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ayeshahaqqiqa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-16-06 09:31 PM
Original message
Some thoughts on dressing modestly
From time to time, there are posts here and on other discussion boards about the "poor" Muslim women who "must" wear "those clothes". I always laugh a bit because it shows again a lack of understanding of Islam among most Americans. Hello-we are not all alike, any more than all Christians or Jews or whatever are alike! I know that all Muslim women do not dress alike, and interpret differently what the Qur'an means about dressing modestly-I am sure everyone has seen Muslim women cover up completely, merely dress modestly with a headscarf, or even dress modestly without a head covering at all.

The other implication I get from the "poor" Muslim women remarks is the implication that, given the chance, every woman in the world would dress like Farrah Fawcett or Janet Jackson or some other American female icon. My answer is WHY? Personally, I feel provocative dress makes women less free, because so many see them only as sex objects. And girls who have less than perfect bodies are made to feel ashamed of their physical appearance-this can cause eating disorder problems, or cause women to resort to plastic surgery to enhance breasts or lips or whatever-and why? Surely not to make others respect them for their ideas, their inherent talents.

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Dunvegan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Feb-17-06 08:37 AM
Response to Original message
1. My Experiment in Modesty (from my college days.)
Edited on Fri Feb-17-06 08:39 AM by Dunvegan

(Edited to say: I hope the length of this essay is acceptable. But my experience in the experiment I conducted over 30 years ago may speak to this topic, even today. --Dunvegan)

Back in college in 1971 I conducted an experiment on the first day of sophomore classes. I constructed a head-to-toe "black bag" (i.e., a 5' 9" "pillowcase" of heavy black fabric, with a rectangular insert of thin black gauze over the eyes to see through. Slits in the side seams allowed my arms to be free, yet covered with opera-length black gloves. Knee-length black shoe-styled boots completed the coverage.

I was a communications major with a psych minor taking my first elective creative writing class that year at Michigan State University. My idea wat that the experiment would give me a blanket topic to write about in all three disciplines.

I was actually unacquainted then at 16 with burqas worn as Islamic wear, only to be introduced to the custom via research after my experiment. I simply wanted to examine first-hand how people treat someone who had no physical cues to respond to, and then write about the excercise.

Although apprehensive as to the possible public response, I was surprised that I garnered far more reaction than I had expected.

I had also decided to not speak during my experiment, so as to minimize my influence on reactions...and also so when I returned to classes the next day (claiming that I had difficulty in registering -- common in those days for students who were receiving financial aid and had extra paperwork first day) no one would recognize my voice and make the connection between me and the black bag.

I and my husband both sat out first day classes, and we arrived the second day together, which was pretty effective at breaking any conjecture I was the "black bag person."

Cut to the "projection" syndrome:

First class, Communications 101

The class murmured quite loudly when I entered the classroom with my covering, arms wrapped around my books. I took a seat in the back.

The professor brought the class to order. Seemed to go into their usual spiel regarding the aims of the course, what would be expected of students regarding work and attendance, then carefully wove a short discourse about communications and tolerance into his lecture. At one point he made a strong yet subtle point about no student interfering with any other student's ability to study based on physical or ethnic factors.

Upon finishing his remarks he made a very matter-of-fact point of coming directly to me in the back of the room and speaking to me kindly, asked me if I required any assistance regarding meeting the requirements of his class, and if so to please let him know. Not speaking, I used a notepad to write to him a thank you, and let him know I'd call on him for help if I required it.

After this the Comm 101 students settled down completely and focused on the class. Most seemed to have demonstrably now accepted me as simply a human being, and went on about their own first day business.

I gathered my books when class ended and as I moved to the next classroom in the same building, several students followed me in a distanced, but protective manner.

Second class: Creative Writing 101

Here we had the flip side reaction. The professor immediately began to "crack wise" when I entered the classroom and sat in the back. He invited the other students to speculate on "the baggage in the back." Snide, hurtful, and downright inciteful comments were encouraged by the professor if the comments were sufficiently creative and clever. The entire class was focused on "riffing" on the "funeral floursack."

