them very often anyway, from having moved so much (I’ve moved at least 14 times, to various cities and different states) and have lost touch with people over the years.  In fact, I have just moved again to an entirely different state to take a new job, so telling prior friends just isn’t much of a necessity.

I did make one friend recently who is not Muslim nor American, and I have been grateful for her acceptance and for seeing beyond my scarf and liking me for who I really am.  But, I’ve just moved and she’s too far away for frequent visiting now.

I don’t know anyone at all in my new city, although I’ve felt encouraged that my colleagues at my new job seem to be very genuinely nice and friendly.  I’m not that picky really, I gave up on the impossible task of finding Muslim friends, and am just looking for decent friends in GENERAL.  But… in the meantime, as I have nothing to do on the weekends, I can continue to research Islam and read and learn about other aspects of life, and of course – post on my blog. 🙂

So, in sum… life has not been easy since converting, but I realize that I am passing through a very important time and am learning necessary skills to make my life better in the future, inshAllah.  Only God knows what the future will hold, and I’m optimistic that no matter what trials and hardships I face, God will protect me and care for me.  I will gladly endure any difficulty for the sake of God and for the precious gift of guidance to the right path.  Nothing in this world is worth that.  The Quran tells us that this life is just a test and trial, and our real life begins afterward.  When we keep everything in perspective, the intensity and turmoil subsides and obstacles begin to look more trivial and inconsequential.

Hijab: A Protective Factor in Women’s Body Image Issues?

Although many people in the West know little about Islam, the veil is one exception that everyone is familiar with.  Although the Western perception is that the veil serves as a form of oppression (I also used to share this view), Muslim women see it as quite the opposite.  Some researchers have taken the debate a step further by putting the veil and its effects to scientific testing.

Although I found very few studies done on the effects of the veil, the handful I did find seemed to have mixed results.   I found it curious and wondered what other factors were affecting the outcomes.   Anyone familiar with the Middle East can attest to the fact that despite the veil being a requirement in many countries, women still suffer from body image issues, which can also result in depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem.  Thus, the act of simply wearing the veil does not seem to automatically protect women from body image issues.

However, I found another study (Rastmanesh, Gluck, & Shadman, 2009) that was much more telling.  In this particular study, the researchers took three groups of Iranian women, all of whom are required to wear the veil by law, and separated them by those wearing the chador (full coverage, beyond the requirement), those maintaining the basic requirement of veiling, and those just under the requirement, wearing tight clothes and a loose veil with hair still showing.  The researchers measured participants’ answers on a variety of instruments, such as the Beck depression inventory, the body shape questionnaire, the eating disorders inventory, the Rosenburg self-esteem scale, and questions on the importance of slimness.

The results yielded that women who veiled above and beyond the basic requirement scored far better than those in the other groups, with the women in the third group scoring the lowest.  What this indicates is that indeed, simply wearing the veil does not safeguard a woman from body image issues, but wearing the veil willingly does.  The results also should not be interpreted to mean that covering oneself from head to toe should be strictly enforced – nor does it mean that Muslim countries should abandon the veil requirement – not at all.  It simply indicates that those who 1. cover the Islamically required areas, and 2. do it because they believe in it and desire to do it, are the ones who benefit most from the veil.

So essentially, the veil is not only a physical practice.  Rather, the veil must be both physical and mental in order for it to serve as a protective factor against body image issues in women.  In fact, if a woman doesn’t believe in it, she risks being even more vulnerable to the mental health issues that plague women, as her sole source of value – her body – is covered and she has no way of competing against the other women around her, either in real life or in the media.  Her value is invisible and shielded from view, so from her perspective, she has nothing else that gives her worth.  Obviously, when you believe that you have nothing to offer, it is easy to fall into low self-esteem, depression, and so on.   Such women may even attempt to go to more extremes to make their sole source of currency visible, by wearing tight clothes so as to show off as much as they can, engaging in disordered eating in order to make their body more noticeably slimmer than those around them, and what reportedly is becoming a quickly increasing phenomenon in the Middle East, undergoing facial plastic surgery.  If the face is the only thing still visible, altering it in order to make it more appealing makes the most sense.  Apparently rhinoplasty enjoys great popularity in Iran and other places, and anyone who watches Arab media knows that Arab women (and other Middle Eastern women) wear a great deal of make up (not all of them of course, but those who have adopted the idea that a woman’s worth is in her appearance).

One of my Saudi friends has often told me stories about how Saudi women, who have to cover their faces (with the exception of the eyes), often go to great lengths in order to have very extravagently made up eyes.

He said there are many jokes about a guy being lured in by a woman’s eyes, only to later find, after pursuing her for marriage, that her eyes were the only thing appealing about her – at which point it was too late to back out!

The lesson in all this is that the West is not the inventor of female sexual objectification and oppression.  Isolating oneself completely from the influence of Western countries does not mean you will be safe from all things evil.

