Friday, July 31, 2009

Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?

By Tami Newberry, Summer Intern at Kirwan Institute

Recently French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave an address to Parliament in which he proposed a banning of the burqa. This seemed consistent with governmental policies in France. I wasn’t stirred by this, as France is ‘far away’ after all.

Then, the Columbus Dispatch published an article July 23rd Ohio State University professor chimed in, saying what many Americans are quietly thinking: Women wearing burqas or veils, unsettle them. He went so far as to say, “If I wanted to hold up a convenience store, I would wear a burqa.” This really hit home.

When persons of stature lend their voice, it can strengthen a cause. These current ideas feed into xenophobia (fear/hatred of strangers or foreigners). Identities of religious groups are collapsing into racialized categories. In what many claim to be a ‘post-racial’ world, religion IS the new race. And Islam is the new black.

However, to claim to stand for women’s rights is still vogue. Therefore, in the name of supporting “women’s rights”, persons of different religious backgrounds would like to tell women how they can express their religious values. (What happened to the 1st amendment to the Constitution? Or basic human rights?)

I would encourage anyone willing to learn about the socio-, cultural- and religious reasons for Muslim women choosing to cover to read Lila Abu-Lughod’s insightful article. This may help to dismiss the myths that Muslim women need saving. Many Muslim women feel empowered culturally and religiously by choosing to cover themselves.

The next time you see a covered woman hanging her head, don’t create a victim out of her, and empower yourself. Empathize with her or engage her. She may have had a hard day at work, or may be daydreaming about the love poem her husband emailed her, or may have simply forgotten her sunglasses on a sunny day.


  1. What confuses me is how any "other" group that begins to feel marginalized relates it to being "black".

    While there may be similarities and empathy, there will never, ever be any group that will come close to knowing how it feels to be "Black".

    If you are not Black, you have not had the experience of "Living while Black". This experience permeates every area in life, employment, housing, credit, driving and sometimes just walking down the street, too name a few.

    I agree that it seems the experiences "other" groups have are more tied to religion and lifestyle choice. But not because they just happened to born "Black" (an automatic dismissal by other racial groups of somehow being less than human and of less worth).

    While I can certainly relate to the validity of the complaint I doubt any other group in America of different ethnic and religious background can ever compare to being Black.

  2. Thank you for your comment.

    I understand your perspective.

    However, I did not capitalize the word "black" to identify a color of people. I used it in the fashion sense, as being trendy.

    (ie. Green - being earth friendly - is often called the new black)

    Using a completely binary white-black interpretation, I see that Islam the 'new black' and that many diverse groups are coming together as 'white' regardless of their skin colors and religions.

  3. As long as one Native American lives on a reservation I will not entertain the idea that no other group than Blacks knows the experience of being considered less than human in America.

  4. why is it problematic to associate feminism with the West? How might Americans try to help Afghani women in ways that do not involve "saving" them?