I vividly remember how many were craining around in their seats to hurl rather vicious remarks back my way. One fellow actually placed himself a few inches in front of me and delivered a caustic monologue, like a proto-Andrew Dice Clay, trying to provoke me into speaking or removing the bag. The prof smiled at the "creative cleverness" of his sudents and piled-on.

At the end of this class, I was confronted by some of the Creative Writing class students in the hall. This caused others students to notice and some of those joined in the provacative atmosphere.

Several large males pushed me around a little, demanding I remove the bag or talk and defend my self. Because my hands are a size 6+ glove, and my feet are a AAAA size it was fairly obvious I was probably a female. But shove hard they did.

The creative writing prof came into the hallway, joining in the carnival scene, and that seemed to lend a boost authority to the students that chose to torment the bag.

I finally had to break and run away from their hectoring as it had become loud, physical, and frightening. Several of them actually ran after me and chased me for several blocks.

Running. I fell. I tore a hole in the bag at the knee. I lost a textbook. I tore my bag covering and brused my knee. I scrambled back up, running. Those giving chase finally fell away.

I had asked my husband to be ready with the car in a secluded parking lot about a quarter of a mile away on campus. I made my way through a stand of trees, circled, found the lot, and nearly dove into the car, soaked in a fear-sweat.

What did I learn? Just that supporting intolerance assists those who fear what is different...and authority figures that do so throw gasoline on violence towards those different from ourselves.

Being mixed-minority, I was used to some societal exclusions, and I had even travelled as an astonished child through a "Jim Crow" south once upon a time. But nothing had prepared me for the reaction to the black bag.

I was able to ask a lot of questions about the "bag" the next day by feigning ignorance of the event, and saying it was too bad I missed that first day and a chance to see for myself.

I reveled my identity during finals. In Communications I wrote my experience up as the requisite final exam study. In Creative Writing I wrote my short story (our final exam) on the experience.

The Creative Writing prof had my husband and I out to a bar to give us his assessment of our stories, and our final grade. He drank and railed on that he was so haunted and ashamed of his behavour toward the black bag on that first day of classes, and the bags subsequent disappearance, that he was going to write a novel about his anguish...and that I had now spoiled it by solving the mystery that had plagued him. He reluctantly gave me a good grade for the story, but was quite angry, overall.

All that to say this: I felt that it wasn't me people were reacting to, because I couldn't be seen, and did not speak or interact with others. My attire was surely my private business. I was in a relatively liberal environment. And yet, there were either strong reactions of protective or confrontational behaviour dependent on the prevailing "microculture" of two very different authority figures and their classrooms.

What people reacted to was the consent of authority, and something in themselves projected their own fears onto that unaggressive and silent dark figure.

Finally, back on topic: I think the Wholesome Wear suits are neither here nor there, except as a choice for the wearer. From the black bag experiment I saw intolerence towards a body covering. So, I strongly support all fashion or personal convention from burqa to bikini to body manipulation to bareness.

I support choice of personal prerogative in a free society. I support others freedom of choice and am grateful for my own freedom.

Long-story-short: Choice is good.

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ayeshahaqqiqa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Feb-17-06 10:08 AM
Response to Reply #1
2. A very interesting experiment!
I don't know if you are Muslim or, if you are not, if you are familiar with Qur'an and the Hadiths. I think your experiment actually drives home the wise words in the Qur'an which direct believers to dress modestly, and the hadith in which the Beloved Prophet (saw) was asked, "If a Muslim lives in a foreign country, how should he dress?" The answer was "Dress like everyone else."

The point is to not draw attention to yourself by the way you dress. The reactions you got indicates that one can receive both positive and negative attention-and attention tends to feed the nafs, a term that may loosely be translated as "ego". In Sufism at least (I cannot speak for other sects of Islam)the point is to lose the false self in the Real, and part of this practice is to not feed the nafs.

