Issues of identity, independence, acceptance by society, and practice of faith are not new to women. Add faith to the mix and it becomes an even more complicated subject. This paper examines the main arguments by Jasmin Zine in ‘Honour and Identity: An Ethnographic Account of Muslim Girls in a Canadian Islamic School’ and Anaya Mcmurray in ‘Can Black Muslim Women Be Down with Hip-Hop.’
Both women critically evaluate the double standards that Muslim women face with respect to their male counterparts in their respective communities. Their main arguments along with the rationale for these contentions are described. Moreover, the concerns of these two authors regarding the effects of these double standards on young Muslim women are presented. In doing so, this paper argues in favor of these authors’ stance by presenting an actual case study.
In her essay, Zine investigates how young Muslim females formulate notions of religious and gender identity within (and often against) the prevailing patriarchal discourses within Islamic schools in Canada. Based on her fieldwork examining Muslim female students within the realms of these gender-based Islamic schools, Zine observes obvious frustration from the students as they feel identities and self-expression oppressed by the strict regulations of these institutions. As she notes, these young female students and even their female educators are fully conscious of the disparity of their status as women within these academic structures (Zine, 2008, p. 57). Despite the efforts by Islamic schools to facilitate equal academic opportunities to both female and male students, their restricting gender-based structures and practices, especially towards the female students, makes them a powerful contributing factor in promoting gender inequality and Islamophobia in Canada.
For these young girls, independence necessitates resisting the prevailing so-called religiously ‘appropriate’ dialogues within sectors of the Muslim community (Zine, 2008, p. 57). For instance, Zine shares anecdotes of young Muslim women who have experienced repressing and constricting exchanges with their educators. In an effort to supervise their social behaviors in and out of the school, their actions are carefully examined, scrutinized and critically reprimanded in order to ensure they align with the teachings of these institutions and don’t degrade the respect of the family and the community at large. Bearing this immense social burden of having to constantly appease their families, school and the Muslim community, these young girls have to articulate their self-worth and seek equal footing while maintaining their Muslim identities. Accounts of young Muslim women interviewed by Zine speak to their inclination and desire to fight the stereotypical victim-centered and repressed images of Muslim women as portrayed in the mainstream media. They seek to take control of their identities and lives while maintaining their participation and devotion to their faith – like their male counterparts.
A CNN article by Gianluca Mezzofiore in 2018 discussed several reports of Muslim women, who came out with their experiences about sexual abuse during pilgrim. “Hundreds of thousands of Muslim women descend on Mecca in Saudi Arabia each year to take part in the Hajj, but in recent weeks some female worshipers have told CNN they experienced incidents of sexual abuse or harassment while participating in the five-day pilgrimage.”(Mezzofiore,2018) When these women reported these events to security, they were silenced because such heinous acts are simply considered impossible especially in a holy place. Even though these women were dressed in an appropriate manner and veiled completely, it didn’t stop the abuse from taking place. As discussed by the students in Zine’s study, men are never reprimanded for their actions and therefore feel entitled to holding superiority complex.
The challenges that Muslim women face stretches about cultural spaces. In her essay, Anaya McMurray argues that despite their contribution to the culture of hip-hop, Muslim women are hardly ever talked about in this creative space. McMurray points to a select group of Muslim women including Eve and Erykah Badu and herself for having contributed the hip-hop generation by infusing hip-hop culture and Islamic faith in their music. In spite of their creative accomplishments, their work is either marginalized and/or misrepresents the experiences of Black Islamic women. She attributes factors such as the popular images of Islamic women as portrayed in the mainstream media, the cultural norms regulating the Islamic values, and the gender-based stereotypical biases in the music industry all add to the this under and misrepresentation of the Black Islamic women (McMurray, 2008, p. 86). McMurray comparison of her own image and that of Eve and Erykah Badu with the popular images of Islamic women clearly paint stark differences. Islamic women are generally portrayed in the mass media as covered and conservative Middle Eastern women.
There is simply not enough representation of the true faces and facets of Muslim women let along their professional accomplishments or creative feats. Similar, McMurray argues that Christian domination of how the black religion is portrayed in mass media and black culture plays a huge role in repressing the voices of the Black Islamic women (McMurray, 2008, p. 86-87). For instance, two major’s television networks, TV One, and Black Entertainment Television, that should be representing the culture of African American primarily focus on the culture of Black Christians ignoring non-Christian religious representations. Additionally, McMurray notes that unlike the black female Muslim hip-hop artists, black male Muslim hip-hop artists have managed to create their own identity within this music space pointing to the gender-based biases and double standards that exist even within hip-hop culture (McMurray, 2008, p. 88)
To sum up, regardless of their culture or socio-economic backgrounds, Muslim women still face gender-based biases and double standards as shown in two different settings, the patriarchal Islamic educational system and in the entertainment industry. The consequences of these double standards on young Muslim women are damaging and necessitate a healthy dialogue by the Muslim and non-Muslim communities to fight the prevailing negative stereotypes and misconceptions about women in Islam and the religion itself.