No, on the contrary; the abuse and mistreatment of women is something that we are all capable of; its potential lurks in all of us.  This is why God has first asked men to lower their gaze, and second for women to cover.  If one fails, the other protective component will still be in place.  But, as shown by this particular study, Islam also emphasizes the importance of knowledge and intention behind each action.  Actions that are empty and ritualistic are worthless and a waste of time.  But actions done with full knowledge and understanding of the purpose and benefit behind it, and with the right intentions have reward both in this life and in the hereafter.  A woman who veils simply because she has to will not experience the full benefit of it.  In fact, any benefit she does receive may be viewed negatively (i.e. men aren’t staring at her lustfully anymore, which she perceives as negative since her value is increased and measured by such attention).  In contrast, a woman who veils because she wants to and because she understands and desires its benefits will indeed reap the full reward in this life by being treated for who she is as a person and not as a set of body parts, and will receive the reward in heaven as well.  Correct knowledge, pure intention, and action comprise the optimal combination we all should strive for.

With all that in mind, should a woman who covers merely because Islam has asked her to give up and refrain from doing so?  No, because she still receives benefit from it even if she may not recognize it as such.  Plus, as Imam Ali bin Abi Taleb (in Nahjul Balagha) has sagely stated (Bihar Al-Anwar, p. 196)), there are three types of believers.  The first is one who obeys God from fear of punishment.  The second is one who obeys from the desire for reward.  And the third is one who obeys God simply because they want to, not for any reward or escape from punishment, but because they recognize and fully understand that this is the right and true thing to do.  All of these are still believers, and all of them will go to heaven, but their outcomes are all slightly different.  The first will escape punishment but may not have collected much reward in heaven (although there is still reward for doing the right thing), the second will gain a great deal of reward in heaven, and the third will gain reward both in the world and in heaven (despite not seeking either one!).

Indeed, God is the most merciful and the most wise.

On Modesty

I wrote this a while back, around the time when I was in the process of converting to Islam.  I thought this might serve as a nice segue into my upcoming story of my journey to begin covering my hair.

Well, I’ve been thinking (and reading) a lot about modesty these days, and I’m concerned with all the criticism that Muslim women receive over their desire to cover themselves.  I decided to take a look at what other religions have to say about this subject, and with very little effort I found that the concept of Islamic modesty is nothing new.  In fact, in Jewish tradition (from the Tanukh I think, but I’m looking for an exact citation), Abraham’s wife Sarai never left the home without completely covering herself – including her face!  Jewish women are also supposed to cover their hair (you can see that today in more traditional Jewish communities) and wear modest clothing.  With regard to Christianity, let’s remember that Jesus said he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  Fulfill doesn’t mean change, the last time I checked.  Further, Paul himself even states that a woman should at least cover her hair in church in I Cor. 11:

“Every woman who prays or prophecies with her head uncovered dishonors her head – it is just as though her head were shaved.  If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head… The woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.”

So first of all, according to Paul, a woman with an uncovered head is dishonoring herself.  Secondly, he commands that any woman who isn’t covering should have her hair cut off.  Wow!  That’s pretty extreme, and certainly not backed up by Old Testament law.  Nor does Islam have any punishment for a woman who doesn’t cover, by the way.  It’s simply her decision.  Further, Paul states that a woman should have a sign of authority on her head.  Meaning what?  She’s inferior to what authority?  God?  No – to men.  We can ascertain that because Paul didn’t tell men that they have any sign of authority over them; he singled out women.  So, covering the hair in Christianity is done due to the authority of men, while covering the hair in Islam is due to the authority of God.  That’s a pretty big difference.

Either way, modesty is not an Islamic fabrication, nor is it a symbol of oppression.  Just ask any Muslim woman here in the West, and she’ll inform you that she happily chooses to cover herself.  Further, a woman’s beauty is a valuable gift and treasure that shouldn’t be given away to the general public for free!  I’ve heard it said many times by Muslim women that by being modest and covering their sexuality, they raise themselves to equal playing grounds and are therefore taken much more seriously as a person, and valued for their minds instead of their bodies.  How liberating!

And by the way, just to be fair – Islam teaches modesty for both men and women.  Men should dress modestly as well – it’s not a one-sided ideology, something that anti-modesty protesters conveniently overlook.

Additionally, people in general have been modest up until very recently.  It wasn’t even until the 60s that people began showing more skin and abandoning modesty.  Running around half-naked is an innovation that honestly hasn’t fixed the gender gap in terms of equality in salary or employment (to date are still receiving only 75% of the pay men receive for the same work, with the same level of education and experience), even in the ‘liberated’ United States. Women still get the short end of the stick, and are now viewed as cheap sexual objects, even degraded to the level of selling everything from cars to toothpaste.  Look what ‘respect’ and ‘value’ exposing ourselves has bought us.

You can check out this youtube video for a nice visual montage of modesty throughout religions and throughout history.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=wAiRvS_BwmI&feature=related