Moreover Monday- I wasn’t always dressed like this

An amazing article and more amazing documentary…

“I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This”: A Documentary Exploring Hijab as a Choice

November 11, 2013 By

The concept of wearing hijab tends to stir controversy around the world, especially in the media. For some, hijab may be a piece of cloth that women wear as part of social traditions; for some others, it is a form of religious devoutness; yet, for others, it is a symbol of oppression and injustice towards Muslim women.

While some women are forced to wear hijab by their husbands, brothers, or fathers, others do it voluntarily. This is the central theme of the documentary I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This. Aiming to convey this notion of free choice, the documentary explores the experiences of three UK Muslim women who have chosen to put on hijab.

Director Betty Martins interviews three women in the 33-minute documentary, addressing mainly three themes: first, the journey that these three women have had to go through to make decisions on hijab; second, what hijab means personally for each one of them; and finally, how the surrounding community views those women as they opt to cover their hair, and in one case, her face.

The first lady is a French convert, who was raised accepting the mainstream French discourse about the hijab. She visited Palestine, and felt a need to answer the call to prayer in Jerusalem. That was when she decided to convert, and the idea of hijab became more appealing.

The second lady is a Syrian, who comes from an artistic family. Her father was not keen on his daughter wearing the headscarf, because “it will limit her choices,” especially that she was attending a music school.

The third is a British woman who was born Muslim, but knew nothing about Islam. Her interactions with people surrounding her, including an incident at school when she was 13, led her to ask questions about Islam and hijab in particular. Studying feminism led her to believe in the need to wear niqab as a way of hiding her face and body from the “unnecessary” glances of men around her.

The film takes an interesting approach, presenting stories of Muslim women who were free to make the choice to cover their heads. Putting on a headscarf was a way for these women to define their appearance in public, and try to change other people’s perspectives on hijab.

Scene from I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This. [Source].

The film does not go into the concept of wearing hijab as a way of hiding beauty; it presents it as part of the beauty these women have. For example, the first lady admits to trying the hijab on before putting it on. She took time picking colors and designs that match her style, which, in return, adds up to her natural beauty.  She even mentioned the idea that in France black hijab is always associated with fundamentalists; this is why she refrains from wearing headscarves with dark colors. In her case, the color and style of her hijab is not just for beauty purposes, but it is also meant to defeat any preconceived ideas of fundamentalism and extremism.

The three women concur that people should not be judging them on their looks; instead, people should get to know them better, because hijab is part of the identity they hold, and part of the choice they made. In an interview she gave to the University of East Angalia, Norwich, UK, Betty Martins said:

“In this film, we hear first-hand about their experiences as women, discover what freedom is to them and what beauty is for them. I want people to see these women as they want to be seen, not as people would like to see them.”

I was deeply touched by the three stories.  The strength and resilience demonstrated by each one of these women as they face a community with little knowledge about or appreciation for hijab is quite inspiring. In some way, however, I found that the first two stories did not present a compelling turning point, as I had expected, to explain what drove the two women to embark on the hijab-wearing journey.  For both women, it was more about “answering a spiritual call” than reacting to an incident or a series of incidents that brought forth curiosity about Islam and hijab. I had always thought that a woman who decides to cover her hair must have gone through an incident that is a life changer. I have seen many women in my life whose loved ones passed away, for example, and as a result of such incidents, they would put on hijab. But listening to those stories in the film, I was surprised to see women who could just put on hijab because of an inner call, or a different feeling they had.

The documentary has attracted much attention in the locations in which it was screened. In an interview she gave to the Emirati newspaper The National, Martins recalls someone making a comment about the film.  She notes that “someone who saw (the documentary) told me that before she never agreed with the hijab. Now, after hearing the narratives in the film, she at least respected their choices as women.”

I believe the film’s message is incredibly powerful in these critical times where hijab has been at the center of clash of civilization debates around the world. If some women make the choice not to cover their hair, that free choice principle should equally apply to those who are willing to do it. That was what the three women in the film did, and they could still go on with their lives normally like any other person. At the end of the day, a woman wearing hijab should not be labelled in any ways; she is just a person who made a choice like any other choice in our lives.


Moreover Monday- From Gaga to Malala

As mentioned before, I am going to try and bring more information to this page… whether that be about Morocco or as I have decided today, about Islam. Being someone who is not a Muslimah (a Muslim woman) I am going to mainly bring stories found on Muslimah Media Watch or other sources that rightly represent the religion or this part of the world. I am calling it “Moreover Monday” because I want to try to add to what is provided in mainstream Western media.

