Thursday, January 12, 2012

Enough with the “Veiled” References

By Amanda Quraishi

A few weeks ago, in a fit of irritation after having read what seemed like the umpteenth article about a “Muslim honor killing,” I tweeted an off-the-cuff challenge to America’s journalists to write a piece about Muslim women that didn’t contain any of the following words: 

“Veiled” “Covered” “Hidden” “Revealed” “Abuse” “Honor” “Oppressed” “Hijab” “Burka” “Niqab” “Forbidden” “Taliban” “Shariah” “Violence”

I was surprised at how many of my Twitter followers –Muslim and non-Muslim; women and men—re-tweeted me right away.  It seems I’m not the only one who has noticed the disturbingly inadequate coverage of Muslim women in mainstream media. It seems to many of us that Muslim women are only of interest to the media when they can be perceived as victims.  The result is that most non-Muslim westerners have a distorted, and completely patronizing view of Muslim women in both the context of American society and abroad.

I am consistently surprised at how many people ask me about the challenges faced by Muslim women as if these challenges are really unique to Muslim women.  It’s true:  Muslim women must deal with domestic violence, religiously justified misogyny, sexism, discrimination, and outright disdain for those who speak out against injustices in their community; but these issues are faced by all women, not just the Muslim variety.

Yes, even in 2012, the status of women in every society and culture (yes even in this, the ‘most advanced’ society on earth) is still precarious.  Westerners are throwing stones from a glass house if we think we can look down on other cultures for their treatment of women.  In the U.S., we have the luxury of a well-established legal system and the largest economy in the world that affords us all kinds of resources that other people in other parts of the world can only dream of.  Yet despite these advantages, American women face well-documented sexism:

·      In the United States, 25% of women have been victims of domestic violence during their lifetime and an average of three women each day are murdered by an intimate partner.  

·      Religious sexism with scriptural justification is alive and well in the Christian tradition and is actively taught from many a pulpit while other major religions have similar traditions of keeping women ‘in their place’ based on interpretations of holy writings and tradition.  

·      Furthermore: Women working 41 to 44 hours per week earn 84.6% of what men working similar hours earn; women working more than 60 hours per week earn only 78.3% of what men in the same time category earn (Bureau of Labor Statistics, cited in Hilary M. Lips, "The Gender Wage Gap: Debunking the Rationalizations").

·      Citing religious justification, politicians in the U.S. actively seek control over the reproductive rights of female citizens and attempt to legally dictate personal choices regarding to women’s health.

·      Women in leadership roles (business, social, academic and political) are regularly subject to criticism about their appearance and attractiveness while their qualifications are overlooked.  

·      Culturally, women and girls of all ages and all socio-economic backgrounds in the U.S. face intense social pressure and manipulative marketing coercing them to look, dress, and behave in ways that are both non-threatening and appealing to males. 

Contrary to popular belief, many of the women in Muslim majority countries also hold high degrees, serve in political offices, own businesses, create art, and contribute to the betterment of their respective societies.  Even in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan where things seem desperate for everyone, you’ll find social workers, counselors, and feminists fighting for their rights—rights that are guaranteed by both secular and religious laws and of which certain people seek to deprive them.

And YES, it may be harder for them because of the intense poverty, political instability and lawlessness that surround them.  But they are still there fighting for their rights and the rights of their mothers, daughters and sisters.  They don’t need our pity.  They need our respect.

As an American Muslim woman, I am in no position to tell Muslim women in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia how to lead their feminist revolutions.  I’ve got my hands full with the American feminist revolution, which is far from over. What I can do, however, is listen to their voices, offer my support, cheer them on, and pray hard on their behalf.  I can also try to make sure their voices are heard and their stories are told to people who would otherwise write them off as nothing more than victims.  And so should you.

Amanda Qurashi is a Muslim-American writer, blogger, interfaith activist and tech professional living in Austin, Texas. In 2003 she founded Central Texas Muslimaat to address the unique needs of central Texas Muslim women. Amanda represented Austin’s Muslim community as the youngest board member in iACT/AAIM’s history. She currently works full time for Mobile Loaves & Fishes, serves on the Board of Directors for Texas Impact, and has a fellowship with the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute.


  1. Great article, and so true! The media treats these women like passive objects with no personal agency. Thank you for calling attention to it!

  2. Great job! Thanks for pointing out the hypocrisy behind wanting to "save" Muslim women while millions of American women are swept under the rug each year.

  3. There are not enough words to describe how awesome this article is. As always, Q makes me think and makes me proud to be an intelligent woman. Great job lady!

  4. Wow. Speechless and goosebumps all in one article. You said it and EVERYONE needs to read this.

  5. Wow indeed. Thanks for this fantastic article. Such good words!