I do not wear a burka or even hijab, because of my interpretation of the Hadith and the words in the Qur'an. I do dress modestly, and wear a knit hat in the winter and a baseball cap in summer, and fit in with those around me.

I agree that what one wears should be a personal choice. But I also feel that Western society has, to a great extent, said that only certain styles , certain body types are to be considered 'beautiful'.
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JCMach1 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-19-06 02:20 PM
Response to Reply #1
6. What I tell my students about wearing cover
when these issues come up...

If you are just doing this because you are compelled to by society, family, anyone you are doing it for the wrong reason.

If you do it, as a Muslim, it should be as a sign of your modesty before God.

People, even Muslims forget, that the modesty rules should apply to male dress as well. A quick trip to the UAE will remind you though. Here, most muslim men wear the traditional white.
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PsychoDad Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-19-06 05:20 PM
Response to Reply #6
8. So very true.
"People, even Muslims forget, that the modesty rules should apply to male dress as well."

Indeed it does. Muslim man can't wear silk or gold. It's quite a sight to hear a brother talk about how a particular sister may not be wearing hijab or how all should wear hijab in general, while he has a gold ring on.

I have some friends in the UAE. How is it for ex-pats there? I'd be interested in visiting/working there for a while.

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madeline_con Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-19-07 12:49 AM
Response to Reply #1
23. What an experience.
I remember feeling anonymous wearing an abaya in Saudi Arabia years ago. But I realized later that was from an American teenager's viewpoint.

I think at my age, I'd find some comfort in using some sort of hijab in some Middle Eastern countries.
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JCMach1 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-19-06 02:53 AM
Response to Original message
3. I now feminists who wear full-cover
and conservative wahabi girls who dress like Britney Spears...

You can't judge a book by its cover so to speak.
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PsychoDad Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-19-06 07:13 AM
Response to Original message
4. Modesty and moderation
Edited on Sun Feb-19-06 07:19 AM by PsychoDad
The Quran is pretty loose with it's requirements for modest dress. It only that one, man or woman, cover themselves modestly and to not walk in a provocative or overtly "sexy" way.

IMHO, The real objection to hijab is primarly cultural.

It's interesting that the Hijab gets so much flak for being oppressive from persons purporting to be for women's rights. All this fuss over a piece of cloth. Have these people forgotten that here in america these poor women are forced to wear various pieces of cloth themselves, or face possible legal prosecution? Where is a piece of cloth over the head any more oppressive or logical that some cloth over the breasts, except for environmental reasons perhaps?

And in the saudi desert a head covering makes good sense for men or women.

So, should women from parts of Africa or Polynesia who had been bare breasted for aeons lament their poor oppressed american sisters for their lack of rights or choice? Perhaps they could send some governmental officials to instruct american women in the west on their lesser status. Or would these African or Polynesian women be seen as "uncultured and backward" because they didn't wear the latest fashionable piece of cloth over their breasts? Would they be arrested when they got off the plane for not conforming to our "medieval western" fashion norms?

It's just cultural bigotry.