This is a story that was recently post on Muslimah Media Watch

From Gaga to Malala: Muslim Women as Stereotypes and Exceptions

October 21, 2013 By Leave a Comment

Editor’s note: Malala Yousafzai has been extensively covered in media lately, and several MMW writers wanted to weigh in on the way she is being portrayed.  Today’s post is by Amina; stay tuned for reflections from Nicole and Eren later this week.

Lady Gaga’s pink burqa. [Source].

Just a couple of months ago, Lady Gaga wore a ridiculous, sheer pink burqa. While I didn’t buy her reasons for it, she allegedly did it as some vague, old attempt at empowering Muslim women by trashing a form of hijab.(Read Eren’s take on “Pink Burqas, Gagas and Madonnas” here.) Mariam Elbaprovided a great analysis of Gaga’s “Bura/Aura”  lyrics for PolicyMic; the lyrics include “I’m not a wandering slave, I’m a woman of choice … My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face.” All of that, as Elba, points out, sounds okay, maybe even promising. And then, the chorus dives into stereotyping and  hypersexualizing with  “Do you want to see me naked, lover? Do you want to peek underneath the cover? Do you want to see the girl who lives behind the aura? … Do you wanna touch me? Let’s make love.”

As Elba writes:

“The heavily erotic images ultimately dehumanize and degrade burqa-wearing women and turn them into animalistic beings. In a society that automatically associates the burqa with Muslim women and Middle Eastern culture, a song like this only adds onto the monolithic image of the Muslim woman being quiet, sheltered, and owned by a man.”

With her recent American tour, internet campaign to award her the Nobel Peace Prize, and alright media bonanza, stories about Malala embed a similar rhetoric. The mainstream media has largely personified her an exception, rather than the rule; as if with her courage, bluntness, and conviction, she is unlike most Muslim women. Omid Safi’s post, “How to Keep Malala from Being Appropriated” makes a great case for the need to avoid an “exceptionalizing narrative.”

Don’t get me wrong. Malala is indeed incredible. But the media discourse about Malala often insinuates that her commitments to women’s education are derived from Western influences and values juxtaposed, again, against the backdrop of stereotypes that characterize Muslim women as downtrodden and dreaming to be saved by the white knight in shining armour.

Her boldness seems acceptable largely because of that narrative. The reactions to other “brazen” Muslim women aren’t nearly as warm. When the Boston bombing suspects were named, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, the mother of the suspects, came immediately and fiercely to their defence.  Zubeidat was rarely grieving, somber or apologetic in the media glare. Instead, she remained consistently defiant and insistent of her sons’ innocence. The media reactions to Zubeidat were almost instantly vicious, labelling her a terrorist and questioning the “extreme” nature of her religious views. If she were less outspoken, more apologetic, and weakly sobbing behind a microphone, Zubeidat would have better fit social expectations of a grieving mother and of Muslim women, in general.

Then, there are the stories that rarely make a ripple on the Western media circuit – like the “Speed Sisters,” a group of female Palestinian street racers that draw crowds along the roads of Ramallah. And the Saudi women who embrace regular acts of civil disobedience and challenge their social status quo by driving. And the Sudanese women who recently staged a silent protest demanding female detainees be released. I’m grateful for Anneke’s weekly Friday Links because her posts generally host links to healthy counternarratives of Muslim women, in contrast to the typical stuff we read about in the mainstream media.


There’s something immensely telling about the stories mainstream Western media decides to promote and those that get swept under the rug. The stories that are told and ways in which they are told say as much about the storytellers as those that are the actual subjects of discussion. Mainstream media actively homogenizes Muslim women into meek, weak beings who lack the audacity and know-how to challenge patriarchal systems. That narrative – one that denies a Muslimah’s autonomy – makes it difficult, if not downright impossible, to engage with Muslim women on the basis of solidarity. Instead, the West just sells itself as the ultimate saviour, bound by a superficial chivalrous oath to protect Muslim women from those evil, evil Muslim men who must ALL be pledged to the Taliban.

