Western Obsession with Muslim Women’s Clothing

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The modern-day portrayal of the Muslim woman in Western media is one of a subjugated and silenced character, devoid of choice, deprived of her voice. She is someone upon whom the Westerner ought to have pity and for whose liberation he must advocate. To liberate the women of Afghanistan from the so-called oppression of the burka-imposing Taliban, the West entered Afghanistan and subsequently transformed the country into piles of rubble. Recently, news surfaced of an Afghan woman who was raped by the U.S.-supported Afghan National Police (ANP) in Kunduz province — this is but one example of “liberating” Afghan Muslim women following the toppling of the Taliban regime. Interestingly, women in the West go unchallenged when they dress in clothing bearing little to no difference with that of close to vulgarity, yet women in Afghanistan who honorably cover their bodies in burkas are the center of obsessive attention in the West that wants to rip violently the Muslim woman of her coverings.

Meanwhile, in Western countries, Muslim women who choose to wear niqabs may be conveniently dismissed as either forced by their menfolk to do so, or simply brainwashed. While in some Western countries the niqab is banned altogether (think Belgium, France, etc.), in others niqab-wearing Muslim women are often verbally – and sometimes physically – abused, ironically by Westerners that feel she and her fellow Muslim women globally must be “liberated” from imaginary bondage.

And thus if a Muslim woman asserts that she covers herself by choice, the West looks hither and thither, desperately searching for excuses to undermine the role of reasonable choice in her decision. Surely she cannot voluntarily reject the western “freedoms” we wish to impose on the Muslim world? In reacting so, the West demonstrates its extreme intolerance toward ways of life opposing its own, even while making seemingly high claims of freedom, tolerance, and open-mindedness. And with the aid of media misrepresentations of Muslim women globally it continues to launch cultural attacks on our countries – a few-months-old story headline ran by the New York Times comes to mind: Saudi Women, Tired of Restraints, Find Ways to Flee. Rahaf Alqunun, one such Saudi female, was given much media attention in the West. Yet Muslim women who reject Western culture and greatly appreciate and uphold the restraints of their religion are hardly given near the level of attention in Western media.

It is clear that the acceptable Muslim woman to the West is the publicly stylish Muslim woman; the one who exposes her body; the one who rebels against any attempts to “escape” her Muslim society; the one who can be stuck on magazine front covers; the one about whom it can be said: she’s like us. Malcolm X wrote in his autobiography, “…any country’s moral strength, or its moral weakness, is quickly measurable by the street attire and attitude of its women—especially its young women. Wherever the spiritual values have been submerged, if not destroyed, by an emphasis upon the material things, invariably, the women reflect it. Witness the women, both young and old, in America—where scarcely any moral values are left.”

So, the Muslim woman who remains faithful to her principles and beliefs and proudly adopts the dress of the mothers of the believers (i.e. the Prophet’s wives) while rejecting what the West has to offer in this regard may even face harassment by the “tolerant” and “civilized” folk, if she resides in the West. In Western media, her type is usually paid relatively little attention to. And understandably so, as she does not fit the West-promoted narrative regarding Muslim women; the Muslim woman is supposed to have either happily adopted Western culture after recognizing its supposed superiority or is still miserably oppressed, awaiting a U.S.-led invasion to rescue her from her plight and gift her the “liberation”.

The reality, of course, is far from what they portray. As Muslim women, Islam has freed us from slavery to man and honored us with slavery to the Lord of man. We have been gifted a noble dress code by our religion, one that we acknowledge proudly as being a means of dignity and pride for us and that prevents us from being a victim to objectification. We possess no need, therefore, to emulate lower standards of decency, rather only disrespect ourselves by doing so.

Despite the presence of certain questionable practices relating to women within our cultures, these are internal matters for the resolving of which we need not turn outside. Our Islamic religion is sufficient a solution for such ills present in Muslim societies and we do not require Western solutions. That many Muslim women believe such a thing is a bitter pill for the West to swallow. That there are countless educated and mentally uncolonized Muslim women, within and without the Islamic world, who have vehemently rejected the Western lifestyle and adopted instead the Islamic lifestyle is also a bitter pill. But as was stated by Umar bin Khattab (RA), “We were a disgraceful people and Allah honored us with Islam. If we seek honor from anything besides that with which Allah has honored us, then Allah will disgrace us.”

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