Anyway, that's my rant. :P

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ayeshahaqqiqa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-19-06 07:44 PM
Response to Reply #4
10. You've brought up a very good point, brother
and that is cultural bigotry. I smile when I think of times when people have asked in surprise, "You mean you don't WANT to drink alchol? You don't WANT to eat pork? You don't LIKE to watch pornographic films?" Don't get me wrong, there are many aspects of American culture I like, the main one being (at least in the past) a certain amount of tolerance for different faiths. But I don't believe American culture is the be-all end-all of civilization, nor that every country has to have a McDonalds and have their kids wear blue jeans. Personally, I like diversity.
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Orrin_73 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-19-06 08:31 AM
Response to Original message
5. ayeshahaqqiqa do you wear a veil?
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ayeshahaqqiqa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-19-06 07:45 PM
Response to Reply #5
11. No,
I dress modestly and in a way not to attract attention to myself. Wearing a veil on my baseball cap would attract attention, don't you think?
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Orrin_73 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-19-06 08:38 PM
Response to Reply #11
12. A veil on a baseball cap would look pretty strange indeed
not to attract attention, very wise of you in todays hostile environment one should be careful.
Are you a convert to Islam?
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ayeshahaqqiqa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Feb-20-06 07:39 AM
Response to Reply #12
13. I believe the proper term is "revert"
I reverted to Islam when I took hands in 1989.
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Mnemosyne Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-22-06 05:27 PM
Response to Reply #13
14. Could you please explain *taking hands* ayeshahaqqiqa?
Thank you!
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ayeshahaqqiqa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Feb-24-06 09:45 PM
Response to Reply #14
16. When one is initiated
into a Sufi order (at least the ones where I've been initiated) one takes the hands of the initiator. In doing so, you symbolically also take hands with that person's teacher, and that person's teacher, on back through the centuries until one reaches the Beloved Prophet (pbuh) and Gabril, and then Allah. This ceremony connects you to this line of teachers, called the Silsulah, and for me, personally, it has been a very moving experience.
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JCMach1 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-19-06 02:26 PM
Response to Original message
7. Hey, if you live in a society where cover is a common thing
you also learn the 'secret language' of the Burqa.

When I first moved here, I had difficulty identifying and talking to completely covered women.

Over time, that began to change as I interacted more and more. Over time, you even learn to recognize faces by the eyes and shape. You can often even tell who might have a beautiful face or not.

You can't just do that over night... it takes time. I also find it very interesting how the different types of cover are HIGHLY coded for nationality, or cultural identity here.
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Alameda Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Nov-04-07 11:29 PM
Response to Reply #7
25. the secret language of the veil
Yes, that is quite true. Women in veils can do everything Western women can do. I knew a Western woman who traveled in the East in jeans and a sweatshirt with her very Western looking husband. In her jeans and with her looks, (she Italian and Chinese), she had a problem with the natives thinking she was a Muslim woman going astray with a English man. After a while she decided to get a burqa. When she wore the burqa, people would point at her and laugh. It was then obvious to them she was a Western woman dressed in a burqa.
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plasticwidow Donating Member (49 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-19-06 05:58 PM
Response to Original message
9. My Personal Opinion...
I, being Muslim, have had a time of it with the Hijab. Born and raised in a Western Society that emphasis weight, appearance and attractiveness, sometimes to the extent of revealing almost the entire female body, certainly brings mixed messages to young girls and young women who are struggling with their desire to be seen as an individual of intelligence, common sense and good character. It is difficult to talk to a man who eyes your hair because of its luxurious shine or their eyes riveted to your bosom or exposed legs, about getting counseling for you 15 year old daughter. Western society teaches males to look at a woman's beauty or lack of clothing for that matter, and teaches the woman that the only way to get ahead in this world is to look good for men and dress provocatively. This is not the message I like to raise my daughters around. I embraced Islam as my religion 4 years ago and struggled with the Hijab for a while. Living in a small town in the midwest where on almost every street corner there is a church or christian community center can be a bit daunting, especially after 9/11 and all of the attention the media put on "Muslims" and the fear factor that has been rampaging our country since President Bush and his administration came into office. What would the neighbors say, how do I go to the store in a hijab, what about the bank when I make a deposit? What troubles am I in store for? I have heard horror stories from Muslim women at the two Masjids I have attended, where they were stalked, terrorized, bullied and berated by others just for wearing their head covering. I have observed that it is not a personal attack, but a reaction to fear, intolerance and misinformation the population in general has in regards to the "Muslim attire" that brings up questions, worries, fears and concerns, hatred, anger and bigotry.