As I establish my professional career, I’m cognizant that I stand on the shoulders of giants, that my values, passions, and drives come from brilliant, fierce Muslim women: my unapologetic Nani, my strong-as-steel mother, countless activists, and brilliant academics. Yes, I am a Canadian woman. But my opinions on education, independence, empowerment, and self-sufficiency are heavily borne from my cultural and religious influences as a Muslim woman and the two aren’t mutually exclusive. While the Muslimahs I know are exceptional, they are by no means the exception. If the mainstream, Western media ever intends to genuinely engage with Muslim women, then it’s seriously time to acknowledge the depth and breadth inherent to Muslimahs.

Morocco Gender Equality Plan

Found this article at the Edmonton Journal and thought it would be a good short read!

Morocco presents gender equality plan modified by Islamist party

By Smail Bellaoualli, The Associated Press July 5, 2013

RABAT, Morocco – Morocco’s Islamist-led government on Friday presented a new European Union-funded plan to promote women’s rights and equality, but without earlier measures to legalize abortion and support single mothers.

The plan, which is funded with 45 million euros (about $58 million) from the EU, contains 150 measures to improve women’s equality in the health and education sectors, and access to government employment, Minister of Women, Family and Social Development Bassima Hakkaoui said.

Her predecessor, Nouzha Skalli, told The Associated Press that an earlier draft of the plan included a law legalizing abortion in certain cases as well as protection for single mothers.

The Islamist Party of Justice and Development had originally opposed the plan when it was in opposition, and then altered it after they came to power after elections in November 2011.

Hakkaoui said she had informed the EU about the revised approach and there had been no objections.

Though lacking some of the progressive legislation of Tunisia, Morocco passed a new personal status code in 2004 that has been welcomed by feminists.

The new constitution passed in 2011 after popular protests inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings in North Africa also guarantees equality between women and men.

While female representation in Moroccan governments has never been high, the current Islamist-led coalition only has a single female minister, Hakkaoui. When asked why women weren’t being nominated for more high level posts, the minister replied that few applied.

“The problem is that the number of women applying is low, of 245 candidates, only 27 are women,” she said.

The Muslims I know

Originally written for the Herald Journal, cross posted here with permission from Tyler Duffey!

While living abroad in Morocco, hearing tragic breaking news from the US elicits a new kind of emotional response for me. Upon hearing about the Newtown event, Hurricane Sandy, the Benghazi attacks and most recently, the Boston tragedy it has put me in a place of longing. I want to be back home to support family and friends or if I can, those who tragedy has struck. However, I also realize that for these events I am an ambassador. During these difficult news times, many Moroccans have expressed their sympathies to me, sometimes friends, sometimes strangers whom I meet on the street. Their concern and knowledge of these tragedies is touching, their apologies for the occurrences, sincere and heartfelt.

The attack in Boston was different, it was carried out with improvised explosive devices, rather than a firearm, made from pressure cookers like my grandmother uses to can corn every summer. During the tense 24 hours before the perpetrators were found, I along with my wife hoped with all of our hearts that this terrible event would come to a swift close. We let out a short sigh of relief that the criminals had been captured and Boston was safe once again. However, we worried that religion would be soon brought into the discourse.

Part of our purpose here in Morocco is to engage in soft diplomacy. This translates to exchanging culture, both American and Moroccan. When religion was brought, by some news sources, into the dialogue of the Boston events, it became a source of conflict for me. The faces that I see everyday, who offer their sympathy and kindness, practice a religion that is peaceful and open. The religion that I have observed over the past year encourages blatant kindness and overwhelming hospitality.  Not a day goes by where a person does not offer blessings to me or my family back home. This is the religion of the young girls and boys who come to my English class. It is the owner of the store on our street who has become our friend. It is the director at the youth center where we work. It is the god-fearing elderly lady to whom my wife gives money on the street. It is the taxi driver who generously offers me a bite of his sandwich. It is the young boy who strikes up a conversation with me on the train. These are the faces I see when people talk about Muslims.

As an American, I am livid at those who have caused my fellow countrymen pain. The guilty parties should be brought to justice.  Any kind of extremist in the world, who subscribes to a terrorist set of beliefs, plays a real role in compromising the security of our country. Yet those extremists, who wish to insight terror under the cloak of religion, are following their own radical and inaccurate version. The people with whom I live and have grown to know and care about, are like you and me, they simply want to be happy and enjoy the life they are living. It is a terrible injustice to this peaceful religion to allow a few miscreants to stigmatize some of the most caring and generous people I have ever met. As Americans we must rise above the vitriol that causes terrorists to kill innocent people, and leave the judgment for others to decide. We should take a moment to remember the victims who lost their lives in the bombing attack and those who were injured and whose lives will be forever changed.