I have been blessed in the community we live in. I have received attention for wearing the Hijab, a simple covering of the hair, neck and head, leaving only the face to look at. I dress conservatively in loose fitting clothing, sometimes wearing a full length Abaya (?spelling) to cover my day clothes underneath. It took me a while to garner the courage to wear the head covering and it was really a very personal issue and a very bad day that prompted me to wear my Hijab, alone in my kitchen, while ranting and feeling sorry for myself (I timed it for 30 minutes so I wouldn't indulge.. hehehehe). And I had a talk with Allah (swt) and threw a tantrum. Yes, it sounds all childish, and I knew it, but I figured, ok, I'm human, I have human feelings, I asked forgiveness afterwards but it felt good to let off steam and cry a little as well. I wore the Hijab whole day at home, and then I had to go to the store, and didn't think twice about it that I was wearing my Hijab. It felt good and close to me, it represented who I was, and what I believed in, and that Allah (swt) prescribes wearing the Hijab in public. That was enough for me, I was at peace with myself. Since that day, I do not step out of my home without my Hijab on. What I found interesting was the reactions of the neighborhood. You see, it was easier for me to wear my Hijab around those who didn't know me, than it was for me to wear it around those who did. I didn't have to live around those who were strangers, but I did have to live with those who were my neighbors, my community. We had lived here only 5 years, would they accept me? Would they tolerate me? How would they react? Well, I received questions, and inquiries, and surprisingly, a bit more respect. The men opened doors for me at the store, were just a little more friendlier. Whether this was genuine or just out of worry, fear or some other reason, I will never know. But I have not had any hardships whatsoever wearing the Hijab here. But I hear these stories from other sisters who I know have been through a lot and who have faced monumental negative reactions from those they were around when they wore their Hijabs. What I find oppressing, degrading and downright intolerable, is the intolerance of just simply accepting someone for who they are, irregardless of their creed, race, sex, religion or political beliefs, something that is stressed in our American Constitution. What has happened to our country where a woman who decides to cover herself and dress modestly, must worry and fear for her own wellbeing? It is this fear and intolerance that keeps misinformation and prejudice going. It is time that the American public realize that we are not sex objects, that we should be accepted on our merits, minds and actions, not our looks, and that we are human beings worth knowing, without having to look at our bodies, how comely or beautiful we are, or how we dress.

Just my personal rant here from personal experience and knowing others at the Masjid.

Peace to everyone here! Salaam alaykum.
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elshiva Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-23-06 09:58 PM
Response to Original message
15.  The only time, I say, "poor Muslim women" is those extreme cases
when acid is thrown in the face of uncovered women or when the Taliban cut off women's toes that have nail polish. This is really a perversion of Islam, but unfortunately, it is these extreme cases that Westerners/Christians hear about.

In general it is good to have an idea of modesty, just as long as clothes don't impede movement or call on some sort of punishment if not worn correctly.
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DemBones DemBones Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-12-06 05:37 AM
Response to Original message
17. Some Catholic women are returning to being veiled in church and

dressing modestly. Those who attend the Traditional Latin Mass are in the vanguard of this trend but others are starting to follow their example. The Canon Law stating that women are to cover their heads in church was never changed, but during the Vatican II Council, the media, misunderstanding as they so often do, announced women no longer had to wear hats or veils to Mass.

Veiling was once the practice for women in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, i.e., in all the faiths that look back to Abraham as father.

Here are some comments from a traditional Catholic woman's viewpoint:

"Note what Paul says, "But if a woman nourish her hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering." We don't veil ourselves because of some "primordial" sense of femine shame; we are covering our glory so that He may be glorified instead. We cover ourselves because we are holy -- and because feminine beauty is incredibly powerful. If you don't believe me, consider how the image of "woman" is used to sell everything from shampoo to used cars. We women need to understand the power of the feminine and act accordingly by following the rules of modest attire, including the use of the veil."


"Now, think of what else was veiled in the Old Testament -- the Holy of Holies!

Hebrews 9:1-8
The former indeed had also justifications of divine service and a sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made the first, wherein were the candlesticks and the table and the setting forth of loaves, which is called the Holy. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies: Having a golden censer and the ark of the testament covered about on every part with gold, in which was a golden pot that had manna and the rod of Aaron that had blossomed and the tables of the testament. And over it were the cherubims of glory overshadowing the propitiatory: of which it is not needful to speak now particularly. Now these things being thus ordered, into the first tabernacle, the priests indeed always entered, accomplishing the offices of sacrifices. But into the second, the high priest alone, once a year: not without blood, which he offereth for his own and the people's ignorance: The Holy Ghost signifying this: That the way into the Holies was not yet made manifest, whilst the former tabernacle was yet standing.

...The Ark of the Old Covenant was kept in the veiled Holy of Holies. And at Mass, what is kept veiled until the Offertory? The Chalice -- the vessel that holds the Precious Blood! And, between Masses, what is veiled? The Ciborium in the Tabernacle, the vessel which holds the very Body of Christ. These vessels of life are veiled because they are holy!"

Are the Muslim woman's reasons for veiling similar?
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unschooler Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-24-07 09:46 PM
Response to Original message
18. You are creating a false dichotomy and perpetuating stereotypical
views of western women. Most women do NOT want to dress like Farrah Fawcett or Janet Jackson, do not care whether or not men see them as sex objects and do not give their physical "imperfections" a second thought.

The choice between "modesty" as defined by one's interpretation of 7th century writings and "sleaziness" is a false one. The answer to Brittany Spears is not conformity with religious standards. It is being oneself, free and unconcerned with what people think.
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ayeshahaqqiqa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Apr-21-07 08:48 AM
Response to Reply #18
20. My only question to you is
are you a woman from the USA? I am. During the time I was growing up (the 50s and 60s) there was definately the push to wear mini skirts and to "fit in". In fact, it was ok to wear short skirts in my high school but not slacks, which would have been more modest in that they covered the legs. Did physcial appearance matter? You bet it did. I attended a "nerd" school-a high school connected to a university--and was, like most of the girls, not invited to the prom by the boys of our class, who told us "cows" that they preferred the pretty girls from the regular schools. This was back in the day when a girl couldn't go to a dance on their own--you had to be invited. "Better to be pretty and act dumb, honey, if you want a man"--I heard this more than once growing up. If women "don't give their physical imperfections a second thought" how is it that so many go in for plastic surgery, especially for breast enhancement? Or so many are anerexic or bulimic? And have you seen the "fashions" for little girls now? The hottest fashions have them wearing things that hookers and the like wore. If you believe that women don't care if men see them as sex objects or not, you are living in a different world than I am.
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madeline_con Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-19-07 12:52 AM
Response to Reply #18
24. I have to agree with that.
The either/or point of view is unfair.

I saw a show about Afghanistan recently, and there were men who actually said the reason for a burka was so they would not molest women, admitting they had no self-control. I find that argument by some Muslim men very distrubing.
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UndertheOcean Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jan-26-07 06:09 PM
Response to Original message
19. The issue here is freedom.
If a woman want to wear the Islamic hijab , a nun's attire , or a miniskirt ... its her choice and no one.. NO one , even the whole of society has the right to tell her what is right or wrong.

Hijab is ONlY tolerable if it is a personal choice.
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ayeshahaqqiqa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Apr-21-07 08:51 AM
Response to Reply #19
21. Personal choice
You are right--I don't like it when any particular dress is demanded-or prohibited. When I was growing up, girls were not allowed to wear slacks to school--skirts and dresses only. What is ironic was that mini skirts were ok--but nicely tailored slacks were not. I have always been large, and my legs are short and chunky. I wore skirts below the knees with knee socks when I was in high school, but I would have been more comfortable wearing slacks.
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Alameda Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon May-28-07 02:50 AM
Response to Original message
22. Islamic dress?
Why is there such a furor over women covering their heads? Why should any assume anything about it at all? Maybe she's having a "bad hair day".

The whole thing has gotten out of control. All it really means is she has something on her head.

What if the dominant society was that of certain African natives who only wear body paint and a few ornaments? How would everyone feel being forced to conform by wearing only body paint?
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